“Devil On My Shoulder” – Stray Little Devil (manga) – 5/10 Peeps

Mangaka: Kotaro Mori

Genre: Fantasy/Comedy/Action/Supernatural/Shoujo-ai

Review Status: Complete (5 Volumes/5 Volumes)

Licensed: Yes, this manga is licensed by DrMaster Publications.

Art: It’s modern, it’s simple and unremarkable. But the characters do look pretty unique, and the clothes look pretty cool.

Summary: Meet Pam Akumachi, an energetic 13-year-old junior high student who has just turned into…a little devil! One day, when Pam and her friends try to summon the “benign devil”, the magic circle goes out of control and Pam is transported to a strange parallel world where angels and devils reside in an uneasy coexistence. Now Pan’s only means of returning home is to become a full-fledged devil. This is no easy task. The rules and precepts are so hard to follow, especially since Pan can’t read Devil Scripts. But first, Pam needs to claim a “familiar.” No devil worth her wings can go without one. (Back cover of 1st volume)

Review: This managed to grab me from the beginning with a solid, intriguing premise: that a magic circle goes wrong and a girl is drawn into a magical world, where the only way for her to stay safe is to be transformed into a devil, and then for her to be enrolled into a school to make a surefire devil out of her. But there’s a few catches: the mysterious stranger who greets her upon entry has no intention of telling her why, and humans are beings out of fairy tails…so how is she going to get home?

This decides to slam right into the Shoujo-ai right at that moment, with Pam confused about an Angel that looks just like her friend back home – a friend that we see for all of two panels, mind you – and desperately wants Linfa to acknowledge and recognize her, and never really gets it out of her head that she’s some sort of alternate spiritual whatever of her friend and that if she tries hard enough, she’ll get Linfa to remember her. This really forces the romance aspect, especially since we have NO idea how deeply she was in love with her friend (if she was in love with her), and it never seems to cross into the realm of realistic romance.

Thankfully, I wasn’t reading it for the romance, it was more for the friendship that Pam develops in the school for Devils. Most of this really revolves around school and that friendship is really well-developed. I adore how mixed reactions are to her – Raim instantly thinks she’s an utter ditz and will hold her back, while Vine is willing to help her out. They have such a dynamic relationship! None of it feels forced or awkward.

Unfortunately, these characters were really forced into a plot that is too ambitious for its length. It decides to hide the true plot for over three volumes, which leaves one and a half for a slammed-in story about how the spirit world is falling apart and how ~true love~ can save it. With minimal explanation for what’s happening and why it needs to happen, plus the forced romance, it really makes this feel silly and melodramatic.

Overall, these characters deserved a better story.

Recommended: 16+. There’s the shoujo-ai, and some fairly brutal injuries that are only briefly lingered on but are clearly gory.

Other Titles You Might Enjoy:

I really don’t have anything for you here. Sorry!

“A Sword In My Hand” – Fate/Zero, Season 2 (anime) – 8/10 Desks

Genre: Action/Adventure/Fantasy/Drama

Review Status: Complete (12 Episodes/12 Episodes)

Licensed: Yes, this anime is licensed and available for free viwing on Crunchyroll.

Art/Animation: Just as fantastic as the first season.

Dub Vs. Sub: There is no dub for this anime.

Summary: The Third Holy Grail War reaches its final conclusion.

Review: This started off right where Season 1 ended; a brutal battle between Castor and a few of the other servants. Covering from there to the end (and a little beyond) of the 3rd Holy Grail War, Season 2 was underwhelming and really showed TYPE-MOON’s propensity to tie properties in with each other in ways that really make it necessary to see them all in order to understand what’s going on. Let me say from the beginning: if you haven’t seen Fate/Stay Night or played the VN, then you will not understand the importance or meaning behind much of what happens and the relationships that are forged and broken within the final two episodes.

Flash-forwards give brief glimpses of important events that, for the casual viewer, will mean nothing or be outright confusing. Part of this is because it’s an origin story that’s airing after the main story. Part of this is because it’s an origin story that really does tie into the main one quite well. Or so I hear–I haven’t seen or read Fate/Stay Night myself, and that does affect how I took in the anime.

Don’t get me wrong–the first half is perfectly wonderful and understandable, full of tense moments, action, and interesting characters. Thankfully, I have more reason than this superficial issue to be less than impressed with the second half. The set-up for this was an epic battle, a daunting foe, a world in very real danger. I could recall that tension from the moment I saw the first episode of this season. Unfortunately, the ending to it was surprisingly anti-climactic. The creators realized they had to wrap things up and get to what this was all about: the decisions that shaped Kiritsugu into who he is in Fate/Stay Night.

That story is absolutely heartbreaking, bringing a lot of depth and sympathy that I really didn’t have for Kiritsugu in the first half. I had a lot of mixed emotions about him, because I certainly didn’t like him as a person but couldn’t reconcile how he came off with the strong, upright morals he had for wanting desperately to save people. The flashback episode really brought the world that they live in to life in many ways, how the magical community acts (and interacts) with those without magic, what people will do to protect themselves, and brought out a few very interesting factions within the magical community that play into the story at large. The exact events that changed him are shocking…but really work for him. He’s a very dynamic character, and seeing the seeds of his childhood catch up is interesting, and tragic in some of the most amazing ways. I really felt for him but at the same time, because he was so warped from his experiences, he remained a distant character until the end.

Fate/Zero weaves in these two episodes among the rest that go from overt action to covert double-dealing. Back-door alliances turn to betrayals as the competitors show their true colors and become even more desperate to win the Grail as the clock ticks down. Rider–my favorite character of them all–and his master are the only ones that are truly untouched by the deception, since they had no ties to any of the others to begin with, and go to meet the others on the field of battle on their own terms. Some candidates are killed off by the deaths of the Masters, others by the deaths of the Servants. Battles chip away at each other’s strength, and they then take advantage of those, and while those fights never reach the sheer intensity of the Castor fight of the first season, they are nonetheless wonderful to watch. However, halfway through this there was almost no question of who would actually be facing off against each other for the Grail when the time came.

Things don’t tie up entirely. The last two episodes were the most intense, action-wise, as the vast majority of characters were killed off, but small details–like what happened to the grail at the end, the meaning of the knife, etc–are clearly things that are important but it’s unclear why because, as mentioned earlier, they are Fate/Stay night references. It leaves off at a good point, though, and would be an easy jump to make to understand the sequel. Even though I myself am not able to really understand it, I’m sure that when I get around to being able to play the VN, it will all become clear.

Overall, for the most part this was very well-crafted, with great action, interesting characters, and a story that is fascinating. It does have its downside, but if you’re a fan of the series and are familiar with the other titles, then this will not disappoint.

Recommended: 16+. This doesn’t have the implications of absolutely brutal violence that the first season had, yet it still has the blood and death that are a hallmark of a dog-eats-dog competition. The worst is when one man’s veins bulge due to high blood pressure and he begins squirting blood from his veins. Most of it isn’t that graphic or disturbing.

Other titles you might enjoy:

Fate/Zero Season 1 (anime)

Fate/Stay Night (anime or visual novel)

Kara no Kyoukai (anime)

 

“Guns ‘n Roses” – Black Lagoon (anime) -10/10 Sunflowers

Genre: Action/Adventure

Review Status: Complete (12 Episodes/12 Episodes)

Licensed: Yes, this is licensed by Funimation in the US.

Art/Animation: Faaantasitc! The action scenes look terrific, with plenty of smooth animation great action shots to go around. Character designs are pretty standard, but they totally work since all the characters are from different backgrounds. Mixing all the different characters from what you’d usually find in a single series together make them all distinct.

Dub Vs. Sub: While normally a sub fan, the dub for this is absolutely fantastic! Both have some issues where the chosen language trips up due to the

Summary: Rokuro Okajima is meek, mundane, and metropolitan. His business trip to South East Asia turns from pleasure cruise to festival of pain when modern pirates board the ship and take him hostage. Revy, Dutch and Benny are merciless, maniacal, and mean. Together, they make up the crew of the Black Lagoon. Making a living in a city where the most villainous of villains make themselves at home isn’t without its risks, but they take on any job available to them. Smuggling guns, drugs, kidnapped children, and stolen goods is all part of a hard days work. (Funimation.com)

Review: I don’t do action shows. Usually, they involve a lot of explosions, a trite plot, one-dimentional characters, and sexy women. Black Lagoon takes the best of the action genre and takes it up to 11. No longer are the women merely sexy eyecandy – they are as badass as the men and are going to blow the brains out of any guy that dares cross that line. Every main character is as fleshed-out as you can get, with great personalities and interesting backstories. Those backstories aren’t the point of this show, though! It’s all about the adventures these guys go through that bring out the fine points of their personalities and make bonds between them.

As far as plot goes, this is filled with several one-shot or two-episode storylines that could have been utterly ridiculous in any other context, like fighting neo-nazi’s. Yeah, you got me right, at one point they’re fighting Nazis! Sometimes they’redoing retrieval on expensive goods, sometimes they’re settling accounts, sometimes they’re dealing with the local mafias and their politics, but whatever they’re doing there’s sure to be a gunfight and more than a few explosions doing it. That part is the entertainment, but each episode is sprinkled with solid character development, usually in the form of Rock and Revi’s clashing moral and societal standards. They come from two different worlds. Revi’s deliberately vague description of her childhood leaves no doubt that she was raised someplace where there was no place for innocence. Rock has an idealism about him that seems out of place in with the group’s get-what-you-can attitude, and definitely clashed with Revi’s hot-headedness and can see through it – a position that makes Revi more than a little uncomfortable, but she’s now being held to a higher set of standards.

It’s not all about them, though. Some of my favorite lines and scenes are from they’re dark and mysterious leader, Dutch. He’s a fantastic mediator between the two worlds that are clashing on his ship, making sure that they direct their anger towards each other in more productive ways and seeing to it that the business runs smoothly. Benny is the one member that seems almost like an afterthought. He’s more comedic relief than anything, only coming into the picture on certain occasions, but there’s some hints that his backstory is intrinsically tied to the mafia that they’re more often than not beholden to for work. Which brings me to the most awesome mafia on the planet! The Lagoon Company is most often doing runs for the Russian lady Balalaika, and she and her company is not to be messed with. They can (and did) take on their enemies faster than they could blink. All of them are hard-core killers and I hope to see more of them in action in the second season. Some of the assignments Lagoon Company takes on can be filled with their share of equally awesome characters, also, like the maid/assasin that is more than a match for Revi! That was some serious inventiveness; whomever wrote that gets all the cookies.

I can honestly say that I haven’t seen many action movies or shows that can match this in terms of intrigue, characterization, and sheer balls of steel. Most are content to be what they are: expensive special effects and video editing. This dares to be more.

Overall, this is a top-notch action anime, and definitely worth it.

Recommended: 18+. This has a lot of death, onscreen. Some of them are pretty brutal. There is also a decent amount of sexual innuendo, from hookers wandering the streets, to two girls in barely-there outfits (bare breats – detailed – are visible in the scene though it’s a short scene).

Other titles you might enjoy:

Sword of the Stranger (anime)

Firefly (American live-action – YES I am going there. I just finished it and think these two stand on equal grounds of awesome)

“The Great Escape” – Zzombie Infestation (Visual Novel) – 2/10 Sunflowers

Run away! ~ Anonymous

Genre: Action/Horror

Review Status: Complete

Licensed: This is free for donwload on Ren’Py

Art/Animation: What art and animation? There is one (grossly undersized) photo used as the background, and it never changes.

Summary: You wake up one morning, and ZOMBIES! You need to try and escape with your wife.

Review: Practice makes perfect, right? I’m hoping so, since this sincerely needs a lot of work before another version is unleashed on the unsuspecting public! The premise is completely standard for a zombie game (not that this is bad, a lot of great games can be made with a standard premise as long as the execution is solid), but has a nice variety of options to try and escape from the zombies. This is brought down with dialogue and actions that are trite and riddled with misspellings. It’s a very shallow story, a simple tale of survival where you need to escape with and protect your wife. There’s nothing more to it, and some of it can come off a bit wrong – you protect your wife and take on all the duties of survival. She doesn’t help at all. There’s a hint of sexism in the way that’s written that really didn’t help the game’s case. There isn’t a whole lot to say about it – it was one-dimentional, shallow, uninspired, and boring.

Overall, this has a long road to go down before being a truly competent game.

Recommended: 13+. There are some gorey descriptions of zombies being killed, but they aren’t lingered on and it’s not like you see anything.

Other titles you might enjoy:

High School of the Dead (anime and manga)

I Am A Hero (manga)

Tokyo Zombie (manga)

“Lost In The Forest” – Spero: The Forest Dwellers (Visual Novel) – 7/10 Sunflowers

A virgin forest is where the hand of man has never set foot. ~ Author Unknown

Genre: Fantasy/Action

Review Status: Complete

Licensed: This is available for free download on Ren’Py

Art/Animation: The art is decent, nothing spectacular but nicer than some of the other VNs I’ve played. It looks like it was done in Paint (though far more skillfully than anything I could do).

Summary: The forest has been sealed for ten years, but one day, one of the forest dwellers discovers a young boy within the gates. A dark creature is after him, and she must protect him and restore him to his home.

Review: This is a very short chapter in what looks like a far more expansive story. It’s short, with only 3 endings (good, bad, and true), and is a little rough around the edges. Some of the dialogue and writing needs clean-up and a proofreader. I winced more than once at the punctuation. At the same time it does some nice things with the dialogue choices – depending on what you choose you might end up unlocking some new things to talk about!

When I say that the story is far more expansive than what we have here, I mean that the background given on the characters and situation is spare and blatantly clues you in that there’s a larger story going on. The True ending also implies that the main character has a hidden background that is important to the kingdom, and leaves off on a bit of a cliffhanger about it. It gives the impression that it will be continued in a later VN, but so far there’s no sign of one.

But what is here is fairly standard for a fantasy. There’s a lost prince, a deadly danger, and someone who’s called on to protect the boy. I like how it does a few things differently than a typical fantasy, like the main character is a female warrior, but it’s no big deal; it’s just part of who she is and what she does. I would have loved to see more of this world fleshed-out, because this is very bare-bones; you get to the main quest right away and it takes maybe five minutes to finish the whole thing. There’s a lot of playability to try and get the different endings, but without more reasons to care about the characters I’m not feeling as entertained as I really want to. When I have to ask ‘so what’ about saving someone, it’s not a good sign.

Overall,  it’s still a solid VN. I definitely appreciate the groundworks for the story being told, and while it’s not perfect, it’s entertaining enough where I’m looking for more!

Recommended: 10+. This is a fairly standard fantasy title, and the ‘bad end’ isn’t violent or gruesome.

Other titles you might enjoy:

Seirei no Moribito (anime)

12 Kingdoms (anime)

“Me Against The World” – Neon Genesis Evangelion (anime) – 9/10 Sunflowers

Depression is nourished by a lifetime of ungrieved and unforgiven hurts. ~ Penelope Sweet

Genre: Mecha/Psychological/Action/Drama/Sci-Fi

Review Status: Complete (26 Episodes/26 Episodes) *Review note- Episodes 21-24 were the Director’s Cut

Licensed: Yes, this anime is licensed in the US.

Art/Animation: It looks just fine until the last two episodes. At that point, it goes into some very low-budget art and animation, and attempts to pass it off as part of what’s going on in the series.

Dub Vs. Sub: While the dub is pretty good, I noticed around episode 15 or 16 that there were peices of information being left out of it. Not only was I getting more information via the sub, but the sub is a cast of all-star VAs in all the roles! They’re Japan’s biggest names and best voice actors in the country, gathered together to create this. You will never find anything like it in another anime.

Summary: In the year 2015, the Angels, huge, tremendously powerful, alien war machines, appear in Tokyo for the second time. The only hope for Mankind’s survival lies in the Evangelion, a humanoid fighting machine developed by NERV, a special United Nations agency. Capable of withstanding anything the Angels can dish out, the Evangelion’s one drawback lies in the limited number of people able to pilot them. Only a handful of teenagers, all born fourteen years ago, nine months after the Angels first appeared, are able to interface with the Evangelion. One such teenager is Shinji Ikari, whose father heads the NERV team that developed and maintains the Evangelion. Thrust into a maelstrom of battle and events that he does not understand, Shinji is forced to plumb the depths of his own inner resources for the courage and strength to not only fight, but to survive, or risk losing everything (AniDB)

Review: Until this last winter, I’d stayed away from NGE simply because it caused a firestorm of controversy. As beloved and classic as it is, I felt like I knew too much to enjoy it and wasn’t that interested. Then I remembered that I like psychological series and really should see something so classic.

I have to say, this is definitely one of the most interesting series I’ve seen in a while. There’s a cast of characters that are pretty obviously prototypes for later anime stereotypes (which, unfortunately, makes them rather unmemorable to someone who’s already familiar with the stereotypes). Shinji, the protagonist, is cast unwillingly into the role of hero and protector of Japan, a place under seige by unnatrual – perhaps supernatural – beings. He’s a weak character, bothe motionally and otherwise, for the most part, with spurts of being memorable and awesome. He’s angry all the time and for good reason, but is trapped by those emotions and becomes unable to break free of them and be a person apart from that. He and Asuka, one of his partners, are in much the same boat. They are plagued by guilt and feelings of abandonment, and both choose to deal with it in very different ways. Rei, the third kid in the group, is an aloof and cold being, with vaguely romantic feelings towards Shinji’s dad and is mostly an outside observer on what is happening to the rest of the cast. All of them are dealing with their own emotional scars, which play out as the fights get more dangerous and their missions become more personal.

They are surrounded by a cast of adults that are trying to manipulate them and the events around them to ends that are a little surprising. Misato is given charge of caring for them and becomes a surrogate parent at a time where she’s not really in a position to take care of children. She does try her best, but dealing with teenagers and their angst can be tricky at the best of times, and when you are also given orders to make them fight, that those teens don’t necessarily agree with. Ritsuko is her best friend but an emotionally charged scientist, emotionally entangled with her superior in unrequited ways. Kaiji, Misato’s off-again-on-again boyfriend ends up a surrogate dad/love interest, but his other activities in the organization lead him into certain danger.

Forcing everyone to play their parts in a power struggle are the organizations of NERV, headed by Shinji’s dad – a complete and utter douche for the most part, but with a shocking ultimate goal for the future – and Seele, the group that had given him control but now are wary of Shinji’s dad’s goals. NERV is simultaniously trying to stop the Angels from destroying the world but is ultimately working toward the future… but it could easily lead into the destruction of the world.

Watching them all interact and deal with the attacks and motives of everyone else is really a fun thing to see. They all act like people, all of them very different, who’ve been forced into living together. And it feels real. They don’t get along all the time, but the issues and difficulties that they are trying to overcome speak to how human they are. These aren’t shallow harem shenannigans by any means! Many of the events really just seem to break these kids further, and I can’t help but want to hug them. That being said, while I’m sympathetic towards the characters, I rarely ‘get’ them. They are so deeply flawed but in a very specific way that it can be hard to connect on that deeper level. That level of detatchment sometimes made it hard to really feel for some of the characters. But I did like them, and that’s the important thing.

The religious iconography is shallow at best, as acknowledged by the creator himself. It’s the battles and the emotional aftereffects that provide all the themes and symbolism that run through the series. Isolation and loneliness are two themes that are played out in a multitude of ways. One of my favorite things to analyze became the idea of space and where the action was in relation to the emotional confusion that was going on within a character. Trains provide a metaphor for journeys and a hint to what’s beginning to happen to the characters in regards to the ending. Mental breakdowns begin the process of self-discovery that really is the hallmark of this series.

During the last two episodes, the meta-story for NGE is abandoned for completing the thematic story arcs, partly due to a lack of funding (which is completely obvious in the art for them). Brief shots of the ‘real world’ give hints to what’s going on and what it all means. I can’t say that I’m completely satisfied with the ending. It’s both very tragic but rather beautiful in it’s own way – and I’m okay being torn on it. Most people are take-it-or-leave-it. I just regret that there wasn’t the ability to flesh out what was happening more.

But hey, that’s what the movies are for, right?

Overall, this is a classic for a reason. It’s not perfect, but it’s good, and this really shows that the creator knew what he was doing in many ways.

Recommended: 16+. There are three-four instances of partial-to-full nudity, but all of it is Barbie-doll with no genetalia. There is one offscreen sex scene. People die, usually offscreen, and if you see anything at all it’s a blacked-out-shadow against a background or has a cutscene to something else.

Other titles you might enjoy:

Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann (anime)

RahXephon (anime)

Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica (anime)

Bokurano (manga)

“Rockin’ The Heavens” – Interstella 5555: The 5tory of the 5ecret 5tar 5ystem (anime) – 8/10 Sunflowers

Genre: Sci-fi/Fantasy/Adventure/Action

Review Status: Complete (1 Movie/1 Movie)

Licensed: Yes, this anime is licensed in the US.

Art/Animation: The art is a little dated, recalling the days of retro sci-fi character designs with elongated limbs and big, wavy hair. Sometimes there seems to be an art change for short segments of the movie. It has some great animation, though, very fluid.

Dub Vs. Sub: There is no dub. There is no sub, for that matter – this is a story entirely told through music and the pictures, much like Spirit: Stallion of the Cimmaron. If you don’t like Daft Punk, then you probably won’t like this. Though even if you are a fan, if you’re sensitive to repetitive sounds like I am, then there are segments which will drive you up the wall because of the one or two stanzas that are repeated for a long while to get through the scene.

Summary: An evil music producer has had his eye on an alien band for a while, and finally kidnapps them to fulfill his nefarious schemes of destroying the world. A lone starship operator is called upon to save them.

Review: This is one of those anime that I have to double-check the date on, because it just screams 80’s, with all the cheese and hair and rock ‘n roll that means! Interstella just goes with it, creating a prolongued music video for Daft Punk that isn’t half bad when you get over the sheer stupidity of certain things.

For the most part, this is 80’s awesome. The music is pretty good (minus it being super-repetitive in some scenes. The opening had that song dragged out FAR too long, for instance). The premise, while a bit lame, has it’s moments of amazing – I loved it when they transformed the aliens into humans. The adorableness of the pilot’s crush on the girl in the band was fantastic. The ploy to destroy their mind-control devices was super-dramatic and classic.

But… and there is always a but with these sorts of things!… this really went off the boat when it decided to try and tell the story of why the manager was trying to destroy the world. It was stupid and nonsensical, and how he was trying to destroy the world even moreso! Actually, I was willing to go with the world-destroying-plan because of how 80’s rock movies work, but the manager’s backstory just made it seem even more ridiculous than it was and completely broke the mood.

Even so, there was a lot more great here than bad, and I was charmed and excited by a lot of the movie.

Overall, if you’re not a fan of music videos, you can skip this – otherwise I’d totally go for it!

Recommended: 10+. If they’re watching Star Wars, they can handle this! There’s nothing that’s particularly scandelous or shocking here.

Other titles you might enjoy:

I’ve got nothing. There really aren’t any other music video anime out there. However, if you’re into music and anime, then check out

Beck (manga)

Nana (anime and manga)

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