Monday, November 20, 2017

Senran Kagura: Shinovi Versus (Vita)

Senran Kagura:  Shinovi Versus is a spin-off from the 3DS franchise and exclusive to the PlayStation Vita.  It is a hack and slash game with a huge focus on fan service, so you can expect a large does of breast physics and the stripping of clothing as you do more damage to your enemy.  The game also boasts an all-female cast.  The game actually has a fun, smooth and fluid battle system.  You chain together strong and weak attacks into combos, which can be combined with aerial attacks, slams and three different "modes" for each character.

The battle system can get repetitive since in a lot of battles, you just need to mash the attack button, even on higher difficulties.  The game never gets that challenging.  Each character has a Normal Mode which has the widest range of attacks.  Then there's a Shinobi Mode where the character changes costumes and can use Ninja Arts.  Ninja Arts are special powerful moves, with characters having three different ones.  This mode comes at the cost of more limited attacks but higher combo chains.

Finally, there is Frantic Mode where the character strips off most of their clothing to boost their speed and attack power but at the cost of decreasing defence.  They can chain unlimited normal attacks and is great to clear out hordes of enemies but can be risky to use against powerful characters.  Once you change form, you can't change back until you finish the mission.  As you fight against characters you will strip off layers of clothing.  You can strip up to two layers leaving them in their underwear.  The final layer is stripped off if you defeat them using an Ultimate Secret Ninja Art which is actually quite satisfying when you pull it off.

Characters also gain experience from hitting enemies and are able to level up, increasing their stats and unlocking more of their combo tree.  The main story focuses on four Shinobi schools, which are set in the present day but the shinobi are now hidden from public view, hiding in plain sight.  Each Shinobi school has a five-chapter story and they all tell the same events from their different perspectives.  Basically, a Battle Royale has been initiated and if a school defeats another during this, they get the right to raze the school they had beaten.

Each school's story branches out to their characters' backstories and other elements in addition to the Battle Royale and it manages to convey sad backstories for each of the characters.  Despite the focus on fan service, the plot is surprisingly dark and interesting.  Each school has five playable characters and you'll be alternating between characters per chapter (there are usually five levels per chapter).  It takes around three to four hours to finish a school's story mode.

Learning about each character's motivations is neat since whereas the player in one story will be fighting another as enemies and thinking that they are pure evil, when they get to the enemies' point of view, they understand where they are coming from and sympathize with them.  You can replay story missions without going through the story cutscenes if you wish, which is a great feature.  Story is told via text and dialogue, voiced completely in Japanese, like a visual novel.

Unfortunately, levels can get tiring when you're forced to fight waves of the same generic enemies before the boss appears.  The same enemy types keep coming back which is fairly boring.  Enemies can crowd around you and especially annoying are the more powerful ones who can stunlock you or have unblockable moves.  In addition to the school's story mode, each character has five missions specific to them, which is more lighthearted and focuses on their unique personalities, traits and insecurities.

The character stories are usually funny, although it's surprising at how much sexual references are within the dialogue.  The still images are also very suggestive.  The graphics are cel-shaded and looks great.  Environments, like the no-name enemies, are fairly generic.  Finally, Shinovi Versus packs in a multiplayer mode that you can either play via wifi or ad-hoc.  There are there modes, Deathmatch (normal fight against others where you gain points), Strip Battle (destroy clothing on enemies for points) and Panty Battle (collecting the most underwear, which falls from the sky and you can beat them out from your opponents).

An appreciated touch in the multiplayer is that you can set AI bots within these modes and even if you only play against these bots, they are a lot of fun.  Overall, Senran Kagura:  Shinovi Versus is a niche game but if you like fan service (or don't mind it), then the game is actually very enjoyable and a lot of fun.  The story is better than expected, combat makes you feel overpowered and the game packs a fair bit of content.


For other Vita reviews, have a look at this page.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Toy Review: Transformers Generations Titans Return Sawback

Review:  #417
Name:  Sawback
Brand:  Transformers
Allegiance:  Autobot
Line:  Generations - Titans Return
Year of Release:  2017
Size Class:  Titan Master (Wave 3)
Mold Status:  new


As part of the Titan Master size class, Sawback himself is a Titan Master with a lion inspired head.

The bigger robot head is visible on his back.

Articulation is restricted to balljointed shoulders and neck.  The lighter plastic colours of yellow and orange allows the sculpting to show through.


The vehicle that comes with all Titan Masters has three modes.  Sawback's first one is the lion mode and this is definitely the strongest mode out of them all.

Inspired by the G1 Headmaster, he has silver hip wings which actually look quite cool.  Unfortunately, articulation is non-existent.  The front legs are jointed together on one swivel, while the rear legs only have a swivel each, meaning it is next to impossible to balance when not resting on all four legs.

Perhaps the cleverest aspect of this mode is how Sawback integrates into it.  Sawback folds up into a block which forms the lion's mane, that is ingenious and works amazingly.

Size-wise, the lion mode is approximately the same as Legion (above is RiD Drift).

While the lion's torso is hollow, the innovative integration of Sawback into this mode is astounding, it's so neat that it's perfect.


The accessories second mode is the transport mode, in which it is supposed to be some sort of flying vehicle, you can see the wings and the front has some sculpting that vaguely resembles some jet parts.

Frankly, it is a terrible vehicle mode that doesn't look like what it is supposed to.  Transformation involves flipping the lion mode over, folding the legs away and tucking the head in, quite disappointing.

Sawback can sit in the middle and pilot the vehicle.  The lion legs sticking out the back just cements the fact that this is a shoehorned mode as a result of forcing a small simplistic toy with a triplechanger gimmick.

This mode is best used once to see what it looks like and then forgotten.


Of course, Sawback himself can form a head that can attach on any Titans Return toy of Deluxe, Voyager or Leader size class (this review has used Optimus Prime).  The sculpting of the head is heavily inspired by the G1 kibble, which is fanastic.

The last mode of the accessory is a shield and thanks to the lion head forming the centrepiece, as well as no gaps in this shield, it looks regal and fantastic.

It can be held by larger figures via a 5mm post on the back, pair it with a sword and you'll have the ideal combination.

This shield mode is the saving grace of the poor vehicle mode.


As a cheap small figure, Sawback is pretty good.  You get the Titan Master with an interesting head mode, and an accessory with two strong modes, and a third weaker one.  The colour scheme is suitable, if you can find him cheap, then he is worthwhile.


For other Transformers reviews, have a look at this page.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Voices of a Distant Star (2002)

Voices of a Distant Star is a short Japanese animation film, don't be fooled by the short length of only 25 mins long, it tells a surprisingly deep and emotional story.  The core premise is that a pair of close childhood friends, Nobura and Mikako are separated when Mikako is selected for a space mission against the aliens Tarsians.  Mikako travels to outer space and eventually, outside the Solar System.  The pair still exchange mails and taking into account of the distance, each mail takes longer and longer to arrive.  By the end of the film, putting yourself in their shoes, it's hard to comprehend the psychological impact it has on you and the enormity of the situation when you realize that you're currently 15, you send a message and it will arrive 8 years later when the receiver is 24, but you would have been living on your life for those 8 years.  It is an impressive concept that's handled well here.  There were some odder moments including the whole alien concept, then being combated using mecha in space, and then the fact that the same phone was used for those many years.  As it was a small scale project, the animation is slightly lower quality but impressive when you put into perspective that only one person was working on it.  Either way, the ending is a bittersweet one and each of the 25 mins was so engaging and thought-provoking that Voices of a Distant Star is definitely one to watch.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Book Review: The World God Only Knows Vol. 7

Review:  #702
Title:  The World God Only Knows Vol. 17
Series:  The World God Only Knows - 17th volume
Author:  Tamiki Wakaki
Read Before:  no
Comments:  Most of this volume is taken up by the one story arc involving Tenri.  This breaks the mould in that it seems the runaway spirit within Tenri isn’t really a runaway spirit at all, which is confusing at first.  Keima also somehow managed to forget that he had met Tenri before 10 years ago, when they were supposedly childhood friends.  The devil Nora takes on a bigger appearance to and becomes the antagonist.  The exaggerated events create heaps of opportunities for great gags that work really well, now that we understand Keima more.  Tenri’s arc is one of the longest arcs so far and it benefits the plot a lot.  We get more time to understand Tenri herself, and the relationship between her and Keima is fleshed out more thoroughly, leading to a good conclusion.
Rating:  6.5/10

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Kin-iro Mosaic (2013)

Kin-iro Mosaic is an anime based on the 4-panel manga of the same name, with the first season consisting of 12 episodes.  It is a slice of life comedy set in high school.  It begins with Omiya Shinobu, a young Japanese girl who homestays in England and meets Alice Cartelet.  Alice is a shy young girl, but the pair quickly becomes friends.  After some cultural differences and language barrier, they build a true bond but time passes quickly, bidding each other a teary goodbye as Shino returns to Japan.

5 years later, Shino is surprised when Alice comes over to Japan to study, at her high school and in the same class no less.  Alice becomes friends with Shino's group, consisting of Yoko (a carefree, athletic girl who likes to eat) and Aya (the smart and serious one of the bunch).  To round it all out, Alice's friend, Karen from England, comes over to Japan to study as well.  Karen, who is soon initiated into the group, is more outspoken and straightforward compared to Alice.  Her quick friendship with Shino causes Alice to become jealous.  Furthermore, Karen is rich and very random, often inserting one or two English words into her dialogue, and is more informal with her Japanese.

Shino herself is fixated with Western culture, and everything related to it, to the point where she wants to go to England to live forever and become a Westerner herself.  Alice on the other hand is fixated with everything related to Japan, which parallels the fact that something is always more interesting if it is foreign to you.  The anime seems to play on the fact that Japan loves Western things and everyone at school becomes entranced when Alice or Karen speaks English.  Earlier on, the episodes frequently have English dialogue and while the characters are supposed to be British, their pronunciation has a heavy Japanese accent, which kind of breaks the immersion.

It's ironic in and of itself since the grammar isn't great when English is spoken, yet the characters state that it is perfect English and are in awe.  As the series go on, there is less English spoken and kind of reverts to a typical school life anime.  The humor in Kin-iro Mosaic is pretty good and is what makes the viewer get through the episodes.  Shino herself is absentminded and oblivious; her fixation is played to great effect.  Accepting the fact that the anime brushes aside the complexities of life, making it seem easy to just immigrate to another country on a whim, it's enjoyable.

There are short funny skits in the middle of each episode which is another highlight.  The plot focuses on the everyday life, such as going to the mountains for a holiday, learning about Shino's sister, attending summer festivals and studying for tests.  Some of the events can get pretty random though, and it seems that the plot loves going onto tangents.  As expected of something where the protagonists are all female, and with a fixation on aspects that borders on creepiness, there is a lot of girls' love here.  There is an open ending that doesn't provide closure to the story in any meaningful way.  However, it does show that the school year has ended and the characters are now juniors instead of freshmen.

The art style is very picturesque and the backgrounds look pretty.  The characters themselves are designed to be younger than their supposed age.  There are two different art styles, the normal cutey one and then there is an even cuter chibi design for the gags.  Overall, Kin-iro Mosaic is an okay comedy anime.  The gimmick of a foreigner staying in Japan quickly fades into the background and not much is really done about it.  The main focus is Shino and her creepy fixation on everything Western (including objectifying Alice and Karen) and the humor this creates is the main draw.


For other anime reviews, have a look at this page.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Your Name Limited Edition Review (Australian Version)

Finally, after over one year since it was released in Japan, Your Name came out on Blu-ray and DVD in November in Australia, distributed by Madman.  The Australia Your Name Limited Edition comes with both the Blu-ray and DVD copy of the movie, six art cards and a 130 page booklet.  Unlike the limited editions released in US or the various collector editions from Japan (with English subtitles too, so is import friendly), the Australian version comes with a lot less, which is disappointing, but is also cheaper as a result (A$60 RRP but if your timing is good, you can get it as low as A$40 a few days after release).


The Limited Edition comes in a really nice slip case, with the front cover showing off the core promotional artwork.

The back is the teaser artwork (which is the back perspective of the front cover) and it is printed in a reflective shiny film, making it hard to photograph but looks great.

There are two compartments, one is for the two discs and the other is for everything else.

The Movie and Special Features:

For the review of the movie, refer to this page.  Otherwise, the packaging containing the two discs is not your standard Blu-ray case (which is actually slightly disappointing).  The front cover uses an artwork that was seen on various posters during its theatrical run (and one of the most iconic and saddest scenes in the movie) but the back is the same artwork as the slip case.

The inside has the Australian Blu-ray cover artwork and the vibrant colors makes it look so nice.

Of course, the main thing are the discs containing the movies.  First off, the special features are disappointing.  At best, the vast majority of it is simply padding.  The following is a list of what you get on the discs:
- various Japanese promotional trailers
- the English trailer
- reel of other anime distributed by Madman
- the Makoto Shinkai Filmography Featurette
- Japanese TV special

The Makoto Shinkai Filmography Featurette sounds fancy but is nothing special since it just chronologically lists the various movies by Makoto Shinkai along with some trailer scenes.

The best extra and the only one worthwhile, is the Japanese TV special for promoting the film.  At 22 minutes long, the voice actors of Taki and Mitsuha talk about the themes of Makoto Shinkai's movies and what makes them so great.  They go to the real life locations of 5 Centimeters Per Second to show how the movie adapted the environment into the animation, and finally finishes off with a quick Q&A with Makoto Shinkai himself.  It was interesting and something new.  It really is a shame that Madman couldn't carry over some of the other numerous special features from the Japanese edition.

Both the Blu-ray and DVD contain the same extras but obviously the Blu-ray is higher quality at 1080p resolution.

Art Cards:

The Limited Edition contains six art cards, which is four more than the normal Blu-ray.  They look nice but nothing too amazing.


The chunkier aspect of the Limited Edition would be the 130 page booklet.  It is not so much an artbook than a proper book filled with contents such as cast interviews, staff interviews, promotional illustrations, pre-production sketches and a Q&A with Makoto Shinkai himself.  It was an interesting read since the text was translated into English and you get to see the thinking behind the initial concepts of the film and the decisions which were made to get what we saw in the final version.  Interspersed are still scenes from the throughout the movie, which makes it feel like a lot more effort has been put into this book than what you'd expect.  The book is hefty (and it is to the point where when you first pick up the Limited Edition, it's a lot heavier than what it looks like) and the paper used is high quality glossy paper.  The best part is that you glean so much more behind the film and all the detailed thinking that went behind it.

Below are some lower-quality sample pages of the booklet.


Your Name is a fantastic movie and the reason you'll buy a physical copy whether it is on Blu-ray or DVD.  The Limited Edition is roughly 50% more expensive than just the movies themselves and you get an artbook, fancier packaging and some additional art cards.  Whether that is worth the premium is hard to say but the extras are great and the booklet interesting.  The only slight negative are the lack of meaningful special features if like me, you want to stay in the world of Your Name longer after you finished watching the movie.


For reviews of other things, have a look at this page.
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