For the moment, SSSS Gridman is coasting high on raw adrenaline and exhilaration; it offers, every week, exciting and good-looking giant monster fights with a scope for destruction and spectacle its roots in live-action superhero shows cannot match. Freed from constraints of what can be done with modelwork, stunts and costuming on a TV budget, there is a full-on sense of scale. In episode 3, the characters comment that twice now the city has been destroyed and twice it has been rebuilt overnight. This is plot-relevant, but it is also a nudge at the transiency of collateral damage in disaster-focused action series that I quite appreciate.
There is very little to say about the gameplay of Valkyria Chronicles 4; it is a refinement of the popular first game’s systems to possibly their most polished form in the series, with balance tweaks, a small number of interesting new mechanics and the excision of many of the additional features in the second and third games. It is a system that works well, doubly so for anyone familiar with the wargame Infinity, and any marked departure from that formula would lose some of what makes the series so appealing. As a result, any review of the game needs to really focus on the plot, and the interplay of those very polished mechanics with the storytelling for better or worse.
As this article will focus primarily on the storyline and endgame of Valkyria Chronicles 4, it would be best read after completing the game.
Horus Prince of the Sun (or The Little Norse Prince) is something of an event film in anime history, a spectacular looking production that features a veritable plethora of famous names turning up in its credits. For a film from 1968 it looks incredible, with fluid animation and virtuoso scenes such as the final battle – with a chase on animals of cloud, a troll fighting a giant ice mammoth and an army of Norsemen on boats. For anyone interested in animation history, or indeed the heights the medium has reached in its past, it cannot be recommended enough.
A lot of what I like about Ultraman is its weirdness, the way it depicts Earth as sitting in the middle of a vast, uncaring and strange universe under the protection of interstellar demigods who come down from the heavens, take human form and generally try to preserve order. And then there is Ultraman RB, which takes all of that and replaces it with a zaniness that escalates within eight episodes into the realisation that by the time you become powerful enough to become Ultraman, a lot of things can seem like a game.
Preview page from MEKA (Magnetic Press, 2014), available on Comixology.
Explorations of collateral damage are not new material for giant robot stories; the most striking examples that come immediately to mind are good sections of Invincible Superman Zambot 3, the first fight in Mobile Suit Gundam that sees Amuro accidentally destroy a section of colony, and Gundam F91’s brutal, scrappy opening battle in a city as people flee the action. But there are other examples – SDF Macross with its Zentradi invasion of the island and even the continued effects of transforming the ship on the people within, or even Space Battleship Yamato’s very first use of the Wave Motion Gun. It is difficult to decouple super robots from superweapon stories and giant monster fighting from indiscriminate warfare.
The Pretty Cure franchise continues to be going strong since it started in 2004, and I have watched small amounts of quite a lot of the different series. One, however, proved distinctly better than the rest; the first. We Are Pretty Cure is very clearly a series trying something relatively new and laying the groundwork for what would become a very longrunning franchise, and doing it in a way that is also very different to what would come later. It is that difference, I think, that makes it so good.
A lot of recommendations of Gankutsuou play up, and at the same time try to excuse, its oddities; it is a strange-looking adaptation of Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo that starts partway in and focuses on a side-character and is in the future, as if these are things that need excusing or offering as some kind of caveat. There is a preoccupation on the fact it is a slightly non-standard adaptation of a classic novel which I think does the series as a disservice, because whether or not one cares particularly for Dumas Gankutsuou is a very solid piece of television. And, indeed, once one gets past the aesthetics, it is not a particularly non-standard adaptation at all and one that abridges ably to tell a focused, thrilling story.
Planet With starts unusually. It looks unusual, it feels unusual, and this elevates its quite usual premise. It plays with visual language in ways that feel smart and slick, and explores more interesting than usual themes than a lot of alien invasion stories; my first impression, from the opening episode, was that it was taking a similar angle to Fafner in its handling of an unusual, incomprehensible alien entity. I liked many aspects of Fafner, primarily its depictions of broken families and the pressures of social achievement overlaid on military service, but something that did stand out was the weird, cloying aesthetic of the Festum, its alien enemies. While the relatively early CGI was ugly and turned their unusual angelic designs into amorphous gold blobs, their whole motif, unnatural movement and particularly their catchphrase – Are you there? – was very unsettling.
A new anime season brings new things for me to start watching and forget about immediately. I am only just getting around to finishing Cutie Honey Universe and I actually liked that. But there is something exciting this season. Something that puts me on the precipice of anticipation, overlooking a terrible bog from which there is no escape. It’s… Tonegawa: Middle Management Blues! Put simply, this is a comedic prequel to the distinctly un-comedic and gruelling watch that is Kaiji, arguably one of the few extremely socialist anime you could choose to watch if you wanted to get very mad about capitalism. Tonegawa replaces – at least, from a first impression – the brutal, gruesome intellectual and physical torture of Kaiji’s world with a whole fresh hell – office work.
I have not seen many Kamen Rider series, least of all Showa-era ones; as a result, any frame of reference I have for discussing the franchise is limited to select individual series rather than the franchise as any kind of whole. Nevertheless, I am currently watching Kuuga, and it is proving highly enjoyable television and quite watchable without any foreknowledge or wider sense of what one can or should expect. Taken outside of its franchise, it is a series that does superhero origins and self-discovery very well, and creates a world that realistically adapts to the sudden arrival of supervillains. It manages to be dark and atmospheric without necessarily being graphically violent or exploitative, in part owing to the understated creature designs and simple, easily-read hero suit.