Woodpecker Detective’s Office (2020) Anime Review

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I’ve decided to publish this review now, because as a Crunchyroll Premium member I got to see the final episode last week.  This is for those who are choosing to watch it for free, with adverts, and without One Piece available to them (in the UK), and have had the opportunity to watch it up to the end…although from the beginning you already know a fair amount.  So let’s get started.

Based on the 1999 Mystery novel of the same name by Keji Li, and also based on real Japanese figures in Japanese art, literature and culture history, our story revolves around a young poet named Takuboku Ishikawa and his friend, the linguist, Kyōsuke Kindaichi (The author of the Shin meikai kokugo jiten Dictionary).  When Ishikawa isn’t writing poetry, he gets work as a private detective, where he spends a bit of the show trying to solve murders.  Despite this combination, Ishikawa, like Sherlock Holmes, has a slightly destructive and selfish lifestyle, and his good friend Kindaichi usually picks up the tab…rent included.

Now to break it all down into pieces.

The Art style has 1 unique quality that makes it stand out from other anime – it’s not the character designs (though they are pretty distinct) – it is the outline of the characters…it’s blue!  Not black, not grey, not brown, not a shade lighter or darker than the palette choice…but blue, even in daytime scenes.  From what I’ve seen, it’s very different.  In terms of background art and colour, it’s a good looking anime, no doubt.  The character designs, however…are maybe too pretty (in my opinion) for the real people that they represent.  In truth, I wonder who the character designers were trying to cater towards.

The Animation is good and clean, but not particularly interesting.  There are some well placed camera angles, and the action is either made special or is simply few and far between.  It’s nowhere near as wordy as In/Spectre, but there is the emphasis on connecting poetry with solving murders…or at least that was a goal in mind.

The Voice Acting is very solid.  Nothing to write home about, but good enough, and the voice actor for Ishikawa was great.  Kind of like Akira Kamiya voicing Ryo Saeba in City Hunter (I’ll get to him eventually…after this review…sometime), but minus the amusing range that Kamiya brings to Saeba.

The Characters, for many parts, can leave a lot to be desired.  Despite being based on real figures in history, the show lets you know that it isn’t biographical and contains a lot of creative license.  Ishikawa is very flawed and at times antagonising when it comes to the people who support him.  But he is very much somebody who is chasing after a meaning to all of this.  Perhaps the writers intended to humanise him more than what’s often the case in anime.  Kindaichi is presented as a very nice man; quiet, reserved, sensible, but also a bit of a doormat with a hint of anxiety.  He wants Ishikawa to succeed…but he is also torn by his friend’s life choices.  The landlady is the oldest looking 15 year old you’ll ever see, and all of the other poets and writers in the cafe are a bit dull and 1 dimensional.  Even the 1s who are given a role to advance whatever plot is there.  A real waste, considering their artistic significance in the culture of the time (Think of it as being like all the artists flocking to Paris in the 1920s.  The Beatnicks of their day).  As for the other poets?  Window dressing for the most part.  Unless you studied the real figures and their work, you know nothing about them.

I haven’t read the book, but the story is meant to be about Ishikawa and Kindaichi investigating a ghost haunting in the Ryōunkaku Skyscraper (Japan’s first western-style building which stood from 1890 until it was destroyed in the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923).  It’s possible that this story was covered in 1 or 2 episodes.  But most of the show is about an artist trying to live up to the life he was meant to live, only to hurt those around him and himself.  When faced with his own mortality, he comes to a place where he tries to leave a mark – 1 that contributes somehow to society.  It’s quite convincingly shown for about 2, or maybe even 3 episodes…But much of the program has unfortunately fallen flat, and then we’re given a twist that’s presented in 1 of the most anti-climatic last episodes I have ever seen in an anime.  Even Neon Genesis Evangelion in its original form had a stronger ending.  About half of the show is fortunate to be more than average…and despite these 5 or so superior episodes, only 2 of them generate a pique interest, the first episode being 1 of them.  The plot, sadly, is a mess.  We can even say it lacks focus.  Yes, there is a bigger picture.  Yes the pieces do come together in the end…but the whole thing is very underwhelming and a bit…’meh’.  Even the drama lacks drama.  I’m having difficulty telling if what I saw was deflated, boring or gentle.  It kept me somehow watching to the end, and yet I’m left with a certain dissatisfaction…which I’m not going to get fulfilled because there was only 1 novel, and this show is completely self-contained with no cliffhanger.

The Music is a mixed bag.  Both the intro and the outro feel very out of place in a show that’s set in 1909-1912.  The violin piece in the “coming up next” was nice, and the instrumental scores have a pleasant quirkiness to them.  Although it’s clear that the show is trying to appeal to a teen or young adult audience while using source material that would have perhaps been used more effectively in a more mature program (despite the amount of blood and gore that some of the crime scenes possess).  I could argue that it tried to make a historical setting cool, and then failed.  Not obnoxiously, but with a whimper.

The Themes in WDA are primarily about brotherhood, forgiveness, life, inspiration, and death…Unfortunately the show doesn’t baked these themes until they’re digestible, as the show has a habit of moving onto others things like a wandering child in a toy store.

Would I recommend Woodpecker Detective’s Office?  …I don’t think I can.  I’m disappointed in this show in a number of ways.  I watched it thinking that I was going to get an episodic detective show with perhaps a “big bad” that’s revealed at the end.  Instead what I got was a Detective show that did this from time to time, but then forgets it’s a detective show and goes off to do its own thing.  Much like its main character, it seems to procrastinate and self-indulge a lot.  We’re then presented with a loose approach to solving the mystery that worked well in Akira Kurasawa’s film Rashomon, but is not well executed here.  If there is anything I could salvage from this show – visually it looks good.  I could also imagine what an old-time anime director like the late Isao Takahata would have done with this story…in fact, he would have made a tremendous 2 hour film from it I would say.  1 that would hit all of the targets in terms of emotions felt while respecting the source material.

Art style: ****

Animation: ***3/4

Voice Acting: ***3/4

Characters: **

Story: *1/2

Music: ***1/2

Themes: ***

Overall:  ***

 

 

Captain Marvel (2019) Movie Review

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Right…now to talk about a highly anticipated, yet polarising piece of modern cinema that gets the next phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe rolling, while also being a 1st in 2 ways.  We’ll begin with the elephant in the room – Stan Lee.  Stan Lee’s passing in November 2018 makes this the 1st Marvel film that he will never get to see (Unless eternity allowed it).  It is also the 1st Marvel movie to have a heroine in both the title name and the lead role in this series.  So lets get busy.  This is Captain Marvel.

Our story begins on Hala, the Capital planet of the Kree, where Vers (played by Brie Larson), a member of the super-villain team called Starforce, keeps waking up to reoccurring nightmares involving an older woman and a mass of chaos (Might hit close to home for some in that description).  The Kree are at war with the Skrulls, who end up incapacitating Vers during an infiltration, and trying to pry her memories open.  Vers eventually escapes, and ends up in Los Angeles, USA…The year is 1995.  It is then that Vers goes on an investigation – who is this woman in her dreams, and what are these memories?  Did I mention that she meets Nick Fury and Phil Coulson from SHIELD?  No? Well, she does.

Now onto the building blocks.

Compared to other Marvel movies that I’ve seen, the acting for the most part is very solid.  But it doesn’t make me too invested in what I’m witnessing.  Nobody is bad, and the performances of returning characters are what you expect.  It’s also nice to see Clark Gregg return to Marvel Movies, even though it meant that Agents Of SHIELD Season 6 ended up only doing 12 episodes instead of 22 with his appearance here.

The characters for the most part are a little bland outside of Nick Fury, Carol Danvers (Vers), and of course the unofficial star of the movie…Goose The Cat.  Goose is likeable to the point that I want to see this character expand into later movies.

The story is a little all over the place at times, but it hits all of the cues at the right times.  Although the issue that some people might have is that there isn’t really a struggle.  In other movies you look at the struggles of these heroes; For instance, Tony Stark has the magnet near his heart, his alcohol dependence, his reliance on a suit to fight crime, and his moral obligation to have a superhero register.  Although these themes have been covered over many movies, Carol’s struggle involves coming to terms with being lied to and trying to overcome gender disadvantage, in which her struggle is mostly in the past, when she was growing up in the 1970s and 80s…and yes, Boys are and were prone to being pricks in this area when such behaviour was endorsed.

The art design comes across as slightly uninspired outside of how Hala looked at the beginning and the presentation of 1995.

The music is quite awesome, with the likes of Happy When It Rains by Garbage, Come As You Are by Nirvana and Whatta Man by Salt N Pepa as part of the soundtrack – along with a really well placed song by No Doubt.  As a fan of 90s music, this is among my favourite soundtracks in the MCU.

The special effects and CGI are evident, but still well done.  I can’t say much else that hasn’t already been said about other Marvel movies that I’ve covered.

The Cinematography is strong, and if you’re more interested in the type of cinematography where good cinematography doesn’t get talked about, then it’s great.  However it doesn’t have too many shots that would make me stop the movie to look at…Unless it’s Goose The Cat.

Would I recommend Captain Marvel?  If you are a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, then yes – because within the context of that universe, it is essential viewing.  It is not in the same league as numerous other Marvel movies (such as Avengers Assemble, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians Of The Galaxy).  But it is better than some other Marvel movies.  In particular, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2 and Thor: The Dark World (Although to be fair, most movies in general are better than The Incredible Hulk).  If you compare it to the other recent ‘1st Female Superhero’ Title movie, Wonder Woman, there is no comparison – Wonder Woman is absolutely the better movie.  If you’re not into the Marvel Movies, at least watch it for the Cat Humour, the ’90s nostalgia and the explosions.

Acting: ***1/2

Characters: ***3/4 (****1/2 for Goose The Cat)

Story: ***1/4

Art/Design: ****

Music: ****1/2

CGI/Special Effects: ****

Cinematography: ****

Overall: ***3/4

Rain (2013) Video Game Review

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My experience with late arrivals in gaming generations has been surprisingly positive, from Final Fantasy IX coming out on the PS1 in europe shortly after the release of the PS2.  To Yakuza 2 and Persona 4 as PS2 games that came out within a year of the PS3’s release, and all 3, but particularly the later 2 ended up being among my favourite instalments to their respective series.  However it can also be argued that occasionally a later arrival is literally missing the boat, and is this case, perhaps, there was a 6-8 week window of opportunity to shine before getting lost in the shuffle.  As a Digital Download Exclusive, never mind a PS3 exclusive…lets talk about a game that might get lost in time…This is Rain.

Set in the early to mid 20th century in Paris, our story revolves around a young boy who enters a bizarre world after seeing a young girl being chased by a large, menacing creature.  The world is like Paris, only it’s night time, and raining constantly, and every being is seemingly spiritual or at least invisible.  The boy finds out that he can only be seen in any place where it rains.  Meaning shelter from the rain is his only defence against the creatures of the night that stalk the streets.  His goal is to find the girl and, perhaps, get them both home again.

Now to discuss the usual blocks;

The Graphics, in their own way, have a timelessness to them.  But they are far from breaking any barriers.  It was released about 2 months before the PS4 came out, and about 4 months after the PS3 released its best looking game (in my opinion), which was The Last Of Us.  The rain effects put it visually above a late PS2 game, but it is very middle ground, even on an indie-developer level.  Either way, it’s neither ugly nor dated nor spectacular.

The Art Style is very good, and setting it in a mid 20th century Paris aesthetic is always a plus.  However, it is of a niche taste.  This game is closer in visual style to the likes of Limbo and Inside rather than the likes of Brothers and Child Of Light.  The drained colour scheme, which brings out the light in the game very well, only changes in the Intro, Ending and occasionally a room here and there.  After I while I found myself feeling bored of what I was looking at, and that’s despite including a Circus and an old factory as levels.

The Level Design is solid with emphasis on being a collection of run and hide puzzles and plenty of sight seeing…Kind of like The Last Of Us in some ways.  The game does a good job at differentiating each level with different backgrounds and even a different pace, in particular Chapter 4.  However there is a sameness that’s prevalent throughout the experience, even with each new location.

The Gameplay is minimalist, as the controls consist mostly of running, climbing and occasionally picking something up, like a key or a Clown Doll.  There are no attacks against enemies – all you can do is distract, hide and run, which is a logical choice when you’re a child surrounded by monsters.  The game provides good tension in this way.  The puzzles evolve a little bit overtime to have some new approaches.  But it is less about puzzles being harder and more about repackaging solutions that are the same throughout the game.

The Story is simple, yet abstract in nature.  Boy looks for girl to rescue her, and then tries to get both her and himself home.  Although I wasn’t too fussed on how the story was built.  Much like the gameplay, most of it felt the same the whole way through without any determination on the part of the player, and after a while, you just want to get it finished.

The Music is by far the best thing about Rain.  The main theme is Claire de Lune by Claude Debussy…and it’s perfect for this game, quite literally.  Yugo Kanno, the game’s composer decided to add lyrics to Claire de Lune, which neither adds nor takes away from itself.  The rest of the score does a great job at creating the feelings of concern, tension and even sadness.

Would I recommend Rain?  Yes…but once might be enough and twice is pushing it.  I’m aware of the “Memories Collection” which is available in the second play-through as a way to flesh out the story more, and yes, it gives you 3 trophies for your Playstation achievements…But unless you really enjoyed the gameplay and wanted to play it again, you would be better off watching a 10 minute youtube video that shows you each memory rather than using up another 3-4 hours to get them and the trophies.  The game has many good qualities, but despite its short play time, it felt long and drawn out.

Graphics: ***1/2

Art Style: ****1/4

Level Design: ***1/4

Gameplay: ***1/4

Story: ***

Music: *****

Overall: ***3/4

Violet Evergarden (2018) Anime Review

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Every so often, a show comes around on Netflix that gets added to your list, only to, from time to time, go unseen for a year or so.  This situation happens to many shows in many households, and out of those shows that could be subjected to the situation…this might be 1 of my most bittersweet choices.  Not because of what, but because of when, as several of the personnel who worked on this show were murdered in the Kyoto Animation arson attack in 2019…only for me to see some of what they left behind.  This is Violet Evergarden.

For this review I will be talking about Violet Evergreen as a whole that has been on TV; that includes the 13 episode TV show, the movie spin-off, and the OVA midquel (The later 2 being more like episodes of the show that happen to last longer), and I may update this review when the second movie is finally out, and perhaps and 2nd season (the former of which being delayed until Covid-19 passes).  The light novels in which this all stems from will not be brought up, as it is not available in the west, let alone because that there isn’t an official english translation, which would have sped up the study.  Let’s get started.

Set in a world that’s borrows heavily from early 20th century Europe while mixing some advanced technology and fantastic fashion choices into itself, our story revolves around a young woman named Violet Evergarden, a former military weapon (called a “doll”) who is finding her place in a world where she isn’t needed for her ability to kill and protect.  Violet has 1 goal in mind – to find out what “I love you” means, as they were the last words said to her by Gilbert Bougainvillea, a Major in the Leidenschaftlich Army who gave her orders, and clearly saw her as much more than just a war machine…all before they got separated.  With the help of Gilbert’s friend and superior officer, Claudia Hodgins, who now runs the CH Postal Company, Violet lands a job as an Auto-Memory Doll (A ghost writer for people who can’t write or who struggle to express their true feelings).  However, due to her aloof and robotic nature, this comes as a real challenge that progresses throughout the rest of the series.

Now to discuss the makings:

The art style in Violet Evergarden is…absolutely breath-taking.  Outside of Studio Ghibli, Makoto Shinkai and Laid Back Camp, this might be the most beautiful anime I have ever seen.  The colours are perfect.  The backgrounds are almost organic, like you could step through the screen and you’re there – it’s amazing.  The anime designs are modern and stand out, not because of any trademark design, but because of the choices made to separate each character on screen and from different shows.  Violet herself is instantly recognisable with her hair and eyes alone, then you have the fashion choices for all of the characters…what can also be pointed out is how delicate the details all appear, and without making any suggestions…it’s partly because Kyoto Animation hires more women in their department than any other studio.  There’s this heightened attention to details that I rarely see in most anime…and I would definitely welcome it more.

The Animation is strong, especially in the action scenes.  At times we get to see Violet as the Weapon she was designed to be, and her animations make it clear that you wouldn’t want her on the other end of the battle field.  It maintains the minimalist style that anime is known for, but it’s done incredibly well.  The violence, though rare, decides to be powerful without glamourising itself.

The Voice Acting in Japanese is excellent and I have yet to hear it in English.  Each voice matches their respective designs very well.  I like how Violet’s voice evolves, which I’ll detail in the next paragraph.

The Characters are mostly good, with Violet obviously being the 1 character that experiences the most growth.  Outside of Violet, the other supporting characters give some development, but not a whole lot.  Meanwhile the one-of characters each give their story within their respective episodes, and we see how Violet is able to help them…and it’s beautiful.  Violet reminds me of Aigis (who appears in the video game and movie series called Persona 3) – she starts out talking and acting like a robot, but the more she interacts with other people, sharing their pain and helping them overcome the challenge she is set out to do for them, the more alive she becomes.  Her voice starts to warm up, and her blank expression starts to show more range…especially in sadness.  And in time, an empathy for her grows.

The Story is very much a Coming-Of-Age tale and it plays the long game.  It is episodic, with each story developing Violet a little more towards meeting her goal, which is to write a letter to Gilbert (and obviously to find out what ‘I love you’ means) – Her skills improve, and it becomes clear what impact she has on everybody she works with.  Especially when you consider how she writes – it’s the kind that requires her to hear the truth, whether through vocal tone or body language, let alone the spoken word.  If you want a good letter by Violet, you need to tell the truth.  Which usually creates most of the conflict – but I haven’t seen a bad episode here.

The Music perfectly fits the program, from providing the J-Pop influenced intro of ‘Sincerely’ by TRUE to the show’s outro, Michishirube by Minori Chihara, to the whimsical scores that Evan Call created.  I would give this 5 stars if I was able to recognise most of the music without watching the show (something that Studio Ghibli and Laid Back Camp have nailed perfectly), and while all of the music works well for me, I think 2 pieces stands out as “The heart” of the score (1 is literally called ‘The Voice In My Heart’, the other is ‘In Remembrance’ if you want to find the Original Soundtrack).

The Themes mostly revolve around Love and War…but also around pain, loss, and the grieving process.  Everybody who comes to Violet for a ghost letter, comes to her because they themselves are trying to say “I love you”.  This then adds to Violet’s own development as she gets better with each letter she writes.

Would I recommend Violet Evergarden?  Yes I would.  This, to me, is 1 of those anime that leaves you wanting to make other people happy…and that, once again, is impressive.  Much like Laid Back Camp, I like looking at nearly ever scene with its near photographic intricacies mixed into the design.  I could watch more episodes of this show quite happily, so bring on the second movie and second season when they’re ready!

Art style: *****

Animation: ****1/2

Voice Acting: ****1/2

Characters: ****

Story: ****1/2

Music: ****3/4

Themes: ****1/2

Overall: ****1/2

 

Suspiria (1977) Movie Review

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…………..Wow.  Yep.  Wow.  Okay, lets get started.

Directed and produced by brothers Dario and Claudio Argento (in that order) – Suspiria is about Susanna “Suzy” Bannion, a 20 year old American woman (played by Jessica Harper) who arrives in Germany in order to be part of a Ballet School.  She takes a taxi to the school from the airport in the pouring rain and arrives at the front door.  Another young woman exits the school’s front door in a hurry.  After the door closes and locks, Suzy then tries to enter, but the voice on the other side of the speaker phone kept saying “Go away” – Suzy gets a hotel and returns in the morning…The girl she saw the night before and another girl, had died in a very brutal fashion, which meant a room was free.  Suzy finally gets settled in…only to find that this Ballet School has…depth.

Now to get into why I said wow…

Would you believe me if I told you that Disney’s Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs was an inspiration to the lighting in this film?  It’s full of bright colours, and just to be particularly unnerving, it’s mostly deep red.  The vividness and high saturation made Tony Montana’s Mansion look like a design choice from IKEA.  The rooms are very set-like, which potentially adds to a dream-like quality that’s present throughout the film.

The acting is very solid with some performances perhaps being hampered by the fact that this is like Sergio Leone’s Dollars Trilogy – a few Americans, a number of local actors from near the shooting location, and an english dubbing that can sometimes miss the mark.  Jessica Harper’s performance has a gentle and likeable presence, the kind that makes you route for her.  For me the scariest overall performance was Alida Valli as Miss Tanner (the head instructor) – to provide context, Valli was a very beautiful woman, and still looked very well by the time she was about 55, when this film was made.  But here; the hair, the clothes, her posture, her facial expressions…her stare, the forced smile – they were like a combination of Miss Trunchbull from Matilda and the teacher from The Wicker Man – She.  Was.  Creepy!  The rest of the performances did what was necessary without being bad.

The characters are a bit different when you consider original intent over final product:  The Ballet dancers were written to be about 12 years old, and when Dario Argento presented the idea during pre-production, he was told that the murder of 12 year olds would not sit well with anybody…so he made them 20 and everyone said okay…But the simple and naive dialogue of the characters remained the same.  You don’t get to know too much about the characters or their backstories, as the film very much is about the time just before and after we enter the School.  But they’re not bad.

The Story is based on a collection of short essays by Thomas De Quincy known as “Suspiria de Profundis” or “Sighs From The Depths”, a sequel to Confessions Of An English Opium Dealer, and is rooted in the “trips” experienced while taking Opium.  Considering they were published in 1845 (a full 20 years before Alice In Wonderland was published), it could be said that perhaps it was 1 of the weirder books of its day.  Within that context, the film really is a series of events that could be interpreted as trips or nightmares, in which the experiences of the mind ends up killing people.  There is a plot here and it flows well, as the school starts to fall apart and other attendees start to either die or go missing.

The Music…The music…It’s by “Goblin”…and…It’s 1 of the creepiest and most unsettling soundtracks you will ever hear.  It isn’t just “music” it’s a bit pile of oppressive, violent sounds, from angry Ghost howls to the clattering and banging of various instruments with murderous chants and shouts.  And their presence is so strong that you notice the silence…and that’s just as unsettling.  If there was anything I could compare it to, it would be the parts of the Silent Hill soundtrack that didn’t use Twin Peaks Guitar.  It is very 1970s in sound, and fits the visuals perfectly.

The cinematography by Luciano Tovoli is really, really excellent.  The angles he gets to go with the lighting is phenomenal.  Some of the shots remind me of John Alcott (Stanley Kubrick’s go-to cinematographer for 12 years).  Nearly everything is shot in a striking or polarising way.

Would I recommend Suspiria?  Yes I would, if you like Horror movies.  It’s a very unique visual and audio experience, and highly, highly…unsettling (I know, I’ve used that word a lot here).  Where it lacks in jump scares, it excels in the more old school horror approach…the horror that is about the visually grotesque.  An H.P. Lovecraft style horror that doesn’t jump or sprint, but focuses on a lingering anxiety that gives very little room for a break.

Visuals: *****

Acting: ***3/4

Character: ***1/2

Story: ***1/2

Music: *****

Cinematography: *****

Overall: ****1/4

One Piece: East Blue (1999-2001) Anime Review

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Right…This is going to be huge and quite long term, as I decided to start watching One Piece sometime late last year, and I’m fully aware that even if I take out the filler, I will probably not be brought up to date with the latest episodes until at least 2021, and that includes us experiencing an international pandemic.  Instead of watching every episode and then writing about it (meaning you will never hear anything about this.  Ever), I’ll be focusing on individual arcs, starting with the first.  This is the East Blue storyline.

NOTE: Much of what I say here could end up applying to the whole of One Piece forevermore if I produce other reviews about later storylines.

The East Blue storyline gives us the primary goal at the very beginning, and is the main origins story of One Piece.  Our primary focus is on how the Straw Hat Pirates came to be, and how their Captain, Monkey D. Luffy, became a heavily wanted fugitive of the Sea while he chases his dream.  The big goal is to find One Piece, a legendary ultimate treasure that was once in the possession of Gold Rodger, the greatest and most successful Pirate Captain of all time.  On the day of his execution, he says that One Piece is where he left it, leading to a Golden Age of Piracy throughout the lands (and the seas).

Now to break up 1 piece into pieces of 8:

The Art style in One Piece is 1 of the most unique in the whole of anime, as the main characters are instantly recognisable, and would be easier to animate than most.  What you have is a combination of hastened but skilfully created watercolour backgrounds, characters on cel-shaded plastic with black outlines and a more intense hue saturation, and character designs that are so out of the ordinary of traditional anime aesthetic that it can either be seen as inspired by western cartoons (Looney Tunes and Hanna Barbera comes to mind) or a huge throwback to anime that was created between the 1940s and 1960s, when it was mostly inspired by American cartoons brought over during the American Occupation of Japan.  Either way, everything about the show is visually eye-catching.

Animation-wise, it was clear that the studio had to work very smart and not worry about too many details, as the show has been an ongoing weekly program since 1999.  There are battle scenes that consist primarily of panels from the manga that are then given colour, camera movement and sound, and in doing so, add an extra 3-5 seconds to a 22 minute episode with just 1 picture.  However that doesn’t mean they’re stepping into late ’60s Spiderman territory – rather it is simply a form of minimalism in areas that either need little animation, or there is so much animation that it could be done for a movie if the deadline and budget allowed it.

The Voice acting is strong in Japanese and a mixed bag in english, but that’s primarily because I’m watching it in Japanese and then glimpsed at some episodes in english to make a comparison.  I’ll focus on the 5 main characters for this; Zoro sounds surprisingly regal in english & more rogue in Japanese.  Sanji sounds more like a punk in English and more a fighter in Japanese.  Luffy…this will probably annoy some people – In english he sounds like a woman impersonating a teenager with a raspy voice (think Nelson Muntz in The Simpsons), while in Japanese he sounds like a brash teenager.  Meanwhile, Nami and Usopp are exactly how I would imagine them sounding in english.

The music usually consists of music that plays in nearly every episode with the opening and ending themes changing about half or two thirds of the way through (On top of that, english dubbed theme songs were made).  The 1st opening theme has a ton of adventure in its tone while the 2nd opening theme was very Eurobeat in style (J-Euro to be exact, with was more in demand in the late ’90s/early ’00s).  The music that plays during the show is more or less perfect in its range, with each character having their own jingle for the commercial break to the tunes that brings tension and excitement to the circumstance, to the piano pieces that allow the show to slow down for a moment and contemplate its own humanity.  After a while, like the music in Twin Peaks, it gets burned into your brain, and thankfully it sounds great.

The story is a slow burner, and could be compared to a Japanese roleplaying video game (Dragon Quest & Final Fantasy would come to mind).  You have Luffy effectively meeting his future crew members and see them in their circumstances – all of them prisoners to something or someone or someones, and Luffy fixing their problems to the point that they could be encouraged to join his crew.  Each origin story stretches out over several episodes each, with some very memorable villains making their presence known, and occasionally showing up later, such as Buggy The Clown.  With each new ‘Boss’, Luffy requires the help of all his friends, which is where the threat to each story builds upon itself, and they really do need each other in order to survive and win.

Characters-wise I am only really focusing on the 5 main characters, and perhaps the villains and supporting characters:

Luffy wants to be King Of The Pirates, and after eating a Devil Fruit he gained the ability to stretch himself beyond anything of this world while also having super human strength, speed and strikes…however he is unable to swim (1 of the downsides to being a rubber-man) which is where his new friends all come in.  Seemingly careless and mindless in many ways, Luffy possesses an emotional intelligence that makes him a great leader rather than a boss.  This is a leader who fights for his crew.

Zoro, an acclaimed Bounty Hunter, wants to be the greatest swordsman in the world, and after seeing how strong Luffy is (and knowing that trouble with come everywhere Luffy went) decides to team with him.  Despite being named Zoro, his character is closer to being like a young Sanjuro, Toshio Mifune’s character in Akira Kurasawa’s film Yojimbo.

Nami wants to navigate and create charts of the entire world, and be the best at it.  She ends up being the hardest 1 to convince, as her chains ended up being the strongest.  She is very sly and quick at dropping friends, but has her reasons for doing so.  However despite rejecting the gang, Luffy knows how important she would be for his crew and the directions of their journey.

Usopp wants to be a brave warrior of the sea, to prove to everyone that he isn’t a liar, a coward or a disappointment compared to his Father, Yasopp, a successful pirate who is part of the Red Haired Pirates; The Gang who inspired Luffy to be a Pirate.  His flaws are quick at getting him into trouble, but he possesses a desire to make people happy.  He is also very creative with weapons and has phenomenal sniper capabilities, which makes him perfect for the Crow’s Nest.

Sanji wants to find new ingredients (In particular, the variety of fish that appear in a legendary part of the ocean called “All Blue”) and become the best chef in the world.  Unlike the rest of the crew, Sanji is haunted by his memory of nearly dying by starvation as a child, and makes it very clear that food should never be wasted.  His primary weakness is women (especially Nami), and he would sacrifice himself to make sure they are never harmed.  He’s also a chain smoker, which was acceptable 20 years ago, but wouldn’t work on TV now unless it was made clear that this was a character’s flaw.  Perhaps he gives it up later on.  Anyway, Luffy’s crew needs a Chef, so he seeks out Sanji’s services on the ship.

The East Blue Arc has nearly 40 villains and villain groups, ranging from the tactical Captain Kuro to the silly but chaotic Buggy The Clown, to iron-willed Marine Sheriff, Smoker The White Hunter, to, obviously the nastiest of the bunch – Arlong the Saw.  Each villain builds on the next and some return with unfinished business later on, as every pirate wants to be the best.

The main themes in the show could also qualify as morals, as the story is designed for both adults and children to enjoy without coming across as mindless fun with catchphrases (although the show deliberately has its share of that).  The main themes are friendship, adventure, the chasing of dreams, and overcoming the stumbling blocks along the way.  Each main character brings different qualities to the table; Luffy brings fearlessness and the importance of friendship, Zoro brings diligence and challenge, Nami brings intellectuality and financial frugalness, Usopp brings ingenuity and cunning, and Sanji brings the importance of making, exploring and not wasting food (Again, but this could be expanded upon in later seasons).

Would I recommend One Piece?  Absolutely.  There is something for nearly every age group here, which means it can qualify as a very good parent-child viewing experience.  It’s not complicated viewing, and yet it doesn’t insult your intelligence, and very much chooses to have fun while still managing to make you both laugh and cry when it wants you to.  My score is only for these first 61 episodes (I watch the fillers as well, and they were still a good viewing experience), and this score might change when I review the Second Arc.

Background Art: ****1/2

Character Art: ****1/2

Animation: ***1/2

Voice Acting: ****1/2 (Japanese) ***1/2 (English)

Music: ****1/4

Story: ****3/4

Characters: ****3/4

Themes: ****1/2

Overall: ****1/2

 

 

In/Spectre (2020) Anime Review

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As someone who likes to look for hybrids of murder mysteries and a combo of Urban Legends, Folklore and the Supernatural; In/Spectre caught my attention before it was even released, and in the process I ended up watching it as a feature of my Saturday nights or Sunday Afternoons.  So lets get right to it.

Set in a Japan where Shinto spiritualism plays an active role in the characters’ universe, our story revolves around 2 characters:  Kotoko Iwanaga, a young woman who lost an eye and leg when she was 11 to become an intermediary between the real world and the spirit world (and a “Goddess of Wisdom” to the various beings), and Kuro Sakuragawa, a young man who can’t be killed or destroyed (for very long) after he ate Mermaid flesh when he too was 11, and unlike Iwanaga, is highly feared and infamous among the Spirits (despite his desire to be normal).  On the surface it appears that she is the Brain & he is the Muscle – however it’s greyer than that.  After solving a small series of unusual paranormal cases; the partner of Kuro’s ex-fiance, police officer Saki Yumihara, is murdered by a mysterious Ghost woman of internet lore.  From this; the trio has to find out how to stop the Ghost or stop the killings.

Now into the divine comedy combo:

If there’s 1 thing that really stands out about the art style of In/Spectre, it would be how tidy the designs are, and how soft the colour palette is, compared to other anime in this era.  Colour saturation is more muted, but warm for about 90% of the feature, with the brightest and most vibrant colours being from the Yokai (Demons/Spirits).  The animation is well produced, but very much with an accent, as action scenes aren’t as prevalent as one might expect.  There are occasional distortions as part of the humour, mostly on Iwanaga’s part.  One other thing, and I thought this was quite ingenious on part of the design choices and ways to make characters stand out from other anime out there…blonde eyelashes.  Iwanaga has blonde eyelashes.  In an industry were blondes usually have dark lashes, it’s a refreshing and original detail.

The voice acting is very good, in both the original Japanese and English dubs.  Iwanaga has about 70% of the dialogue, so it was good to get a voice that not only matched her petite design, but also carried an authority of a character that converses with more than just humans…while also clearly being a horny young woman when it comes to Kuro.

The characters are quite complex in their own right, as you not only have at least 1 murder mystery story to tell, but also a romance were a girl is so forward that despite not being “his type”, insists that they be a couple.  Kuro’s type are tall brunettes – something that Iwanaga is far from ‘achieving’ – however, what she doesn’t make up in ‘type’ she outshines in an understanding and acceptance that isn’t always returned.  The show tends to be rather humorous about their relationship

The story is good, and gets stronger in a second viewing.  It consists of several ‘cases’ to solve, primarily as a way to show you how these characters get to work.  The cases go from lasting an episode or 2 until we come to the main case, the 1 that sees Saki’s partner on the Force brutally murdered at a petrol station by a J-pop singer with no face (the Internet Ghost woman I mentioned earlier).  The pacing is also very casual and is a slow burner for the most part.  Some might be put off by this, as there may have been certain expectations by some going into this.  But I got my joyful share out of it nonetheless.

The music doesn’t have as large an emphasis as other aspects of the show, to the point that you probably have about 20 minutes of music across 12 episodes.  They would be the opening theme, closing theme, intermission jiggles and about 3-4 scores that add to the comedy or the moments of pondering.  The opening theme has an air of mischief while the ending theme tries to convey the romantic element of the show.  From time to time you’ll hear what sounds like a medieval lute – whether that’s to add to the fantasy element in another question, but I think it works well.

The themes are easily the strongest thing going for it, as it can be best described as either philosophical or theological in nature (or both) – a thinking person’s anime.  Reason?  Because everything revolves around either alternative perspectives or whether or not the ‘truth’ on a matter can be believed.  Murder could be suicide.  Ghosts could be scapegoats.  Jealousy could lead to someone going full-on ‘Gone Girl’ (if you’ve seen that movie, you’ll understand).  It also, to a small degree, follows the fears of romance and whether or not we can receive acceptance.  In Kuro’s case, he was rejected when he was seen for who he was capable of becoming, while at the same time, He is rejecting Iwanaga’s advances, even though she accepts him for his unique ‘gift’.

Would I recommend In/Spectre?  Yes, but you need to be in the mood for it.  This is 1 of the most dialogue-heavy shows I have ever seen, let alone the most dialogue-heavy anime.  So much information is conveyed in the written or spoken word, much more than in action.  In terms of the best way to watch it, it depends on what you’re looking for.  If you’re looking for pure exposition, the Japanese with english subtitles works well and is perhaps the most accurate interpretation.  However in viewing it this way, your eyes will be reading a lot more than watching.  In the english dub, it might take some liberties as a means to fit the dubbing with moving lips, but it, at least, has you watching the whole screen and enjoying the visuals and animation to their fullest.  I also found myself enjoying the humour more in the english dub, so don’t shun it until you hear it, and see it play out.

Art style: ****1/2

Animation: ****

Voice Acting: ****1/4

Characters: ***3/4

Story: ****

Music: ***1/2

Themes: *****

Overall: ****1/4

 

Laid Back Camp (2018) TV Show Review

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Over the last couple of years I’ve taken more and more to watching the On-Demand Channel/App known as Crunchyroll – a place where you can do 1 of 2 things; watch Japanese anime and live-action Japanese shows for free with an unholy amount of advertising disrupting the flow.  Or paying a subscription fee that takes away the adverts altogether, provides even more shows to watch, makes the latest episodes in Japan the latest episodes to you, and allows you to read manga for free on their website.  Weirdly enough, they are both on the same level of appeal if you’re not worried about time or being up to date (or reading manga or watching One Piece).  It just depends on what you’re happy to do.  Me?  I was happy to subscribe.  But today I’ll be discussing 1 I found 2 years ago (and rewatched it over the Winter Holidays due to a spin-off coming out in January under the name Room Camp) that was on display, and had no prior knowledge of before starting.  This is Laid Back Camp (or Yuru Camp).

Laid Back Camp more or less starts off at the very end of the Show before it goes right back to the beginning.  In it, we are introduced to 5 girls (and a little dog), and throughout the story we see how this group of girls get together in the end.  We begin by being introduced to the 2 main protagonists: Rin, a blue haired introvert who prefers to go camping alone.  And Nadeshiko, an energetic girl with pink hair who knows nothing about camping, but then it becomes her favourite thing to do when she isn’t eating…and this show has a lot of eating; not that the opening minute gives that away.  We are then introduced to Chiaki and Aoi, who, along with Nadeshiko, run an after-school club that focuses on Camping, and finally, Ena, Rin’s best friend, who spends most of the show texting Rin and doing her hair in a bun. Chikuwa, Ena’s dog, is there to be part of the cuteness.

Now to look at the components:

Set in the real world with hairstyles that range from real to Otaku, 1 thing that really stands out are the backgrounds – They.  Are.  Stunning!  Really beautiful to look at.  Practically on a brochure display level or art gallery level, let alone to set the scene.  They remind me of backgrounds that I’ve seen in Studio Ghibli films, and sometimes I would stop the streams to screenshot them on my Mac, they are that good.  The designs of the characters are simple and cute without being overly detailed, and they’re all very easy to tell apart.  For comedic reasons, sometimes they become chibi in nature, and here that style really works.  Everything about this program is easy on the eyes, even the hint of food porn.

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Backgrounds like these are among the reasons I love this show, and they’re only from the first episode.

The voice acting is really good to my english-speaking ears listening to Japanese with subtitles – each character’s voice matches their designs and characters perfectly and they’re all distinct.  Since there is no english dubbing, I can’t make comparisons, and since most dramatic parts of the show have humour mixed in, it doesn’t have a full range of emotions.  I’m giving it 4 out of 5, because it’s still really good, but it might not be mind-blowingly good.

The story might not appeal to everybody because of how light and gentle the whole experience is.  If there was a gentleness I could compare it to, it would either be My Neighbour Totoro or Winnie The Pooh.  Even the dramatic moments can make you smile.  To say it’s harmless is an understatement because the approach to character development has more or less no conflict.  That doesn’t take away the show’s enjoyment though, as the ‘problems’ they experience are very real, whether it’s high prices, roadblocks, dogs being violent in their friendliness, accidents, a run-in with local folklore, or too many people looking for a good meal.

The Characters are all distinct with everybody finding an aspect of their own personality in at least 1 of them – So here goes: Rin is quiet and introverted, and likes camping on her own.  Nadeshiko is loud and extroverted, and loves learning new things (and eating vast amounts of food).  Chiaki is the president of the club and likes to take charge and be responsible.  Aoi is an old soul who keeps the group together.  And Ena is cheerful and full of jokes.  Another interesting quirk about the names of the characters is the fact that their surnames are all the same as different towns across Japan.  You also get several side characters to move the plot along – primarily Toba, a substitute teacher at their school who happens to be a terrible alcoholic (But she’s a happy drunk, so lightness and gentleness continues) – now, do they behave like real people?  No, and to some that could drop a few stars, but, perhaps the vagueness in their personalities allows us to see more of ourselves in them.  Who knows.

The music by Akiyuki Tateyama is an absolute joy to listen to, even without the show.  His use of whistles along with acoustic guitar, bass, fiddle and several other folksy instruments are really lovely and give a very relaxed feel.  The opening theme is by J-Pop singer Asaka, whose sound is quite Jackson 5 in nature and the song Shiny Days shows it.  The end theme is a singer-songwriter piece by Era Sasaki called Furu Biyori, which is a great song to say “Night night” to.  Music to make you happy.

The Themes are centred around the building of friendship, as well as learning about this niche activity to the point that even the audience is enthusiastic enough to want to replicate it in their own lives.  Whether this was intended or just the creators doing their research…is up to us to decide.

Would I recommend Laid Back Camp?  Yes I would – especially for people who want to learn the basics of camping by experiencing a tutorial within a story, as well as to enjoy watching what is effectively a gourmet anime within a slice of life comedy.  It’s very gentle viewing and in its own escapist way, it sparks joy.  I can re-watch this show anytime and feel cosy.

Also despite being 3 minutes each, Room Camp was great.  ‘Looking forward to Season 2 in 2021.

Art style: *****

Animation: ****1/4

Voice Acting: ****

Characters: ***1/2

Story: ****

Music: *****

Themes: ****1/2

Overall: ****1/2

 

 

Cats (2019) Movie Review

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I will start this review by saying, in all likeliness…you are right and I am wrong.  But at the same time, I will say that I know what I saw, even if you disagree.  To some this will be a little different, considering I’m reviewing this on the weekend in which it came out.  The same weekend that includes the premier of Stars Wars: Rise Of The Skywalker…a movie I won’t be seeing, as I still haven’t watched The Last Jedi (Sorry Trekkies, and take a joke. *wink*) – so here we are, a film that is unlike anything I have ever paid to see.  This is Cats.

Set in London in around the 1920s (rough estimate), our film revolves around a group of street cats who seek to be reborn as either Cats in a better life or, literally, reborn, as in reincarnation.  The cats themselves come in all shapes and sizes, some working together, others in competition with each other, and others abusing the weaknesses of others to their advantages.  We start off by being introduced to Victoria (played by ballerina Francesca Hayward) a young white kitten recently abandoned and introduced to the gang known as the Jellicle cats, who are going to the Jellicle Ball for their great performance.

Now to see why I might be kind to this where others are not:

The Art Style…will not be everybody’s favourite brand of coffee bean.  I look at it as a whole, but what a lot of people seem to focus on is the ‘creepy character designs’…character designs that would excite a Furry, cause a sense of justified indifference (since actual cat anatomy will not replicate what we see on the stage) or be the stuff of nightmares.  It depends on whether you choose to see this as an attempt at live-action gone wrong, or as an animated film that’s a little too close to the edge of reality to qualify as ‘cartoon’.  Personally I liked the CGI Backgrounds, along with the colours used, and looked at them as if I was looking at a 3D Concept Art Piece on Artstation rather than any kind of attempt to replicate reality.  I can also understand the revolt over the character designs, as folk probably wanted it to be more like the remakes of the Disney Renaissance or Puss In Boots in the Shrek movies.  It wasn’t great.  But I was never really that bothered by this…don’t look at me like that.

The Music in this film is of excellent quality and I won’t deny that fact.  Some of it remains burned into my memory – somewhere between the opening of Duck Tales and the not-fly-me-to-the-moon outro of Neon Genesis Evangelion.  But more leaning towards the former.  The songs are by far the best thing about this movie – Enjoyable, catchy, and haunting, even if you might need to read the lyrics.  The new song that wasn’t in the stage play, “Beautiful Ghosts”, presented as Victoria’s song, but is sung by Taylor Swift, was 1 of the highlights of the movie for me, as well as Jennifer Hudson’s performance of “Memory”.  This should do well as an MP3 or CD I would say.

The dancing is a more difficult thing for me to talk about, because musicals are not my forte.  I can enjoy them – but not know anything about what I’ve seen.  My friends on the other hand managed to see things that I didn’t – including sequences where feet weren’t touching the ground, and in the process, they were floating…which, in a story that appears to contain magic, could be (sort of) overlooked when the action is fast paced.  I thought they were really well done in the end, despite how weird some of it looked when the CGI was applied.

The Story is…rather abstract.  A group of cats are…performing to see if they can get a new life/be reborn.  In truth, abstract is my most positive description, because as someone who love stories, this did nothing for me.  It wasn’t like Victoria had a Rocky Montage and then won the Jellicle Ball at the end, nothing like that.  In the process, the best I could do is treat the film as a music collection held together by the strings and gum of unfortunate writing in the middle of each song.  I’m giving it 1 star out of 5, because while it did nothing for me…I wasn’t angry with it.  Take it as an eatable mess.

The acting consists of an all-star cast, ranging from singers such as Taylor Swift and Jennifer Hudson, comedians such as Rebel Wilson and James Corden, and mainstream/veteran actors such as ldris Elba, Judy Dench and Ian McKellen.  This, I didn’t have a problem with, because I realise that everybody cared about what they were doing and really put a lot of effort into making this work.  So they did their part, and did it well…I can understand the hatred of James Corden because of what he’s like outside of this.  But I wasn’t pushed heavily into wishing he was off the screen.  Idris Elba, to a degree, was fun in his role – even if the mysterious Macavity didn’t get a lot of time to get really interesting or fleshed out.

The Characters…We have so many names (3 for each cat to be exact).  Some are more memorable than others, but the general gist as far as I’m concerned, is that these are more or less “every cat”.  Every big cat.  Every kitten.  Every grizzled veteran.  Every sly, crafty and scheming cat.  The development of all these cats are as follows; “Here we are, here’s our song that talks about us.  Bye bye now!” – some cats then reappear in other songs, but for the most part, this is them.  If you want to know more about them, read the book.

The cinematography was strong throughout the experience – however the jumps from scenery to scenery without any hint might bother some people.  “Wait a minute…they went from walking along train tracks to walking along the hall of a carriage with no train in sight?  At night time?  With the lights on?  What’s going on?”  Some good angles are present.  The editing of them might be what bothers me the most though.

Would I recommend Cats?  I will…to a niche audience, as well as people who enjoy weird and wacky cinema regardless of the rag sheets.  I have suggested (as a laugh) to use Terry Gilliam’s Tideland method:  Watch the film, but have a different film running parallel in your head.  In this case, you imagine them as real cats, and when they are singing, it is actually a pile of cats hissing and screeching and meowing at each other.  I have seen Alejandro Jodorowsky’s 1973 film The Holy Mountain (forget the symbolism, that film melts your brain like paint thinner), and I can tell you that this is easily more enjoyable.  It might not be as enjoyable as a Disney movie, but it’s more enjoyable than some avant garde…and that’s really the best way I can relay it.  It’s clear that the performers worked really hard, and in their own right, delivered.  But there were a lot of problems that have hidden the gold in the dirt.  Indeed, watch this with consequences in mind – but when it comes out on DVD, I would be interested to hear what people say it’s like if they watch it as part of a Drinking Game.

Art Style: ****

CGI: **1/2

Music: ****1/2

Dance: ****

Story: *

Acting: ***3/4

Characters: **1/4

Cinematography: ***3/4

Overall: ***1/2

Dragon Quest Builders 1 & 2 Video Game Review (2016/2019)

I love stories.  I really do…I love beginnings, middles and ends and feel satisfied at the notion that I’ve grown to know a group of persons and see them progress in their lives…or more specifically, gotten to know a group of persons who don’t exist, but could if they’re inspired and written well enough.  With this in mind, I can tell you that during its prime, and even now, despite owning a copy of the game – I never got into Minecraft.  I grew up on LEGO, but Minecraft, and even Roblox…I didn’t really have time for it.  But I will tell you what I do have time for:  RPGs.  Yes, that’s right, I’m happy to sink a minimum of 25 hours into those bad-boys and feel like I had an adventure by the end of them.  Which is why it’s to my pleasure when I saw that Square Enix effectively created a version of Minecraft that’s catered towards me.  In the aesthetic, flow and character of the Dragon Quest series, we have Dragon Quest Builders and its sequel.

Set in what is the Dragon Quest Universe, our 2 stories revolve around our main character – a silent protagonist simply known as The Builder, who ‘speaks’ when other people repeat what he (or she) says.  The Builder is a unique being in these 2 worlds, as he/she has the ability to…create.  Each game has a different reason as to why the people of these worlds can’t build.  In Game 1, it’s because they have forgotten.  But in Game 2, it is because a Cult has forbidden them to do so, and any efforts to build is destroyed.  The goal in both games is to help the people of the land rebuild their lives and their homes, and then rescue them from the Villains that oppress them, including the Final Boss at the end.

Now for the technical stuff:

Graphically and artistically, if you’re expecting the equivalent of the newest Final Fantasy games, you’re looking in the wrong place, as the game’s goal isn’t to push graphics, but to keep it cute, colourful, functional and bug-free (This series was originally a Nintendo exclusive up until Dragon Quest VII was released on the PS1, so cute and colourful is part in parcel).  The Art style is that of Akira Toriyama, the legendary Manga Artist and writer who also created the Dragonball series and Dr Slump.  Toriyama’s character designs and colour palette are so integrated into the series’ identity that the only way you could change the artist is to have someone who illustrates exactly like him.  More or less – No Toriyama, no Dragon Quest, and no manga style that’s inspired by Astro Boy mixed with 101 Dalmatians.

The same can be applied to the music in both games.  No Koichi Sugiyama, no Dragon Quest.  While Nobuo Uematsu moved away from Final Fantasy after the 10th game, Sugiyama has remained the composer of every Dragon Quest to date, and the music remains highly characteristic of this series as a whole.  Upbeat, adventurous, melancholy, nostalgic and sinister in all the right areas and in a very classical tone.

The gameplay and level designs are different in each game, and could be described as Dragon Quest mixed with Minecraft and Harvest Moon with a strong sandbox element.  In ‘1 you have a level system, and with each new land where you build a home in the story, you leave the old 1 behind along with anything you created there.  Each level receives a separate save file that allows you to return to them from the main menu (though they don’t advance the plot), along with having a separate area that allows you to build anything you want with the skills and recipes you pick up along the way.  These recipes range from rooms to food to items.  Meanwhile ‘2’ builds on that foundation and rather than give you a small, separate area to build within each level, that separate area becomes integrated into the story as a whole Island for you to build on (and it’s pretty big!).  Think of it like a big blocky Elder Scrolls game with complete control of the landscape, all while advancing a story, as some challenges are closer to puzzles than simply following a to-do list.  Part of the appeal in both games when it comes to visiting these lands, is what each new ‘home’ brings to the table.  In ‘1’ you have a level with a story that focuses on building defences and another with a story on making healing items, and in ‘2’ the 1st area you live in focuses on farming while the 2nd focuses on mining.  A difference between 1 and 2 in this area though, is that you can revisit these ‘homes’ for their unique supplies, and also to visit the villagers who didn’t return with you to build your island, which already makes ‘2’ more appealing if you grew attached to anyone.

The story is kept simple, whilst maintaining a mystery, such as the intentions of the deity who speaks to you in ‘1 or the mysterious backstory of Malroth (who is the Builder’s ‘Muscle’) in ‘2.  The story is that a great evil takes over the land, you try to solve problems for all of the new people in your life, makes their lives better, and then fight the evil that is holding them back.  It’s the same with both games, only with different dressing.  The fact that important villagers can stick with you via your island adds more appeal.

Would I recommend Dragon Quest Builders 1 and 2?  Yes I do.  More so 2 over 1? Once again, yes.  But that’s only because you can play 2 without playing 1.  However, think it is best to play them in order, as playing 1 with its tighter structure and challenges can make you appreciate how large ‘2’ actually is.  The Dragon Quest Builder series may not seem too groundbreaking to some, but in reality, this was a hybrid genre game series that people didn’t know they wanted until it was conceived, and in the end, both games are well executed and a pleasure to play.

Graphics: ***1/2 (1 & 2)

Art Style: ***** (1 & 2)

Level Design: **** (1) ****1/2 (2)

Gameplay: ****1/2 (1) ****3/4 (2)

Story: ***3/4 (1) **** (2)

Music: ***** (1 & 2)

Overall: ****1/4 (1) ****1/2 (2)