Friday, February 3, 2023

Planet With (2018)


Planet With is a 12 episode anime. This is another one of those anime with a unique premise. Soya seems like your typical high school boy (despite looking like he’s from middle school), except for the fact that he lives with a mysterious maid, and a “sensei” that is a giant cat. Well, that and the fact that he’s lost his memory. He goes about his day at school, slowly forming a bond with the only girl that’s bothered to befriend him when the world goes out of whack and unidentified flying objects appear all over the world.


These UFOs are not your typical alien spaceships. It’s hard to describe them but they take objects that you would think of as cute, and then add random human appendages on top, liked a stuffed teddy bear that has human arms, ears and noses randomly on its body. It’s creepy and you don’t know what to make of it. That’s the interesting part because seven people appear, who are able to transform into giant mecha (that also has really weird designs, with an animal motif). They’re like superheroes and defeat the strange objects with ease, something that normal military equipment could not make a dent in.


The part that completely hooks you is at the end of the first episode, when Soya and Sensei team up. Soya regains some memories and we also learn of the organisation behind these strange objects, being Nebula. There are a bunch of other stuff that will be spoilers if mentioned but needless to say, it’s definitely not what you expected at first glance. The good part is that the anime is quirky and strange, yet it doesn’t cross the line of being too quirky and strange. It strikes a good balance, doing just enough to be unique and having it stand out.


The other thing is that Soya is not the hero of the story, rather he takes on the form of an anti-hero. He’s out to fight against the seven, who seems to have purer objectives, being that they are protecting Earth. Yes, there is probably something more behind this, but to outsiders and the population of this world, Soya is the bad guy, crushing the dreams and ambitions of the heroes.


The pacing is brisk purely due to the fact that it crams a lot of info in the first half. We learn new things in every episode so that there is a big climax in the middle of the season. It resolves the big conflict up until that point, but that’s only to clear it out so that it can focus on the real conflict that’s much bigger in scope. Everything comes out by that point so that we can get a true picture of the situation, and the motivations of everyone. It’s an interesting structure, and it works here because it manages to fill in the gaps without convoluting things too much or withholding too much.


The fight scenes look really good and fluid, although there isn’t as much focus put on them as other anime, since the choreography is rough in places. Nevertheless, it manages to capture that moment of adrenaline and having just the right amount of being over-the-top so that it’s fun, but doesn’t become silly or too exaggerated. The source of the power and the two factions that ends up being revealed isn’t the best explanation, but is enough to keep the plot going.


It does the same thing towards the end of the season though when it leads to another climax, although this time it wasn’t as hyped up as the first one. With this, the anime is split into three almost distinct sections, with each part escalating the stakes, and it feels like a really familiar formula to other over-the-top anime. By the time the third section starts, you can predict where the anime is going and what to expect so it can lose steam that way.


The ending and final resolution of the story is satisfying. While it’s quite predictable, that doesn’t make it any less impactful. It leverages the usual tropes of having everyone join up together to fight against a common enemy, but it still manages to evoke a good sense of camaraderie. By the end of it, you feel that the anime managed to cover a lot in a short amount of time, which is quite impressive. However, also because it had such a tight focus, it wasn’t able to explore the potential from all its worldbuilding.


Overall, Planet With is an anime where if you liked others like Gurren Lagann, then you’ll feel right at home. It strikes a good balance with not being too over-the-top, but still having enough to make it exciting and fun to watch. The three distinct arcs, each being bigger in scope than the last, is somewhat weird but it works here.

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Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Forza Horizon 4 (PC)


Forza Horizon 4 is an open world racing game. This time, it is set in Great Britain. The controls and gameplay are what you’d expect of a typical racing game. You’ll accelerate and brake, and that’s pretty much it. You may need to get used to the handling at first but it’s quick and easy to pick up. Plus, there are a bunch of accessibility options that you can tweak such that you get the difficulty that’s perfect for you. For example, you can toggle the racing lines, drop down the AI difficulty, traction control and other driving assists.


Naturally, the game is made to wow you with its vast open world and it succeeds. The game looks fantastic, and while the setting is not exotic, it looks nice with its familiar elements. There are both dynamic weather and changing seasons. Each affects the way the car handles on the road. The rain during autumn means it’s a lot more slippery, and this does affect how you’ll tackle the courses.


The game’s single player revolves around the Horizon Festival. It’s mainly used as a setting and reason for the various events. You’re a participant and your aim is to participate in events to gain enough influence to get into the big showcase races. A neat thing is that there are different stories, complete with their own cutscenes, that shows off different events and gives the game some variety. The purpose of the beginning of the single player campaign is to give you a glimpse of what’s available and once you’ve earned enough influence, it’ll change to the next season before finally letting you loose. It's a shame that afterwards there’s no way to manually change the seasons though.


Events will quickly unlock one after another on the map. You’ll have to select and then drive to them to start the event, but it’s fast and it doesn’t feel like a chore to travel to each new event. Completing an event will give you influence which is used to level up and also credits to buy cars and houses. You’re also given some cars in the beginning, with a few customization options. As you level up in a particular event category, it’ll unlock more events and tracks.


There is a nice variety of events including normal street racing to off-road and cross country tracks. The cross country events are probably some of the most fun in the game, purely because it embraces the arcade racing the most. The terrain is varied and you usually don’t do laps. You’re encouraged to smash through fences and trees, which is weirdly satisfying. Doubly so since if you do that in other normal races, you’re penalised as your car slows down from hitting things and getting damaged. And then there are the crazy events where you end up racing against hovercrafts and trains. While they’re like scripted set pieces, they’re still a rush of adrenaline to play.


Each tracks have regular checkpoints to ensure that you don’t deviate or try to take massive shortcuts. Hopefully you don’t miss any of those checkpoints because if you do, you’ll either have to rewind, or if you’ve disabled that function (for higher multipliers), you will be sent back in four seconds. If you do get sent back, you can say goodbye to any good positioning you had as you’ll be so far behind the pack it’ll be difficult to catch back up.


It’s not all good things though since there are the usual open world flaws such as the dead time from traveling from one event to another. Although the beautiful scenery does help to alleviate that. The street races are terrible since it’s usually a combination of night racing (poor visibility), rain, oncoming traffic that pops out of nowhere, and a prevalence for tight cornering in the routes. It’s horrible and to add salt to the wound, the AI will race perfectly by defying physics and never crashing.


The game has received a tonne of updates and there are plenty of free cars. Although if you’re a new player, the abundance of menus can be confusing and overwhelming. It’s also quite aggressive at advertising its DLC including the expansions by playing unskippable cutscenes or windows that keep popping up to prompt you to purchase them. It also annoyingly displays cars that come in DLC packs, which you can only tell by a small little icon in the corner, so you might not notice it and want to grab that car only to find out you can’t using in-game credits.


Getting to the Horizon Festival in the single player campaign is quick and easy. It’ll only take around five hours or so but that’s not even scratching the surface of the game as it has a lot of content left. There are Horizon Stories that has cutscenes telling a little story which can be fun and you get to try out a lot of different cars. Progressing through the game is great because it uses the influence (i.e. points) system so that you don’t need to come first or second or even third in the events. Even if you come dead last, you’ll still get some influence to help you keep moving forward and unlock additional events. If you constantly win or lose, the game will ask if you wanted to increase or decrease the difficulty so that there is always a bit of challenge but never becomes impossible.


Overall, Forza Horizon 4 is a great racing game. The large open world, the breadth of content and the huge variety of cars, it all combines into a very robust racing game. The graphics look amazing and while the environments can be a bit samey at times due to the setting, it’s no less impressive. The huge amount of customizable to allow the player to decide how hard they want the game to be is fantastic and makes it much more enjoyable.

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Monday, January 30, 2023

Revue Starlight (2018)


Revue Starlight is a 12 episode anime. It follows Karen, who attends a prestigious performing arts school in Tokyo. As part of the 99th graduating class, they are to perform the play Starlight. The anime has a big cast so it can be hard to catch up on who is who. Karen is easygoing but tardy, while her best friend Maya lives in the same dormitory and helps her out. Karen’s childhood friend Hikari transfers into the class and is a prodigy but is cold and distant. And then there are the rest of the students in the class.


The anime goes along as you’d expect except that at the end of the first episode, there’s a weird plot development and it makes the whole thing kind of weird. There’s a sort of secret audition happening that Karen accidentally stumbles upon and here is where the unique songs play (which are pretty decent) while the characters are dressed up and “battle” against each other. They literally fight using weapons, and it is supposed to reflect a performance of a musical theatre revue. It’s a weird concept and one that doesn’t quite fully make sense, especially with the talking giraffe.


The secret auditions at night, the talking giraffe and the physical combat accompanied by the insert songs is not really something that’s properly explained. All we see is that these auditions are a way for the characters to get things off their chest against each other, and also understand themselves. As a result, the structure of the anime can be quite typical as it cycles through each of the ensemble class, going over their backgrounds, their motivations, and their current situation.


As most episodes take place during the normal everyday of the characters’ school lives, the plot boils down to ordinary problems. Karen’s best friend Mahiru may get jealous at having lost Karen’s attention and doesn’t see any worth in herself. Or the pair of good friends Futaba and Kaoruko have an argument after having settled into a routine for so long. Through these interactions, we can soon get familiar with each character and recognise their individual strengths and weaknesses. This makes it all the weirder whenever the auditions continue as it clashes so significantly with everything else.


The structure of the anime and even within the episodes can be confusing. It’s messy and seems to jump all over the place, physically and temporally. However, about just over halfway into the season, we finally get the first real explanation of the secret auditions (which at first seemed pointless being kept a secret given that everyone’s participating in it anyway), and it goes a long way into putting things into perspective with that one simple sentence.


There’s surely some sort of allusion or hidden meaning behind all the events, but on the surface of it, the anime is confusing and messy. The pacing is off, and the general gist of it is a simple premise. Basically, Karen and Hikari had a promise from when they were little to perform the play Starlight together, and this is a story of them fulfilling that promise. The ending is as expected, but rather unsatisfying all the same due to how it played out and how convoluted it ended up being. It’s melodramatic too.


Overall, Revue Starlight is a mediocre anime. You might go in expecting a typical idol type of anime, but this is not it. Instead, it has a sort of abstract element to it that doesn’t quite work. The pacing suffers as a result and the editing makes it feel choppy, skipping from here to there to all over the place. The characters don’t particularly standout, especially since with the short amount of time and the large-ish number of characters, it couldn’t flesh out many of them.

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Sunday, January 29, 2023

Toy Review: Transformers Generations Studio Series Hot Rod (Deluxe)


Review:
  #750
Name:  Hot Rod
Brand:  Transformers
Allegiance:  Autobot
Line:  Generations - Studio Series
Year of Release:  2022
Size Class:  Deluxe (Wave 18)
Mold Status:  new

VEHICLE MODE:


Hot Rod transforms into a Lamborghini Centenario, and the best thing is that he is not a retool of Lockdown.


He's got all the curves and details of the actual vehicle but is let down by one thing, the panel seams resulting from the transformation.  So he does not look as sleek as he should be in this mode.


Hot Rod is an okay size, above is a comparison with TLK Bumblebee.  Hot Rod feels a bit smaller due to how sleek / slim the vehicle mode is.


He sits quite low to the ground, but has enough ground clearance.  The only gimmick here is rolling him on a flat surface.


The robot gun can peg into a slot at the back and this is the only storage option in vehicle mode.



There are some neat little features, like the painted orange highlights.  The back is a tad bit messy, but that's also the case on the real thing.


Despite the seams being a major flaw, since it nails down the silhouette, it still looks awesome.

TRANSFORMATION:

Surprisingly, Hot Rod isn't too bad of a shellformer.  The front splits to form the torso, but there is a panel, which also with the roof, forms the backpack for the robot.  The sides form the arms, while the back unfolds to form the legs.  It's actually a fairly interesting transformation because a lot of the robot is folded up tightly for vehicle mode.

ROBOT MODE:


Robot mode is leaps and bounds better than any previous figure, and he's somewhat screen accurate.  There are some inaccuracies here and there but it is good enough.


He has the car roof, part of the hood, and the windows as his backpack.  Since it is thin and light, it isn't a problem in robot mode.


The head sculpt is good, with plenty of sculpted detailing and also painted detailing.


Size wise, he's not quite as tall as the average Deluxe, and he's also slim to boot, so he may not feel like he's the bulkiest of toys.



As part of the Studio Series line, he comes with a cardboard stand, depicting a scene of London.


Articulation is good, with joints for his head, shoulders, elbows, wrists, waist, hips, knees and ankles.


He comes with a gun, as seen in the film.


He can hold the gun in either hand.


The gun can store by pegging it onto the side of his hips, like a holster.


One slightly annoying thing about the robot mode is that the small pieces behind his ankles are prone to popping off.


A nice robot mode and the best rendition of the character we've had yet.

OVERALL:

Hot Rod is a good figure, even if you're not a fan of the character.  He has two good modes, and a fun transformation that isn't too bland, but isn't too complicated either.  The orange highlights in both modes against the darker grey color scheme really helps make it pop.  He's a tad bit on the smaller side, but thanks to everything else, he does feel like he's worth the price tag.

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

Friday, January 27, 2023

Yuuna and the Haunted Hot Springs (2018)


Yuuna and the Haunted Hot Springs is a 12 episode anime that is based off the manga series. To date, there are four OVAs that were released with special editions of the manga. The protagonist is Fuyuzora Kogarashi, who has psychic abilities. He’s able to see ghosts and had enough training to be able to exorcist ghosts by punching them. That’s the extent of his abilities though. Having had a tough childhood, he travels to Yuragi Inn, where the rent is cheap, and attends high school at the town. We quickly learn he’s been possessed by many ghosts in the past and gained a lot of random skills as a result, which he puts to good use at times.


Yuragi Inn is infamous around town as being haunted, and Kogarashi sees firsthand the ghost that has been haunting the place. It’s nothing to fear though as it’s just a high school aged girl named Yuuna. This is probably the most interesting part of the anime because five minutes in, it shows its hand as a generic anime that’s mainly for the fan service.


Yuragi Inn has other occupants and naturally they’re all attractive girls, so Kogarashi has quickly built himself a harem. They’re of varying ages and appearances but Kogarashi will often find himself accidentally having a peek here or touching something there. It’s to the point where it constantly happens, someone will get angry, and then rinse and repeat. It’s almost immediately tiring and way too predictable that it feels very lazy in its execution. The anime isn’t even trying at this point.


Yunna herself has the typical airhead qualities, such as accidentally revealing herself in front of Kogarashi, finding herself embarrassed and always having her thoughts flow towards him. It’s noted that she’s still lingering on as there is something she wants to do, as there is a risk of ghosts who stay too long on Earth will fall into Hell. She ends up partnering with Kogarashi, going wherever he goes, and helps him up with various supernatural stuff that he naturally finds himself in.


It gets more and more apparent that the whole purpose of the anime is the fan service. It leans towards quantity over quality, so the quality isn’t great. There’s so many of it, pretty much every scene, that you get desensitised quickly. It doesn’t help that it cycles through each heroine, and it’s always the same generic sequence of events that way too predictable. Characters will awkwardly move or fall into certain positions, so it ends up cheapening the whole effect.


There’s really not much of a plot going on, not that you’d expect something complex or amazing for this genre, but definitely more than this. As a result, we only have Kogarashi going on about his normal life, with various girls popping up and unconditionally fawning over him. There may be a rival here and there, but all in all, it falls very flat. There are no stakes here, Kogarashi is surprisingly powerful as a character. He also plays the part of a pure innocent boy that’s just about to step into adulthood but not quite there.


The other characters are equally forgettable, because that’s what happens when it’s just about style and no substance. We barely get any backstory or their motivations, which is a shame. The character designs and potential are there, and it could have facilitated both the fan service and actual real character development but it looks like the author went the easy lazy route so all we get are one-dimensional cardboard cut-outs. Despite the flaws, there are some genuine laugh-out-loud moments and nicer moments where Kogarashi shows off his good side.


The OVAs, as they did not have to be aired on TV, pushes the limits on what it can do with its fan service without crossing the line. It comes very very close though, and the framing devices for the fan service remains weak, but gets worse with each subsequent OVA. The initial ones fill in some of the gaps in the anime while the later ones jump ahead and so there will be characters we haven’t seen before in the anime, and spoilers for several of them. The fourth OVA in particular throws all pretence away to bare the characters completely and have them in sexual positions (it’s not even suggestive anymore by this point).


Overall, Yuuna and the Haunted Hot Springs is an unremarkable harem comedy. Its biggest flaw is how all its fan service, and the way it occurs, is completely unoriginal. It’s stuff that has been done plenty of times in previous harem anime so it just loses too much impact. That’s not to mention the huge rays of light acting as censors (but there are uncensored versions from the Blu-Ray release). The plot is non-existent, and all the characters are forgettable. There are some genuine moments but all in all, it’s forgettable.

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