RWBY Volume Three Review

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I almost feel bad for saying so, but it seems that the death of RWBY‘s original creator, Monty Oum, had shifted the tone of RWBY in the same direction. I went into the third volume expecting a darker tone all throughout, but was surprised when I was greeted with a pretty goofy, albeit competitively serious, debut episode. The promise of gloomy days was still present in my mind, but with the way things started off, I wondered how exactly the transition would take place.

There is something inherently different this time around. The writing is still off-putting, humor-wise, but there seems to be bigger things in play here. Something about the tone, the atmosphere of how the volume begins gives off this feeling of trepidation. Perhaps it was aided by my knowledge of a certain big spoiler that happens at the end, but in actuality, it had little to do with it. Even with the goofy writing, the third volume starts out with a battle in a school-sanctioned tournament. To start off with a battle, even with the context of being for sport, does more than opening with, say, loads of exposition or a food fight. One can tell right away that the gloves are off and RWBY is ready to provide a narrative that compares to the scale of its own potential.

Before getting into that, let’s talk about the first couple episodes and how much they blow. The first five episodes of RWBY‘s third volume follow a trend that makes the series all but engrossing. Using the tournament as a convenient excuse, the first five episodes have at least one battle sequence to them, including battles against characters who have never appeared in the series before and likely never will again, assuming they don’t get a lot of lines. This makes the battles feel dull and flash for the sake of flash, without any reason to care. We know who wins, why not turn off the brain and look at the pretty lights being shown in front of you? When those aren’t shown, the viewer is subject to the show’s humor—particularly in the first two episodes or so—which has gone from bad to horrible. I never cared for the humor in the first two volumes, but it seems the team’s sense of humor hasn’t changed a bit since the series’s debut. There was one joke I found amusing. There were about thirty others that made me twitch. It’s safe to say the first five episodes of the series serve little to the overall enjoyment I had with the series, as they seemed to want to cling to the calm nature and vaguely ominous roots that were established in volumes prior. It wasn’t until episode six where things started to, for lack of a better phrase, get going.

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Once the halfway point was met, the quality of each episode gradually improved as it went along. I was surprised with how enamored I became with the developing plot, the serious tone of the show. This was what I had wanted since the end of volume one, something to really grip with the size of scope the series wanted to paint with its mountain of exposition. It showed signs before, but never got to the point where anything bad was ever accomplished, ever really felt grim, out of control. Volume Three is the first time where the evil forces have taken a grasp upon the world and taken extreme measures to ensure their plan goes accordingly. It feels detailed, well thought out. The foreshadowing leading up to the large climax present is gradual, but effective, even if the execution can be a little corny. The storytelling is on par (and executed similarly) with Volume Two, but here the viewer is treated with some resolution to the events that occur, rather than sweep it under the rug for everyone to forget in time.

Also similar to Volume Two, Volume Three has a tendency to let plot override the importance of other aspects, such as character. I’ve already mentioned above how a number of characters that have never appeared before make their debut appearance, only to provide nothing in the sense of development. The already established characters tend to take a back seat to react to the plot that is being unveiled as the episodes pass. As much as I loathe the humor, it gives the characters personality and life that they lack in more serious situations. As the mood gets to be more dramatic, so do the characters, leaving them to bask in their righteous justice and nothing more. In terms of development, I’d be hard pressed to point out any individual character who receives a good amount of development in this volume. Crow, definitely, but he’s a new character and needs it regardless. Perhaps Ozpin gets a little in terms of revealing the level of power he commands, or maybe Pyrrha because of the stress she goes through. But is that really worthy of further development? Or simply more reacting to what the plot throws at them?

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The typical teams consisting of Ruby, Yang, Blake, and Weiss, and Jaune, Pyrrha, Ren, and Nora are front and center for the most part. They’re the characters that get the most attention, but some receive a little more than others. Once again, to react to the things happening to them rather than give them any sense of purpose or goal. Do they showcase their trademark quirks? Yes and no. When the situation calls for it, Weiss acts noble and uppity. Ruby is awkward and cheery. Blake is, as one puts it, “emo.” Yang is… notably calm for the most part. The only character to maintain their quirks—and improve upon them—is Nora, who is still insane for the sake of being insane. By volume’s end, I never feel these characters are showcased “correctly,” in a way that gives their personalities the spotlight while also reflecting them with their actions, set by the standards of previous volumes. Props to the development of Crow, but the rest of the cast feel as though the development team thought they’d had enough time on the frontlines.

Animation has, fortunately, improved enough to make even the most trivial of actions look smooth, though not consistently. The action scenes (later on) are very well choreographed and visually dazzling, provoking the sense of epicness I’m sure they intended. There are times when characters move robotically for the sake of “humor,” but comes off as lazy when the actions are held too long. This doesn’t happen very often as the humor tends to wear thin physically in the first few episodes. It creeps up sometimes, with a strange twitch here and there, though the animation holds steady for the most part. A subjective complaint is the use of fight scenes in every episode without any real meaning. This makes the rather stylish fight scenes feel dull and spiritless. It doesn’t evoke any emotion, aside from those clamoring for the fight scenes only. It feels like a waste to continue to waste time on fights that don’t amount to anything and waste the time to make later fight scenes all the more creative. For example, did we really have to watch Neptune and Sun do a little jig with some mindless harpies for half an episode? Neptune and Sun contribute very little to the volume at all, so why bother? Does anyone even like these characters?

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A little note about voice acting, as this is still considered an “amateur” project, but I thought the cast did a really nice job throughout. Ruby’s voice actor has really improved since she started, and everyone else among the cast accurately placed the emotional depth of every situation into their voices. I was a little taken aback by how fierce some of them sounded. The tracks to accompanying scenes were a little gratuitous, calling for a number of “epic-sounding” symphonies to heighten the mood. I felt it suited better with low, ominous beats that played when the antagonists were hinting at their schemes. Otherwise, I didn’t much notice it throughout.

It is, with everything considered, the best RWBY has ever been, but only marginally. The ending is explosively satisfying (if not a little cheesy), the events that transpire within the narrative have genuine meaning and the results are damning, and the tone is suited well for the circumstances. However, whatever charm the characters had in the first volume has gone missing since then, as the emphasis of character is no longer important. Combine that with a starting line polluted with messy humor, pointless character introductions/interactions, and a feeling of dragging one’s head against the floor, RWBY‘s third volume is an uneven, unpolished track that would hesitate anyone. Fret not; Volume Three is an example of finishing with a bang, and it’s a beautiful bang, despite all the shortcomings of setting up the spectacle.

Final Score: 6/10

Kubo and the Two Strings Review

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The spirit of adventure is a hard one to properly recreate. Many in the past have tried, with varying results. The people behind movies such as Coraline and The Boxtrolls take their turn to create a story focused on stories, and what THE POWER OF EMOTIONS can do to drive a story from a passing tale to an epic myth. Kubo and the Two Strings takes the intimate art of stop-motion animation and blends it into everything one would expect from an Eastern-inspired fantasy adventure.

Kubo begins with a flashback sequence, as most epics go. It vaguely describes the conflict and sets up the current world shown afterwards. A young boy named Kubo, who is somewhere around ten years-old, spends his days telling tales to the people in the village below his home in a small cave, high in the mountains. There is something extraordinary about Kubo: he has a gift. He can manipulate inanimate objects by playing a mystical stringed instrument (which I suspect is a sitar), but typically only does so with small pieces of paper. This power of his, and a growing curiosity about his estranged origins, leads Kubo into breaking a rule his mother had set for him: never stay out after dark. The consequences of this lead Kubo into a story he would have to live through, and hopefully conclude it with a happy ending.

If there is anything about this film that needs to be addressed first, it’s the stop-motion animation. It is not uncommon among moviegoers to be enthralled by the special effects or overall pizzazz movies these days can produce. However, Kubo adds a little bit more manpower to its visual display by going with stop-motion animation, where each model is positioned in precise places, moved slightly to create the illusion of motion over time. To imagine the amount of time it took to create a 90-minute film, complete with fast-paced action scenes and a buffet of colorful environments, using nothing but stop-motion is almost as miraculous as the events that take place within the movie’s plot. While at first, I felt the change of slow facial expressions on characters’ faces came off as stiff, I eventually warmed up to the display of deficiency as a manner of style over substance. This style is admittedly more of an acquired taste than anything, as I’m sure some won’t be fond of seeing characters move slower than sixty frames per second.

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Aside from the animation, the overall style of both physical and emotional atmosphere is by and large the most engrossing part of this film. While a little stiffness from characters’ facial expressions may be off-putting, you’ll soon forget about it completely when met with the impressive amount of displays Kubo has to offer throughout its adventure. Emphasizing nature in almost every regard, whether it be frigid snowstorms, stormy seas, or a sun-soaked desert, Kubo has the means to dazzle the audience with every sense of nature the word has to offer, both from a rural and urban sense. And if Asian architecture is your fix, you may as well purchase a ticket now. Even more, this sense of style isn’t simply meant for show, but it also combines with the strength of the central character, Kubo, as his ability to manipulate paper blends tremendously well with the style of animation. It feels as though everything on-screen has a point, whether to set a tone or to symbolize specific character traits.

Chances are, those already hearing of this movie are aware of all the spectacle its creating for its animation style. But what about the plot? What about the characters? Are they worth the trip for those not interested in dazzling aesthetics? It really depends on taste.

What Kubo has with its visual gallantry, it lacks with its originality. It is not a story that one hasn’t seen before if they’re familiar with fantasy adventures. The flashback opening. The set-up of the adventure. The [insert number here] items the hero must collect to compete against the main antagonist. The trials before each item. The partners gained along the way, and the bonds that grow between them. All of this and more is front and center with almost naive gusto. While the film does what it can to alleviate the almost by-the-book progression with THE POWER OF EMOTIONS, it leaves the film’s weak spots open in all regards to experienced viewers. The movie becomes predictable and less immersive, almost in the same way recent Pixar films become so. Only the difference here is that it doesn’t copy other films within its studio’s library, but rather chooses not to deviate from other films within the same genre. There were many points I had correctly predicted the outcome of simple foreshadows placed sporadically throughout the adventure. While this sort of criticism may not bother some, to those who can see a scene before it arrives, it takes out a lot of the impact or surprise the movie could have given without the proper insight.

I’ve seen a few reviews of the movie before seeing it myself that felt the movie was too dark or boring for kids. Rotten Tomatoes‘ critic consensus for the film even calls it “bravely melancholy.” To some degree, I feel this label of darkness is misconstrued. There are definitely dark elements to Kubo, but it’s an otherwise uplifting story about learning to cope with death and the impact a family can have on struggling individuals. It is without a doubt a very emotional movie, one that may seem a little too sugary-sweet for those persuaded by certain reviews calling it too mature or gritty. This emotional overload, I feel, is properly placed for the set-up of the film, and never overstayed its welcome until the very end. I was immersed enough with the film to not be bothered by THE POWER OF EMOTIONS, but the end scene is almost disgustingly corny.

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The cast of Kubo slightly makes up for the plot they’re thrown into. One of the things I despise in the film industry is when a young character is voiced by an older teenager or adult with a squeaky voice, instead of an actual child. Kubo is voiced by, and sounds like, a child, for which I am eternally grateful for. His personality is pretty typical for a child; curious, a little bratty, and good-moraled. I feel the film does better as a fictional, moral-centered piece from the eyes of a child than anything, as they’re more inclined to learn from their actions and are otherwise ignorant of the world around them. It also serves well that Kubo isn’t cracking jokes every fifteen seconds. That honor belongs to Beetle, a character met along the way who is dealing with amnesia (just like everyone else in the movie). He’s the token comic relief character, but also serves as a male role model for Kubo and provides a good balance to the group along with Monkey, the serious, rough around the edges caretaker of Kubo. This core of characters isn’t entirely impactful by movie’s end, but builds good chemistry along the way to keep the humor and scenes of peril more enjoyable.

Another issue with Kubo lies within the pacing. I felt the length of the quest was over far too quickly, and the build-up to each ancient item felt a blink away from one another. Combine this with the formulaic outline of the plot and Kubo becomes a tad forgettable along the way. I feel this movie could have done better to add maybe twenty more minutes of screentime to help create more tension between each item, or cut out a tad from the beginning to add more for the adventure. If that wasn’t enough, I felt a few liberties were taken with the plot to proceed the adventure far too quickly. Events that happen during the adventure, especially events dealt with with magic, are hardly explained in the long run, leaving viewers to plug in the holes themselves. It’s magic. It can do anything it wants.

In terms of story and structure, Kubo is another one for the pile of fantasy adventure films that exist in this realm of reality. In terms of visual splendor, it’s definitely worth seeing. Not often do I recommend a film simply for its visuals, but Kubo‘s visuals tend to smooth over a lot of the flaws that come with the film itself. It feels that magical, even if it doesn’t feel so afterwards. The most this film did for me was inspire me to write more stories (or continue the ones I left unfinished). That in itself is a good enough feat for a recommendation. Just be sure not to blink, and to take in everything you possibly can. Or you might miss it.

Final Score: 7/10

AM2R: Another Metroid 2 Remake (v. 1.0) Review

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Ambition can be a wonderful thing. It has led man to explore the reaches of the universe, to create inventions to make living life easier, and defined the very foundation of everything that is little more than common knowledge today. One has to realize, in this day and age, that everything within the world around them has a name and some purpose, all because someone had the ambition to give them a name, and to create, or simply identify, their purpose. This leads into the revival of a game not many have played. In fact, I’m not sure many Metroid fans have even beaten this game, let alone know its place in the Metroid lore. It was the ambition of a small team of developers that brought this project to light, and what a bright light it shines.

I, as I’m sure along with many others, wasn’t alive when the original Metroid II was released. I have yet to even play the game for myself. My only knowledge comes from a video demonstration done by Cinemassacre, along with knowing its place in the Metroid timeline. That being said, it’s hard to review this game without having that proper knowledge of knowing the original, in an effort to judge it as a remake instead of only seeing it for the game itself. Unfortunately, my hands are tied, so all I can do is critique the game based on how it measures up to other Metroid games, along with analyzing the finer details of the game’s structure.

AM2R features Samus Aran, intergalactic bounty hunter extraordinaire, being sent on a mission to the surface of SR388 to eradicate the Metroid scourge inhabiting the planet. That was the only purpose of the mission in the original game, and the remake doesn’t add much more to it. The opening cutscene doesn’t take more than a couple minutes or so, and the player already finds themselves controlling Samus on the surface of SR388.

What becomes immediately apparent with the game upon playing is the level of attention to detail, as well as some familiar imagery. AM2R looks lovely and vivid, with its own unique touch of bold, large numbers and interface options. It produces a glare of intensity with its atmosphere, most notably in Samus’s gunshots and Morph Ball feature. This game is very bright, and I use that term literally. Everything has that sort of glowing aroma of a blockbuster film or enthusiastic light show. It only accentuates the level of efficiency produced by Samus’s suit of armor and her overwhelming strength. Apart from that, a lot of the art style is piggybacked off of Metroid: Zero Mission. Samus’s suit, run and jump animation, idle poses (to an extent), and the sounds she produces all ring familiar to that of the game noted. Many of the enemy types and styles were also borrowed from various Metroid games, almost as if attempting to steer the player’s attention back to those games rather than this one. Then again, it’s entirely possible that the original Metroid II had all of these creature types and I’m simply unaware of it. Even so, it’s amusing to see creatures I’m used to seeing in certain color schemes pop up in various other forms.

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On the topic of enemies, I mentioned briefly in my Metroid: Zero Mission Review that enemies too often relied on simply hammering down one button in order to be taken down efficiently. Such is the case here, only the first half of the game relies more on the beam weapon, whereas the second half relies too solely on the Screw Attack upgrade. It makes the gameplay repetitive quickly, and bypassing the area by simply ignoring the flying obstacles becomes a much more pressing argument. That isn’t to say every enemy within the game can be easily defeated with beam ammo, but many of them fall under that category. Another noteworthy aspect of the game is the enemy placement, one which I both enjoy and don’t enjoy. Within the region of SR388, there are a number of different tunnels and underground habitats for a number of different creatures. I really enjoyed seeing the enemies coated in material or balanced in a fashion that suited their environment. I also really enjoyed that as the environment became harsher, the enemies became sturdier (for the most part). It gives this wildlife fascination that creates the planet of SR388 into a genuine location. However, there are also times when enemy types are recycled for convenience, whether from previous locations or from other Metroid titles. The purpose of these enemies don’t really seem to be geared towards survival, either. Many enemies simply serve as obstacles, literally swaying from left and right to obstruct the player’s path. I can understand security drones wanting to do that, but living creatures? It feels too poorly implemented.

What’s exclusive to this game is the countdown of Metroids among the planet’s system. The game’s objective is to destroy all the Metroids on the planet, and this game has a total of 55 Metroids the player has to kill throughout the course of the game. The battles against the Metroids range from annoying, but easy, to obnoxiously one-sided. The bizarre part is that the harder versions of the Metroids come not from the final form, but the middle forms. A Metroid’s lifespan cycles as so: Infant, Mature, Alpha, Gamma, Zeta, then Omega; along with the Queen Metroid, which is an outlier within the Metroid cycle. Within the game, the player will be tasked with facing each form of these Metroids, the majority being Alpha and Gamma forms. These forms are within the “Annoying, but easy” levels of difficulty. Once it hits the Zeta form, however, this game suddenly becomes nearly insufferable. The Zeta form is by far the hardest form to conquer, whether it be because of its size, which takes up a lot of Samus’s jumping space, or its speed, which is barely slower than Samus’s full run speed. I died three times to the same Zeta Metroid during my playthrough before being able to adjust to its moveset. But it’s not just about the moveset as much as it is pure precision. The player’s jumps and missile fire need to be almost pixel perfect to take down a Zeta effectively. And when it comes time to face the Omega Metroids, the player has a distinct advantage because their moveset and strategy are nearly identical to the Zeta, giving the player the assumption that Omegas are simply powered up versions of Zetas. That by no means makes them a cakewalk, however. They’re noticeably easier, but still a pain to take down. I had more fun taking down these guys, though. Combating nearly forty Alpha and Gamma Metroids in a row grows tiring very quickly.

But what of SR388 as a whole? The area that Samus runs around in is somewhat of an achievement compared to most 2D Metroid games. AM2R, and the game it was inspired by, features one large map of the planet’s surface and underground, whereas most other games have one central area that splits off into various “zones” or regions. This was notably frustrating for fans of the original game, as it didn’t even offer a map. Thankfully, AM2R was smart enough to add a map, so players wouldn’t be running around hundreds of rooms trying to remember where they have and haven’t been. Maybe not hundreds, but somewhere close. This is a pretty big game. For its size and even the lighting, most notably, this game serves as an impressive 2D feat. It’d be considered groundbreaking if it wasn’t 2016. Unfortunately, that’s where the praise concludes, as the areas are notably lackluster in almost every regard, though only after visiting the first few areas. According to AM2R, the infrastructure of SR388 comprises of mechanical facilities, ruins, and temples. The general area around these places are all relatively similar: a large, cavern-like space with a lot of jumping space above the structures and some secret tunnel(s) either to the left, right, or below the structure. There’s the sacred temple area with some Chozo machinery. The tower area with more robots inside. An underwater fortress with even more robots inside. Then there are areas that have little importance aside from advancing progress, such as the Search Team and Research Team camps among the tunnels below the surface. They’re joined by various breeding grounds for Metroids, which only serve as a mini-boss rush of many Metroids to kill before progressing. Finally, the area after The Hive, where the strongest and most concentrated area of Metroids reside. This area is probably the most blatant use of the “I’m almost done with the game, may as well make looping tunnels for no reason,” fix I’ve ever seen. It’s visually impressive, what with the glowing caverns and the waterfalls running down flawlessly, but it serves no point. No enemies, no obstacles. It’s simply there.

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That is the major problem in regards to the environment of this game. It seems to recycle itself more as the game goes on. The first dark breeding ground was pretty cool. The second one was annoying. The first abandoned temple with robots was pretty cool. The next three were annoying. There isn’t a whole lot of variety to this game in terms of integral differences. There’s a “water” section and something one could argue as the “lava” section, but there isn’t much more to it than that, and it tends to come across as less creative than even the more cliché choices Nintendo makes with its areas.

What kind of remake would this game be without a little author input? I’d hazard a guess and say the original Metroid II didn’t allow players to take control of jumping robots carrying super missiles or carry energy spheres into strange circuits in order to power various locked doors. These little nuances make the game a little more interactive, but these activities end up becoming very situational. There are a few instances of backtracking to uncover hidden secrets, but most are only dependent on progressing and are never incorporated again. In fact, there isn’t a whole lot of backtracking to this game in general. The game gives you the opportunity to, but only to collect some 20% of items you may have missed without thorough exploration of areas the player’s already discovered. For a Metroid game, this rendition of Metroid II doesn’t require the player to backtrack all too often. This, in turn, can lead to cries of “Linear!” among hardcore fans, but that’s just how it goes. I don’t know how much of this game is taken directly from Metroid II, but I’m fairly certain Metroid II didn’t have a scan system. AM2R features a scanning system that inputs data for Samus to read before going into a certain area or fighting a certain mini-boss/boss. However, these scanning situations aren’t player-inputted. They happen at certain points in the game and only serve as world-building and giving subtle hints as to what to expect from an area or how to combat a boss. It’s a nice touch, but I can’t help but wish they fleshed it out a little more. It ends up becoming rather pointless the way it is and does little to make the player feel immersed. I would’ve preferred if it was something a player could control themselves, similar to the Prime series.

A small nitpick on my part, but I find it a wee easy to get lost within the goal of this game. Twice I found myself exploring and backtracking trying to find out what to do next, only to find out I missed a subtle cue within a room of the most recent area of focus. This accumulated into roughly an hour of my total playtime, and I can’t describe how frustrating it was to check every non-highlighted room for some sort of answer. This is an instance when the area of the map seemed far too big, but I realize it works better with that size. This also ties into the lack of backtracking in this game. Earthquakes will occur every so often that will indicate a progression of story. Once those earthquakes occur, the area the player was just exploring becomes pointless aside from a few item expansions. Progression comes from continuing a path underground that will lead into loooooong tunnels that stretch out to the far left portion of the map. Knowing that, the player will understand that if they can’t progress, it’s because they didn’t discover everything in the last area they had to go through. I only wish I knew that before playing this, because it had me waste quite a bit of time in prior areas.

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Something I feel isn’t brought up much in determining the quality of Metroid games is the soundtrack. AM2R has a good combination of both catchy and ambiatic tracks that serve the game well throughout. Overall, the quality of music is above average. I notice that tracks for various areas tend to blend in with one another after a while, while tracks of ambiance tend to be quiet and foreboding. Despite this, it’s a good remix of other Metroid tracks, while serving as its own sort of rhythmic beeps and boops that remind me of Sanctuary Fortress from Prime 2. The foreboding tracks work very well with the dark breeding grounds, as I felt genuinely concerned about what was to come next. The abandoned campsites, however, not so much. I really enjoy the tune that plays during the title screen, along with the music that plays whenever battling a Metroid.

Over the course of the game, efficiency was never an issue. It worked smoothly from beginning to end. No complaints there. For a fan game, that is a very imperative step, and I applaud the team for the amount of work they had to have went through to make that happen. The only glitch that occurred to me was when I was facing a Mature Metroid near the end of the game. I had frozen it and wasn’t able to destroy it in time with five missiles. So, the Metroid vanished into the wall and never came back out. The doors remained locked and I was trapped inside. I had to restart the game from the last save point.

This game altogether is a beautiful tribute to the Metroid franchise and perhaps a reliable remake of an often forgotten game. This is probably the closest to a new Metroid game we’ll get in the near future, seeing as Nintendo seems hellbent on treating the franchise like a booty call. I only wish that AM2R would’ve added more to it to make it as vibrant as actual Metroid games. To be able to design the environment and improve upon what was already put in place to make it an altogether great game. The way it is now is a great first step, as I enjoyed playing a good majority of the game, but it could be better. Fortunately, this is titled as “v. 1.0,” so there seems to be more to come from this team. I’ll be waiting patiently to see what they’re capable of doing with more time and energy to pursue their overwhelming ambition.

Final Score: 7/10

Boku dake ga Inai Machi Review

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When you think of anime, what do you think of? A number of people could answer with “Dragon Ball Z,” “Sailor Moon,” “Naruto,” “Cowboy Bebop,” or even simply “porn.” However, there are a number of different genres that anime fall under, and the most highly rated on accompanying anime sites tend to be those not always acknowledged as media darlings. Take the case of Monster, which is regarded as one of the best titles that anime has to offer, yet has never made it to English mainstream audiences. Who’s ever heard of Monster? Boku dake ga Inai Machi, or Erased, is another anime that isn’t exactly like the rest of the class, and doesn’t benefit from having hundreds of episodes to exploit or colorful and expressive characters. Erased is an entity of its own—an entity that has taken on the world by storm.

Just from its synopsis, Erased immediately differentiates itself from most anime. It deals with time travel, mystery, and traumatic themes such as child abuse, murder, and struggling to quell the regrets of one’s past. It’s the type of anime that people can cling to as a breath of fresh air from the likes of anime that follows trends and clichés. It’s the type of anime that many can see as a story for any audience, rather than a “typical anime.” Erased can (and will undoubtedly) be used as an example to show those keen on looking down on anime as a trump card.  It has that sense of intrigue to it that makes it immediately appealing. After all, it shot through the top 100 ranked anime on MyAnimeList after the first episode. Most of all, it’s an anime I didn’t care to discover.

I was pulled into viewing Erased out of sheer curiosity. The top 100 after a single episode? There’s got to be a catch. Upon seeing the first episode, I could feel that sense of intrigue and immersion begin to settle in. I found myself anticipating the next episode, which I went to without any hesitation. I could understand then that this series wouldn’t be “just another anime.” The presentation was interesting, the characters were in a non-typical setting, and the whole process of setting the scene was executed phenomenally. If there is one thing that this anime has that many anime don’t, it’s a hook; a hook that can withstand even the biggest and rowdiest fish in the ocean. Unfortunately, a powerful hook is nothing without a sturdy line.

The series stars Satoru, a 29-year-old pizza delivery driver with an uncanny power: the ability to relive events prior to an accident that would cause one’s death or misfortune. Because of this power, Satoru is constantly finding himself in situations where he must go out of his way to save those in danger, without knowing who or what with certainty. After showing this ability for the first time, the anime showcases his normal, miserable life, complete with his overbearing mother and odd co-workers. However, his life is thrown upside-down when a terrible tragedy befalls him, only to have his power transport him back to 1988, a few weeks before a string of murders occurs in his quiet (and seemingly always snowing) hometown.

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The first and immediate issue I had with Erased was the use of his superpower. It had twelve episodes to explain why or how it occurs, but it never does. This breaks some of the suspense possible with the anime seeing as if Satoru were to ever fail in his mission or face something detrimental to his life, the writer could simply have his power transport him back to a point prior without hesitation. In fact, this happens twice in the anime past episode one. It doesn’t seem entirely apparent that Satoru has any control over his ability, but it provides a scapegoat for a prolonged path to a goal or a safety net for any degree of failure. Along with no explanation as to why it happens or where it originated—not to mention the multiple timelines left abandoned when it happens and no feedback because of it—it feels like a lazy way for the writer to reset the story for the sake of getting it right.

If one were to ignore his ability, one could find enjoyment in the progression of his growing relationship with Kayo, a girl who is the victim of abuse from her mother and an eventual victim of murder in later timelines. Erased does a good job of taking its time developing the bond between a young Satoru and Kayo, who is hesitant to open up due to her own grim situation. It seems on the cusp of self-insert in regards to the amount of leniency Satoru has as the main character with all of the intelligence of a 29-year-old in an eleven-year-old’s body, but in terms of the story, it works, so it’s excusable. Still, with as much charm as a 29-year-old can muster up to a child (which is made into comedy), it feels almost like a hunt, with one side having all the tools to succeed against one without any comprehensive capabilities. That being said, Kayo herself seems older than that of ten. Perhaps the abuse has forced her to mature beyond her years, but I hesitate to believe that physical, mental, or a combination of both abuses is enough to cause a girl to become completely quiet and philosophical. Some of the conversations between Satoru and Kayo, along with another kid named Kenya, are ridiculously dark for children’s dialogue. It almost sets them up as pieces to the story’s overall puzzle rather than actual kids (not including Satoru).

The characters in general are vapid, especially the side-characters. Many only exist to take up screentime or offer support as a “friend of Satoru or Kayo,” while others exist only to play a role. Take the case of Kayo’s mother, who is a drunk, insane, violent psychopath who’s incredibly aggressive and seems to enjoy inflicting pain upon her daughter. Doesn’t she sound like an interesting character? Rather, she sounds like a villain, someone that any logical person would root against for the sake of siding with Satoru’s holy crusade to save everyone from harm. She’s a poor and unequivocally one-dimensional excuse for a “parent figure” that the author uses only to create trauma for the sake of trauma. However, there are some likable members of the cast, though it only relates to those within the main cast. As is typical with most stories, the main characters get all of the development, while the side-characters act as a crutch to make the main characters look better or develop faster. I can hardly remember what most of the side characters look like. There was even one character I thought was a girl up until the final episode. Personal observations aside, I found Satoru and Kayo as characters to be likable, albeit not entirely realistic. I was also fond of Satoru’s mother, but she felt more overflowing with shounen justice than her son at times. Otherwise, the cast can either be forgotten by the audience or even forgotten by the anime.

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Aside from the hook of the series and the intrigue of mystery that follows, Erased‘s biggest asset is its animation and style of presentation. It feels as though it tries to be as immersive and as stylish with its angles than most series would even care to. Its animation is smooth (though there isn’t many fast-paced examples) and has a distinguishable look to it. Characters’ heads all seem to be a different shape and their eyes vary from person to person. Satoru’s mother even has protruding lips that I’ve only ever seen on fat or snobby women. That made me incorrectly assume the type of person she’d be. The emphasis on scenery and background is especially apparent, but I would argue not exactly creative. The anime is dark and dreary so the characters are placed in a town where the sun never seems to shine. How fitting. I suppose that could be the best word to describe the atmosphere of the show: fitting. Otherwise, I have no complaints about the visuals.

I spoke of my first and immediate issue with Erased earlier, but now it’s come time to let dam fall. This anime has so many plotholes that by series’ end, one couldn’t even make out a story at all. Not only are there many plotholes, but the situations that the anime chooses to resolve are done in such a ridiculous and laughable way that one has to question if the writer was inebriated halfway through. There is a scene where a character from present time is telling Satoru about her family’s situation. Her mother and father had separated long before and the town in which she was raised looks down on her family name due to her father’s grave mistake. That grave mistake: a candy bar. A candy bar? A candy bar? Of all the things the writer could have used as a catalyst to support that claim and the object chosen was a candy bar? Horribly enough, this is just one example. Erased is full of these instances. Events that come to fruition with unreasonable claims of trauma and resolved equally as absurd, if at all! The final episode was the proverbial nail in the coffin, as the killer’s motivation for everything and the reason for keeping Satoru alive throughout the series was some of the most batshit reasoning I’ve seen in any anime, or in any story for that matter. It’s almost convenient to have characters so irrationally insane, because no logical person would come up with the excuses found in Erased.

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Even as a mystery, Erased is somewhat lacking. By the halfway point in the series, any reasonable person could assume who the killer is. The series doesn’t entirely hide the identity of the killer either: they appear in almost every important scene. It’s almost as if the series is mocking the viewer with how easy it is to think “Wait, why are they always there?” They have certain scenes where they shift the blame to any number of people, which I appreciate, but I feel they don’t do it enough. They stop doing it after episode six, when one has already gotten a good guess as to who it is. In one scene, they shift suspicion towards one character, but then never explain the situation that they were in, as if it never happened. False ends leave a bad taste when everything begins to unravel, especially when they’re used as bait rather than a genuine area to explore. It just feels rushed, especially near the end of the series.

It is true that Erased is different. It’s an anime that sticks out for the type of atmosphere it presents and the grandeur of its “complex” storyline. It’s one that people can use to showcase the variety that anime has as a “culture” of sorts. However, one thing it cannot be used as is a standard of anime’s elite. Its plotholes are innumerable and sewn shut with peanut butter. The characters are so deep within their own role that one could identify their importance with chess pieces. The world of Erased is a confusing mess of black and white and unexplained miracles. The characters do all they can, but the “complexity” of the environment that they inhabit brings them into a world they cannot hope to understand. So when you think of anime, what do you think of? If Erased was the standard, maybe viewing all anime as food-loving justice machines and rainbow harems wouldn’t be such a bad thing.

Nevermind. Yes, it would.

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

Zootopia Review

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There seems to be a collective trend among professional critics who have reviewed this movie: the message justifies the means. The bulk of Zootopia‘s content may be standard, may be predictable, but the harshness of the themes presented and the underlying liberal mantra makes the movie something to be seen. It’s clever in its presentation and conservative enough not to make it overbearing. Not to mention, the visuals are bright, crisp, and colorful enough to entertain an audience of all ages. I can describe this type of mindset with one word: simple.

So a movie has a powerful message. So a movie has a message that strikes deep within the hearts of the issues with the mainstream media and their prejudices towards others. So a movie has heart and emphasizes tolerance and harmony. Does that really give it free reign to play out in such a predictable manner that it’s hard to distinguish it from any other Disney movie?

It’s disappointing to me that all of these critics are so keen on praising the movie for having a positive moral message rather than the movie’s technical abilities. Not all stories with a good message should constitute as “good,” and they don’t. Zootopia as a story is just as cliché and by-the-book as any other major Disney picture; almost to the same degree as Pixar films. It’s predictable and it becomes a drag to see a film take so few risks with its storytelling that it’s content with taking the same formula it’s used in most other movies, but with a different setting.

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The story stars Judy Hopps, a rabbit who dreams of being a police officer in the land of Zootopia. Unfortunately for her, being a police officer is typically reserved for “predators,” rather than prey such as rabbits. It follows her journey as a child (quickly) and her major motivations as she grows into an adult capable of fending for herself and how she struggles with, ahem, prejudice with her “prey” persona among the police force. Soon enough, she’s (by matter of coincidence) assigned her first task, and enlists the help of a wily fox named Nick Wilde to help her.

My brief synopsis leaves much to behold, but please don’t let my attempt at avoiding as many spoilers as possible deter you from my bland outline. There’s a lot more complexity to the story and how characters come to meet than I let on. This is one of the strengths I feel the movie has, which is the cleverness in which they take with the “predator vs. prey” angle. For as divided as some people can take this prospect, I think the movie did a well enough job to manipulate this concept to steer itself in a direction that suited its cause. I think it was also used well enough for other aspects such as humor, dialogue, and character development. In a sense, the message really does a lot of good for the movie technically, even if on a subjective level I don’t think it should hold much merit.

Allow me to be a tad more descriptive with the story progression. This may be a little on the spoiler-ish side, so I may recommend you skip the next paragraph in case you want to see it for yourself.

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Tell me if this sounds familiar: a story begins with a character’s past, showing the point of the movie and the motivation behind that or any other important character. It flashes forward and the character focused on in the past is now older and eager to explore and/or partake in their passion, only to discover that things aren’t all that they’re wrapped up to be. Along the way, they meet up with someone they don’t much care for, only to have that character, whether intentionally or not, become the sidekick to their grand adventure. The journey itself is one of info collecting and some action scenes filled with suspense and tension, and it “ends” with success, but at the cost of creating conflict with their sidekick, whom they grew to care for along the journey. At their lowest point, the main character goes through a period of self-reflection and self-loathing, only to have a sudden realization cause them to jump into action to finish up what they started with their journey. They make up with their former partner and the final scenes play out and the main antagonist is revealed and they defeat them and everything is hunky-dory.

That kinda sounds like… every modern Disney movie ever, doesn’t it?

It’s this type of storytelling that leads me to feel like this film won’t hold up in my memory. The characters and visuals will, sure, but the story itself will continue to be muddled along with the likes of Tangled, Frozen, Inside Out, The Good Dinosaur, and many others. It’s very pedestrian, it’s very standard, it’s very forgettable. This type of story is so bland that I can’t stand to even consider this film great simply from the story alone. It’s unfortunate because these types of stories work, certainly, but they’ve become so overused and oversaturated that I can’t help but feel film writers, particularly for Disney, have become lazy in the way they tell stories. This in of itself is Zootopia‘s greatest flaw, but in essence, it doesn’t necessarily have to be.

Other than its predictability, I also found a humongous plothole near the end of the movie when Judy has her realization. I won’t go into it for spoiler reasons, but I think it does a good job of showing how out of touch the story becomes by the end of the movie. The story, aside from its predictable structure, begins to fade into itself by the end of the movie. The resolution is incredibly far-fetched and it feels far too rushed to show anything other than “They won. The end.”

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The rainbow-like assortment of characters is just that: bright and varied. Unfortunately, not a lot have a good assortment of growth to them, with the only exception being Nick Wilde. The characters play their role: the main character, the sidekick, the comic relief, the scapegoat, the reference, the pop-star tie-in, etc. Many characters are basically the same from beginning to end, except the “happy ending” that makes everyone giddy and skippy and whatever. I just realized that sentence sounds really weird. Nevertheless, characters serve the message and are what they are. There’s not much more to them than that.

The animation is nothing to go on about, seeing as the trailer already does it justice. If Zootopia has one great strength aside from its clever (albeit predictably reversing) wit, it’s the animation. Disney is predictably savvy in its work with art and animation. Everyone looks great. Every movement looks fluid and realistic. The world is breath-taking and the action scenes are well sculpted. It’s everyone’s favorite treat and more; an absolute spectacle of design and animation. I just kinda wish there were more animals to behold, as it was basically limited to mammals. Makes the world feel a little smaller, y’know?

It’s a good movie, absolutely. But it’s not great. It’s hampered down by its predictability and its safe progression of story and “development.” The characters are role-fillers and the actual story has some holes to fill. But the message is enough to hold people over (and it shows by its ratings) and does enough with it to make the characters likable and the writing clever and sweet, and surprisingly funny. The animation is fantastic, as per usual. It just needs a little polish, a little more variety with the way its story progresses and maybe cool it with the whole “Haha, you expected one thing but we showed you the opposite! We are so smart!” For kids, this movie is absolutely recommendable. For adults, it really depends on the mindset. Most will appreciate its sentiments, but for someone looking for good structure and support, the movie will leave without paying the bill.

Final Score: 6/10

Metroid Fusion Review

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There’s something about this game that divides the Metroid fanbase. A lot of people criticize this game for being linear, for being told to follow orders and being shown exactly where to go. To go from point A to point B. They complain that this isn’t what Metroid is supposed to be. This isn’t following the formula that made the immersive, atmospheric, and grim exploration games from previous Metroid games so great. While these criticisms have a validity to them, one has to wonder if it really matters? If a Metroid game doesn’t follow this exact formula, does it deserve the flak that it normally receives? In short, yes and no.

Some fans will cite this game as the most linear and basic of the Metroid games, especially within the earlier years of the series’ life. However, I would argue that Zero Mission is much more guilty of the “point A to point B” criticisms that Fusion is used to receiving; Zero Mission just doesn’t have any story to go along with it. I believe the difference with Fusion is that the linear style of the plot is excusable for the sake of context. Samus Aran is now working directly with The Galactic Federation. She is taking orders like one would take orders from a superior. This in of itself rubs some Metroid fans the wrong way because she’s supposed to be a bounty hunter, a lone wolf lookin’ for trouble. She shouldn’t be working under someone! She does whatever she cares to. She even says in-game that she despises taking orders. So… why even willingly choose to work under them? Plotholes from within the context aside, she is now working under superiors, so the “point A to point B” plotline makes sense. I don’t see it as that much of an issue with the game itself but more of an issue with the background of Samus as a character and the player’s interpretation of her background.

The game itself has some of the most dialogue in a Metroid game up until Metroid: Other M, which is an entity all on its own. It has its own backstory, its own cast of characters aside from Samus, and genuine story development. Some may shrug aside the story of Fusion due to their own dismay with how the story is set to begin with, but I found the story to be both objectively and subjectively engaging. I can even go as far as to say that I believe Fusion has the best attempt at an actual plot of any game in the series. However, that would insinuate that the Metroid series actually tries to develop a plot aside from “Bad guy is causing a ruckus. Good guy must stop them.” What this game lays on top of this is an air of mystery, suspense, and fear. If you’ve read my Zero Mission review, you’d know that my favorite part of the game is the end of it, when you’re left defenseless in a foreign territory, trying to avoid enemy detection. Fusion incorporates something similar, except the player isn’t entirely defenseless, but is hunted by a creature far more powerful than her starting state. It’s only a shame that all of these encounters with the “SA-X,” a creature with all of Samus’s latent abilities, are scripted and hardly a part of the game.

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I enjoyed the overall use of deception, ulterior motives, and mystery quirks the plot incorporates into the game. This kind of thing makes the story more impactful and more memorable in the long run. It makes it feel less stale, especially when considering other Metroid titles’ stories are either vague or outright basic. I thoroughly enjoyed the hoops I had to go through and the way the environment and this unknown, new threat that my “superiors” had little knowledge of acted as an accessory to the plot. However, if there is one thing about the story I didn’t care for is how it ended. It screams “Japanese incorporating miracles through emotional bullshit.” The way they painted Samus through inner monologues was okay for the most part, but when she starts making smart remarks about whether or not she can trust a computer and criticizing it for not being able to understand something from an empathetic viewpoint, it’s just dumb. Samus, it’s a computer. A computer does not have a personality. It does not have feelings. It does not have ulterior motives. It’s a computer. You’re being a little too judgmental. Except the computer takes on the personality of someone she once worked under named Adam Malkovich out of nowhere because why not and that entire theory suddenly makes sense… but feels incredibly forced and dumb. God damn.

Metroid Fusion, like Metroid: Zero Mission, is a very short game. It took me two hours and thirty-six minutes to complete Zero Mission with a 74% item collection rate. It took me two hours and twenty-four minutes to complete Fusion with a 68% item collection rate. Once again, this game was $25-30 retail cost, which is a horrible gameplay to cost ratio. This also makes the game feel too quick in a sense. The player can’t really fully enjoy the experience of playing the game due to how little content there really is, on top of the amount of dialogue present in this game. The game seems to end in a snap, with one or two sessions with the game being enough to go from beginning to end, depending on how good the player is at the game.

The difficulty of the game is just right for my tastes. A lot of the enemies are susceptible to normal weapon fire, but there’s a distinct addition of enemies that need to be defeated in specific ways, along with enemies that have different forms of attack and travel. I enjoyed the amount of obstacles that required different weapons to advance aside from item-specific blocks in the wall. The bosses are a tad too “wait for the weak spot” for my tastes, but are otherwise enjoyable to go up against. Some enemies hurt like hell upon touching, too, so the player can’t be too careless when demolishing through a certain room. It gives a sense of strategizing when it comes to certain enemies and obstacles, rather than just run, jump, and shoot. I feel like there was a lot more effort put into making this game competitively fun in comparison to Zero Mission.

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I forgot to mention, but the enemies in this game are parasites called “X” that take the host of whoever (or whatever) they absorb themselves into. These things can take form of virtually any living thing, including manifesting themselves into a giant figment of slimey, veiny goop. Due to story elements, Samus has the ability to absorb these parasites safely, which recover health and item quantities. Each enemy defeated will have at least one of these parasites float out of it, for Samus to absorb (so long as she can catch it). They are shown to be intelligent, too, so it gives more weight to killing and absorbing these creatures, as they’re trying just as hard to kill Samus. It’s not like on Tallon IV or Planet Zebes where the creatures were simply acting out of self-defense. These parasites are actively seeking to kill Samus. Add to the fear factor.

What may be another controversial statement in a series of controversial statements I’ve made throughout the review comes in the form of Fusion’s music. I love the music to this game, and would argue that it suits the game’s overall theme of fear and isolation better than any game in the series. It’s almost totally atmospheric, which hampers its overall memorability and/or quality, but makes the story and imagery present in the game more memorable instead. I really enjoy the way the music incorporates itself to make the plot, the mood, and the immersion all the better, but without all of that, it may be a tad uninspired overall. It’s not the kind of music one can hum to, one can turn on to have a rockin’ good time, but it’s all the better in addition to the environment its placed in. This is a standard for most Metroid games, but I feel Fusion does it masterfully.

Visually, Fusion is very similar to Zero Mission. I think the latter is more memorable by design and the areas it provides are brim with color and flare. Fusion, by default, is darker, more grim in overall tone, so the visuals give off a more serious, grayer tone. I also feel that some areas in the game (Sectors 2, 4 (underwater area), 5, and 6) are more interesting to look at than others (Sectors 1, 3, and the main station). I also both like and dislike the whole “areas are differentiated by natural elements.” Yeah, it’s cliché to have a grass area and a water area and a fire area, but I also like the way it all feels like one big world. I would have more of an issue with this if it were hard/slow to travel from place to place, but the areas in general are small enough to not feel overwhelming, and Samus is fast and functional enough to make traveling an afterthought (especially after acquiring Space Jump Boots). Samus’s new “Fusion Suit” looks fine altogether, but I don’t care for the visor. It looks like a frog’s foot. It’s weird.

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One more comparison to Zero Mission: I like how it varied up the objective. Zero Mission is literally just going from place to place collecting items and fighting bosses. That’s it. Fusion has you collecting items, fighting bosses, racing against the clock (twice), going rogue, using stealth to avoid the SA-X, and reacting to the snags that the X Parasites try to use against Samus to deter her advance. It just feels to me that the game has more of a point to its action, that Samus has more motivation to upgrade as much as she possibly can, knowing that there is something far more powerful than she hunting her at every turn. There’s more to do in this game than other Metroid titles, and while this may turn off some, it’s wholly welcome in my eyes, even if it doesn’t fit the Metroid narrative.

This game genuinely frightened me as a child. The first time seeing the SA-X revealed up close was something I would avoid seeing to secure myself a good night’s sleep. This game is still haunting today, even knowing how to maneuver through all of the scripted events and the motivation behind Samus’s superiors. The brooding atmosphere and the isolating effect of being hunted by something far more powerful is enough to make this game all the more enjoyable for me. The gameplay is fun, but standard, with the environment taking on the same description. The game is disappointingly short, which is probably the biggest issue this game has, if one can look past the context to Samus’s entire origin. But is that context enough to ruin the game? I wouldn’t say so. Metroid Fusion is too fun and too emotionally manipulative for me to shrug it aside because it may paint Samus and the Metroid franchise as a whole as too uniform or stereotypical. However, I do empathize with those of that mindset. Metroid Fusion marked the beginning of the end for Samus Aran, a character that becomes all the more dislikable with Nintendo’s every attempt at showing her more “human side.”

Final Score: 8/10

(All gameplay screenshots courtesy once again of SaikyoMog.)

RWBY Volume Two Review

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Yesterday was the premiere finale of Volume Three of RWBY. Lots of people on Twitter were eager to gobble up the supposed “darker storyline” that Volume Three had to offer, which made me curious enough to revisit the story of a group of colorful cuties from where I had left off at the end of Volume One. I can’t believe I just typed “colorful cuties.”

A lot of the issues I had with Volume One resulted from scattered character development, lack of any coherent story to follow, and the mindless dribble they called “dialogue.” With the foundation behind RWBY and its limited resources behind it, I was able to excuse it to some degree, but with more time and more hype behind Volume Two, I went into it expecting them to shore up something more grounded to keep the viewers engaged. I was not disappointed.

RWBY Volume Two opens with two new characters. Said characters go into a library and kill some werewolf guy because reasons. This transitions us back to our main group (or two) of heroes that we came to know from Volume One… leading into a food fight. The match ends after a lot of flare and we transition back to the two characters shown at the start talking sinister and saturday morning cartoon-like to a returning baddie and a new baddie, setting the stage for what Volume Two aims to build up to.

I was both relieved and hesitant. RWBY’s first volume was aimless and basically just a testament for things to come and to showcase flashy visuals. Right out of the gate, Volume Two shows that it wants to focus more on storytelling than anything else, whether it be towards the overall plot or through characters. But at the same time, the story being told is a tired and disappointingly benign one. Bad guys are bad and good guys are good. There is a threat that suddenly appears and two entities are fighting over how to combat it; whether it be through building an army or continue with the status quo. By the end of the series, nothing about the story is really settled, with the entirety of Volume Two, somewhat similarly to Volume One, being simply a build-up to something more.

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Now, don’t confuse the story itself with storytelling, which are two separate entities of criticism. The story itself is safe and awfully vague, but the storytelling has some props to it. Volume Two has a way of pulling you in and making you curious. The use of foreshadowing and build-up through character exposition or plot progression is something to be admired, rather the effort in using it anyway. There was never a time throughout watching Volume Two when I wasn’t interested in knowing what was going on. If the vagueness of the overall plot successfully does one thing, it’s to stabilize interest. This air of mystery is something Volume One had little of, relying only on underdeveloped characters and their humor. At least Volume Two has something to fall back on.

At this point I’m reiterating, but Volume Two returns with its action-packed style of almost absurd proportions of choreographed fight scenes and bedazzlement. The action is an absolute plus to watch and it certainly does get the feeling of “Hype” going through when necessary. However, I feel as though Volume Two relies a little too much on these scenes. There were times when it felt exciting to watch because there was a sort of substance and emotional empathy attached, while others were simply to “look cool.” As a viewer, it made me wonder if Volume Two wasn’t confident enough with itself to hold attention by character interaction and exposition alone, so it decided to jingle keys incessantly to keep those watching awake. It’s certainly nothing to hamper for choreography, but the reason behind the action scenes this time around made me wonder.

The overall design of the show hasn’t changed much from Volume One, though perhaps more polished here and there. The animation has gotten noticeably faster with trivial movements and pragmatic activities, which is nice because Volume One was super clunky in that regard. The overall quality of action scenes was roughly the same, with perhaps a few more “WTF” moments sprinkled here and there. It’s superior, but perhaps not to those trained to look for it.

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I’ve spent quite a bit of time being overall positive with this review, but now we get into the sweeter spot of the symbolic piece of pie. Where Volume Two exceeds in roping in the viewer with a base story, it lacks for overall character spotlight. This volume shows far less of the large cast of characters than the first volume, which is a bit of a shame. Ironically enough, characters with far more development in the first volume (Weiss, Jaune) get far less development in this volume. It’s almost to the point where they’re all but ignored (especially with Jaune) for the sake of other characters. A few that come to mind who get a lot of screentime here are Yang (who desperately needed it) and Blake (who already had quite a bit). But even so, the amount of time spent with these two almost entirely eclipse those otherwise. Ruby in particular (along with Nora and Ren, who weren’t really focused on in Volume One either) seems to get the short end of the stick in terms of development. She’s there to serve as the good guy… or gal. That’s pretty much it. If this was all we had in terms of content, I would not pick out Ruby as “the main character.”

There’s also the issue that seems to plague RWBY in its entirety: character number. Aside from the two new baddies mentioned before, there is another new baddie and two new goodies. RWBY keeps adding new characters in an attempt to flesh them out and it simply falls flat! Why do you keep adding new characters?! Mold the ones already there! What’s even worse is that these new character are all horribly personified. The bad guys are bad guys. Arrogant, whiny, sinister, uninteresting. And then there’s Neptune, some hipster, cool-dude, blue-haired fuck who comes out of nowhere and serves nothing to anything. His personality is dumb, his mindset is dumb, and he’s basically a walking plot device used for the middle of the story. He has no potential and he has no point. Wasted. Character space. Despite this, he’s used for quite a few jokes and even as a love interest of all things. And for what? Blue hair? C’mon, RWBY. You’re better than that.

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Something I never cared for comes back in full force for Volume Two: comedy. Let me be clear and stout: the comedy in RWBY is dumb. It is unfunny, juvenile, and almost never clever. It’s just jokes thrown in for the sake of jokes. Undertale enthusiasts would probably get a kick out of the corniness of it all, but I’m no Undertale enthusiast. But it’s not the jokes itself, but the timing of the jokes. RWBY has a knack for killing any mood with a corny joke thrown in. If the mood of a scene is stupid, fine. Throw in a joke. The food fight in episode one is entirely plausible for jokes. But when you’re fighting in a life or death scenario, why do it? It just feels like those movies that rely way too much on action and cheesy one-liners and—Oh. Huh. Nevertheless, it makes the entire thing feel like it doesn’t give a shit. I was curious to see how far they’d take this, but then someone used a normal dog as a flaming projectile and at that point I said to myself, “They don’t give one fuck.”

It’s nice to see RWBY taking strides with more experience under their belt, but I also feel they’re trying too hard to appeal to everyone. Dark and foreshadowed plots don’t exactly mix well with goofy humor and exaggerated character banter. It’s almost to the point of parody the way this show comes across, especially with its action scenes. Everyone is overpowered as fuck and each character is motivated by a shounen cliché or other fantasy-themed plots. I think Volume Two is a step up from Volume One, but not by much. It’s a dazzling watch and holds its own against its competition, but it’s hard to see it as anything more than that: a dazzling, hollow performance trying too hard to be everything for everyone.

Oh, and Happy Valentine’s Day everyone!

Final Score: 5.5/10