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Apr 152014

Episode 02 -

While the seemingly one-sided love between the main characters is already starting to grow wearisome (incestuous undertones aside), at least this episode centers in on one of the more intriguing conflict points brought up in the first episode; that is, the social stratification in the student body.

It’s rare to see, in anime at least, an extremely strong form of social discrimination (this is different from bullying, which we see surprisingly often). In any case, we see the talented “bloom” magicians separated out from the untalented “weed” students; this is made painfully obvious by the emblems embroidered on their uniforms. If you don’t have an emblem, then you are deemed “inferior” by the blooms. This hiearchy seems to be playing a powerful role in shaping the setting and characters, where you can see it’s effects everywhere from the student council’s “no weed” policy, to the Blooms’ blatant lack of even a modicum of respect towards their “Weed” peers.

Of course, this setup is meant to emphasize the nature of the main protagonist, Tatsuya. I mean, after all, it’s even mentioned in the title to this series: “Rettousei”, which roughly translates to “the Irregular student”. In other words, our character is meant to directly oppose this social hiearchy explicitly by showing off abilities that are outside the scope of the tests used to determine the “blooms” and “weeds”. In effect, he would be the “irregular” that proves that weeds aren’t necessarily inferior.

In other words, the protagonist’s very presence is effectively calling “bullshit” on the methodology used to classify “blooms” and “weeds”. While I do think this is a valid way to attack the discrimination issue, I do worry that this series will simply devolve into Tatsuya performing some wondrous miracle time and time again; he already performed one when he easily defeated the vice president this episode. Sure, his extraordinary accomplishments would break the stereotype of Tatsuya as a “weed”, but it wouldn’t be making much of a statement; it would simply be saying that he is far more exceptional than the other “weeds” around him. The more valid way to handle this would be to have the weeds, through sheer hard work and motivation, overcome this barrier of discrimination, because then it would be obvious that the discrimination is superficial.

Instead, I worry that we’re going to have a superman of sorts here, where Tatsuya consistently performs miraculous deeds on par with his near instantaneous defeat of the vice-president (whom probably was no pushover considering his status). If that happens, then the whole “weed” vs “bloom” debate becomes pointless; instead, it simply becomes “look how awesome Tatsuya is, he’s just an exception to the weed rule, while the rest are still weeds”. And that would be sorely disappointing.

Score: 6.5/10

Screenshots are later in the post.

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Apr 092014

Episode 01 -

I can straightforwardly say that No Game No Life should be watched purely for entertainment. With a invincible duo for protagonists, a fantasy world that works right to their advantage, and healthy amounts of disdain of the real world, there is no doubt that this series is meant to be one of fantasy fulfillment. That doesn’t necessarily mean this won’t be fun, though.

I think what is important for anybody watching this series is the way in which they approach the story. If you want some exceptionally good character development, intense and intelligently thought out game battles, and serious plot, you probably won’t get particularly much out of this show (at least, based on first impressions). There are obvious hints to the social outcast status of the main protagonists, but this episode gave off the impression that the main focus will be on the game battles in the fantasy world.

Rather, if you want to watch a show where the main characters cheat their way to victory, No Game No Life fits the bill. Success in this series seems to be directly tied to your ability to cheat and scheme up dastardly plans, so from the viewpoint of pure entertainment, I can easily suggest this show based on first impressions. I can imagine this getting particularly entertaining if both sides end up cheating, leading to some potentially outrageous encounters.

The biggest issue I can see here, though, is the believability of the story. For instance, when the main character managed to magically “cheat” and pull off a royal flush, I was less than convinced. It would’ve been nice to actually see the level of skill and effort that was needed to pull off that trick, and be shown exactly how he did it without being noticed. That’s the one flaw to invincible characters; things can quickly get boring if they always seem to be winning in some “magical” manner.

Anyways, with this one episode there is one fact that is absolutely crystal clear; the “games” will not be contests of pure skill, but rather, gaming skills combined with the sheer ability to exploit every little loophole and scheme possible to pull yourself to victory and deceive your enemy. Assuming the main protagonists don’t end up overwhelmingly one-sidedly defeating every enemy they encounter, this show should make for, at the very worst, a mindlessly entertaining series.

Score: 6.0/10

Screenshots are later in the post.

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Apr 082014

Episode 01 -

Soredemo is a series that is based on a manga series, one that I’ve been following for a few months now. And admittingly, this introductory episode was rather different from what I had anticipated. Not necessarily in a bad way, mind you; it’s just that the tone to the adaptation seems to be rather different from the manga. In short, the manga tends to have a lot of introspective moments regarding the main heroine and her relationship with the sun king. In comparison, it seems that this TV series may be placing emphasis on the comedic elements to the story.

To be fair, we haven’t really seen much of the Sun King in terms of screentime, so there is the obvious possibility that this introductory episode was only meant to give us a feel for the characters and general setting. And in that regard, this episode did an okay job; primarily, it established the very energetic, proactive personality of the princess from the Rain Kingdom. From her silly desperate lack of knowledge of the country, to her naivety with regards to foreign countrymen, we do get a general understanding of our princess (although nothing particular in-depth).

We also get a vague idea as to what it means to be a prospective wife to the Sun King; with political plotting abound, a real sense of danger exists here. Considering the king’s apparently young age, this setting makes even more sense. After all, it’s not common to have a young boy to gain control over a vast empire, and it would come as no surprise if this somehow begets ill will against both him, and his soon to be wife.

In the end, we only have one half to the equation here; we only see the princess, and don’t have a clue as to what the King will be like. It’s rather obvious that the pair’s interactions will make-or-break this series, where their relationship and character growth will be critical to the overarching plot (especially with regards to the political overtones).

Score: 7.0/10

Screenshots are later in the post.

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Apr 072014

Episode 01 -

Mahouka’s original source material, a light novel series, has been quite popular in Japan (selling a few million volumes, I believe). Thus, it comes as no surprise that it is one of the more hyped series for the season, particularly amongst the male demographic in Japan. Knowing that, what do we exactly get out of this first episode? Succinctly put, this episode features nice animation, fluidly-animated fight scenes, some solid introductory world-building, and a lot of ugh-why-brother-sister-romcom antics.

To be fair, ignoring the seemingly incestuous brother-sister relationship of the main characters, this episode proved to provide several points of interest regarding the setting. The most noticeable point of interest would be the social stratification prevalent in the student body; it’s quite intriguing that this social stratification is not only officially mandated by authorities, but also imposed due to how it plays a critical role on an international scale (primarily, producing magic-wielding soldiers for war). I can easily see this series delve into some rather interesting conflicts regarding individual vs national interests, but whether it will pan out in such a manner is dependent on the original story.

The dynamic between the main protagonist and his little sister, on the other hand, does not bode well for the series. The relationship between the two is wholly unnatural (and I daresay, not healthy), and if this dynamic continues to be the central focus to this series, I suspect that the character development will suffer tremendously. Another issue with this dynamic is that both the sister and brother are portrayed as rather flawless and highly capable individuals; I don’t really see much room for character growth, and could easily make the main duo a bore to watch.

In the end, this series has some merits worth noting, mainly being the impressive animation and the interesting setting. I can also see the magic system being fairly intriguing; from first impressions, it seems to have been built in a comprehensively detailed (almost technical) manner. However, good setting and world building does not necessarily equate to a good show; this is all bogged down by a rather mediocre main cast, where I see little room for growth and development.

Score: 6.5/10

Screenshots are later in the post.

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Nov 182013

Hey everybody, as you guys may have noticed, I was abroad in Japan for approximately 11 months (until July 2013). One of the biggest questions I have been asked by prospective visitors to Japan, as well as fellow students who will be study abroad, is how to handle for cell phone service. Well, here’s everything to my knowledge about cell phone service in the land of the rising sun that I am aware of. And just as a heads up, for the land of technology, getting your cell phone to work is a royal pain in the ***

One thing to note is that Japan has very restrictive laws with regards to getting a cellphone plan. Unless you are a long-term resident, or on some sort of extended visa, it is impossible to simply purchase a sim card and use it for when you are here. It’s quite annoying, but can be worked around by renting a sim card for your trip here (alternatively, you can use T-mobile’s new free International roaming, but this is also short term). Note that this is for short trips (1 week to 2 months), and should NOT be used for long term visits. For long term visits, there are two options: go Prepaid, or sign a contract.

Sign a contract

As you might be expecting, signing a contract isn’t all too different from what you experience in other countries. You sign a contract with a phone company, purchase a phone, and pay a monthly fee for phone service. For foreigners, there is the added barrier of requiring your foreign residence card, your passport, and other forms of identification before getting service. And what makes this even worse is that while there is a 1-year contract, which is bad for students studying here for only 8-9 months. If you want to sign a contract, you need to be willing to break the contract at some point in time. This involves a fee which is usually around 10,000-15,000 yen, and even if you do this, the phone you purchased (e.g. an iphone) can’t even be used back at home in the USA. It is forever locked to Japanese carriers, and they don’t provide any way to unlock them. It truly is a pain in the *** to get going, and there’s a ton of rules to keep in mind. Nevertheless, if you are interested in pursuing this, it can’t hurt to bring your own unlocked Smartphone from the USA. NTT Docomo allows you to use unlocked phones on their network.
Softbank Prepaid
The non-contract option is getting a Softbank prepaid cellphone, which provides for both phone calls and texting ONLY (No internet). Texting/SMS in Japan is usually done though email, so you will get a dedicated softbank email upon purchase. You need your residence card and passport for to get the phone, and the entire process takes roughly 45 mins to 1 hour to setup.

Note that prepaid means you are not on contract. There are plans with contracts as well, but considering you may only be here for 1 semester (and the shortest contract being 1 year long), you’ll probably need a prepaid plan. Unless you’re willing to pay an early termination fee (usually well more than $100), prepaid is the way to go.

Prices are about 6000 yen for the phone itself, and a 3000 yen deposit (for cell service) that lasts for 2 months. For unlimited texting/messages, 300 yen is deducted from the 3000 yen deposit per month. Phone calls also use up parts of that 3000 deposit, 9 yen per 6 seconds (wtf?). Incoming calls are free of charge.
Smartphones from USA/elsewhere:
If you have a GSM smartphone (AT&T and T-mobile only, or unlocked iPhones from Verizon), you should be able to use it with your Softbank prepaid plan. You must unlock your smartphone via your carrier (or jailbreak, root, etc), and afterwards you need to move your sim card from your Japanese cellphone to the smartphone. Note, Softbank does NOT sell sim cards separately, so you need to buy your phone initially and swap the sim card out. Also, you might need to cut down your simcard if your phone uses micro/mini-sim cards (the newer iPhones use mini/micro, as well as newer Android phones). You can find instructions for to cut sim cards via Google or YouTube. Be careful when cutting though, you usually only get one shot. x_x

Continue reading if you want to read more about specific settings needed for smartphones in Japan.

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Apr 102013

Episodes 01 + 02

So far, for this season, there have been two surprise premiers for me. The first would be Hataraku Maou-sama, which had a surprisingly funny and creative premier episode. The other would be this premier, Suisei no Gargantia. Unlike Maou-sama, though, this starter did almost the exact opposite; rather than be a comedy of any sort, the story takes itself seriously, and places a tremendous amount of effort into making the scenario feel as believable as possible. Small little touches in terms of character interactions, such as the language barrier, unfamiliarity with local customs, and other details adds a whole lot of believability to the story at hand.

To be fair, this premiere did have a weakness of sorts, mainly the characters. You can’t really say that the cast so far is distinctly different from your typical anime casts; they aren’t particularly unique in terms of personality, motivations, etc. However, there is also potential for character development, particularly the main hero. Based on his origins from a high-technology civilization, it seems that a lot of aspects to life that we take for granted (such as freedom to have a lover, spend time with friends, live on a planet) are concepts that are very much foreign to his existence. Seeing him cope with this sudden change of environment should prove to be interesting in the long term, where we will almost definitely see an internal struggle of sorts with regards to his responsibilities to the Galactic alliance, and his own experiences on Earth.

The most fascinating aspect to these episodes would be, without a doubt, the actual scenario that’s unfolding at hand. Having a hyper-futuristic robot crash landing on a Earth with technologies several centuries older, leads to this intriguing scenario where we see the clash of two almost completely different ways of thinking and cultural differences. This is evident in the first episode from language barriers and rudimentary attempts at translation, and is seen in the second episode via the offerings of “dead carcasses” as nutrition. These are but some of the many small little details that adds believability to the scenario at hand, and it would be a lie on my part to say that I’m uninterested in seeing how these interactions play out.

Out of all the series that have debuted so far, I do believe that Suisei has great potential; it has a solid, intriguing scenario, potentially interesting characters, and an impressive attention to detail that is captivating. The only real potential issue I can see arising is, well, as of this moment it’s tough to see where the plot will go from here on. Will it be solely about the interactions between these two very different parties, will it ever refer back to the battle against the alien opponents, or will it involve some sort of larger plot on Earth. The direction in the long term is unclear, but therein lays the potential to this series. So for now, I’ll definitely be following this series; now only if I didn’t have to wait two whole weeks for the next episode to air… =_=;

First Impressions: 8.5/10

Screenshots are later in the post.

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Apr 102013

Episode 01 -

Anime adaptations of video games tend to be more of a hit-miss in terms of quality, or at least, that’s been my experiences with such. There’s the likes of the Persona 4 anime, which didn’t have proper pacing or character development (but it did admirably well considering the limitations it had in terms of number of episodes, etc). Devil Survivor 2, on the other hand, does seem to be getting off to a reasonable start, with a solidly setup cast and an intriguing, action-packed story.

The main cast itself, so far, consists of a trio of three; Kuze Hibiki, Shijima Daichi, and Nitta Io. Of the trio, there are already some promising bits character development coming into focus, with Hibiki and Daichi having a serious discussion about their uncertain futures, as well as prominently portraying Daichi’s lack of self-confidence. The episode was mostly focused on the action and mysteries to the plot, but there certainly was some decent character focus. While it’s too early to say whether this series will actively develop it’s characters, Devil Survivor has at least setup a foundation for such.

The main attraction to this opener, undoubtedly, is the action sequences and battles. While the action scenes aren’t particularly well-choreographed, they are flashy. The music and atmosphere, in combination with the action sequences, allows for a rather intense-feeling episode where it is made evident that there is uncertainty and fear pervading the air.

Devil Survivor 2’s 1st episode was definitely a solid start to the series, but as to whether it gets better from here on is a matter of execution. Normally it’s tough to get a basic feeling for an anime until after watching the first 3-5 episodes, so for now we’ll have to see where the story takes off from here on.

First impressions: 6.5/10

Screenshots are later in the post.

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Apr 092013

Episode 01

For a first episode, Date a Live’s intro wasn’t the worst by any means (there is definitely worse from this season). However, there were definitely some glaringly noticeable issues from the outset. On the plus side, the production quality seems decent enough, but nearly everything else, from the characters to the plot, rather uninspiring as of now.

The story premise is rather easy to understand; the main guy essentially ends up needing to stop the occurrence of massively destructive “spacequakes” that coincidently appear  alongside the appearance of these god-like female beings, his primary method being to seduce these female beings so that they can no longer cause these quakes.

The main idea here, where you prevent disaster via the power of love/seduction, could be a workable premise. The execution, however, definitely could use work. The main male character, for instance, doesn’t hold any particular convictions or desires to be involved; rather, he simply randomly gets involved, and decides to help out. While this isn’t necessarily bad, per say, at the same time it adds no depth or complexity to his characterization. The split-personality of his younger sister also isn’t explained particularly well, resulting in some slightly awkward character interactions, and an overall lackluster cast. What made these mediocre characterizations worse was the way in which the story handled its jokes and gags, bringing in references to the likes of galge near the end of the episode, which pretty much completely destroyed any sort of serious buildup the series might have had up until this point.

The pacing itself was also slightly off this episode, with the story feeling slightly rushed; however, I do believe that at this point in time that it’s a bit too early to be making strong judgments of this series. In the long term though, it seems that Date a Live will end up becoming a rather typical harem-type anime series, revolving around its main male whom needs to forge relationships with the girls around him. There’s nothing particularly unique about the story, characters, or comedic moments, but this series could be a way to pass the time.

First Impressions: 4.0/10

Screenshots are later in the post.

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