Early Impressions: New Game!!

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Four episodes in, I almost miss the first season.

Now, it’s been more than half a year since I watched New Game!!’s debut season, so my collective insight on the ins-and-outs of the series may not be as I remember. All I seem to hold on to is that this second season feels a little more… serviced than its predecessor. Good things may be lying in wait, but was there ever so much fan service in the first season? Not just in conveniently-angled shots that showcase characters’ assets, but the sort of behavior that is considered very, very moe. Thinking about it, all of these characters are moe to some degree, and a third of the way through this season, the series seems determined to flaunt that. Though encouragingly, there is some degree of inner conflict with characters who didn’t receive a ton of development in the first season. Only issue is that some are resolved quickly.

More than anything, the essence of a sequel is something I’ve discussed to varying lengths before, whether in anime, movies, or video games. A sequel should seek to improve upon what came before, or allow a different direction to take place that still holds its own within the context its predecessor designed. New Game!!, so far, feels as though its meandering around its potential for the sake of character cuteness.

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Why is Aoba’s friend suddenly into game design? Why is the Eagle Jump company that the girls work for only taking in young, beautiful women? Why is it that so many young, beautiful women are suddenly within a realm where young, beautiful women design video games and sleep within their office space without pants on and flirt with one another. Why are all of these women conveniently different in personality so to blend with one another in a dysfunctional family-esque environment where they must learn to deal with each other’s quirks? Why am I bringing all of this up? Evidence; there is a disconnect from reality that this series has that makes it feel somewhat artificial. How everything comes together so perfectly, so succinctly exploitable for fan service, makes its attempts at serious development feel too self-indulgent. The best of both worlds is so hard to capitalize, such as with my wavering thoughts on Mahoujin Guruguru.

Even with my stabs at its moe nature, New Game!! offers more than the average Urara Meirochou. At least it’s doing something with its characters past the benign standards of archetype development. At least it’s allowing for the motive of self-improvement to take the forefront when the serviced charm wears thin. While inner conflicts resolve somewhat quickly, they’re there, and to some extent that’s all one can ask for. Thus far, it’s worse than its predecessor for reasons relating to its balance of serious development of characters/plot (whatever it may be) and close-up booty shots—at least I think so. What it all amounts to in the end is an above-average show.

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Though I’ve noticed, perhaps because I’m more actively looking for it, some fluctuations in animation. The overall design, which is still absolutely spectacular for its moe undertones, holds its own yet again. Although, animation can be shaky from time to time. Nothing incredibly noticeable, but aside from highly-detailed booty shots, basic mannerisms come across as too sketchy. Moving in just the perfect amount of delay to make things feel a tinge robotic. Easily ignorable, for those who wish to do so.

If Made in Abyss is current MVP of the season, this show would be LVP—though not by much. Only that the magic contained in the first season that made it so enamoring to watch is fading fast. For the first time, despite looking forward to watching this sequel season, I felt bored going through some episodes. Perhaps it is the artificial nature of the anime’s absurd setting that finally feels too noticeable to ignore; unfortunately, I value realism more than most in realistic settings. Should New Game!! employ a “Why are there so many girls running a video game company? That’s weird!” without making it sound like an obnoxious preaching from the cronies of social justice, I would find the setting more natural to take in. However, even stating that desire opens up a can of worms I’m not about to put my stake into.

Early Impressions: Mahoujin Guruguru (2017)

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Six episodes in, it rekindled my appreciation for occasionally lowbrow parody anime.

Sometime in the lost years of my innate weebness, I would watch an anime by the name of Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo every week on Cartoon Network’s “Toonami” block. Initially, I found the show immensely entertaining, though as it went on I became more interested in “serious” anime, such as Naruto. Hehe. Mahoujin Guruguru reminds me quite a bit of Bobobo, though while the latter’s absurdity overtakes everything else, Guruguru has the awareness to remain both serious and non-serious, with priority being given to whatever feels necessary. The first episode was nearly perfect; introducing things light-heartedly while also establishing the inborn bond between the two lead characters, the only thing that made it better was the satire of classic JRPG scenarios. Needless to explain further, satire is something I can get behind in series.

Normally I would complain that a series mixes serious and non-serious vibes too earnestly for one to be able to take the serious moments seriously. One only need to reread that previous sentence to realize how serious I am about it. Within satire, however, it’s easier to justify, as the viewer is under the impression that a lot of it shouldn’t be taken seriously anyway. Nichijou isn’t technically a satire, so when it tried to develop its characters (in the little time it chose to), it only worked minimally due to the outright bizarre scenarios hogging all of the attention. This also applies somewhat to Guruguru, as it is prone to making serious plot developments within non-serious situations, which makes it lose a little of its magic. Yet, it’s the fact that it tries to deepen the relationship between the two leads and their desire for adventure and fun on a semi-consistent basis that makes it so fun to watch.

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Is the series funny? Not usually. Guruguru has actually managed to make me chuckle twice, which for those who have read my blog long-term know is an accomplishment in and of itself. Occasionally lowbrow humor, much like one would find in a kids’ show (potty humor, especially), is accompanied by anime standards, like the Straight Man set-up and random zaniness pushed to extremes. I actually find my favorite parts to be when the male lead is taken by his lust and constantly halts everything serious so that he can gaze upon the female body with the most grim of expressions. I’ve always been fond of the “seriousness” behind the male’s desire for sexual intimacy in anime. The most I could say is that the series is consistently humorous.

Another consistency is within its design, which is so vibrantly varied (though less so later on, sadly…) that one can’t help but appreciate what it’s parodying. Simple, chibi-ish designs that every so often spur into random changes in aesthetics to emphasize humor. Pixel-animation is also used quite often, which speaks to me on a personal level. Pixel animation is best animation. In-anime text boxes will also spring up randomly, further emphasizing the parody aspect, which altogether makes for a dazzling display of heart within its goofiness. It doesn’t hurt when the general aesthetic for the show is clean and bold, making every character and creature poignantly placed in the world around them. And within the satire genre, it allows animators to get creative with the presentation… while also justifying their need for shortcuts on occasion.

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Should there be one core issue to the series, it’s that despite its consistency everywhere else, the only thing it’s not consistent at is delivery. It’s first episode was magical, and I was ready to crown it MVP of the season right then and there. Since then, it’s floundered a tad, flip-flopping between good and decent so long as the type of humor changes and its serious aspects begin to overpower the satirical nature. At one point, near the halfway mark of episode five (I believe), I was actually somewhat bored, as it was ankle-deep in a muck of seriousness that I didn’t think fit the show. It’s at its best when it uses that seriousness as a back-up option, rather than employ it at the first sign of trouble.

I have high expectations for this series knowing that it’s a two-cour adventure. Quite a lot can happen in that span, and for the time being, it’s used its time wisely enough for me to aptly recommend it. Unfortunately, the manner of decreasing charm is starting to rear itself, so perhaps the heaps of praise is but a precursor to serious criticism. Time will tell. Until then, I will marathon this adventure between light hero and dark mage until it kills me. Pleasurably.

Early Impressions: Made in Abyss

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Four episodes in, the atmosphere of adventure never fails.

My one true complaint, aside from being only a third of the way through the series and not knowing what it’s trying to establish, is that the pacing seems a little too quick. By the end of episode three, the whole world has been established, the camaraderie between characters is put to the test, and a number of plot devices are hinted at, resulting in a bloated opening act whose foundation isn’t completely stable. I suppose for those who just want to get on with the inevitable journey, this is no problem, but I enjoy retaining the taste that will lead unto what many refer to as “the good part.”

I lied, there’s one other complaint; I wish Made in Abyss delved more into the societal pressure of profit and competition, almost like an otherworldly capitalist culture. There are occasional hints said in dialogue and established through rules of the central town, but everyone just seems gung-ho and accepts it as non-conflicting. Aside from the adventure-esque nature of the anime and straightforward, yet not completely one-dimensional characters, there’s not much else to grasp onto. Again, this may be to blame of the quickened pace.

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However straightforward, Made in Abyss seems to draw inspiration from many olden tales of young rebels going forth on journeys of self-growth. Its art direction is wonderfully unique and eye-catching, leaving the more intricate details to the world it places its characters in. And wonderfully so is this accomplished, as everything surrounding the mystique of “The Abyss” is accentuated in a calm, mature manner. Overexplanatory by nature of the people who wish to discover its details—and a convenient characterization for the female lead—while also leaving the most weighted nuggets up to viewer interpretation. Through four episodes, I only spotted one sequence that looked clunky from an animation standpoint. Some shortcuts are taken in making the characters look less crisp, especially when shown from far away, but otherwise, I have no issue with artistic presentation.

Believe it or not, I tend to watch anime at a very quiet volume, inhibiting my ability to take in the soundtrack accompanied a lot of the time. Only recently was it that I found this to be something of a cardinal sin, as one should certainly be willing to listen to every detail as one would visually analyze every detail. Made in Abyss was a fantastic piece to hear, as a lot of the instrumentation is rather unique from the standard fare. It sounds almost jungle-like; tribalistic, I suppose. Reminding one of a rainforest setting with men in grass skirts and tiki masks hurling spears at prey. From what has been established, the technology is almost on par with that, and the fear of the unknown, ever-looming in plain sight, allows for more of that adventure-esque atmosphere to take hold of the viewer’s anticipation.

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Somewhat lingered upon above, characters are relatively straightforward in their beliefs and personality. Motivation and goals are more at play here, with the relationships built between one another already established prior to current events or behind the scenes (the first and third episodes have a two-month split). Why do people wish to explore The Abyss? What does it mean to them to become someone who explores The Abyss? Many, thus far, serve to aid with the two leads in their journey, with hardly any intention to make them more complex as characters. The leads themselves are more in it for personal reasons, ones typical of the types of characters they are. Should one want to find any positive attributes within, one should search for execution of base personality, which many are spirited enough. The stars are kids, after all. Kids are usually pretty upbeat, right?

This is a shining spot in a season already full of delectable choices (at least the ones I chose), so it goes without saying that I would recommend this without any true hesitation. Still, there are nine episodes left to change my mind, but I’m not one to cower before the unknown (in anime). Perhaps a spectacular tone and art palette will be enough to cruise past the finish line.

Entries from the Dead: Mirai Nikki

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[Dropped after twelve episodes.]

Yet another tricky addition to a series already perturbed by the inefficiency of my faulty memory. Mirai Nikki, like Seto no Hanayome, has very little written within my anime list’s archives, so any crutch I may have in pinpointing a specific reason(s) as to why I didn’t continue a particular series is all up to remembering how I was years prior. What I do recall is that there’s a somewhat unordinary reason to my putting the series on-hold.

Flashback to the 2014 Summer of Anime. Starting in the second week of June, I decided to watch Mirai Nikki out of simple curiosity. However, outside influences forced me to watch the series quickly. Every year, family members come up from the southern states of the United States to visit my family and I for about a week or two; in that time, I barely have enough energy to watch even a few episodes of anime, much less marathoning a whole series in one day. Wanting to get a head start, I picked out a series I felt I could watch quickly, as my time limit was within eight hours before they were to arrive. When I got to the twelfth episode, I did the math in my head and determined that I wouldn’t finish the series in time before I had to leave, so I abandoned the series for Ebiten, which only had ten episodes.

It wasn’t until a few days after the fact that I realized that I had done the math wrong in my head—I could have finished Mirai Nikki in the time allotted throughout that day. Not only did I essentially drop Mirai Nikki for no reason, wasting the time spent watching a whole twelve episodes of it, but I subjected myself to the entirety of Ebiten, which was not pleasant.

Mirai Nikki itself was somewhat interesting as a case study, as it had all the reasons to be a gripping and insightful story, but it was also tremendously problematic. Many complain about the male lead being too much of a crybaby, though I would disagree and say that he’s only minimally exaggerated in the situation he’s been placed in. Does every teenager fantasize about being placed in a Hunger Games-esque scenario of fantastic bloodshed? Certainly not. My victim of shoddy characterization comes in the form of Yuuno Gasai, which I’m aware is a controversial statement. To me, she is the pinnacle of everything tryhard about fantasy plots involving weak main characters being carried by unstoppable forces because why not? Her weaknesses are constantly being evaporated by her will to protect the male lead, and no matter what happens, the only thing interesting about her is the mystery behind her affection for the male lead and whether her obsession will cause the demise of those around him. That’s her only shtick, at least up through twelve episodes. Heed that this entire entry is from someone who has seen not even half of the entire series.

I suppose her symbol as a realistic and uninhibited yandere makes her an immensely likable and moe character to many. For me, that symbol needs to come with something more, so that she doesn’t become predictable and/or flat as a character for the entire ride.

The recollection of various scenes, including one where Yuuno is implied to be brutally raped if the male lead doesn’t come to save her in time, sift through my memory in incomplete patches, disallowing me to really articulate what I didn’t care for about the series. In all honesty, if it wasn’t for my slip-up, I likely would’ve continued it, but at this point, I wouldn’t pick it up without restarting the entire series, which may be why I never have. If nothing else, it’s entertaining in its desire to make everything seem dark and depressing—and, of course, coolly suspenseful. It reminds me of Deadman Wonderland somewhat… though that didn’t turn out too well upon a rewatch…

What all of this may boil down to is, “It’s entertaining, but a dumb kind of entertaining.” I wasn’t totally in-tune with my critiquing prowess as I am now three years ago, so that may shed doubt as to whether I’d even find the series engrossing today. Writing this out, part of me would really like to continue it, almost making this post pointless, but with life becoming more and more constricting, it may settle itself within the graveyard of series I dropped almost on a whim, never to find their day in the rays of my focused retinas.

Quick Thoughts on Demi-chan wa Kataritai: Demi-chan no Natsuyasumi

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While most people adored titles such as Kobayashi-sanKonoSuba 2, and Little Witch Academia, the surprise hit of Winter 2017 for me was Demi-chan wa Kataritai. I liked it so much that upon finishing it, its source manga material hit my “Plan to Read” list. For the first time in a long while, an anime had left me absolutely starving for more content, exhibiting the kind of curious spirit that makes anime so inherently different from Western media. Soon after the series wrapped up, a sequel OVA was announced, though with my track record of OVA’s, I wasn’t horribly optimistic—after all, OVA’s tend to be extra fodder that don’t mean anything to the grand scope of a series. Of course, when it came time to watch said sequel OVA, as my adoration for the series is that strong, I sighed to myself at how typically it acknowledged my suspicions.

There truly is no reason for any fan of the series to watch this extra episode. Should one be fasting and need a quick bite to recover, then by all means dig in. More than anything, this Demi-chan OVA is nothing but a distraction, or one last farewell before the looming unknown as its anime continuation hangs in purgatory. What it provides is the same spirit of emotional energy through character interaction and exuberance as the parent series, but little of the intricate details that made it such a fascinating series. This particular piece plays out more like a standard harem romcom than it really needs to.

Still, it gave me such a release to be able to see characters I genuinely enjoyed back onscreen after so long. While Hikari and Satou took most of the spotlight this time around, they made enough of their spotlight to provide a base level of entertainment on a consistent level. Plenty of recurring characters also return as a reminder of their existence to the audience, the audience’s will to remember be damned! If this was a safe, uneventful OVA designed to garner more sales, then it’s within the upper echelon of safe, uneventful OVA designed to garner more sales. That is, it’s not recommendable to anyone other than those who truly enjoyed the series.

The rating for this title and all others can be found on MyAnimeList.

Updated Thoughts on Bakemonogatari

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Katanagatari is one of my favorite anime of all time. I was so enthralled by it upon first watch—in the far distant past of December of 2012—that only a day later, I started a journey with Nisio Isin’s most notable work of his career: The Monogatari Series. Fun fact: Bakemonogatari was almost something I watched during the first Summer of Anime, but put it off due to the episode length and rather vague synopsis (on the site I used to watch anime). Turns out I really should’ve watched it then, as the series ended up being more than an agreeable watch. Of course, I was also still on the “Isin high,” so it’s possible my enjoyment of Bake may have been leftover sunlight from the alternative energy source that is, to this day, Nisio Isin’s greatest piece of literature.*

* Statement not up for debate.

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For lack of a desire to build upon the obviously looming question of Bake’s quality, fortune appears to be on my side, as my enjoyment of the series remained almost entirely intact. Though the difference between late December of 2012 and late August of 2017 is that I can now acutely articulate what makes the series so popular. That is, of course, aside from the number of attractive young women and plentiful amounts of sexual fan service.

Something of a difficult quality to ascertain in Bake, and the rest of the series for that matter, is the importance of the sexuality it presents throughout. For humor, for stimulation, absolutely, but is there more to it than what it lets on? It acts as somewhat of a characterization for the male lead, Arararagi, as he’s far more open (occasionally) with his fetishes and sexual curiosity than others in his position. Other female characters either display themselves due to basis of the plot at hand, which makes it harder to defend from the label of indulgent harassment, or to gain a response from the male lead, all of whom are implied to be infatuated with. With Hitagi, who acts as Aragi’s girlfriend about halfway through the series, her sexual antics are an indication of obvious attraction, as is fair in her position to be so promiscuous. Everyone else seems to do so at their own discretion… perhaps as a test or a subtle jab at their own desires.

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In terms of believability, the gauge is cozily settled onto “E.” Characters, plot, manner of events; every piece of the pie is made of acrylic titanium and tastes of a ladybug’s wing. Completely artificial with a sort of atmosphere that reeks of man spitting on the pages of media norms. That ends up being half the fun. Issues that revolve around the characters are completely human, told in the form of supernatural phenomena, yet the downtime between such serious circumstances don’t reflect the normality of everyday life. It’s a planned show, a circus of obscene entertainers who awe the audience with exuberant quirks of unholiness. Hard to take entirely seriously, yet sharp in its ability to keep the viewer’s focus. I think the thing I learned most upon rewatching this is that I can now understand why some people can’t get into this franchise.

Smoothly it integrates this complexity with each passing chapter, and although its pompousness remains ever present, there are signs of its desire to appeal to everyone. Some of this is shown through its entirely human conflicts, such as being unable to relinquish hidden stress or finding peace with a traumatic incident of the past. More so, however, is Bake’s affinity for long, emotionally-draining monologues explaining entirely what’s been going on as the plot builds up. Somewhat on the vein of Shounen anime, except with better presentation and less screaming. With this, it hopes to escape the picture of elitism that tends to follow series that stray from industry standards. Whether or not it truly does is dependent on the viewer’s priorities. I adore it for its absurdity; others may not.

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Among the more common examples of Bake’s distancing from the norm is its style of presentation. This aspect is also likely what most would consider its most snooty trait. Constant close-ups of eyes, faces, hands, feet, tits, what have you; still-shots of blank images with text written all over them, strange mannerisms from characters (head-tilting, sexually-stimulating positions), different interpretations of character design. Should one be in the mood for both well-drawn characters in standard form and symbolic gobbledygook, Bake is sure to suit their fancy tenfold. Even strangeness outside the realm of animation, including pictures of real-life people and objects intermingled with quick cutaways of fast-paced mental strain, are whimsical entertainment coated in tryhard cringe. I didn’t see much in terms of animated flaws (though I did come across some), leaving me to believe that Shaft not only did a wonderful job of meeting the basics, but setting itself apart with extracurricular activity. It improves as it goes along.

Almost by virtue of its desire to be different, Bakemonogatari passes in spite of its somewhat overindulgent story. That’s not to say the story isn’t good or the characters aren’t interesting enough to compensate for Isin essentially putting himself in the story to look at a lot of naked preteen girls… I think I elaborated on that enough, yes? A matter of personal taste and moral boundaries are what will stray those away from giving the series justification. For those who stay, indifferent to the potentially problematic subtext, enjoy a story whose furthermost goal is to entertain and perplex. I know I did.

The rating for this title and all others can be found on MyAnimeList.

Pokémon: The Origin Review

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(Originally posted October 5th, 2013 on MyAnimeList. Minimally edited.)

It’s important to remember that when reviewing any topic, one should keep their personal bias to a very low minimum. This is especially difficult when dealing with a monster type franchise such as the Pokémon series, as most—if not all—people have been exposed to either the Pokémon series or games at some point in their lives. To the degree that this affects their opinion of the franchise is what ultimately will decide the fate of the future of the series. Keeping this point in mind, when it was announced that a new anime would be produced that would follow the storyline of the original Pokémon games, it was safe to say that a few people were excited. They were promised a look back at what revolutionized a franchise in the form of a four-episode special. What it was willing to accomplish in those four episodes is the most debatable topic of all.

Once again, when reviewing, one is recommended that they put their personal bias to a very low minimum. Keeping this in mind, I viewed this four-episode special through the mind of someone who has no prior knowledge of the Pokémon series or games. I watched Pokémon: The Origin as if I was playing the first game for the first time through the perspective of the main character. From what was gathered, the story begins with a character named Red, who is passionate about catching and training creatures known as Pokémon. He, along with his rival, Green, is tasked with collecting every species of Pokémon known to that world by the town’s local Pokémon professor: Professor Oak. With his goal set in stone, Red sets out to catch ’em all.

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With only four episodes to work with, there is a guarantee that not everything from the game will be shown in the series. To someone who has no prior knowledge of the game, these time skips do more justice as a form of confusion than anything else. Along with this, the special only chooses to show certain scenes from the game, with some scenes being obvious to the hardcore fan, while random to about everyone else. Due to this, each episode not completely focused on the goal of collecting every pokémon possible or advancing that plot accordingly is viewed more as a filler episode. To those not aware of the Pokémon games, they will also notice a variety of plotholes within the special that don’t make sense unless you’ve played the game. One such thing is the absence of police or the logic behind sending a child out to collect potentially dangerous creatures in order to satisfy the wish of a man no one knows anything about. Without these security blankets, viewers won’t know how to interpret the impact of certain scenes and their importance to the series. These gaping plotholes and the lack of any character development is prevalent and noticeable throughout the entirety of this special.

Speaking of character development, it wouldn’t seem too far fetched to think that the special would focus a little time on developing the main character, Red, as he’s on screen roughly 85% of the time, whether in recaps or otherwise. With the entire series being based on this one character, it’s hard to really enjoy any other character that’s introduced during the time span, that is, unless you’re a fan of the series. I’m sensing a pattern here. The only other character that gets any amount of focus in more than one episode is Green, and even he doesn’t develop into anything more than the rival character. The issue with the lack of depth can be solely attributed to the lack of time and the length of the individual pokémon battles. Whether in recaps or actual battle, Red is shown fighting other characters’ pokémon a big chunk of the time that this special has to offer. It does take the liberty to offer some insight on how Red develops as a trainer through his struggles with certain opponents, and the views he shares when facing someone with far different beliefs. Unfortunately, this is the most that the special is willing to offer.

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What would be an appropriate way to animate a series trying to showcase nostalgic elements? Why, with save screens and in-game text, of course. At the beginning and end of each episode, the viewer is shown a small snippet of animation that plays to the feelings of those who played the original games. Before each episode, one has to load up the save file in order to continue their adventure, and when they’re finished, they have to save their progress. These in-game pop-ups serve as a reminder of how important it is to save the game, what it matters to the quality of the animation is not exceedingly accurate. The recaps that I’ve mentioned before are also reminiscent of the original games as a small text box will appear at the bottom of the screen, explaining the situation that is being spoken of to us by Red. In terms of the animation in general, it’s appropriate, to say the least. It’s not the most spectacular animation one will see from animators of the 21st century, but it’s enough to satisfy both fans and newcomers alike. The battles are vivid and well-detailed, granted the viewer isn’t stricken with how dull the humans look in comparison to the pokémon. Such is only expected from those who know the series.

Taking everything into consideration, if one is a fan of the Pokémon series, this special will probably hold a special place in their heart. It’s respectful to its source material (until the end) and the character Ash Ketchum, who plays the main role of the original Pokémon series, is nowhere in sight. Seeing as I am a fan of the Pokémon series of games, it was enjoyable to view from a fan’s perspective, but that doesn’t erase the numerous problems that are hidden behind the spontaneous animation. Some of these problems are excusable due to the time restraints that a series has with only four episodes, but there have been series that have done more with less, and to excuse something as enormous as Pokémon from doing anything less than possible puts it in hot water with those unfamiliar with the series. Everything else considered, this is the perfect treat for fans of the original games, but its purely restricted to that group in particular.

The rating for this title and all others can be found on MyAnimeList.