Entry #4: Kemono Friends (SoA 2017)

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(Recommended by not-so-plain pasta.)

If this recent anime’s popularity is any indication, Japanese people are really into one thing: animal girls. It almost doesn’t matter what the context is or what kind of series surrounds these furry friends, chances are, if they’re cute and they exhibit moe qualities, the show’s going to garner a lot of attention. After all, Love Live! is just the animal traits shy of being within similar territory. It may also explain why Dog Days has gotten three whole seasons.

Speaking of Dog DaysKemono Friends shares a lot of similarities with the former, and not just on the surface level. Both feature a laid back atmosphere that almost spontaneously becomes darker as time goes on, both have a lot of characters that are featured for specific lengths of time, and both feature a central character whose position within the world around them is like a fish out of water. Where Dog Days is innocently sexual in nature, Kemono Friends is just innocent. Kemono Friends doesn’t set the stage for a lone male character to be fought over by a bunch of cute, otherworldly, naked women like Dog Days does; instead, its atmosphere is more akin to something like Dora the Explorer or The Magic School Bus.

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Sometimes I use the term “harmless” when addressing a certain series. Here, the term can be applied just as well, except twisted to mean something else. Harmless not in the sense that it doesn’t have any ulterior motives, but harmless in that it’s so unoffensive that it’s hard to even take seriously at times. Two tribes are at war and one side continuously dominates the other. The issue is that one side is so blindly ignorant of their own inadequacy that they resort to the same method of attack 51 times in a row. Yes, 51 times. So, the central character, not being an idiot, suggests that the tribe members take advantage of their strengths to come up with a better means of overthrowing the other tribe. Almost like her idea is splendid, the plan works better than the previous 51 times.

Problems that are presented in each episode are along the same cusp of intellectual difficulty as the real conflict I noted above. Does the comparison to The Magic School Bus make sense now?

Should a viewer not have the ego to look down on a series that doesn’t challenge their intelligence, it’s entirely possible to have a good time with Kemono Friends. Despite the kid show mentality, there’s something charming in its one-track mentality of showcasing the strengths of the human race through means of interacting with animals… that are also capable of talking and comprehending various aspects. One can appreciate how the series tries a somewhat different approach from the crowded variety of mainstream anime. It’s incredibly simple with not much of anything along the lines of development or plot twists, only interested in character enthusiasm and animal facts. The only two recurring characters that share the bulk of screentime are “Bag-chan” and Serval. Bag is kind of wimpy and Serval is cheery and playful. That’s all they are, from beginning to end. They both also really enjoy interacting with other animals.

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Still, from someone who’s trying to look at this from an objective viewpoint, there really isn’t much here. It’s charming because it’s different and because it feels pure of heart. Even so, it is almost boringly simple and each episode tends to blend together in a mesh of obvious solutions to easy problems provided cute animal girls. Again, if one doesn’t expect the series to wow them with riveting drama or strong characters, Kemono Friends is a perfectly enjoyable series. It’s just not all that interesting. This is further accentuated by the final few episodes, in which the tone turns far darker due to a sudden (though not totally uncalled for) dramatic event, which I couldn’t take seriously (and found hard to care about) after the happy-go-lucky, innocent series that preceded it.

One drastic difference about Kemono Friends is the simplistic, unoffensive approach to its series. The other is its style of art and presentation. It is not hand-drawn! The characters are all 3D models, animated in a moe aesthetic. While this isn’t the first time this has ever happened in a series, it is still something of a rarity, as I can only recall two or three other series doing it to so large a project. Overall execution is… much like one would expect. Somewhat clunky, somewhat off, and to some extent, doused in uncanny valley. I had no issue with it personally, though I would’ve preferred the traditional anime aesthetic. More than anything, it’s another aspect to what makes the anime more unique, so I wouldn’t push it so strongly that they should re-do it if given the chance. If I may be honest, the only time I felt the 3D animation was a detriment to the series was with characters with (mostly) exposed rears. Those looked… really off.

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Is it worth the hype? Not really. Would I recommend it? Maybe. My inner scientist has always been fascinated by this series—not necessarily because of potential quality (I’ll admit I wasn’t expecting much), but because it’s something of a surprise hit. I wanted to know if I could identify anything particular as to why the series was so beloved by so many. Results are rather shallow (Moe rules all), though perhaps my mindset isn’t one that’s capable of understanding the charm of Kemono Friends. It’s a harmless show. If anything more, I can’t really say.

Personal Score: C-

Critical Score: C

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

Day Twenty-Two: The Devil Wears Prada (MotM 2017)

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I have a bit of a confession to make: I think Anne Hathaway is gorgeous. She is what some would call my “celebrity crush,” with her cute “girl next door” appeal and mousy features. She’s absolutely adorable to me. I had heard good things about The Devil Wear Prada for a number of years; knowing Anne Hathaway was in the starring role wasn’t exactly motivation for me to see it at any point this month… but it didn’t dissuade me, either. I’ve already seen Love and Other Drugs twice.

What does it take to make a film about relatable problems entertaining? What does it take to make characters feel fresh, small conflicts feel bigger in perspective? These are the things that The Devil Wears Prada combats, especially when it has so little to use as a crutch. There’s no fantasy subplot, no creative gimmick that makes it stand out. The film’s structure and premise are about as realistically standard as one could get. It focuses on characters, while dabbling slightly within the world of fashion and stardom. In hindsight, there really isn’t anything about this film that would scream for one to watch it. All that stands between it and one’s enjoyment is the execution of the simplest of perspectives.

With that said, it immediately becomes a fault that it simply can’t help; there is nothing special about this film. Its foundation is formulaic, the conflicts are overused. It creates a predictability about the film that seems to follow suit with films in the past, dulling the impact any one or two actions could end up having on the audience because they’re imagining someone else doing it better. Cookie-cutter, it is not. Just within the shape of something that could be a cookie, that can’t quite cut.

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Fortunately, the characters, as are the major focus of the film, are presented in a nice enough manner to make the film worth watching. Hathaway (I’m not biased) makes for a lovable lead, with a determination that fits her naive persona. Her character goes through the workings anybody within her position would go through, with a passionate enough performance to take it a little further. Not Oscar-worthy by any means, but well-served. Meryl Streep also makes for an intriguing character, one who is debatably the most interesting character in the film. Her life is much like one would expect on the surface from a celebrity: lavish, high expectations, extraordinary. It isn’t until nearly the end of the film that her life becomes more grounded, as the audience is introduced to the humanity of her character’s idol status. Hathaway ends up developing alongside her, while also through her. It makes for a fascinating comparison of what if’s.

To be frank, minor characters are rather hit and miss. More specifically, Hathaway’s friends/boyfriend are kind of there just to give her some semblance of a social life/support group. They’re never given a lot of proper development or screentime outside of introductions and foreshadowing of changes to Hathaway’s priorities. Her boyfriend in particular is really just there to be the victim of Hathaway’s growing career. That or a sex toy… but I’d prefer to address his role with the former (I’m not biased). I suppose credit should be given for making the characters appear more often than they could’ve (that being not at all), I simply wonder how the film could’ve maintained their importance for longer periods of time.

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Minor characters within Streep’s business fare a lot better in terms of development and intrigue. Stanley Tucci and Emily Blunt both do a fine job of making their character’s quirks come to life, along with making them, in a way, “frenemies” with Hathaway. Tucci has a sass to him that makes him likable, along with a knowledgeable frankness that gives scenes involving him some spark. Blunt is a little more simple, serving as the higher-up that eventually gets passed up upon some mistake or so. Her haughty behavior reflects a lot of the atmosphere that the company she works for embodies, especially by their superior. Both play a part in the bigger aspects of things, though somewhat pale in comparison to the big picture.

This big picture being the development of Hathaway’s character into one entirely unlike her current one. Again, formulaic to have a character become the evil they once mocked because it benefits their well being. Still, it’s nice to see some effort put forth into placing importance unto scenes that don’t necessarily reveal obvious changes or changes to come. I could see it in bits, but the development of Hathaway’s character came early after her change of attire. She became cockier, more affirmative. It’s really sexy fascinating. The minor characters enjoy reminding her of this, though I didn’t personally see her character change to the point where she becomes unfriendable. Just very busy. Comparisons to Streep’s character only come into focus at the very end, and by that point, it only dawns on the viewer how her character was on course to becoming an heir to Streep’s character’s throne. Like looking into a pool of one’s future.

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In somewhat of a twist of fate, I found The Devil Wears Prada far more entertaining than one with a similar structure. Perhaps it was Hathaway. Perhaps it was the energy and rush of trying to maintain a tough job. Perhaps it was the strength of the minor cast (within the business). Whatever it may be, the entertainment value rose to heights I would’ve never imagined, leaving me with a nice and cozy comfort upon the film’s final words. Despite the tired approach and the cheesy conflict, The Devil Wears Prada becomes recommendable from effort of character alone. Good performances by Hathaway (I’m no biased), Streep, and Tucci specifically make the film worth a look, though perhaps not for those with sky-high expectations. After all, in a world of stars, the only ones that matter are the ones that shine brighter.

Final Score: 6.5/10

The rating for all other films can be found at Letterboxd.

For more, check out the March of the Movies Archive!

Early Impressions: Kobayashi-san Chi no Maid Dragon

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Three episodes in, Kobayashi-san Chi no Maid Dragon has charm unlike many others.

This didn’t make my cut among the five spots upon my seasonal roster, but after dropping Urara Meirochou, a spot freed itself for a replacement. I also considered going with Demi-chan wa Kataritai, but something about Kobayashi-san made me curious. I was a fan of the mangaka’s other work, I Don’t Understand What My Husband Is Saying, so I decided to go with my gut and take a shot with this seemingly carefree and explosively moe show.

It ended up being only a little of both.

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From the cover alone, some (like me) would assume that the show is a brainless attempt at cashing in at the recent trend in “monster girl” stories. The synopsis doesn’t help much either, as the wackiness and suddenness of the setting helps create an atmosphere of clichéd mediocrity. Watching the opening scenes does little to quell this looming suspicion of a road most traveled. This hesitancy is normal, as is the development of a person-meets-person scenario leading into the two eventually growing closer as the episodes roll by. Judging solely by this, Kobayashi-san is a failure, adding nothing to an already tired formula with only a mask of intrigue created by one of the major characters being a dragon.

Alternatively, Kobayashi-san is a lesson in enjoying the journey rather than getting to the destination. Like many slice-of-life’s, the anime is more concerned with the charm of its characters and their interactions than engrossing the viewer with the bravado of an all-out story. It wouldn’t be far off to say that Kobayashi-san does nothing differently in comparison to others within the genre, settling for a realistic setting, moe character designs, and humor that plays with the insecurities or irony of the situation. The only major distinctions from the tropes is the decision to follow adult characters outside of high school, and including dragons as a change of pace from the monotonous reality of everyday life. These things on their own don’t do anything for the quality of an anime, particularly with a slice-of-life. It’s what the anime chooses to do with them is what ultimately decides its fate.

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The mangaka behind the original work has a knack for creating tender and realistic bonds over time. I’ve seen it in Can’t Understand, and I’m definitely seeing it here, as well. I’ve found myself immensely charmed by the behavior of the cast and the constantly evolving way they view one another. While one-dimensional to a point, most of the characters hint at a number of different layers upon their character, which helps create some variety in the humor and execution of more affectionate scenes. There’s not a single character thus far that I can bring myself to dislike, much less despise. The origins and manner at which these characters and their motivations are introduced are nothing to be amazed by, but their staying power has more of an impact than one would expect. It definitely helps when the characters are mature enough to handle situations that would usually lead to embarrassing shrieks and stuttering vocal fire.

As of now, the series is very promising. It has the charm of character to pull in those looking for a nice balance of goofy humor and giddy-emotional satisfaction. Should I complain about anything, it’s that the humor could be better, as despite the adult age of most characters, some of them fall prey to the same jokes that would be in something like Yuru Yuri or A Channel. There’s plenty of time to resolve this, as the third episode gave a little more insight into typical generalizations of dragons in literature, which I thought was a nice touch. Of course, anyone not interested in simply looking at characters be cutesy and out of their element need not apply. It’s enough to get someone who’s normally pretty staunch about the usefulness of the slice-of-life genre to buy in, at the moment. If one really cannot find it in themselves to enjoy something from the genre, Kobayashi-san probably won’t change their mind. Still, it wouldn’t hurt to try.

Shantae: Risky’s Revenge (Director’s Cut) Review

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Slumbering within a dormant state for nearly ten years, the Shantae series looked to be a one-off title that failed to garner enough interest to launch itself into the world of memorable gaming franchises. In 2010, Shantae: Risky’s Revenge was released for the Nintendo DS as part of its DSi Software selection, a move that began to set the course for bigger and better things. The game received enough positive press that it ended up winning various awards from video game media sites such as IGN. Four years after its initial release, an enhanced port of the game was released on Windows (most notably Steam), dubbed Shantae: Risky’s Revenge – Director’s Cut. This version of the game is the subject of this review—and the first entry in the series I was introduced to.

One will be able to tell from screenshots alone that this game’s budget was not spectacular. The artwork and text bubbles, along with the incredibly short campaign (Less than four hours) almost gives the impression of a “last resort” type of momentum that goes along with the game’s structure. It’s a minimalist attempt at crafting the game for its gameplay rather than the wow factor of its aesthetics. In this way, it is almost completely opposite of Half-Genie Hero. That’s not to say either or is better or worse because of it, but it’s interesting to see what the comfort of financial security does to the realization of a game’s identity. A game looking as though it were made inside Windows Movie Maker playing as well as Risky’s Revenge does is impressive, nonetheless.

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Some may find the drawn artwork of the game to be charming, and while there are some designs I like (Squid Baron, Mimic), many of the female characters are little more than unattractive. It feels slightly too old-fashioned Disney for my tastes, and the necks are far too long. And try as they might, they aren’t all that sexy, no matter how little clothing. The real aesthetic appeal to Risky’s Revenge lies in the spritework, which is beautifully crafted and animated. It’s no coincidence that the game is primarily done in sprites, and without a lot of detailed cutscenes. I almost prefer that the games hearken back to olden days, though a little change-up keeps the experience fresh. This detail in the spritework gives life to those who choose to express their personalities within the game (such as Shantae and Rottytops). The number of different enemies and types also give off a fascinating amount of depth to the world of Sequin Land.

Speaking of Sequin Land, the map of the place is horrendous. The spaces and rooms that Shantae can traverse are all hunched together and made into a mess of trying to identify specific spaces and memorizing what is where. Upon my first playthrough, I didn’t use the map at all, trying instead to simply remember what every left and right room lead to among vertical planes and labyrinth-like environments. It’s nothing short of annoying and is one of the biggest issues of the game for those who get lost within Metroidvania games easily. I don’t, but I know plenty others that would in minutes.

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What has become somewhat of a staple of WayForward games is the witty and self-aware writing that lies within the character dialogue. Risky’s Revenge has some of this, but not enough to make the adventure feel more than just another adventure. Collect the things. Defeat the bad guys. Someone was kidnapped. Risk everything to save the world. Most of these humorous lines come from background characters, including those found idling within important areas in the game. It’s almost like uncovering treasure, out of the way of what’s being presented to the player in the game’s narrative. I feel sequels do a much better job of incorporating the dialogue into the main narrative to keep the appeal steady without getting too ahead of itself. When not so, the lines being spouted are almost boring; not to the point where characters are lifeless, but it doesn’t differentiate itself from the crowd of other adventure-platformers.

Characters being in the spotlight, not many do well enough to make themselves shine when given the opportunity. In fact, some of them feel as though they do too much, especially the Hypno Baron, who all but spouts out the entire script of the game upon encounter. There’s very little balance in Risky’s Revenge, such that it could make everything memorable instead of certain segments memorable for being inappropriately over-the-top. Of course, knowing the series as I do, some of the characters develop personalities that I don’t care for, so to see them prior to how they will eventually aspire to be is somewhat refreshing. If only said personalities were something aside from “Blank side character.”

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Oops.

The biggest compliment this game can receive is that it works very well. Throughout both my first and second playthrough, the amount of glitches, bugs, or overall grievances with controls was next to moot. Thought it was a tad odd to press ‘B’ to confirm things, but I got used to it quickly. WayForward, if nothing else, playtests their games to the very bone. The work they put into making the game as fine-tuned as possible is very much appreciated as a gamer, and their work definitely shows for it. Risky’s Revenge, for all that I complain about it, plays without any issue. Not only that, but it plays comfortably and suitably for the controllers it’s compatible with and the buttons that are designated for individual controls. Very accessible and very smooth, responsive, and enjoyable. Nothing short of perfect.

If only that perfection could go into the enjoyment of browsing through various environments. The all-in-one world map is an interesting take of the game and certainly does enough to make the world feel expansive and diverse, but excluding the Warp Squids (Thank God), traversing these areas left to right feel more like a chore than anything. Most of this is specifically because many of these rooms are simply left to right corridors. Run from one end to the other, all while avoiding or taking down enemies that spawn with every pixel advanced or retreated. Many would argue that the essence of a Metroidvania is to immerse oneself in exploring and finding goodies within the environment. Here, many come in the form of secret paths and rock tunnels that Shantae can crawl into. Sometimes they feel natural, while others somewhat block the flow of the game. But more on that later. Fighting enemies usually don’t take more than a few hair whips to defeat, and the game gives the player an assortment of different ways to combat enemies. When discovering an area for the first time, fighting enemies is fairly entertaining, but when trying to get to an exact destination, they become a nuisance.

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Risky’s Revenge’s story in general is pretty forgettable on its own. Shantae’s uncle, Mimic, presents a Genie’s Lamp at some exhibition of sorts, which triggers Risky Boots to break in through the roof and snatch the Lamp for herself. Shantae defeats her, then is given information about how three seals are necessary to obtain the Lamp’s power, which she then sets out to collect before Risky does. Once this set-up is complete, the rest of the way is paved through character interaction and the thrill of adventure, as the main narrative essentially steps aside. It leaves room to let the characters make the adventure memorable through their own charisma, though as stated before, the characters are little more than goalposts. Not much is presented to keep the adventure interesting, aside from a few odd fetch quests and such. The ending does equally little to present any reason to continue on with the series, settling to get it wrapped up as quickly as possible. But hey, the player is treated to some nice sexual fan service should they do it fast enough. That equates to reply value, right?

As for another of the staples of the Shantae series, the genie transformations are incredibly underutilized and oftentimes break the flow of the game. To transform, one must press and hold a certain button, then wait until the corresponding dance triggers the transformation the player wants. It’s not too bad when going into Monkey form, as it is the first dance, but the Elephant and Mermaid dances take a little while to get to, constantly pausing the game to advance a few yards or so. One is given only three transformations to choose from, a far cry from the original title’s (technically) five. These transformations (aside from Elephant) are only useful for travel and convenience, as two of the three can’t even attack (before the upgrades). The conveniences of the transformations are only good for exploring, as anywhere else, one would likely dread having to transform into them.

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(This image was obtained via Google.)

As it is, the game isn’t that great. It has a collection of different problems concerning its narrative focus and character spunk, along with the incorporation of its Metroidvania inspirations. Setting all that aside, however, the game plays wonderfully and boasts a charming buffet of spritework that breathed new life into a struggling franchise. Should one be willing to excuse the game for its “First attempt” style of execution, there’s a lot of fun to be had with the game, even with multiple playthroughs. Unfortunately, Risky’s Revenge only does just enough to get a passing grade with even the updated product. Still, I can only thank it for arousing my interest in the series just enough to try out the next game.

Final Score: 5.5/10

The rating for this title and more can be found on MyVideoGameList.

Thoughts on Oshiete! Galko-chan

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It’s not often that an anime (or anime short in this case) talks so frankly about the female body. Whatever the reason, anime tends to focus more on women’s bodies for the sake of sexual stimulation and humor rather than talking about it matter-of-factly. While Oshiete! Galko-chan isn’t above juvenile sexual humor like flashing skin whenever possible or having characters get red in the face whenever sex is brought up, one of the things that differentiate the show from others is that it’s willing to talk about it in general. The earlier episodes even provide facts and “urban myths” about the female body and why things are the way they are. They don’t provide any citations to these facts—this isn’t an educational show—but it works in the sense that teenage girls are open and willing to talk to one another about their everyday struggles, while the boys gossip in the corner about more devious things.

You have no idea how refreshing it is for me to see a show talk so extensively about tampons and periods and body hair that most anime would shy away from in order to subdue a target demographic. Although, the talk of periods and tampons especially seems a little overdone. Almost like that’s the only thing teenage girls all have in common. In any case, the openness about subjects normally taboo is a stark strength for Galko-chan, even if the show’s runtime leaves a little more to be desired.

Progressiveness aside, Galko-chan is a strange mix of slice-of-life and comedy, though the comedy is usually in doses around the “story” of the particular scene being shown. Galko-chan also has a tendency to tackle the use of labels and stereotypes associated with physical appearances. High school is a delicate age for kids, and it’s hard for them not to judge a big-breasted, blonde-haired woman with tons of make-up who’s always late for class. In their eyes, she’s a no-class “bitch,” while the anime makes it the complete opposite for the sake of humor and intrigue. While this theme is only touched upon in brief moments, it’s enough for me to believe that the show was willing to provide depth to the characters and create a realistic environment worthy of social commentary. If only it had more time to do so. In essence, the potential of lessons underneath the surface are apparent (in my eyes), but are ultimately lost trying to establish a number of characters and their situations. There’s even a fat girl in this anime. How’s that for progressive?

I had put progressiveness aside and decided to bring it back up again near the end. I need to learn some self-control.

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As I previously noted, Galko-chan has a vast array of characters inhabiting its seven-minute chambers. Not all of them are particularly important, but the three main characters are Galko, Otako, and Ojou—none of which are referred to by their real names. For the most part, these three blend together well enough to bring some spice to an otherwise bland scenario. Galko is a voluptuously-built woman whose purity is known to no one but her closest friends. This purity and the misunderstanding of her appearance compared to said purity is the main focus of comedy within the show. Otako is an expressionless, unflattering character who pokes fun at Galko’s purity by constantly bringing up things of a sexual nature in order to mess with her. Aside from this, Otako is a constant in Galko’s life and is subject to a few emotional scenes when push comes to shove (with varying effectiveness). Ojou is the third-wheel within the group, constantly being subject to Galko and Otako’s commentary while also serving as comic relief due to her “air-headedness.” Despite her distance among the group, her development as a trusted member of the “clique” transitions smoothly throughout the series, giving her her own spotlight that makes her a semi-charming presence. Frankly though, she’s basically just an air-head who wants to be a part of Galko’s clique.

The rest of the roster includes a few male characters who are part of their own clique that ponder upon the sexual urges most male teens have. A girl who’s supposedly part of a rock band. A fat girl who doesn’t become relevant until near the end of the series. And a number of other characters who appear for one scene and then crawl back to the wall of obscurity where they belong, never to speak a line again. Their primary focus is to make Galko look good, or help break the stereotypes placed upon her by her outward behavior. Otherwise, the minor characters don’t have a lot to say in their own regard, aside from occasionally moving the plot forward. I sense Galko-chan wants to create an atmosphere of camaraderie within the class, but with as little time as they have and the primary focus of most episodes being on the comedy, it doesn’t work out too well. Only the main cast is given enough focus to deepen the bond of friendship.

The comedy is pretty hit-and-miss, depending on the viewers’ preferences. Most rely on breaking expectations and the funny faces made by characters when faced with sexual conversations or misunderstandings. It’s a very juvenile style of comedy, laced with some intrigue with the openness of female anatomy, that blends well with the setting of the anime, but offers nothing more to those wanting more. I found myself smirking every so often with Otako playing with Galko (not because she’s my fetish or anything), otherwise it doesn’t have that relatability that I would have with teenage girls because I am, in fact, a male. Perhaps women would be more acquainted with the humor of the show.

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The animation is steady for the most part with the occasional fritz every so often. I recall a few scenes within the first and second episode that had Galko walking robotically or a character’s face looking smeared in. Otherwise, I think Galko-chan is a pretty-looking show with a lot of emphasis on gussying up the characters based on their stereotypes. Galko herself is bouncy, big, and beautiful, with lots of make-up and vivid colors peruding her body. Contrarily, Otako has short, scruffy hair; plain clothing, and nothing of the sort in make-up or filters. A distinct case of polar opposites attracting, which the anime takes note of in every episode. Ojou is all smiles, with every cliché feature of a high-class, traditional Japanese teenager: long, black hair; neat clothing, no make-up, and bright white skin. The anime does well in caricaturing the characters in a way that suits their personality along with the way they’re perceived. In terms of overall animation, aside from the few bumps, it’s a very clean and polished anime. It looks like an actual series, compressed in smaller bites. Very impressive for an anime short.

A lot of people would immediately point to Senyuu as a quality anime short. For parody junkies, maybe, but I’m more inclined to put this up there along with Danna ga Nani. It has enough visual sparkle to be appealing beforehand while the openness of the sexual topics and the chemistry between the main cast keeps them along for the ride. I would only suggest that one not look for something extraordinary in a series like this. It’s a bunch of teenagers gossiping about one another and sexual myths. It won’t immerse you with great writing or character depth, but for what it is, it’s a series worth wasting your time on.

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

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.)