Sengoku Collection Review

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Let me just start off by saying I had no idea what to expect from Sengoku. Just by looking at the cover I suspected a slice of life genre… and in a way, I was partially correct. But despite the lack of a true underlying plot, Sengoku certainly held my attention throughout and it wasn’t until the last few episodes that I truly appreciated what the series had to offer. It’s a mixture of slice of life, shoujo-ai, light fan service and randomness all delivered in one package.

Storyline
Sengoku’s barren plot is just enough to tie the episodes together. Summed up, the entire concept revolves around warring state generals from an alternate universe arriving on our world. Better known as “Samurai” in our world, the entire show focuses on their adjustment to daily life. One of the generals, a girl by the name of Nobunaga, goes around collecting what are called “Secret Treasures” from each of the generals. She needs these treasures in order to help her return to her own universe. The anime is a collection of small stories with each episode dedicated to one Samurai in particular. Randomness ensues as the anime leaps back and forth between each one. It’s hard to understand what is going on after watching the first few episodes. At first I kept wondering what the underlying narrative even was. It was only after about the fifth episode I realized this was the entire concept of the anime. While the plot is there the concept was to focus on the characters themselves.


Each episode in the series comes complete with its own storyline. This is both a curse and a blessing for the anime. The stories range from achingly sweet to tragic as the series progresses.  At the same time though this creates confusion since the anime doesn’t explain what’s going in between each episode. I even had a hard time following the little hints at the plot they tossed into the anime. It was like trying to put together a puzzle with several of the key pieces missing.

Characters

There is such a huge cast of characters to choose from. I could not even begin to list them in any proper order for anyone to understand. Through all twenty-six episodes Sengoku managers to not only paint believable characters within twenty minutes but a story for each individual character as well. For each episode there is probably going to be a character someone doesn’t like. On the plus side you will never see that particular character again. There’s good chance a favorite will certainly be picked out. What sucks is you’ll never see your favorite character again except perhaps in passing in another episode.   There is a heavy dose of shoujo-ai in the show as well. Throughout the entire anime there is a majority of female characters. Which is definitely a nice change from the usually muscly men based anime I watch myself. While there is some fan service sprinkled in the series for taste it’s never in your face. In fact, the anime uses this to its advantage by showcasing some of most well rounded characters in this fashion. While cleavage is shown it’s usually followed by them kicking ass in the next scene.

Animation
The action scenes are not the main basis of this anime. In some cases it was pulled off rather well when the storyline became dark. At other times when the characters fought each other I found the action sequences cliché and stiff. It was as if the creators had done a rush job in order to just fill a time slot in certain parts of the anime. Thankfully, the action was not one of the main aspects of the anime. Artwork for the series itself is actually quite beautiful. The characters themselves are drawn rather well. With their own features and unique outfits which makes them easily recognizable on sight. Even if I couldn’t remember the name of each character I can identify each one alone by their outfit. From a common maid outfit to what appeared to be the robes of made for an angel I appreciated this attention to detail. Even the environments had special care be it a moon in the windowsill or a tear in the couch. I rather enjoyed the style Sengoku had been written in. I believe it boils down to personal taste how good the anime is. If you enjoy a collection of small stories this anime is definitely a good fit. It even left me with a few things to consider at the end of some of the episodes. Other episodes they were so ridiculous I could not help but roll my eyes wondering if the creator had been taking narcotics.


There are only a few small downfalls. For one, the anime does not explain what is truly going on till the end. While I felt the ending was fine, it didn’t feel as rewarding as it could. A sorry way to conclude what I felt had been an interesting experience for a 26 episode series. Sengoku is certainly worth trying if you’re looking for a change of pace, but don’t expect any intricate storylines or complex plots to hold your attention. Sengoku’s saving grace lays in its strong characters and its ability to tell a story in a short amount of time. 

Review by: Shezka Foxe | Review Format: DVD | Running Time: 650 Minutes

B-
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Lost Universe Series Review

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I rarely watch science fiction shows. I avoid the genre like a bird avoids a canary hungry kitty cat. Yet, the entire time watching this series I was glued to the screen. Staying up far later then I was supposed in order to just watch one more episode. Hopefully, I can find the words to describe how amazing this anime is. It certainly gave me a memorable ride.

Storyline
Lost Universe takes place in…well, the universe. One of the main characters is a young lady by the name of Millie Nocturne. Through a misadventure she becomes friends with a psi-blade wielding young man called Kane Blueriver. There is also the computer hologram of his spaceship, Swordbreaker, a young lady who goes by the name of Canal. Together this trio explores the universe solving crimes and defeating bad guys. A main aspect of the anime is the legend of Lost Ships.  These ships are from a lost time with technology which rivals even the present time. At first Kane believes he is the only person to own one such ship, the Swordbreaker. These ships are powered by “psi energy”.  Psi Energy is psychic energy given off by human minds. This energy can also transform into various weapons such as Kane’s psi blade. Glowing swords which can be summoned at will which strongly resembles a light saber. There is also secret organization called Nightmare who owns half the universe. Their goal is to rule the entire universe and bring it back to an age of darkness. As Kane, Millie, and Canal, eventually figure this out they are framed for the murder of an entire fleet of Universal Guardians. An intergalactic police force meant to protect the general populace of the galaxy. Forcing the entire crew of Swordbreaker go into hiding to avoid capture. This forces Millie, Kane, and Canal into a quest to defeat Nightmare once and for all.

Characters
For an anime with twenty-six episodes, Lost Universe has a small cast of characters. The main focus is on Kane, Millie, and Canal. Millie is a sharp shooter with any firearm. She is able to get herself out of tough situations despite being a klutz. She also enjoys cooking but has a bad habit of making the oven explode. Kane Blueriver is the main antagonist of the entire anime. He inherited Swordbreaker from his grandmother. He’s a troubleshooter, a mercenary of the universe, who accepts jobs. Once he completes a job he is paid and moves on to the next one. He can usually seem a bit clueless at times but always follows through on his promises. His feelings for Millie begin to show when he becomes concerned about her safety during upcoming battles. Not once, but twice attempting to leave her behind in order to protect her.


Canal is the hologram of Swordbreaker. She is the mainframe of the entire ship with a strong intelligence. Canal is the one who handles information and finds jobs for Kane to accept. Her greatest love is getting new weapons for the ship whenever she docks. She also oversees the general repair of the ship and aids Kane in most of his assignments. Several times providing back-up to him and Millie in times of emergency to provide a fast escape.

Animation
Lost Universe is not a new anime. It originally aired in 1998 for one summer on TV Tokyo. So the quality of the picture is a bit dated. While watching the DVDs sometimes the picture of the anime would split into lines. This happens a lot during intense action sequences. While this is a minor problem and didn’t take away from the anime itself I do find it distracting. I’m so absorbed in the show I was a put off when the lines would appear. A major saving grace for this anime is its action sequences. They are hands down amazing! Despite its age the anime does a good job of pulling off action. Kane launches into battle wielding his psi blade. He issues a battle cry before he begins to cut down his foes with relative ease. Even Millie shares in the action by escaping a group of bikers in a high speed chase down a freeway. While not even looking Millie holds a gun over her shoulder and begins shooting.

Did I also mention the space battles? When Swordbreaker enters into a battle it can only be described as epic. The fights take place in space which left me cheering for Canal to win the fight. Spaceships flying through the black void of the universe shooting lasers at each other cooler to me then sliced bread. The CGI of the ships in some parts is a bit iffy, but still communicates a galactic battle well in the show. Managing to dazzle the viewer with sharp colors as a ship explodes in a ball of fire. I have to admit Lost Universe is a gem of an anime. I did not expect it to be as good as it was. There were parts of the anime I came close to tears. Not only does the show have comedy with the antics of the characters, but it also has an emotional depth. One of the more touching moments is when Kane has flashbacks of his grandmother. Remembering her when he was a child and growing up to wanting to be just like her. Throughout the anime he even quotes her in order to motivate himself.


Lost Universe does an excellent job of sticking to its plot. It starts out slow, but begins to build up gradually with each episode. The anime even manages to get a few life lessons across with a handful of morals thrown in for flavor. With Kane it’s never giving up despite the odds and making your own destiny. With Millie the lesson is it doesn’t matter how you started out in life. If you go down the unbeaten path it’s possible to find happiness. Even Canal left me in tears when she made the ultimate sacrifice in favor of helping her friends. 
Despite the picture quality at certain times this anime is absolutely perfect. There is a bit of everything for a person to enjoy. There’s romance, intense actions, character building, crazy antics, and epic galactic battle sequences. If you’re looking for a good anime to watch for a few hours definitely go with Lost Universe. You won’t regret it.

Review by: Shezka Foxe | Review Format: DVD | Running Time: 650 Minutes 

A-
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Knights of Sidonia Series Review

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"In something of a first (as far as anime is concerned), Knights of Sidonia is a Netflix exclusive series."

The Netflix exclusive Knights of Sidonia is a mecha/science fiction anime that successfully navigates through many of the potential narrative pitfalls encountered by similar series in the past, while also presenting an engrossing (albeit dystopian) vision of the future that encourages the “binge-watching” Netflix has recently become known for.

Knights of Sidonia, based on the manga of the same name by Tsutomu Nihei (and the first of his works to be animated), chronicles the journey of the eponymous star ship, one of many such ”seed ships” that fled the Sol system following Earth’s destruction at the hands of the extraterrestrial Gauna. Generations upon generations of human beings are born, live their lives, and die aboard Sidonia; a select few join the military and pilot humanoid battle suits called Gardes, tasked with protecting Sidonia from predatory Gauna, scouring space for what remains of the human race. Nagate Tanikaze , a youth raised in the “underground” of the city/ship and trained since birth to pilot the legendary Gardes unit known as Tsugumori, is recruited by the captain of Sidonia personally, and initiates a sequence of events that considerably alters mankind’s understanding of, and connections to, the Gauna.

In something of a first (as far as anime is concerned), Knights of Sidonia is a Netflix exclusive series. Sidonia’s description as a “Netflix Original Series” is something of a misnomer, however, as Netflix did not provide any funding or direction for the series, but rather acquired Sidonia’s North American license, much like Funimation or the now-defunct ADV Films would acquire rights to anime, and release them via DVD or Blu-ray stateside. While Netflix should be lauded for venturing into this new territory, the firm’s relative unfamiliarity with the medium is noticeable, particularly when it comes to subtitles – often, when a character is off-screen (and even when they are not) their name is placed as a heading before the subtitles of their dialogue, and while this may not sound like a problem, it becomes surprisingly confusing. A veteran subtitle-reader knows how to differentiate between who is speaking to whom, true enough – but we also automatically and instinctively read what appears on screen, and reading names alongside dialogue unintentionally creates some confusion between who is speaking, and who is being spoken to.


"While the CG may (or may not) irk some viewers, the closeness, visually, to Nihei’s original manga cannot be disputed."

Knights of Sidonia is computer-animated, as are a majority (if not all) of anime today – the days of hand-animated cels and dougas are long-gone. Sidonia’s animation, while clear and of evidently high quality, at times however resembles less a traditional, cel-drawn anime (something many CG shows attempt to mimic) and more so cut-scenes from a video game – this is not a question of quality, but rather of personal aesthetics, and the noticeable difference in composition may irritate some longtime anime enthusiasts. While the CG may (or may not) irk some viewers, the closeness, visually, to Nihei’s original manga cannot be disputed; Sidonia is one of the best examples of an anime staying true to the manga-ka’s original character and structural designs.

Narratively-speaking, Sidonia moves along at a good stride, and owing to the brevity that inevitably comes with a 12-episode season, does not suffer from many of the cliché tropes found in many mecha anime – the predictable plotlines regarding the protagonist’s losing faith in his abilities for an episode or two, or the abandoning of his mecha during a bout with self-angst, etc. In fact, Nagate Tanikaze differs, thankfully, from many established mecha pilots – unlike Shinji Ikari (Neon Genesis Evangelion), Amuro Ray (Mobile Suit Gundam) or scores of other pilots, Nagate actually wants to pilot the Tsugumori from the start and continues to do so, recognizing an obligation to his grandfather (who trained him in his youth, for reasons revealed as the series progresses), his new friends and fellow pilots, and himself. Sidonia’s story encompasses several layers of mysteries and machinations – while some ambiguities are explained by season’s end, enough are left open to speculation and postulating, generating expectations on the viewer’s part regarding the upcoming second season, due to air (in Japan) in the fall of 2014.


"Sidonia moves along at a good stride, and owing to the brevity that inevitably comes with a 12-episode season, does not suffer from many of the cliché tropes found in many mecha anime."

Knights of Sidonia is a well-written, well-plotted modern science fiction anime, with its only real shortcomings being largely determined by each viewer’s personal preferences as they relate to animation and subtitle stylings; a unique and engaging combination of sf and secrecies, Knights of Sidonia is a welcome addition to the mecha genre, a field which is all too often susceptible to repetitiveness and unoriginality. 

Review by: Nathan Madison | Review Format: Netflix Streaming

A-
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Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft Review

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"Hearthstone reminded me of a simplified version of the card game Yu-Gi-Oh! "

I recently had the opportunity to venture through Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft. There was a special offer being made at the time; If I managed to win three games in Play Mode then I could win a special Hearth Mount in World of Warcraft. I started playing and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. The game starts out with the player fighting against the heroes of Warcraft. When I began playing through the tutorial I had no idea I was doing so. Through a series of games a player is given the basic run down of the game. You are able to summon monsters by spending mana, casting spells, and using this special ability called “Hero Power” which you can use once per turn.

I have to admit Hearthstone reminded me of a simplified version of the card game Yu-Gi-Oh! By playing you earn gold from daily quests to buy Expert Packs from the in-game store. While real world money can be spent to buy more card packs, I preferred the gold route as it made the game more interesting and rewarding.

The Hearthstone gameplay is relaxing. At most it would take a person no longer than an hour to catch on how to play. The rules are simple. There are spells and abilities accompanying the “minions” you can summon. Everything from murlocs to wolf riders, the game always manages to introduce something new while also sticking to the simple rules it has set for itself. While I can’t claim to be a pro, the game does a good job of slowly presenting the player with each aspect of the game, moving on only when you’ve fully understood what each move does.


"It’s a nice little add-on to the entire World of Warcraft franchise. I found myself playing the game for almost two hours at one point."

Another aspect of the game I found interesting is the characters themselves. Similar to World of Warcraft you can choose which class you play with. They have all the originals such as Mage, Hunter, Paladin, etc. Each character has their own special “move” that gives them a boost in the game. They also come with unique cards which can only be used by them. Despite all this the game never quite becomes complicated, but in-depth enough it keeps the player’s interest. The combinations of cards and strategies that can be used are endless.
While the game comes along with a prebuilt deck the player also has the option of building their own. These decks are referred to as “Custom” decks within the game. I myself stuck with my mage, but I also became attracted to playing either a hunter or paladin as well. Of course, each class has its downfalls and strengths. The overall gameplay however stays pretty much the same. I myself enjoyed the customization the game offered when it came to the decks. If I felt I needed weaker monsters for faster summoning I could add them to my deck. If I want to test out a new strategy I can play the Innkeeper to see how well my deck works.

Hearthstone does lack a few elements for a card game. For one, the game does not hold a person’s interest for long. I’ve talked to other people who have played the game and they admit the same thing. After about an hour they begin to grow tired of the game. The gameplay becomes tedious, repetitive, and they soon have to quit. The game makes up for this by being so familiar though. I can usually log in for an hour or two to play before going back to my normal routine. Hearthstone serves as a nice refresher for the day that allows my brain to rest. Even the player versus player element is easy. It’s easy to get a win every other game which is a nice mood booster.

Hearthstone is a simple strategy game. It is one of the easier ones in my opinion. It’s a nice little add-on to the entire World of Warcraft franchise. I found myself playing the game for almost two hours at one point. I loved playing this game. Anyone who is a fan of World of Warcraft should definitely try this game out for a bit of fun.

Review by: Shezka Foxe | Review Platform: PC

7
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Grid Autosport Review

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"Luckily, Codemasters is a developer with a vocal following and their latest offering is a near perfect recovery."

Grid Autosport is Codemaster’s long-awaited return to hardcore racing. Despite being the third Grid entry, Codemaster’s new racer is more akin to the classic TOCA franchise first seen on the Playstation in 1997. While the original Grid carried TOCA’s fundamental driving genes, the 2012 sequel was a disappointing attempt at mainstreaming gameplay elements and pushing the franchise too hard towards an unwelcoming arcade route. Luckily, Codemasters is a developer with a vocal following and their latest offering is a near perfect recovery. Aside from hollow career progression and a lack of customization options, racing fans will relish in Autosport’s flawless handling and unforgiving AI. It’s just a shame there are no PS4 or Xbox ONE versions with updated visuals.

If there’s one thing Grid Autosport does wrong from the get go, it’s the career mode structure. While I’m all for clean, simple and cluster-free menu designs and campaign progression, Autosport is completely void of any frills that embrace the racing culture and tournaments. Instead, we’re treated to boring low-resolution videos narrated by a disinterested announcer and morbid menus hungry for diversity. You can’t even select vehicles for races anymore; rather each tournament assigns specific cars with only two sponsors to choose from before each race. While Grid 2 felt too much like a bloated advertisement filled with clichéd TV clips and over-the-top menu designs, Grid Autosport is like a desolate dark cave. Luckily, all is forgiven and forgotten once the engines start revving. Once surrounded by tons of grinding metal, the adrenalin rush will diminish any thoughts of presentational shortcomings.


"The result is a satisfying sim/arcade mix that reminds us what made the original Grid so excellent."

Grid Autosport is divided into five disciplines: Touring, Open Wheel, Street, Endurance and Tuner. Only one discipline can be raced per season and each tournament follows a linear progression system. Upgrades are automatically installed and there’s little need for tuning considering each race offers a very specific vehicle to use. Autosport has a rather bizarre starting-lane position mechanic where winning races places drivers in the back during round two and vice versa. It’s a little odd to be punished for winning races, but I suppose it keeps the challenge high if you’re doing extremely well.


"Grid Autosport places absolute emphasis on racing and succeeds on nearly every turn."

The handling within each discipline is simply brilliant. Gone is the predecessor’s frustrating drifting mechanic yet the game still carries a subtle arcade-like foundation. The result is a satisfying sim/arcade mix that reminds us what made the original Grid so excellent. Every car handles differently, yet you’ll never find yourself fussing around too much when switching from vehicle to vehicle. While the AI is brutally difficult, every loss feels like a result of player negligence, which makes skilled and careful driving extremely rewarding. Grid Autosport places absolute emphasis on racing and succeeds on nearly every turn. The track selection is diverse and makes each discipline feel refreshing, the AI is consistently challenging and smart and the career mode can take weeks to complete. On the downside, there’s little to do outside of the races. The reward system is very automatic and you can’t really collect cars the way you can in other racers. This may disappoint simulation enthusiasts but those looking for a hassle-free adrenaline rush will love Autosport’s structural simplicity.


"It’s somewhat shocking that Codemasters hasn’t decided to make a new-gen version, especially considering the lack of racing games on both platforms."

Graphically, Grid Autosport does little to raise…or even meet technical standards. Its visuals are serviceable, even pretty during some of the city races, but the entire package feels underwhelming. The PC version is vastly superior and undoubtedly the best choice. Both the Xbox 360 and PS3 have steady framerates and a few highlights here and there…but they’re clearly struggling behind. It’s somewhat shocking that Codemasters hasn’t decided to make a new-gen version, especially considering the lack of racing games on both platforms.

Ultimately, Grid Autosport is a must buy for Grid and genre-fans looking for a serious challenge. Despite the game’s shallow presentation, the racing is really where the title shines and there are very few games out there that can match Codemasters’ racing expertise. If this is any indication of where the series is headed from now on…it can only get better!

Review by: Tin Salamunic | Reviewed on: Xbox 360

8
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Blue Seed Series Review

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"Even now, Blue Seed still ranks alongside the aforementioned titles as a classic of the era."

While 2015 will witness the twentieth anniversary of many of the most popular anime series of the 1990s (Neon Genesis Evangelion, New Mobile Report Gundam Wing, Slayers, and Ghost in the Shell, to name a few) 2014 happens to mark two decades since the debut of Blue Seed, a science-fiction/ Japanese mythology amalgam that was among the most popular series of the decade and, even now, still ranks alongside the aforementioned titles as a classic of the era.

Blue Seed follows the exploits of the T.A.C. (Terrestrial Administration Center), and their newest recruit, 15-year old Momiji Fujimiya, who has a unique and mystical connection to the Aragami, a species of plant-based monsters that have recently begun rampaging across Japan. Momiji is the latest in a protracted line of Kushinadas, women whose lifeforce hold the power of the Aragami in check, and have done so for centuries; with the splitting of the bloodline following the birth of Momiji and her twin sister, Kaede, the Aragami have reawakened after years of slumber, and both the T.A.C. and the Aragami are attempting to harness the Kushinada’s power for their own purposes – one to protect humanity, the other to destroy it.

The original two-volume manga upon which Blue Seed is based was written and illustrated by Yuzo Takada, whose debut manga, 3x3 Eyes, was also subsequently made into an anime; later, he oversaw the animated adaption of another of his comic-creations, All-Purpose Cultural Cat Girl Nuku Nuku. Takada’s rather distinctive character designs show through from time to time, but a majority of the character designs do not differ significantly from many other series. Visually, unlike many anime from the 90s, Blue Seed thankfully lacks significant instances wherein animation quality is noticeably lessened, whether due to budget constraints or changes in lead animator; while the animation may not be the best that the era produced, it is at the very least consistent, and most of the action/fighting scenes are rendered quite well.


"In my opinion, the intermingling of sf and Shinto elements is where Blue Seed truly shines; two genres with questionable compatibility combine to create a unique, and engaging, whole."

The narrative advances at a steady pace, although some episodes, particularly at the onset, do have a “monster of the week” feel to them; as the series progresses, however, the purposes and motives behind the Aragami’s actions become clearer, as do the backgrounds and motivations behind the various supporting characters. As with Takada’s other works, characterization is one of Blue Seed’s stronger suits; very early on, personalities and traits are well-established. A downside of this, however, is that at times the relationship issues between several characters (such as Momiji’s stereotypical and often-clichéd, “clumsy-anime-girl” reactions to signs of affection, or lack thereof, from Kusanagi) seems to overshadow the (supposed) seriousness of the situation, i.e. the possible destruction of humanity; further, Blue Seed failed to escape 90s anime’s odd fascination with “fan service,” and this (of which there is a sizable amount) too detracts somewhat from the gravity of what is, purportedly, a battle for mankind’s survival. In my opinion, the intermingling of sf and Shinto elements is where Blue Seed truly shines; two genres with questionable compatibility (one largely Western, the other intrinsically Eastern) combine to create a unique, and engaging, whole. While a mixture of two such diverse influences is interesting enough (particularly when it works), I believe it had a stronger impact for American audiences at the time of its debut, than now – in the late 90s, when Suncoast stores across America were beginning to expand their VHS anime selection from one, to two, to three shelves, Blue Seed was one of the better introductions for American audiences, in the early years of the late 90s anime explosion, to Japanese mythology, spirituality and, on some level, even modern Japanese nationalism.


"Blue Seed, while perhaps not as well-known as many of its contemporaries from the period is, nonetheless, an entertaining and, by the end, an engaging part of what many fans feel could be considered a golden age of anime production, storytelling, and quality."

Similarly to another of A.D.V.’s prominent titles at the time, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Blue Seed was among the company’s higher-quality English dubs; Blue Seed also utilized many of the same voice actors as Evangelion. Amanda Winn voiced protagonist Momji Fujimiya (just as she did Eva’s Rei Ayanami – both characters, interestingly enough, voiced by the same Japanese seiyu as well, Megumi Hayashibara), and Tiffany Grant (best known for depicting Asuka Langley Soryu) portrayed Blue Seed’s red-haired, combat-crazy Kome Sawaguchi. In both series, A.D.V.’s voice staff matched, not only the original Japanese voice-actors, but also the characters themselves, to the point that, even with years having passed since last watching Blue Seed dubbed, I still hear the characters’ voices in English, as opposed to Japanese.

Nearly two decades after its initial stateside release, Blue Seed currently resides in something of a limbo, accompanied by many other titles following the 2009 dissolution of A.D.V.; the last official release was in 2008, in the form of a thinpack boxed set of the entire series. Despite that being the case, the entire series can be found relatively easily online, a purchase I would recommend – Blue Seed, while perhaps not as well-known (or, in some cases, as good) as many of its contemporaries from the period is, nonetheless, an entertaining and, by the end, an engaging part of what many fans (myself included) feel could be considered a golden age of anime production, storytelling, and quality.

Review by: Nathan Madison

B+
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Ranma 1/2 SET 2 Review

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I’ve heard of Ranma ½ for a few years now. I know the series was made by Rumiko Takahashi the creator of Inuyasha, which was one of the first anime I ever fell in love with. While Ranma ½ is somewhat new to me, I approached the show with the expectation of meeting an old friend. I can’t say I was disappointed either.

Storyline
Right from the start the anime is very clear cut. Even though I started on episode 24 of the anime, it was easy to get quickly caught up to the present episodes. The anime opens up with the protagoinst Ranma Soutome. He is a martial artist who fell into a cursed spring of a drowned girl. So now when cold water is dumped on Ranma he turns into a red haired girl! On top of dealing with becoming the opposite gender every time it rains Ranma also has a fiancée. Her name is Akane, and neither martial artist is very happy with the arranged marriage. Their fathers had decided (without either person’s consent) that they wished to unite their dojos. What better way than to get their kids to marry? Right from the start Ranma and Akane oppose the marriage proposal. Constantly telling each other they will never marry even if it came down to the end of days.

Throughout the episodes it becomes obvious that more is boiling beneath the surface. Through wacky adventures involving ducks and perverted old men romantic feelings begin to build up. Despite his claims it becomes apparent Ranma is not only concerned for Akane’s well-being, but her safety as well. Often coming to her rescue even after claiming he could care less about his fiancée. Ranma even shows compassion towards Akane when she is heartbroken over him not eating some cookies she made. She spends an entire day perfecting her cookie recipe for her betrothed. At the end Ranma is seen eating the cookies in front of Akane and telling her how delicious they are.

Characters
While Ranma and Akane are the main cast there is a wide variety of supporting characters as well. A girl named Shampoo moved from China to Japan. She immediately takes a liking to Ranma and forcibly tries to integrate herself into his good graces. Claiming they are engaged despite Ranma constantly denies. Shampoo often resorts to underhanded means to get Ranma’s attention. In one episode she feeds him dumplings which are laced with mind controlling mushrooms or blackmailing him to go on a date with her. Mousse is a geeky martial artist who also came from China. With large glasses and often wearing a long flowing white kimono he proclaims his love for Shampoo. He often challenges Ranma to fights in order to get Shampoo’s attention. His usually wacky plans go horribly awry. Such as when he attempted to splash Ranma with the cursed spring waters of the duck. Mousse usually ends up on the receiving end of his own schemes. This in turn gets him ignored by Shampoo, but towards the end his feelings for her become clear. While Shampoo refuses to renounce her love for Ranma she does begin to treat Mousse with respect.


Happousai, a perverted old man , is the former trainer of Ranma’s and Akane’s fathers. He comes back to the dojo claiming he wants revenge. Happousai is often seen going about stealing women’s underwear for his own amusement. When he gets caught he often blames it on Ranma who ends up on the receiving end of the punishment. This becomes very bad when the two are forced to go to a bathhouse together. When Happousai goes into the women’s side to see the naked beauties Ranma is only a few steps behind him. Ranma gets beaten up for his troubles despite trying to stop Happousai.

Animation
Ranma ½ is an anime which has a few years under its belt. When I first began to watch it I was a bit put out by how simple the anime was drawn. I’m often used to watching gorgeous men running around. While Ranma is not ugly it certainly did not fit my tastes at first of how I imagined anime to be drawn. After a few episodes I found myself looking past all that and thoroughly enjoying the slapstick comedy for what it was. The action scenes were a ridiculous at times but kept my attention. They often turned out to be some of the best parts through the anime.


I have to say Ranma ½ is an anime which stands out on its own. I’ve never been the type of person to go for gender benders. However, this anime had me chuckling at the tongue in cheek comedy it often plays out. While from time to time it felt as if the anime were dragging its feet when it came it manages to pick itself right back up. Ranma ½ is not an anime to be taken seriously. It’s meant to be enjoyed with a bowl of ramen with the expectation of being entertained. I got my fair share of laughs from watching this anime. It left me with a rare expectation to watch the next episode simply to see the crazy antics the characters were up to. One of my favorite parts about the anime is how well they pull off the growing relationship between Ranma and Akane. 

While at times it’s hilarious there are touching moments which stand out. Like when Ranma is concerned about Akane when she begins to cry when she sees him hugging Shampoo. I can’t imagine a person who will not enjoy Ranma ½. It’s crazy, funny, has action, memorable characters, and even manages to have romance in it. All this the anime pulls off flawlessly while bouncing along to its own tunes. Despite its age, Ranma ½ holds up well to today’s standards. I sincerely wish more anime took a nose dive off the beaten path like this anime has done. I thoroughly enjoyed the ride this anime took me on and plan on watching more episodes in the near future.

Review by: Shezka Foxe | Review Format: DVD | Release Date: June 24, 2014

B+
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Sniper Elite III Review

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"Rebellion’s latest WWII shooter is not only a massive improvement over its predecessor; it’s undoubtedly one of the greatest sniper games of all time."

Imagine playing one of your favorite titles and compiling a list of things you want changed or fixed to make the experience even better. Now imagine personally handing that list to the developer and having every concern addressed. That’s precisely how I felt after finishing Sniper Elite III. I’ve always been a huge Sniper Elite fan, but V2 had its share of bugs and poor design choices. Well, Rebellion’s latest WWII shooter is not only a massive improvement over its predecessor; it’s undoubtedly one of the greatest sniper games of all time. I haven’t had this much fun with a sandbox since Far Cry 3…Yes, it’s that good. This doesn’t mean that Sniper Elite III is flawless. Poor AI is still a major problem and there isn’t enough environmental diversity. But even with its faults, Sniper Elite III is an absurdly fun shooter that shouldn’t be missed, regardless of the platform.
           
Sniper Elite III continues OSS sniper Karl Fairburne’s story during World War II. Instead of the cold ruins of Nazi Germany, we’re now traversing the exotic North African scenery. The plot has never been the series’ strength and Sniper Elite III is no different. Each mission is introduced with a slideshow of amateurish paintings and monotone voiceovers and there’s little to make players care for the characters and their conflicts. That’s ok though. No one is going to play Sniper Elite III for its narrative. Much like in previous entries, the X-Ray cam and superb sniping action steal the spotlight…only this time around; everything has been polished and refined for a smoother and more diverse gameplay experience.


"You can play stealthily avoiding alarms and getting close and personal, you can hop from sniping nest to sniping nest, sabotaging machinery to camouflage your shots…or, if all else fails, simply cause utter chaos and have half the Reich gunning after you."

Unlike previous entries, stealth plays a much more substantial role now. Most sections can be cleared using the silenced pistol and knife with the sniper rifle only utilized during key moments. This makes each kill more satisfying and there’s far more planning involved than just sitting in a corner and picking off enemies. Levels are now massive and wide open. Objectives can be reached via multiple entry points and each environment is packed with side objectives and collectibles. It’s clear the developers took major inspiration from Splinter Cell: Blacklist and Far Cry 3 with Tom Fisher-esque sneaking abilities that make Karl finally feel like a real assassin. As a result, gameplay is far more diverse and challenging. If Karl is exposed while surrounded by enemies, he can’t simply crouch and wait for the heat to pass; instead he needs to escape the danger zone before reassessing the situation.


"A game’s fun-factor is my main criteria when rating games and I haven to admit I had more fun playing Sniper Elite III than most recent AAA releases. "

Objectives are rather straightforward and not particularly original (kill some officials here, destroy a tank there…free a prisoner and so on), but it’s how you choose to reach each goal that makes every playthrough unique. You can play stealthily avoiding alarms and getting close and personal, you can hop from sniping nest to sniping nest, sabotaging machinery to camouflage your shots…or, if all else fails, simply cause utter chaos and have half the Reich gunning after you. Spicing up the campaign is the option to play the entire game with a with a co-op partner, which completely changes the battlefield dynamic. Sniper Elite III truly defines the term sandbox. The sniper rifle and pistol aren’t your only weapons either. You can lay down traps, throw grenades or dynamite and even start fires to cause diversions. It’s all about player choice. Once all eight stages are cleared, Sniper Elite III offers the usual multiplayer mode and two very interesting side activities: the Distance King competitive mode and the co-op Overwatch mode. The former has you scoring kills from the longest possible distance while the latter has you teaming up with a buddy where one player does the sniping and the other servers as a spotter. Both modes are quite addictive and it’ll be interesting to see whether the developers add more content to them with future DLC.


"Aside from the incredibly jaw-dropping X-Ray cam, the African scenery is absolutely gorgeous."

Visually, Sniper Elite III may not be a massive generational leap, but it still impresses. Aside from the incredibly jaw-dropping X-Ray cam, the African scenery is absolutely gorgeous (although I wish there was more variety from level to level). The most impressive thing would have to be the level designs. They’re not only massive, but offer numerous sneaking paths and sniping positions, which encourages exploration and experimentation. A game’s fun-factor is my main criteria when rating games and I haven to admit I had more fun playing Sniper Elite III than most recent AAA releases. It may not be flawless, but once you get hooked it’s impossible to let go. Even if you weren’t a fan of previous entries, Sniper Elite III is a gargantuan improvement over V2 and is an absolute must-buy if you’re looking for something a little different in your action games. With a slightly bigger budget, more development time and a tighter narrative, Sniper Elite could become the next big thing…until then, think of it as a cult classic that knows its core audience.  

Review by: Tin Salamunic | Reviewed on: PC

9
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Ah My Buddha Series Review

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Ah My Buddha is an edgy anime. I’ve never watched one in my life. Of course, I’ve heard of them.  The focus is around fan service rather than any actual storyline or plot going on. So when it came to watching the anime it was with the quiet innocence of someone who was expecting something different. Since I had no other edgy anime to compare Ah My Buddha to it turned out to be an interesting experience.

Storyline
Ah My Buddha is based around a protagonist who’s a 16 year old monk in training named Ikkou. Ikkou becomes a super monk when his raging hormones take control of him. He was sent to the Saienji Temple to train underneath his grandmother in order to gain control of his powers. While constantly dealing with doing his chores, school, running errands, getting beaten up, and the six nuns he trains alongside with Ikkou’s hands are full.

One of Ikkou’s main problems in the show is being “Awakened”. In order to not become Awakened he must avoid having perverted thoughts. Several times in the series when facing evil spirits or demons the nuns are unable to handle the situation. They will then turn to stripping down to their bras and panties in order to Awaken Ikkou. It’s not unusual for one of the nuns to leap in and rip the clothes away from each other’s bodies in order to expose bouncing boobies. Once Ikkou reaches the tipping point he becomes a super monk. After being Awakened he destroys the threat without any trouble. Only to go for the partially nude nuns while still caught up in his perverted state of mind. In which case he is beaten to a bloody pulp and blamed for his perverted nature by the same nuns who were responsible for awakening him in the first place. I found the storyline of Ah My Buddha to be simplistic and cliché. The whole having “hidden power and fighting evil monsters” plot is very old. It can turn out well when used correctly, but the anime does not utilize this idea to its full potential. One or two episodes were halfway decent when focused around one of the main characters. This helped to flesh out the cast and not be so two dimensional. However, with almost every episode ending with nuns stripping in order to defeat a monster gets old pretty fast.


Characters
There are six nuns in total who train alongside Ikkou. Ikkou is a typical cardboard cutout of any anime character I’ve ever seen. He’s goofy, clueless about his own abilities, and is constantly blamed for being perverted even when it’s not his fault. There is his love interest, Chitose, who is concerned for Ikkou’s well-being. She constantly berates him for not controlling his powers and is always the first to beat him up. Sumi is a quiet girl who seems clueless about life. Yuuko is a typical tomboy with short hair and flat chest who constantly beats up the boys. Haruka is blond, lazy, and has the biggest cup size of the entire gang. Hinata has a small devil demon who sits on her shoulder wherever she goes. She is very quiet and hardly ever smiles.  Sakura, the sister of Hinata, enjoys eating and making fun of people she deems beneath her. Then of course there is Kazuki. She is the main antagonist throughout most of the second season. Kazuki is constantly thwarted by the other nuns when she attempts to Awaken Ikkou on purpose for her own selfish gains.

Together this entire cast of characters makes up the Ah My Buddha anime. Chitose seemed to be the most rounded of the cast being the love interest. The others were the typical character archetypes found in most anime. At times the relationship the nuns have with Ikkou is very confusing. One moment they seemed to be friends with him and guiding him. In the next scene they would be beating him up and yelling him for being a pervert. I believe this anime failed on many fronts. At one point I actually thought the romance between Ikkou and Chitose would build up to something more. Throughout the anime small hints are dropped about the two. Chitose begins to become more aware of Ikkou and his needs while also hiding her feelings for him. While the relationship is cliché, there is a hint of a fatal attraction between the two. In the end the romance leads nowhere except to a dead end.

Towards the end of the anime the climax begins to build up. I did expect at least a halfway decent ending. The show does a good job of building up to this point only to end on the worst note I have ever seen. I won’t spoil the ending, but it sucked. It left me unsatisfied since the show did so much to prime you up for it only to drop the ball after barely ten minutes of intense action. Despite its flaws Ah My Buddha is a very light hearted anime. I believe despite the genre it’s in the creators could have done a better job. When an episode was dedicated to one character in particular they actually came out halfway decent. Many of the issues in the anime are never resolved or even explained. Kazuki’s real role is never fully explained until the bitter end. Even then the true antagonist is hidden by a veil only to be shown in rare moments of continuing a razor thin plot line which makes absolutely no sense.

Ah My Buddha does have a few winning points. I enjoyed the over the top action sequences even though the animations were a bit stiff. The creators did an excellent job in the artwork when it came to the nuns themselves. While I did not enjoy seeing large breasts popping up on screen every few minutes I found them hilarious. The crazy scenarios in which the nuns had to strip down to bras and panties were ludicrous. I still found myself laughing out loud at the bad jokes and puns the characters used. I also enjoyed listening to the opening sequence in the second season of the anime. It was catchy, upbeat, and gave me the urge to dance around my living room. I feel Ah My Buddha is a rushed job. The anime at one point did seem to have a halfway decent storyline and characters. Only to skip the plot it built up towards the end for an abrupt conclusion. This left me furious up till the end of the anime. I wish the creators had taken the time to polish the anime before finishing it. Had the plot holes been fixed, the characters fleshed out, and a little bit of tweaking Ah My Buddha could have been an original anime. Regardless, it is not the worst anime I’ve ever watched. It certainly can’t be called one of the best either.

Review by: Shezka Foxe | Review Format: DVD | Running Time: 650 Minutes

C-
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Worms: Battlegrounds Review

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"Battlegrounds’ solo campaign is the best way for players who haven’t played a Worms title since the late 90’s to acquaint themselves with new classes, weapons, and utilities."

Worms: Battlegrounds introduces the classic turn-based tactical gameplay into the latest generation of consoles, bringing with it several features from the most recent entries in the series, while honoring the tight gameplay and humor that the series is known for. Playing Battlegrounds’ solo campaign is the best way for players who haven’t played a Worms title since the late 90’s to acquaint themselves with new classes, weapons, and utilities. For newcomers to the franchise, the tutorials are essential, offering players all the guidance they need to have them hopping, back flipping, and ninja roping all over the map.

Battlegrounds also offers a cohesive storyline, and while it falls far short of a cinematic experience, the narrator’s dry humor—delivered with perfect nonchalance by the IT Crowd’s Katherine Parkinson—fits in line perfectly with the absurd nature of a game about homicidal invertebrates.  As Crypt Creeper Tara Pinkle (think Lara Croft meets Sterling Archer), Parkinson’s presence is a welcome addition to the solo campaign, and is the best reason for series veterans to slog through some of the early tutorial missions.

Unfortunately, much of the solo content of Worms is marred by bizarre AI, another unfortunate series trademark. Computer controlled opponents are capable of launching a grenade halfway across the map through a pinhole opening in the terrain on one turn, then completely waste a turn on the next. The real draw of Battlegrounds, as in any Worms title, is the multiplayer, and here Battleground offers plenty for players to enjoy both in online matches and local play. Customizing your own team is as much of a joy as it has ever been, and players who dig through the over 200 pieces of decorative items will find something to make their team stand out. Worms: Battlegrounds also offers plenty of voiceover options, all of which are capable of leaving a player in stitches.


"The different classes of worms (soldier, scout, heavy, and scientist) offer some variation to your troops’ capabilities, but play nearly identical overall."

Mulltiplayer matches are the real highlight of the experience. Sending an enemy skipping over a lake with a baseball bat, building an elaborate system of tunnels with a blowtorch, or having a bazooka shell make a difficult turn in the wind is always satisfying, but only more so when you know it’s a friend holding the other controller. Battlegrounds’ clan options also allow to players to play Worms on the same team, which raises the stakes on ranked online battles.

The different classes of worms (soldier, scout, heavy, and scientist) offer some variation to your troops’ capabilities, but play nearly identical overall. The heavy might move a little slower and have a little more health than the other troops, but neither of these characteristics will have you playing him in any other manner than a standard worm. An exception to this would be the scout, who can cover more ground per turn against the ticking clock, and can use the Blowtorch to escape from larger worms who cannot follow his path. Again, it is not a great difference, but it does offer players something else to think about as the game progresses.


"Overall though, Worms Battlegrounds is a very solid addition to Team 17s venerable franchise."

The graphics in Worms: Battlegrounds are presented in 2.5D, meaning all of the action takes place on a two-dimensional plane, but objects are rendered in three.  The added depth can be distracting, particularly when you add in different types of terrain and moving doodads to the maps. Occasionally, it is possible to lose track of the landscape in the action, which can be very frustrating after lining up a perfect shot only to have it blocked by an object that appeared to be in the background, or lining up your worm on a ledge only to have it slip off of the cliff to its death. These kind of moments have always been a part of the series, but seem more prominent now than they ever did in the past. Overall though, Worms Battlegrounds is a very solid addition to Team 17s venerable franchise. Hurling a Holy Hand Grenade into a swarm of opponents brings about the same joy it did almost twenty years ago, even if the experience is bogged down by buggy AI and a busy graphical presentation.

Review by: Nick Walge | Reviewed on: Playstation 4

7.5
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Among the Sleep Review

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"Except for the first level, the monsters in this game aren’t scary. The effect of the screen distorting and the thick air are a nice touch when a monster approaches."

Among the Sleep has been highly anticipated for its unique perspective that lets players see through the eyes of a two year old. This gives the game a completely different feel compared to the rest of the survival horror genre. While I’m not a fan of horror myself, I decided to give the game a try. My first glimpse into the game was during the Alpha version Krillbite Studios released a while back. I finally decided to swallow my fear pills and take a crack at the completed piece itself. Among the Sleep starts out well enough. I was presented with a happy family scene in the beginning of the game. The mother is making a cake for her son’s birthday until she hears a knock at the door. Mom tells her son to give her a minute as she gets up and walks out of the kitchen. A domestic dispute breaks out as the air becomes distorted around the baby. Yells are heard from the hallway only for the front door to slam shut a second later. The mother returns with a smile on her face and hands the child a gift - a teddy bear, who serves as a guide throughout the game.

After being put to bed with Teddy, the baby wakes up to see his new friend being pulled out of the crib by an unseen force. A moment later an invisible hand drags the crib forward, eventually tipping it over and releasing the baby to explore as he pleases. This is where the game starts to get a bit creepy. Imagine, a two year old child wandering around an abandoned, empty house. Pretty good set-up so far, right? Sad to say, that’s the only scary aspect of the game.

Except for the first level, the monsters in this game aren’t scary. The effect of the screen distorting and the thick air are a nice touch when a monster approaches. Simply crawling beneath a piece of furniture until the danger passes is good enough to escape them. This ruined the game for me since I expected to be chased. At the most the monsters would go a few steps in my direction, but would then wander off as soon as my character dove for cover. There is little to no challenge in each level beyond tracking down objects, or “memories” within the game to progress. Obtaining each “Memory” is easy. It only took me ten to fifteen minutes to find each one. The memories stood out against the dark background of the environment by being shiny and glowing. Some memories were hidden underground or within a shed. Leading you away from the main area only to turn around and find yourself locked in. At one point my character was locked in the shed as outside a creature scratched the walls. When I stepped back out I found wet footprints on the ground. I thought this was a clever trick, but it was only used during one level. It turned out to be the only time I felt a lick of terror throughout the entire game.


"One of the worst problems are the glitches. In the beginning of the game when the baby is crawling the floor disappears."

One of the only things which kept me engaged in this game was the eerie environments. From a child’s point of view I could understand how they might be terrifying. A playground became a sinister obstacle course. A library became an empty labyrinth crawling with monsters. These familiar surroundings became alien landscapes to a child who had to go through them to find his mother. The controls for Among the Sleep were a bit difficult. Rather than being able to turn the child around using my keyboard keys I had to use the mouse. This is frustrating during the rare times I ran into a monster. Rather than flee I had to sit there rolling my mouse across my desk to head into a new direction. After a while I did manage to master the controls. I ran into more problems as the game progressed though.

One of the worst problems are the glitches. In the beginning of the game when the baby is crawling the floor disappears. Thankfully, this glitch fixes itself when the baby stands up, but soon as I switched back to crawling the glitch kicks back in. When exploring I also had problems of getting stuck in pieces of furniture and small corners. During one obstacle I had to move a crate to open a drawer. When I went to move the crate it began jumping for no reason. I found the drawer had “broken” and was forced to reload to an earlier save point.

I also hated how jerky the camera movements were. I understand playing as a baby the camera is supposed to sway from side to side when walking. However, there were times the camera would jerk sharply upward or downward when I transitioned from standing to crawling. These sharp movements made my head hurt. I found myself having to stop playing every 20 to 30 minutes just to nurse a growing headache. One of the few enjoyable aspects of this game I liked was how the levels were set up. In order to open a door I had to drag over a chair to climb on to reach the doorknob. If I needed to get to a ledge I had to pull out drawers like a set of stairs. Climb each one, and then climb into the next area through a window. This was a unique mechanic which further illustrated you were playing from the perspective of a child.


"There is a lot of potential for Among the Sleep to be a truly terrifying game. Sadly, the game fails to deliver."

Among the Sleep loses a lot of points with me. I received it with high anticipation. I was expecting a gem since this game was taking a different route other games had not. Other than a couple of jump scares the game was disappointing. The game was also far less scary then I had anticipated it to be. During one level I walked into a room to have a chair randomly fly at me. It made me jump in my seat, but was not “scary”. The game was also far too easy.

There is a lot of potential for Among the Sleep to be a truly terrifying game. Sadly, the game fails to deliver. I will give Krillbite a nod for at least trying something new. They went off the beaten path to make a game unlike any other. The unique environments and perspective do help make up for the lack of actual gameplay. I can’t guarantee everyone will enjoy this game, but it is different. It certainly deserves a playthrough for anyone who is a fan of survival horror. My only advice is to make the investment when the price goes down. 

Review by: Shezka Foxe | Reviewed on: PC

4
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