Thursday, December 19, 2013

Holiday Things No One Cares About: Sweet Rein

This is the time of the year that everyone looks at Christmas related media and me being the eternal tag along I guess I should too. However to be original I shall do the whole review in rhyme. Oh wait, that is about as original as Doug Walker's It's a Wonderful Life parody and it's be totally annoying to boot. So on second though I will not be doing that. Anyway,what was I talking about,Sweet Rein...let's go with that

Sweet Rein is a shojo manga by Sakura Tsukuba recently released overseas to capitalize on the Christmas season. Tsukuba is probably better known for Penguin Revolution,a manga about the weirdest talent agency ever. My Anime List classifies this as a spin off of that manga but that's only due to a side chapter in the last volume. So for all two of you that were fearful that this story would not make sense without having read Penguin Revolution,rest easy.

The plot is a series of loosely connected one-shots about a girl,Kurumi becoming a Santa and her magical transforming reindeer partner,Kaito. Despite being a Christmas themed book,half the stories take place in the summer. They tend to involve Kurumi and Kaito helping fulfill a child's wish and Kurumi denying her feelings for Kaito. It also does play up the master/slave relationship the couple have and how the power dynamic affects said relationship.

It does toy with Santa tropes by making Santa follow a magical girl route and being more of a group of people rather than one old portly gentleman. It's interesting to see a different take on becoming a Santa that's not just a "oh god we have to save Christmas because Santa is a klutz" plot. It really doesn't use the magical girl tropes though that would have been kind of funny. Instead focusing on more of a child of the week structure in lieu of a monster. I feel there is more they could have done with that premise alone but they don't so the potential is out there lurking.

The plot introduces black reindeer who have hurt their masters and therefore are sentenced to live forever. Introduced in book two it really doesn't come back up till the final chapters of volume three. It doesn't do much for those chapters and is really just an excuse to do a redemption story for a new character. I could also nit pick about how Kurumi doesn't age past seventeen despite this taking place over three different Christmas. However the minor issues are lampshaded by the manga-ka. It does set the tone of this story as a silly little adventure that isn't letting little things like time get in the way. This also extends to the characters that are written with love.

Kurumi has the typical shojo protagonist problems of a dead mother and a workaholic dad. While she does not exactly jump at the opportunity to be a Santa by the end ff the first chapter she accepts it. So when it comes to actually letting go off the position till next year she's hesitant. There could be the underlying question of is she doing this out of the goodness of her heart or just to stave off the loneliness. However, she clearly enjoys the job so that angle is dropped pretty early on. She also really doesn't jump right into the relationship with Kaito despite his obvious affection. Their relationship grows as she realizes that his devotion has less to due with his servant like position and more with actual feelings for her.

Kaito himself is less complex but it is funny to try and figure out who is more desperate for this relationship to continue. He is an idiot to the extreme but he is also honest and his love is pure. His love and devotion to Kurumi is heavily influenced by his grandfather's own relationship with a Santa. While he doesn't have the (relative) depth Kurumi has,he is just a happy guy that you can't help but like. Plus he gets to be the receiver of most of the slapstick which can negate any ill will you have towards him.

The rest of the cast are unremarkable with the exception of the character who tests Santas to see if they are worthy and Katio's older brother. He get's his own Santa and the few chapters focusing on them are some of the funniest parts of the manga. Kurumi's friends are pretty blatant stock shojo characters that add nothing to the plot outside of being "like OMG you should totally hook up with him". Also they seem to take the fact that Katio is a magical transforming reindeer pretty well. In fact everybody's only reaction to him and Kurumi being a Santa is mild surprise. It is not a real problem,just rather weird.

The art is your typical Shojo style with beautiful people and sparkles everywhere. The author admits to really liking to draw naked people and animals,hence why there are quite a few beach chapters. Luckily she happens to be good at drawing what she likes as the art is fantastic. Special mention to Kaito as a reindeer as it's is very well drawn. He also has the happiest look on his face at all times as a reindeer He looks so happy that I wish I could be a reindeer just to look that happy.

As mentioned early there are a few side stories that are added to each volume that are mostly okay. There is a vampire story that plays like Usagi Drop as told by an idiot and seems to be here because the manga-ka wanted to draw a sexy vampire. The second one being about the Kurumi and Katio which is labeled a side story for some reason. Then there is the aforementioned Penguin Revolution story that I didn't read because I want to read that series first.

I'm going to be honest here for a moment this is cheesy as all get-out. The characters are not that complex and the plots make the third season of Hell Girl look brilliant. However the whole series is written with love and it shows. To me that,the constant poking fun at itself and the creative take on Santa mythology make up for all the cliches. It is something you will enjoy as you are reading it and then probably forget abut a few days later. Weather that makes it worth a read is up to you but I had fun with it.

Till Next Time:Stay Positive

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Things No One Cares About:Diabolik Lovers

As most are aware,vampires have taken a turn for the romantic in recent years due to books like Twilight and Vampire Knight. Becoming beautiful creatures that are more focused on protecting a boring girl rather than whatever it is vampires regularly do. Maybe abduct ladies and give orphans a motif. Either way times have changed and vampires have changed. Diabolik Lovers knows this and wants the audience to regret ever having played into them.

Diabolik Lovers is brutal and sicking show that aired during the 2013 Fall anime season. Taking the current vampire trends and tropes and turning them on their head. Using your typical reverse harem plot and turning it into an unwanted harem in the worst way. It also manages to use the vampires more sexual connections to delve into the psychology of an abusive relationship. It all forms this wonderfully disturbing show that is not for the feint of heart.

The anime is based of the visual novel of the same name and since I can't really read Japanese I have no idea how faithful the adaptation is nor do I care. The story follows a young girl named Yui who goes to live with the Sakamaki brothers due to her father's job. She learns that they are vampires and then some terrible things happen to her. Noting even view her as a person but treating her as an object for their amusement.

The official synopsis that is given for this series honestly makes it sound completely ridiculous and it's honestly half the reason I watched it:for cheap laughs. Taking the plot at face value it is fairly silly with a heavy dose of the Grand Theft Me trope but does have equal amounts of foreshadowing so it's not out of nowhere. That is okay because while Slayer's plots are a vehicle for the comedy here it's a vehicle for the horrors of the cycle of abuse. Before we go any further lets' explain the cycle of abusive just so we are on the same page.

The Cycle of abuse is a four step model developed by Lenore Walker back in the 1970's that describes the nature of an abusive relationship. The first step is tension building,which is the lead up to the actual abusive outburst. Here the victim will try to change there behavior to prevent an outburst. The acting out phase is just that. Then there is the reconciliation phase which is where we see the I can change routine most often. It can also be where we see just flat out ignoring of the incident. Finally we go into the calm phase where the relationship normalizes before going back into tension building. It's a vicious cycle that can go on for years due to the hope of things getting better.

Our main character Yui is constantly trying to change her actions to keep one of the six brothers at peace and it almost always fails. The brothers attack her through insults and placing blame on her. Sooner or later they move to the acting out phase which is usually the sucking of her blood in increasingly sexual ways. Often implying that she likes it just to hurt her even more. After that they move right into disregarding the incident and throwing her aside. After that she normalizes for about half an episode and gets drawn right back in.

It is sicking to see it happen so many times yet Yui won't do anything about it due to fear for her own life. Again something that is probably a fear of many abuse victims and it can keep them in the relationship. She has a chance to escape about mid way through the series but stays due to a hope that things will get better if a certain mystery is solved. This mystery for the most part does remain a mystery due to lack of explanation. On the flip side of that all the boys are given a reason for why they are so abusive that stems back to Coredlia, one of their fathers three wives. It doesn't make what they do acceptable but again it shows how the abused can become the abuser.

As the show progress and we learn the above mentioned reasons for the abuse it,the plot slowly moves into confronting this behavior by having the boys work through their mommy issues. It helps keep the plot watchable because again the plot is pretty silly. Once they are free of these past issues they are able to finally move on. The final part also implies that Yui has become a vampire and now the boys actual do view her as a person. This signals the end of the abuse and maybe some happiness for all involved.

The above ending happens about halfway through the episode then the credits roll. After that is each guy telling her why they should pick him. Maybe that's how it happened in the game but here it's a little jarring. This is a show that for the most part avoided feeling like a visual novel. Some adaptions like Clannad and Stein's Gate had the feeling of going through routes however here that's not present. It made the story feel more organic and flow better. However this scene just sort of throws a monkey wrench into that and feels forced.

The six boys themselves all have a  personality and abuse style that is fleshed out well enough given the shows fairly short run time(fifteen minutes per episode for twelve episodes). Ayato is sort of pushed to be the be true pairing as he does show the most actual interest in Yui. Tending to favor insults about appearance and displays of power . Laito uses the feeling of being watched/stalked to keep her in check and continually refers to her as Bitch-chan. The more childish Kanato has temper tantrums and tries to twist Yui's kind nature into something sinister. The two oldest brothers Reiji and Shu are usually too busy to outright abuse her as they save their hate for each other. They still use her if for nothing else to destroy her sense of what little safety she has. Suburu is the kindest of the brothers and really doesn't due much to her due to being more of a broken person.

Their own back stories are pretty sparse told through mini-flashbacks and one odd time travel style episode. They have just enough characterization to give them some distinction but not truly enough to make them the complex characters they could be. Maybe given a little more time it could work out but as it stands they are just average characters.

The animations is a more traditional Gothic look that heightens the fear and anxiety that the script is playing out. The main mansion has a very old feel that invokes your more traditional vampire tropes to show that these are not your daughter's vampires but something more sinister. All the boys are impossibly good looking and this is what makes the knife twist so deep when they start being malicious and harmful to Yui(also impossibly good looking). The music is mostly piano pieces written by a drunk Danny Elfman and one guy laying down smooth bass guitar tracks at all other times. None of it's really bad but the reuse of music gets a little grating when it is not that good to begin with. The opening is kind a of a guilty pleasure in it pure cheese factor.

So who is this series for:honestly it is hard to tell . People who have been in that kind of relationship probably don't wanna watch it and the content is going to be to graphic for the shojo audience. It's more for the crowd who is sick of seeing vampire romanticized to such a ridiculous degree,those who want to see the cycle of abuse in action or if you are like me and on occasion like to feel slimy while watching a show. If you fall into any of those categories then it is definitely worth your time.

Also sorry for the delay on this one.The series ended this past Tuesday and the last couple days have been hectic so I've been a little behind...sorry.

Till next time: Stay Positive


Thursday, December 5, 2013

Things No One Cares About: Slayers Great

I was honestly planing to do this entire review as Tony the Tiger but that would be stretching a joke too far, even for me. Also I'm not a giant orange tiger...anymore. Though I'm not really sure that would make talking about this movie anymore interesting anyway. Sorry to play my hand so quickly, but that's all I can say about this film. There is nothing to rave about or get properly annoyed at it's just sort of there.

Let's talk background in hope of reaching an arbitrary word count of lets say:648. Slayers Great came out in 1997 alongside the third and for a while final season of the anime. Slayers Perfect had it's weird atmosphere and mood going for it. While Return was more of a return(I'll be here all week) to a more humorous story with better pacing. This one has no such thing instead trying to mix the two previous films and creating a portal to the mediocre dimension.

The story is serviceable with a slant towards the serious but has no weight to it. Yeah the plot in Return was bog-standard but it still had me invested in it. Here the plot is resolved in a pretty anti-climatic way and I never really felt like anyone was in any danger to begin with. The first half of the movie goes towards building up to the golem battle with a few interesting moments here and there Then the climatic golems battle takes up the rest of the short run time and is just ungodly boring outside of a few decent sight gags. It feels slow and plodding despite being billed as a big exciting battle to decide the fate of the town.

The whole production just doesn't really know where it wants to go trying to keep the moody tones  of Perfect and the more comedic twists of Return. However it just doesn't have a big comedic set piece to make that leap and just sort of coasts by with mediocre humor. Plus the ending just sort of happens with very little accomplished letting the plot be resolved fully in the credits.

The comedy here is really hit and miss lacking the true laugh out loud moments that some of the other movies possess. The first half more relies on the dialogue and putting the one-shot female character through the ringer and it does elicit a chuckle here and there. The second half consist of goofy reaction shots and some decent sight gags that both become stale after the first five minutes. If the kept up the female character's despairing then it still wouldn't help the second half. Again nothing truly unfunny but nothing great either.

Lina and Naga as characters are in rare form this movie and it does play up how volatile their relationship actually is and it actually drives a majority of the plot. Too bad this is not a plot worth piloting as they'll have to wait till Gorgeous to do it better. It does play on some more subtle characters traits for Naga such as her talent for golems. The new characters are actually pretty funny with at least one or two good lines and as mentioned the female leads despairing is great. The villains are weird and ineffective but less in a funny look how stupid they are way and more they were never a credible threat to begin with way. They play out like a watered down version of the villains from the Sorcerer of Atlus story albeit lacking a third villain that plays them for chumps.

I am just going to skip being witty and say don't bother with this one. It's not that funny nor that interesting. This was a struggle to talk about and probably a struggle to read. I'll see you next time for probably Slayers Gorgeous or maybe Diabolik Lovers.