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Julia's Reviews on Various Media

I don't take requests, so stop asking me.

Anyway, new review.


Rating: 45/100

Hey, kids! Remember a few years ago, when I played a cute little game called Pretty Princess Party? Well, guess what? It got a sequel! Pretty Princess Magical Garden Island is a direct sequel to Pretty Princess Party, even right down to taking place immediately after the events of the first game. After your characters restore the castle back to normal, Asbel and the princesses decide to head over to a place called Carrot Isle for some fun...but they find that it's completely deserted. They decide to stick around and do all they can to return Carrot Isle back to its former state...most of which involves farming! You have to plant crops, raise animals, and collect materials to make whatever the residents of Carrot Isle need. If you're gonna go into this thinking it's going to be anything like Story of Seasons or Stardew Valley, you're out of luck. Seriously, for a sequel to a fairly cute game that nailed its interior decorating gameplay, the producers for this really dropped the ball with Magical Garden Island.

I mean, Pretty Princess Party as a game itself wasn't anything special, and it was very clearly aimed at kids what with how easy it is, but I still got some enjoyment out of it even as a 30-year-old adult. Magical Garden Island, while also being super easy, not only cuts out some features from the first game, but seems to go out of its way to be as tedious as humanly possible. Rather than just interior decorating, you manage a farm where you grow crops, raise animals, and make buildings that allow you to put in materials to make processed goods, from craft shops to restaurants. You have to grow certain crops and receive eggs and milk from livestock in order to make items that the citizens request. In the previous game, you could easily get the in-game currency, Lumina, by greeting the townspeople or the mini-games. While the former is still around, Magical Garden Island wants you to fulfill requests on a bulletin board, and the more requests you fulfill, the more recipes you'll unlock. Unlike games in the Story of Seasons series, everything from crops growing to goods getting process runs on a real-time system, meaning everything in-game takes literally 5-10 real life minutes to grow. Some facilities you build allow you to process five items at a time, and some let you net all five items at once when time passes, but most of the facilities will process one item every five minutes, which can border on annoyingly tedious unless you grew hundreds of the needed item and have several of the exact same facility. Not only that, a lot of items you really need to finish the game are made from facilities that process one item every five minutes! This is somewhat mitigated by the fact that once you build something once, you can use it over and over again and not need to make another one, but it doesn't do anything to make the grinding and tedium any easier to deal with.

Magical Garden Island carries over a lot of issues that the first game had: One-note characters, uncannily creepy designs for the humans, an unmemorable soundtrack, and sluggishly slow pacing. But if you can believe it, Magical Garden Island comes with a whole new set of issues that really bog the game down, including the ones I mentioned above. Remember the mini-games from Pretty Princess Party? Magical Garden Island has no mini-games whatsoever. Yeah, the mini-games were repetitive, but I still found them fun, and I can't fathom why the producers got rid of them. Secondly, harvesting crops is needlessly hard in this game. You know how in most Story of Seasons games, when you get to a certain point, your MC can gather multiple crops at once? Magical Garden Island has no such feature whatsoever! You have to manually harvest crops one by one, and when you do so, your character is always walking slow by default. There's no feature to make them run while you harvest. I had to press both the A and B button at the same time to speed up the process, and it made both my fingers hurt. Say what you will about, say, Stardew Valley also making you manually gather crops one by one, but you could still harvest them while walking simultaneously, and it had the option of making your MC run all the time if you set it so! Farming games are supposed to be cozy and soothing, not tedious and annoying.

The game even manages to royally screw up its best mechanic, the interior decorating! Or in this case, exterior decorating. How does it manage to do so, you ask? You can still customize your farm however you want, and a lot of the items from the first game carry over to this one. Unlocking items is a lot harder because they require certain ingredients that take a long time to produce, many of which come from the facilities that only produce one item every five minutes. The first game remedied this by cutting down processing time if you paid Lumina, but Magical Garden Island no longer has that option. That in itself would be annoying enough, but get this: Magical Garden Island no longer allows you to place items on things like tables or desks! Seriously, I've tried doing so multiple times, and MGI just flat-out doesn't let you put anything on tables or desks anymore, thereby making a lot of the items it has completely and utterly useless! Nippon Columbia, how the hell did you manage to screw up your game's best gameplay mechanic so badly?! Whose bright idea was this?! If you're not gonna let people put anything on tables or desks, where the hell are we supposed to put stuff like books, food, or tea sets?! Outside, on the grass?!

Good lord, I really wanted to enjoy this. And believe me when I say even with the issues I had with Pretty Princess Party, I found it far more enjoyable than Magical Garden Island turned out to be! I'm sure people who liked the first game will probably enjoy this one, even with the flaws I mentioned above. But unless you want to introduce your daughter, niece, or sister to video games, I'd avoid Pretty Princess Magical Garden Island, especially if you really hate grinding that forces you to invest a lot of time into it.
This review was just finished today.


Rating: 82/100

Man, it seems like the yuri/shoujo-ai genre is going through some kind of renaissance, what with so many of those titles being ported to the US, and several of them actually managing to range from good to amazing. I don't typically find myself reading a lot of yuri or shoujo-ai manga, more due to lack of time and lack of interest in romance in general, but these past few years I read some really good ones, such as Goodbye My Rose Garden and Yume no Hashibashi, not to mention all the ones that are much more frank about exploring LGBT themes. I do plan on reading A Tropical Fish Yearns For Snow at some point because I hear that one's really good, but I don't know when that'll be. On that note, I hadn't initially planned on reading The Summer You Were There because its premise made it seem like it was going to be an archetypal romantic comedy, but I wound up discovering through TVTropes that it's actually a tear-jerking drama on par with something like Your Lie In April and I Want To Eat Your Pancreas. I mention those two titles specifically because of certain plot developments that form the backbone of The Summer You Were There, and while I do genuinely like this manga, much more than I thought I would, there are some things holding it back from true greatness in my eyes.

Silver-haired high school girl Shizuku Hoshikawa is completely dead inside. She is burdened with guilt over an incident she caused years ago, and although she loses herself in writing her own self-made novels, even that no longer brings her any joy. When summer break starts, Shizuku had initially planned on throwing away her novel and ending it all. As she's about to do so, a popular classmate, Kaori Asaka, picks her novel out of the trash, took it home to read, and showers Shizuku with praise the next day, asking if she'll write more stories, as she's a huge fan of her work. When Shizuku tells her she has no plans on writing anymore, Kaori isn't going to take this news lying down. Kaori suggests that the two of them become a fake couple so Shizuku can use the experience as material for her next novel. Only until the end of summer, that is. Shizuku at first isn't too fond of the idea, but Kaori inserts herself into her life whether she likes it or not. It's this fateful decision that serves as the impetus for an unforgettable summer together.

This is my first time reading one of Yuama's works, and for the most part, her art is pretty good. I say for the most part because sometimes the proportions on the characters' bodies can be off at times, like a nose will look crooked and legs or thighs will look too long, but it doesn't happen all that often and goes away in later volumes. The paneling is easy to follow, screen tones are used to good effect whenever possible, there's hardly any clutter in the backgrounds, and even the color pages are striking and beautiful. I will say that Yuama is really good at drawing facial expressions and really using them to convey a character's emotions during the more dramatic beats without them looking cartoonish or silly. Granted, they're not as strong as that of Yuu Watase's Sakura Gari, but they still do their job well.

For a story like this, the two main characters need to carry it, and thankfully, Shizuku and Kaori manage to do this pretty well. They both grow and change over the cource of the story, even if Kaori comes dangerously close to leaning into the dreaded Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope. That being said, the story does try to have Kaori be more than just the perky sick girl plot device who's just there to fix Shizuku and advance her development. Going back to Your Lie In April and I Want To Eat Your Pancreas, I feel Kaori in this story is better written than Kaori Miyazono from Your Lie in April and Sakura from Pancreas, mainly in that she is shown to have unique character flaws that she has to deal with, develops alongside Shizuku, and does have a life outside of Shizuku, even if the manga's short length doesn't make it all that obvious. Sakura from Pancreas was literally nothing more than yet another cliche stereotype of a saintly tragic figure solely manufactured to advance the male lead's development and teach moral lessons, and Kaori from Your Lie In April, from what I've heard, is also that, and along with being really bratty, manipulative, and selfish, many felt her methods of helping the male lead overcome his trauma came across as extremely cruel, insensitive, and tone-deaf. Thankfully, Kaori in The Summer You Were There has far more depth to her than Sakura from Pancreas, is genuinely kind but not without a backbone, and never resorts to the mean-spirited tactics that Kaori Miyazono does, so she already has that going for her. On the other hand, I wish more had been done with some of the side characters, namely Kaori's sister Shiori, who literally has nothing to her other than worshipping Kaori and hating Shizuku. The rest of the side cast is perfectly fine.

If there's one thing I can say The Summer You Were There manages to pull off, its depicting bullying and the affects it has on people in a sensitive, nuanced, empathetic matter, and without resorting to condescension or melodrama. Granted, others might not agree, but your mileage may vary. The manga does succeed in making Shizuku sympathetic without trying to sugarcoat or downplay how bad her past actions were, nor does it try to invalidate or dismiss the trauma that Shizuku's bullying had on her classmate Ruri. I also appreciate that the manga doesn't try to make Ruri feel obligated to forgive Shizuku or force her to do so. Seriously, where was this nuance in stuff like A Silent Voice or Is It My Fault I Got Bullied? Yeah, I feel The Summer You Were There handled tackling the subject of bullying better than A Silent Voice. Come at me. As far as the later parts of Shizuku's backstory that get revealed near the finale, normally I would find something like that to be really cheesy and over-the-top, but I actually went through something similar years ago, so I'm letting it slide. Outside its depictions of bullying, the manga is a perfectly fine story, even if a lot of the stuff its done has been done many times before. You wouldn't be wrong to call it predictable based on everything that happens in its second half, and as much as I'm not a fan of the whole "sick girl helps the healthy MC then dies at the end" plotline because of how emotionally manipulative it can be if done wrong, The Summer You Were There did care about its characters and treated them with respect to the point where it did manage to get me genuinely invested in them, cliche plot or no. Granted, I know others might not feel the same way, so your mileage may vary on whether you even care about the second half of the story or not. To me, The Summer You Were There's refined execution and respect it has for its story and characters manage to elevate it beyond just a shoujo-ai rehash of I Want To Eat Your Pancreas.

Overall, while it relies a little too much on a certain cliche and doesn't develop the rest of its side characters, The Summer You Were There is a respectable shoujo-ai manga that manages to not only tackle a sensitive subject delicately, but avoids the common pitfalls that plague other stories of its caliber. Definitely give it a read if you like tragic romances that still manage to treat its characters with respect and empathy.
This review was written on February 11th, 2024.


Rating: 82/100

The Reiwa era Pretty Cure seasons have been...pretty hit or miss so far. I really didn't care for both Tropical Rouge and Delicious Party, I haven't seen Star Twinkle and Hikaru's screechy voice puts me off of watching it, but Healin Good and 2023's Hirogaru Sky Pretty Cure were really strong. Pretty Cure as a franchise celebrated its 20th anniversary recently, and Hirogaru Sky was billed as a series that would break a lot of long established trends, especially with the news that it would have the first canon male main Pretty Cure. Of course, Toei wasn't satisfied with that, as another Pretty Cure series—a shorter sequel to an older season—would air alongside it during the fall, and a stage play starring all male Cures ran for a short while. I kinda wish I could see that stage play, as it honestly sounds really interesting from what little I've heard about its plot. Thankfully, after the massive disappointments that were both Tropical Rouge and Delicious Party, Hirogaru Sky definitely proved to be one of the better seasons and a much better anniversary season than Happiness Charge was a decade prior. That's not to say Hirogaru Sky doesn't have its issues, but compared to its two predecessors, I enjoyed my time with it far more.

Sora Harewataru is a young girl hailing from the magical world of Skyland, and she's dreamed of becoming a hero ever since a mysterious savior rescued her from monsters while out in the woods. But just as she's about to make her way to the castle to start formal training, she witnesses an evil pig-like individual kidnapping a baby, with said baby being Princess Elle of Skyland (I absolutely refuse to spell her name as Ellee. It just looks stupid to me). Not one to ignore someone in need, Sora does all she can to save Elle, and in the process, she winds herself not only magically transported to planet Earth, but unlocking the power to become one of the fabled legendary warriors called Pretty Cure. While on Earth, she finds friends in kind-hearted Mashiro Nijigaoka and her Skyland-born grandmother Yoyo, dependable yet energetic Ageha Hijiri, and the level-headed, flight-loving Tsubasa Yuunagi. Together, the four of them must fight against the Undergu Empire and keep Elle out of their hands.

From an animation standpoint, for the most part its consistent, clean, and polished, with bright colors and mostly fluid movement, with some exceptions. I say for the most part because it does start to get uneven and off-model at times near the end, but that tends to happen a lot with shows that go on for a long time. I will say that I really like the character designs for all the Cures, as they don't look too busy or fussy, or even over-designed like some previous Cures could be. Speaking of the character designs, did you know the person who designed the characters for Hirogaru Sky also did the designs for Love Live Superstar? I thought that was a neat little tidbit. The fight scenes still manage to do their job and still look amazing. I don't have as much to say about the soundtrack, but it also does its job nicely, and the songs are all nice, too. By the way, I find it really funny that every single Cures' seiyuu's first names begin with the letter A. I don't think that was intentional on the creators' part, but it makes me snicker every time I recall it.

Admittedly, Pretty Cure as a series has always had a problem with balancing its characters and their screentime. Tropical Rouge focused so much on Manatsu and Laura that it completely forgot to give its other characters any development or time in the limelight, with Sango getting it the worst. Delicious Party tried to remedy this, but made the mistake of making Yui, the lead Cure, not do much and as a result, she came off as extremely bland and milquetoast. Doki Doki is infamous for shilling Mana to the Nth degree. Thankfully, Hirogaru Sky manages to mostly avoid this problem. Every single member of the main cast gets their time in the spotlight and receive the appropriate amount of development to make sure they don't feel completely one-note or one-dimensional. Since this series wasn't plagued by delays, whether because of COVID or extenuating circumstances like the hacking incident that put Delicious Party on hold for a bit, Hirogaru Sky was able to have a full run, so it was able to make use of its time and give this cast of characters the development they needed. For the most part, I think Toei succeeded on this front.

Yet again, I say for the most part because just like Healin Good three years before, Toei fleshed out its Cures at the expense of doing the same for the villains. Yeah, once again, the villains are the weakest part of the series. This seems to be a recurring problem in the current Reiwa era Pretty Cure series. None of the villains are in any way remotely interesting, compelling, or fun to follow in any way, and what little of an arc two particular villains have feel truncated, so any development they get doesn't really leave much of an impact whatsoever. Actually, speaking of the villains, the show doesn't explain just what the hell the Undergu Empire is until the last quarter of the show. Not only that, most of the villains barely interact with one another, making them feel even more one-note and milquetoast. I heard this is the result of Toei receiving complaints from parents claiming that seeing the villains interact scared their kids, but I have no idea how true this is, and I honestly think its kinda stupid. Many of Toei's shows featured their villain characters talking to one another previously, so why are people complaining about it now?

But the woefully underutilized villains aren't Hirogaru Sky's only issue. At first, it seemed like Hirogaru Sky would do more with its story than Delicious Party did, and actually did a pretty good job at establishing a credible threat and having some tangible stakes at first. But after a while, it seemed like the show just didn't know what to do with itself, especially after Elle became Cure Majesty, until it decided to jam a lot of its most important plot beats in the final eight episodes with barely anything resembling build-up. I think Hirogaru Sky would have been better off had it spread these out over a larger time frame rather than just shoehorning them into the last ten or so episodes. Also, there are some characters who are made out to be really important, but the show doesn't really do anything with them anymore, and there are times when the show takes the cheap way out rather than actually have certain characters go through actual moral dilemmas that would really help their growth. For a show that was touted as Pretty Cure's 20th anniversary seasons, Hirogaru Sky really could have stood to take more risks.

However, even with its issues holding it back from true greatness, it still managed to be better than its two predecessors. Yeah, it has issues with balancing its important plot beats and villains, but the animation and music are still good, I actually cared about the main characters and enjoyed watching them every week, and it actually put some thought into fleshing out its setting and themes. While there are seasons I like better than it, Hirogaru Sky is a worthy celebration of what makes the Pretty Cure franchise so great. I'm gonna skip out on Wonderful Pretty Cure for the time being because I've been watching the current seasons of Pretty Cure non-stop since Healin Good and I don't wanna burn myself out, along with wanting to focus on other shows in my backlog. So yeah, if you like magical girls, give Hirogaru Sky Pretty Cure a shot if you want some feel-good fun and cute girls kicking ass. Now if only someone would fansub that all-male Pretty Cure stage play.
This review was written on December 16th, 2023.


Rating: 78/100

So...would Pokemaniacs kill me if I said that I was more excited for this than the announcement of Pokemon Scarlet and Violet getting DLC? Pokemon: Paldean Winds is yet another short animated web series centered in the Pokemon universe, and to be honest, I'm really happy the Pokemon Company is allowing these to be made. All of them have been really good in their own ways, and even the weakest ones still have something to offer. So you can bet I was excited as all hell for Pokemon: Paldean Winds as soon as it was announced. Now that I've seen all of it, I do feel it could have done more with itself, but I'm still happy with what we got. Taking place before the events of the games, Paldean Winds centers on three students at Naranja Academy—Ohara, Aliquis, and Hohma—who are tasked by Director Clavell to make a video for incoming new students to show that the school is a great place to learn about Pokemon. But the three students are having trouble getting anything done on account of Ohara's shyness, Aliquis being an arrogant prick, and Hohma getting too excited about whatever interests him.

Continuing the trend established by previous web series since Twilight Wings, Paldean Winds is very much a character-driven story on a much smaller scale than the main TV series, with the main conflict being about them just getting that video done and trying to figure out how to best go about it, along with their own interpersonal conflicts and flaws getting in the way. Since Paldean Winds only has four episodes, it needs to be able to deliver in that short time frame, and thankfully, it manages to succeed on this front. Mostly. Out of the three main characters, Aliquis and Hohma manage to receive the best development, and even then, Aliquis goes through the most growth, going from an arrogant prick to a more mature, kinder individual, and Hohma learns that sometimes there's more to people than what he initially sees, making him look outside his own perspective of things. Yeah, their personalities and development aren't anything you haven't seen before, but for Paldean Winds' short time frame, they managed to make great use of their time in regards to fleshing them out at the very least.

I will admit though, as much as I like Ohara as a character, the first episode, which also happens to be her focus episode, is the weakest out of the four, mainly in that it doesn't really do a good job of explaining Ohara's issues with her dad and her relationship with music. Like...what are Ohara's issues with her dad to begin with? Is he one of those strict stage parents who wants Ohara to be perfect at music to the point of hurting her enjoyment of it? Did he push her into pursuing orchestra and she didn't like it? Does he just not pay attention to her outside of music? There's nothing that implies that he's just an abusive dad, as Ohara mentions later that she reconciled with him, but...what did they even reconcile over? Ohara says at the end of the first episode that she "gets it now" but what the hell does she even get?! The episode leaves so many basic questions unanswered! I can only assume the anime did this to do more showing than telling, but what little it does show are so vague and piecemeal that it all doesn't paint a clear picture of what Ohara's relationship with her dad is!

Thankfully, after that rather weak first episode, the series gets better from then on, with much tighter writing around the other two. Everything else about Paldean Winds is still pretty top-tier, though. While Wit Studio's animation for this is nowhere near as experimental as the likes of Hisuian Snow, it still manages to be just as dynamic and polished, with a lot of care put into both the big battle scenes and the smaller details, like the way Ohara's fingers move as she plays her flute, or showing Pokemon just hanging around. Plus, various characters from the Scarlet/Violet games make cameos in the series, and I'm glad to say that their overall designs made the transition to the series fairly well. Speaking of flutes, the soundtrack by Kevin Penkin is also a pretty big highlight, ranging from soft flute music to the epic trumpets and violins used for the battle scenes, all of which fit the atmosphere of Paldean Winds perfectly. The final episode is where the soundtrack is most prevalent, as that's the only one where there's actual singing...or in this case, rapping, as there's a character in the games who appears here who has a career in doing rap music. I've only seen the English dub in its entirety, and I can say that as someone who normally hates rap with a burning passion, I actually liked not only the rap song used there, but how it was adapted into English.

But how does Paldean Winds compare to the other Pokemon web series that came before it? In my opinion, I do feel Twilight Wings, Hisuian Snow, and the PokeToon shorts are way better in terms of both their animation, storytelling, and characterization, but I do think Paldean Winds is better than Pokemon Evolutions, mainly by virtue of the fact that it's nowhere near as inconsistent as Evolutions' was in terms of its writing quality with each episode, the first episode of PW notwithstanding. But that's not to say Paldean Winds doesn't have anything to offer, and is still a nice little sweet treat in its own right, especially for people who felt burned by the copious technical and performance issues that plague the games that they're based on. I am admittedly a little miffed that one of my favorite characters from the SV games, Penny, only gets a brief cameo and doesn't even get a speaking part. But I am happy at least Arven got to appear prominently in the first episode, so I can't be too mad. Even if Pokemon: Paldean Winds was only made to promote Pokemon Scarlet and Violet's DLC, it's a very sweet, wholesome short web series that continues to expand Pokemon's animation repertoire for the better. Oh, and calling it now: I'm sure another one of these will come around when the tenth generation of Pokemon comes out. It's pretty much guaranteed at this point considering the recent pattern of web series coming out to promote their associated games.
This review was written on February 27th, 2024.


Rating: 70/100

Shoujo stuff tends to get the short end of the stick when it comes to getting ported to the US, but in some circles that seems to be changing quite a bit. Discotek Media has started making an effort to put out more shoujo and magical girl stuff as of late, something many fans are very happy about, especially since a lot of those titles either never came to the US officially or were neglected in previous years. One such title that Discotek put on Blu-Ray recently is Lady Georgie, based on the manga by Mann Izawa and Yumiko Igarashi that ran from 1982 to 1984. The anime was made concurrently with the manga in 1983, but it wouldn't get brought to the US until 2023, a whole forty years after its first premiere in Japan. It never even received good fansubs. Since it's so rare for eighties shoujo anime to get brought to the US in any capacity, I figured I'd buy Lady Georgie to give Discotek incentive to license more in the future. Hell, for all I know, they probably will in the future thanks to all the money Berserk is netting them right now. But now that I've actually watched the series...yeah, there are reasons why Lady Georgie never came to the US. I think its an okay show, and the changes the anime made to it might have actually helped it in a lot of ways, but Lady Georgie is not only very much a product of its time, it has a lot of elements that really would not fly today.

But what's the story, you might ask? Georgie Buttman (Yes, that is how her name is officially spelled. The people at Discotek confirmed it with the mangakas themselves) is a cheerful, energetic young girl living with her family on a farm in late 19th century Australia. However, even though her father and two brothers Abel and Arthur adore her very much, her mother Mary seems to resent her. What she doesn't know is that her family actually found her in the middle of a storm, with the only clue to her true lineage being a golden bracelet. But early in her life, Georgie grows up happily alongside her brothers, and at one point meeting and falling in love with the dashing Lowell J. Gray, the grandson of the then governor of Sydney. When Georgie finally learns the truth about her true heritage, she decides to journey to London to learn more about her birth parents and find Lowell again, with her brothers following in hot pursuit for reasons of their own.

Alright, there's no point in hiding it, so let's get the elephant out of the room: The bulk of Lady Georgie consists of a love triangle between Georgie and her two adopted brothers, so basically non-blood-related incest. For what little it's worth, compared to the manga, which has one of the brothers actually consummate their relationship with Georgie (Ugh!), the anime changes things drastically in that while Abel and Arthur do fight over her quite a bit and try to pursue her, it's completely one-sided on their parts and it never manages to go beyond simply confessing how they feel and eventually accepting the fact that Georgie rejected them. Thank God, because if Lady Georgie's anime had been a faithful adaptation of the manga, I wouldn't have touched it with a ten foot pole as I abhor sibling incest romance in anything. That's pretty much the only reason I even bothered to watch the anime, because it either removed or toned down a lot of the manga's grosser aspects, though that's not to say the anime is perfect. I have no interest in reading the manga for the fact that it actually makes the incest subtext actual text, so for anybody who's turned off by that, Lady Georgie's anime provides a better alternative.

Speaking of the anime, it's a serviceable production all things considered, even if it's held back by the limitations of the technology of the period and due to Japan's bubble economy not having happened yet, so it wouldn't have had the higher budget of later eighties anime. I do think Yumiko Igarashi's trademark shoujo character designs made transition to the screen pretty well, and what the anime lacks in fluidity and kinetic motion, it manages to make up for with well-drawn backgrounds and setpieces and really capturing the look of 19th century Australia. I will admit, as an American, my knowledge of Australia and its history is pretty limited, so I don't know how the anime producers went about researching Australia and whether their depiction of it is accurate or not. But even with my limited knowledge of Australia, I can say that no koala I've seen behaves the way Rapp does, and it's very easy to tell he's an original creation of the anime made solely to be a cute comic relief animal character, even though he flat-out disappears when the setting moves from Australia to London in the latter half. The music is pretty nice for its time period, and both the opening and ending, sung by Georgie's seiyuu Yuriko Yamamoto, are pleasant to listen to.

Remember in my review of Dear Brother, I mentioned that the anime for that added a lot of new scenes and expanded on some characters' backstories, which actually benefitted them quite a lot? Lady Georgie does the same thing. Since the manga is only 5 volumes long and the anime has 45 episodes, the anime opted to really expand on Georgie's early life in Australia, detailing her childhood starting from age 6-7 and ending when she turns 15. The manga actually starts just before the boomerang contest, but in the anime, the boomerang contest doesn't take place until episode 24, more than halfway into the anime's run, so most everything before then is anime original. I actually like that the anime took its time to flesh out Georgie, Abel, Arthur, and the rest of the characters early on, because it allows the audience to get invested in them before getting to the harder drama so you'll actually care what happens to them. If the anime had started at the same point as the manga, it probably wouldn't have made the same impact and would have resulted in a lot of pacing issues. Lady Georgie's slow and steady approach not only helps the characters, but the pacing and story progression, and it never feels like the anime is rushing to get through all its major plot points.

Interestingly enough, the anime also makes changes to some characters' personalities that actually humanize them more and make them feel less like one-note cartoonish villains. For example, in the manga, Georgie's adoptive mother Mary is abusive and cruel through and through, whereas the anime, while still keeping her resentment of Georgie and worries about Abel and Arthur falling in love with her, goes out of its way to show her at least trying to connect with Georgie and showing her genuine affection on occasion, making her feel more human and sympathetic, and her crueler moments hit harder, especially when Georgie learns the truth behind her lineage. Another character, Jessica, is made much less cartoonishly villainous. In the manga, she has a crush on Abel but when she finds out that he loves Georgie, she tries to hire a hitman to kill her while she's heading to London and even wishing she'd die. In the anime, she still crushes on Abel and gets jealous of Georgie, but her murderous plotting is excised in favor of having her just try to get Georgie out of the way via suggesting she get on a boat manned by a sailor she knows. It also tones down other villains' more crueler actions, such as removing Irwin drugging and raping Arthur in favor of just simply holding him prisoner and foiling Abel's attempts at saving him. I think the anime's changes really helped Lady Georgie, both from expanding on some characters' personalities and backstories, humanizing some and making them more sympathetic, or just getting rid of the grosser aspects of the whole incesty love triangle plot.

However, Lady Georgie isn't a perfect anime, and its pseudo-incest plot, while the biggest problem the series has, is just one of its problems. I found Lowell as a character to be rather bland and annoying, mainly because his reasons for falling in love with Georgie don't really have anything to do with Georgie herself, and a lot of the time he came across as objectifying her and seeing her as an ideal and a solution to all his problems rather than as a person. Furthermore, I know Japan has more lax views on child nudity, but there were several points in the anime where Georgie's bare chest is shown completely uncensored, most of which happen when Georgie is still in her early teens. Hell, one scene in the anime shows Arthur stripping naked and cuddling with an also naked Georgie in an attempt to share his body heat with her and save her life, and the way the scene is animated makes it look like they're about to have sex. Do I even need to go into how creepy and gross this is? Yeah, I think I'm starting to understand why the anime never got brought to the US until now. And keep in mind, Lady Georgie is considered a children's series. This is as far as anything goes between Georgie and Arthur, and like I mentioned before, Georgie never gets romantically involved with either adopted brother as opposed to the manga, but...this is still skin-crawlingly unsettling. Finally, the narrator. Decades ago, I reviewed another historical anime called Ie Naki Ko, or Nobody's Boy Remi, and while I love that show to death, one of my biggest complaints is how the narrator is really overused. Not only does the narrator talk in literally every episode, he had this bad tendency to spoil really important plot twists when the show would have been better off revealing them on its own. I think the narrator for Lady Georgie is even more obnoxious in that she does this as well, but also has the bad habit of not only spelling out the characters' thoughts and feelings like she's talking to toddlers, but restating past events that were already established previously. The narrator as a whole feels unneeded because the show does a good enough job of showing the characters growing and revealing the narrative organically. You could cut the narrator out entirely and nothing would be lost.

Other than the whole pseudo-incest love triangle going on, Lady Georgie is still your typical eighties shoujo melodrama, complete with family issues, theatrical acting, cheesy eighties sound effects, and over-the-top plot twists straight out of a soap opera. I do think the anime improved on the manga's problems quite a bit with what it did do, so I'm willing to give it kudos for the things it did right both on that front and on its own merits. I actually think the anime's best episodes are near the finale, where certain characters have to make hard decisions and face genuinely compelling moral dilemmas for the sake of others' happiness, tackling them with a surprising amount of maturity and realism. But overall, Lady Georgie is very much a product of its time, and a lot of what it does absolutely would not fly in the modern era. But if you like this series, I'm not going to judge you for it. I should be happy that Discotek Media put Lady Georgie out on blu-ray in the US, because if enough people buy the series, it'll give them incentive to license more old school shoujo series like Lady Lady, the 70s Haikara-san ga Tooru series, and Hello Sandybelle. We already got stuff like Rose of Versailles, Aim For The Ace, Dear Brother, and a few others like them, so who knows what the future might hold?
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This review was written on November 8th, 2023.


Rating: 57/100

I've seen and read my fair share of good yuri anime and manga...but I've also seen some really bad yuri anime and manga. Kiss The Scars of The Girls, the debut work of one Aya Haruhana, kind of falls in the middle. It just got licensed by Yen Press for an English release here, and it's pretty short, clocking in at three volumes long. Deep within a dark forest, there's an all-girls' school that has a secret: All of the students are vampires. Said vampire girls are mandated to form bonds of sisterhood in order to hunt without attracting attention. Emielle Florence is one such girl, as upon her 14th birthday, she is delighted to finally have an older sister to bond with. But the sister turns out to be Eve Winter, an icy girl who really doesn't want anything to do with Emielle or the whole sisterhood rule. But whether they like it or not, Emielle and Eve are stuck together, and Emielle in particular really wants to be friends with Eve, whose troubled past continues to haunt her.

Not gonna lie, I wasn't a fan of this one. Kiss The Scars is just so generic, and the whole vampire angle doesn't really do anything to spice it up, especially since the authoress doesn't really do anything with it beyond "What if I made a Class S yuri story but with vampires?" There's so many unanswered questions in regards to the series' overall lore. Who funds the school and keeps it open? Why do the girls have to be in pairs when they hunt? The vampires are instructed not to kill people when they suck blood, but who mandated that rule? What's the deal with the Vampire Hunter group? Hell, the school that these girls go to doesn't even have a name, for God's sake! If you're going to establish this kind of premise and setting, at least put in the effort to establish some basic rules and lore and give it some history! Or even do something with it. Manga such as The Case Study of Vanitas and Hellsing do just that and are far better series for it. The whole thing just feels like Haruhana just slapped vampires onto a typical yuri story and called it a day, and if you take the vampire premise out, the story itself isn't different from other yuri stories that rehash the same premise, so Kiss The Scars still feels really generic and flavorless.

That flavorlessness also extends to the characters and their writing. All of them are one-note archetypes with one dominant personality trait, and while some of them do receive some development and backstory, they still remain rote stereotypes, and nothing the series did made me want to care about them in any way whatsoever. Emielle is your typical perky girl, Eve's whole personality is just "I'm angsty and emo," Yucca is unhealthily obsessed with Emielle, and Luce is the quiet library girl. The character I hated the most was Violetta, who spends all her time being unnecessarily bitchy for no reason, especially towards Luce, and seriously, her reasons for hating Luce are so petty and stupid that they border on ridiculous. None of the characters had any natural chemistry amongst one another whatsoever, making whatever romance they have come off as sloppy and half-baked. There's one character, Colette, who appears in volume 2 and might have presented an interesting conflict, but she just gets shunted out of the story, so she leaves absolutely no impact whatsoever, making me wonder just why she was even here in the first place. With the series only being three volumes long, it doesn't use its short time to really flesh out its characters or make them even remotely interesting whatsoever.

Honestly, the only good thing Kiss The Scars has going for it is its art. The backgrounds and paneling are fine, the girls have nice, down-to-earth designs, and the colored splash pages are very striking to look at, but that's really all the praise I can give this. Then again, the problems with the story's writing and characterization might just be chalked up to the author's inexperience, as this is her first original work, and for all we know, she might get better as she puts out more work and gains more experience. Who knows? Plus, I have seen far worse than Kiss The Scars, so I'm not gonna knock it too badly. If you're into your typical yuri stories about girls loving each other passionately, you do you. You'll probably get more enjoyment out of this than I did. But Kiss The Scars of The Girl is just a generic Class S yuri manga but with vampires, and doesn't really know what to do with itself. It's a short read, but there are better vampire stories out there.
This review was just finished today.


Rating: 56/100

Oh, Fire Emblem Fates. After the runaway success of Fire Emblem Awakening a few years before, Intelligent Systems kinda...let the game's success go to its head in the process of making the next game. Granted, Fates still sold really well, but it wound up becoming the most divisive games in the FE series for a lot of reasons: Parts of the localization being drastically different from the Japanese version, excising certain game mechanics, the ramped up fanservice, how it straight up copies game mechanics from Awakening without consideration for whether they actually integrate well with the narrative, certain characters being pretty one-note stereotypes, the fact that the MC can straight up marry their adopted siblings, its complete disregard for basic worldbuilding, so on and so forth. I originally wasn't going to go anywhere near Fates because of all the pseudo-incest going on, but upon hearing the 3DS eShop was gonna shut down, complete with making its DLC inaccessible—one of which was a third story arc—I bit the bullet and decided to buy the two games encompassing Fates, Birthright and Conquest. And...yeah, I'm gonna be honest, Fates is NOT one of FE's better games, especially Conquest. Good lord, do I hate Conquest with every fiber of my being.

The main thing about Fates is that its split into two different games, each with their own campaign. The first few chapters of each game are the same, focusing on your player character, Corrin, an individual who was originally born in the kingdom of Hoshido, but was kidnapped and raised within the opposing kingdom of Nohr. The two kingdoms are at war with one another, and when Corrin discovers the truth under extenuating circumstances, he has to choose between allying with the peace-loving, morally upright Hoshido, his supposed real family, or the warmongering, glory seeking Nohr, the family he grew up with, and deal with the fallout from either choice. There's also a third campaign, Revelation, that ties up unanswered plot threads in the other two routes, though only if you managed to buy it before the 3DS eShop shutdown, and for anybody who didn't do that...well, unless you know how to hack into the 3DS, you're out of luck there. Birthright, which is the Hoshido path, is more light-hearted, straightforward good vs evil story, and it allows you to grind, whereas Conquest, the darker, more morally dubious path, is more challenging in that unlike the other two routes, you can't grind for experience outside the main campaign, not even with the DLC maps, and has more limited resources, and is more about trying to reform the kingdom of Nohr from within.

Normally I'd be all in for a game that tries to explore characters experiencing moral dilemmas that change them, in both good and bad ways. A bunch of my favorite media consist of a lot of that. Unfortunately, for as much as Fates tries to shill itself as a game where the two main paths have their downsides and how not everything can be hunky-dory when fighting in a war, it actually winds up shooting itself in the foot by having both paths lean towards the extreme ends of their moral conflicts. The Birthright path, intentionally made as a more straightforward good vs evil story, comes across as a little too white in its morality at times. Ironically enough, Birthright is actually the best written path most of the time because its narrative progression actually makes some degree of sense and isn't bogged down by characters being as dumb as rocks. Revelation tries to balance the two, which is fine, but the whole backbone of the first half of its campaign consists of "I need you to just trust me even though I'm not allowed to actually explain my reasons for doing what I'm doing because plot mandate!!"

But none of that even comes close to the sheer dumbfuckery that is Conquest's whole narrative and how its completely reliant on people not using their heads for more than two seconds. Barring the fact that Corrin and his Nohrian family whine about fighting in the name of peace falls flat because of how they can't seem to comprehend that King Garon—who is a blatant Saturday morning cartoon villain—practically broadcasts his villainy with all the subtlety of a neon sign blaring "I AM EEEEEEVIL!!" and flagrantly ignore how evil he is, it's further undercut by the fact that whenever they try to liberate towns as peacefully as they can, Hans and Iago immediately start killing all the citizens afterward. Not only does this make the Hoshidans' hatred of Nohr completely justified, but it makes Corrin and everyone else come off as complete, hypocritical idiots because Hans and Iago have also broadcasted that they have absolutely no interest in anything but power, glory, and murder. A lot of Conquest Corrin's issues could easily be solved if he just, I don't know, killed Hans and Iago right away or grew a spine and stopped kowtowing to Garon after realizing that Garon literally sent him to be killed and has no interest in anything except tyranny. And that's not even going into how Conquest's plot hinges on only one solution to the overall problem, with said solution involving invading Hoshido, and never tries to find a better alternative that doesn't involve killing off the Hoshidans, not to mention the game wants the audience to root for somebody willingly committing war crimes. It's kinda like one of Triangle Strategy's endings where you can have Serenoa be totally okay with continuing the oppression of a marginalized people in the name of world peace while it wants you to completely ignore all the obvious ways the problem could have been avoided. I'd really rather not be forced to be an accomplice in war crimes, thanks.

Of course, Conquest's many many narrative issues aren't the only problem Fates has as a game. Even from an overall narrative standpoint, Fates' worldbuilding is paper thin, with a lot of important details tucked behind certain supports, and you won't be able to find out which ones unless you look it up beforehand. A lot of Fates' overall history and lore is not only in those certain supports, but in supplementary materials that never got translated into English and Fire Emblem Heroes, which is a cellphone game. Yeah, I'd really rather not have to go out of my way to play a phone game just to get some context behind Fates' war. Hell, Fates' continent doesn't even have a name or a map, for pete's sake. Oh, and the way the game tries to implement a second generation of units feels really tacked on. In Awakening, the second generation made sense because there, the second generation units traveled back in time, and their general existence is a major plot point that forms the backbone of the game's narrative. Fates' version of it is not only optional, therefore having no effect on the story whatsoever, the explanation for the second generation's existence makes several existing characters come off as really out of character in that they just dump their kids into fast-moving pocket dimentions before fucking off somewhere, which totally doesn't give their kids abandonment issues or some kind of psychological trauma whatsoever or completely ruin already established characterization for the first generation, am I right? Don't even get me started on Ryoma, who is normally a cool, stern, but upright and honorable man, becoming a complete jackass to his kid for no reason in his Paralogue. How dare you be mad that I never bothered to tell you that you're the crown prince of Hoshido, thereby are going to run an entire country someday, and never tried to prepare you for it! Uuuuuugh.

Speaking of the characters, their overall writing also received quite a steep downgrade from Awakening. Where the first game was careful to give every character some degree of characterization and development, both in the main narrative and supports, including the DLC ones, Fates' characters don't receive that same level of care. A lot of the characters are very uneven in that some manage to receive character development and become slightly more nuanced, but other times a lot of them don't change all that much so they come off as really bland, and some supports even flat-out go against their earlier established characterization. But a lot of some character's motivations are locked behind specific supports, many of which the game doesn't tell you about, and if you don't want to invest that kind of time into unlocking them, you're probably not gonna enjoy the game. Also, for as tacked on as they are, there were some members of the second generation I found to be enjoyable characters and great units. Seriously, Velouria of all characters wound up being one of my best units. But overall, I really didn't care for a lot of the characters in Fates, especially Camilla, who's little more than a walking fanservice machine yandere who constantly creepily simps Corrin. I'm not gonna go into how a lot of changes in the English translation handled some characters, especially the Saizo/Beruka C-support, because others have done that far better than I could ever hope to do, so I won't belabor the point here. It really says a lot when I enjoyed Engage's characters way more than most of Fates' cast.

That said, for all of Fates' flaws, it does have some smattering of good points, even if they don't completely salvage the game as a whole. One aspect Fates copied from Awakening was the skill system and changing classes to learn more of them, which manages to make the gameplay fun and engaging. A new mechanic the game introduced that builds on this is the My Castle feature, a secret hub world that serves as your home base outside the main campaign, which has a ton of customization and upgrade options, along with doing stuff like shopping, participating in a lottery, cooking to get stat bonuses for your units, fight in the arena, and visit other castles using the internet to inherit skills from other players. Many consider this the best part of the game, and I'm inclined to agree, even though I don't like how you don't get experience in the arena or that the arena picks a unit for you to train rather than allowing you to do that yourself. The graphics and the soundtrack are as good as the ones in Awakening, and like I mentioned before, the Birthright campaign is the best written and logical of the three campaigns in that it doesn't try to be something it isn't and sticks to being a straightforward good vs evil story, though that's not really saying much. Also, one addition Fates introduced that I wish was in more FE games is Phoenix Mode, where if a unit gets killed, they immediately get revived on the very next turn. I know a lot of people don't like this, as FE is the kind of game where every decision you make counts and some players might prefer the challenge, but as a casual gamer who prefers to keep my units alive and isn't good with games that mandate permadeath, I really appreciate Phoenix Mode's existence, because it's great for training your weaker units without worrying about losing them permanently. I seriously wish Fire Emblem Engage had this mode, so it'd make training weaker units less tedious.

But in my opinion, Fates' strengths are outweighed by its many flaws. It's a shame, because with some tweaking, Fates would have made a great game on the level of Echoes and Three Houses. In the end, Fates' was a result of the creators getting cocky and thinking it could just slap the same mechanics from Awakening onto a new game without consideration for if they'd even work or not. But if you enjoy Fates as games, that's great, and I have no interest in raining on other people's parade. Personally, I feel Awakening, Echoes, Three Houses, and Engage are better games, and I don't see myself going back to Fates any time soon. Plus, a lot of its best features are going to be rendered completely useless now that Nintendo is going to shutdown the 3DS Wi-Fi servers in April. Overall, Fates is the best example of what happens when you try to catch lightning in a bottle twice, and how just trying to replicate what made a previous game good doesn't always translate into a good quality game.
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I have such a complicated relationship with Fates. On the one hand there is just so much wrong with it (as evidenced in this review) and I would have a really hard time recommending it to anybody. And yet somehow I still manage to enjoy it anyway. It's not a good game, but for some reason I just can't bring myself to hate it. It does have some of my favorite characters in the series despite the poor writing so that probably has something to do with it...but yeah Three Houses and Awakening are definitely much better IMO. (Also yeah the fact that you have to pay for each route separately is some fucking bullshit)
Fates' story is pretty awful yeah, from Birthright being shallow to Conquest being laughably nonsensical (though someone made something called Good Guy Garon that fixes a lot of it) to Revelation being a complete nonsensical dumpster fire.

Camilla would've been fine if she smothered Elise and Leo too; her reason for being attached to Corn is fine, but logically she should want to do the same to her other siblings. But that would've made her less fanservicey. She was definitely the most morally ambiguous of the Nohrian siblings though, which I liked about her at least.

And yeah, the translation is particularly infamous. All that really needs to be said.

Also, a huge design problem you didn't mention/didn't run into: if you marry a 1st generation character who isn't an avatarsexual and are playing as Male Corn, you can't recruit all the kids! That's a pretty huge failing, for whatever the kids are worth anyway.

That said, one thing I have seen near-universally praised is Conquest's gameplay. And in the end, the gameplay of a game is a big part of it, at least the way I see it. The maps are very well designed and challenging. You have to really think; at least, on the higher difficulties and classic. And there's a lot of intricacies you can take advantage of; contrast Awakening where the right pair-ups just steamroll the game. I've been especially enjoying a let's play that tries to use everyone, though has unfortunately stalled. On Engage's note, some people even call it Conquest 2 for its similar strong map design and story. Had a lot of the same team working on it, so it's no surprise.

I used to have a log on my playthrough of Conquest. But then the blogs died twice. I backed it up, but I'd still have to dig it up. Maybe I will for your amusement.
I used to have a log on my playthrough of Conquest. But then the blogs died twice. I backed it up, but I'd still have to dig it up. Maybe I will for your amusement.

You don't have to if you don't want to.

Also, a huge design problem you didn't mention/didn't run into: if you marry a 1st generation character who isn't an avatarsexual and are playing as Male Corn, you can't recruit all the kids! That's a pretty huge failing, for whatever the kids are worth anyway.

Which ones, specifically? I know that's the case with M!Corrin and Niles, but I don't know about any others.


Onto another review!


Rating: 77/100

I hadn't planned on buying this, but it showed up on the Nintendo eShop one day, and seeing as I liked Harmonia and had some eShop money left over from Christmas, I figured I'd give Lunaria: Virtualized Moonchild a shot, as I do want to support the visual novel industry. Granted, Lunaria is a kinetic novel like Key's previous ones Harmonia and Planetarian, so you don't get any choices to change the story and get just one ending. And initially, the first half of Lunaria was kinda...cliche and boring. But I stuck it out, and that wound up being a good decision on my part since the second half drastically improves and makes up for the problems the first half of the game had.

In a not-too-far off future, Japan has built most of its infrastructure around COZMO, a deep dive VR cyberspace similar to the internet where people do whatever they want, such as play games, experience augmented reality, the works. It's basically to this game what OZ is to Summer Wars, if you want a simple explanation. One of the more popular games in COZMO is Skyout Forever (SOF for short), a VR racing game whose competitions can net you a lot of prize money. High schooler Tabito Kamishiro partakes in these races under the username T-Bit and has made quite a name for himself. However, during one race in particular, he finds himself mysteriously transported to an unknown server called Lunar World, and there, he meets a...very energetic and cheerful AI girl calling herself Lunar-Q, who happens to be one of his biggest fans. She claims to have been created to be a mascot for the Selene Corporation, the parent company of COZMO, to promote a lunar development project, but was rejected. At first, T-bit is put off by her saccharine bubbliness and lack of boundaries, but she offers to help him win more of his races. Being a lone wolf by nature, T-Bit doesn't take to the idea at first, but does accept her help later on. The two become friends, a decision that causes their fates to intertwine.

Lunaria: Virtualized Moonchild contains quite a few of Key's hallmarks for all of their projects: Snarky male lead character, cutesy girls adhering to an archetype such as the bubbly one and the tsundere, the blonde friend who's the designated comic relief, comedic hijinks in the first half before swerving hard into the drama in the second half, romance between the two leads which gets tested through hardship and circumstances, you know the drill. Lunaria leans much more into hard sci-fi than their usual output, more so than even Planetarian and Harmonia if you can believe it. I don't think other Key games I know of go into stuff like seedy corporations trying to sweep tragedy under the rug, eSports, and exploring just how painful isolation and loneliness can be on a psychological level. For anyone worried that Jun Maeda wrote the scenario for this game, don't worry, he's not involved with this one. I did some research, and the reason Lunaria leans harder into sci-fi is because Key hired an actual novelist who wrote sci-fi novels, Takeshi Matsuyama, to write the scenario for this one. I even heard that this is actually Matsuyama's first time working on a video game in general, and after getting hired to work on this, he played some of Key's other games to get a feel for how video games are written compared to novels. Gotta respect the guy's dedication to his work.

As somebody who normally doesn't tend to like hard sci-fi stories because they tend to rely too much on nonsensical technobabble, the sci-fi aspect of Lunaria: Virtualized Moonchild actually managed to be somewhat comprehensible to me. It doesn't try to be bigger than it is and keeps whatever fantastical elements relevant to the characters and the story its trying to tell. Granted, some parts really do stretch one's suspension of disbelief, though without giving away spoilers, it's nowhere near as much as Harmonia's sci-fi elements did. Speaking of the story, Matsuyama really seems to like foreshadowing and making use of the Chekhov's gun. Everything important to Lunaria and its narrative has been laid-out from start to finish using in-universe logic that actually makes sense, and every story beat never feels like it came out of nowhere or pulled out of its ass for convenience's sake. Everything in Lunaria gets followed up on or given a solid explanation, making it feel really tight storywise, which makes the drama and the second half's big twist hit harder and actually feel earned in that it completely recontextualizes everything in the first half of the game.

Note that a lot of this applies to the second half of the game, as I mentioned previously. Whether you'll like Lunaria: Virtualized Moonchild as a whole will depend on if you'll like the first half of the game, which consists of a lot of Key's trademark cliches, especially comedic hijinks and cutesy anime girls who screech and shriek like it's nobody's business. Yeah, at the start, the characters are pretty archetypal and uninteresting, with Lunar-Q and Myau in particular being the most contentious. If you like cutesy anime girls who are either over-the-top bubbly or over-the-top tsunderes who freak out at everything, you might be able to tolerate them just fine, but I did find them really, really annoying in the first half, especially with how squeaky and overly high pitched their voices are. Seriously, MYAU'S VOICE IS ANNOYING AS FUCK!! It's bad enough that she's a one-note tsundere cat girl whose only personality traits are that she crushes on T-Bit and jumps to wild conclusions over the absolute dumbest things, but it seems like her seiyuu was told to make her sound as utterly screechy, shrieky, and obnoxious as humanly possible. If there's one thing I appreciate about Key games, it's that they give you the option of muting characters' voices individually, and I'm not gonna lie, I was so tempted to put Myau's voice on mute every time she opened her mouth. Just listening to her shriek "Meow!" every other sentence made me want to stab my eardrums with ice picks. The boys don't have this problem, thankfully, and I did enjoy T-Bit and Gaya as characters, even if T-Bit's whole character arc is just your typical "lone wolf becomes more social thanks to befriending cute peppy girl" plotline. As predictable as his character arc is, T-Bit at least develops, grows past his flaws, and isn't an unrepentant jackass like Kouhei Orihara from ONE, I'll give him that. Though in fairness, Lunar-Q's over-the-top peppiness does get explained in the second half of the game and we do learn there's more to her than just being cutesy moe, though I can understand people being put off by her in the beginning.

Both the graphics and the music do their job pretty well, even if the girls' designs do lean a little too much into your typical moe style. And in case anyone is worried, there's no fanservice or anything sexual in here. With Lunaria being a kinetic novel, it's fairly short, running at a little under 10 hours, though since I muted some characters' voices, my playthrough was only 5 hours, so you can play it without feeling like you're putting too much time into it. Overall, Lunaria: Virtualized Moonchild is a game that's actually better on a second or third playthrough because of how the late-game twists completely recontextualize everything in the first half, even if it still has a lot of Key's quirks. While it is held back by a lot of the early game's clicheness and Myau being an annoying tsundere with no depth to her whatsoever, I actually did find myself liking Lunaria: Virtualized Moonchild more than I did once I finished playing it, and I say this as somebody who normally isn't into harder sci-fi stories. Still waiting on a Switch release of Stella of the End, Key!
This review was first started on March 4th, 2024, but not finished until today. Whoops.


Rating: 80/100

(This review covers both seasons 1 and 2)

Hey kids! Do you like gothic mystery with a side of mild eldritch horror in the mix? Do you like the original Brothers Grimm fairy tales or the ones by Hans Christian Andersen? Do you want something that harkens to all you Victorian era loving Hot Topic goth kids? Do I have the show for you. Shadows House is an anime based on the ongoing manga by Somato. It centers on a mysterious Western-style mansion high atop a cliff, where mysterious, faceless beings known as Shadows, whose entire bodies are as black as coal and emit soot depending on their emotional state. Because they have no faces of their own, they have servants known as Living Dolls, with each shadow being assigned their own individual Living Doll. Such is the case for young Emilico, a bubbly, curious blonde girl who lives to serve her more stoic, quiet mistress Kate. But Emilico can't help but wonder just what Shadows House is all about. Who are the Shadows? Why do they emit soot? Why are they revered as nobles? Why must living dolls not think of "trivial matters" i.e. anything that isn't serving their masters? What even are the Living Dolls? Shadows House is full of mysteries, and Kate and Emilico soon find themselves uncovering all sorts of terrible secrets.

If I were to describe Shadows House as a show, it'd probably be a mix of something like Alfred Hitchcock's Rebecca, Jane Eyre, and to a lesser extent Hansel and Gretel, since the former two are gothic, atmospheric mysteries with dark understones and the latter is about children being trapped by a wicked villain for unscrupulous purposes. The whole series feels like an old Western fairy tale given new paint, with the animation reflecting this. I haven't read the manga, though I do want to at some point, the animation, done by CloverWorks, manages to really bring Shadows House and its creepy atmosphere to life. Everything about Shadow Houses' production feels ornate, from the patterned embroidery on the Shadows' clothing to the gardens and long hallways, it really oozes that Victorian gothic aesthetic. Of course, the animation itself is no slouch either. It's not exactly a sakuga-fest bursting with kineticism, but the actual character movement does its job well, and nothing looked off-model to my eyes. The music also manages to be similarly eerie and creepy when it needs to, and fairly versatile even without going for that vibe, using everything from low cellos to high violins. Both sets of openings and endings are also well made and well sung.

The core of Shadow House's whole premise is its cast of characters, namely the fact that every single shadow is paired with a living doll who is supposed to serve as their face, so you'll be seeing a lot of pairs in this show. There's a lot of characters in the show, and some manage to receive some development while others don't. Part of this is deliberate, as the truth behind why the shadows and Living Dolls are what they are is one of the main mysteries of the show, but even with 26 episodes, Shadows House doesn't get to give every single named character their time in the limelight. I did find the main ensemble to be interesting to follow, both the shadows and their Living Dolls, and they manage to carry the show just fine, with their development culminating quite a bit in season two. Some of the side characters get some time to do stuff as well, but the rest of them just either take up space or only do very little before getting shunted into the background. I found Edward in particular to be rather grating, as he's just your typical cartoon villain who hates the heroes and plots against them for seemingly no reason. He probably has more to him in the manga. Also, I liked Emilico just fine, but I can see some people finding her perpetually sunny personality to be a little too saccharine and cutesy for their tastes.

I'm normally not one for mystery series, and seeing as Shadows House's anime is based on an ongoing manga, not every plot thread is going to be wrapped up or followed up on, which is inevitable when adapting a manga that hasn't ended yet. I will say that season two's finale did leave me wanting, not only because it introduces a new character and setting up a new plot thread that we know will never be adapted into anime, but the actual ending itself was really abrupt and made no attempt to hide its "read the manga!" message. There were also points that had me really confused, such as having Kate know certain bits of information while not showing how she managed to learn said information in the first place, an example being when she tries to rile up Barbara early in season two by using a certain someone against her...even though there was nothing in the show that explained how she even learned about said person beforehand. I don't know if the anime accidentally left out some details for the sake of pacing, but it just felt odd to me.

Even so, my gripes with it and its cliffhanger ending aside, I did enjoy my time with Shadows House, enough that I do plan on reading the manga when I have the time and funds. It's a slowly-evolving mystery series that really feels like a Western fairy tale in all the best ways.
This review was written on March 3rd, 2023.


Rating: 89/100

We're all familiar with the hero's journey, where we observe a young sword-bearing hero rise from humble beginnings, gathers a party of allies, and travels the world to defeat a great evil threatening all of humanity. They've been around since the time of Greek myths, and even now, we still get stories about heroes fighting evil across all forms of media, because that premise is instantly recognizeable. Some are done well, some are done badly. But recently, some writers decided to ask the question "What happens after the heroes defeat the great evil?" Most stories end right as the villain is defeated, but have you ever wondered what the heroes' lives are like after the fact? Do they retire, or do they still go adventuring for the thrill of it? Does the hero's party stay in contact, or do they go their separate ways? Somebody decided to try answering all those questions, but doing so from the perspective of an immortal elf and having the story lean hard into what it means to make connections and how important the time you spend with your friends and the memories you make together are, no matter how fleeting. That's how we got Frieren: Beyond Journey's End. Screw all those dumb power fantasy/wish fulfillment isekais, if you ask me, Frieren is where its at! Sure enough, everyone else seems to agree, as Frieren has become massively popular since its inception, favoring heartfelt, character driven drama over your typical shounen battle action, and it's all the better for it. But a story like this absolutely needs to be adapted by people who not only understand the material to the letter, but know how to really elevate it into an animated medium rather than just simply copying it from text to screen. Thankfully, the team at Madhouse exceed people's expectations, mine included, and managed to make Frieren truly shine.

Based on the manga by Tsukasa Abe and Kanehito Yamada, the story is as follows: For a decade, the immortal elf Frieren traveled with Himmel the hero, Heiter the priest, and Eisen the dwarf on a journey to defeat the evil Demon King. They managed to do just that, and their efforts are celebrated and exalted by everyone all over the continent. The party decides to go their separate ways, and with Frieren being an elf who doesn't quite understand how time flows differently for her as it does for humans, she sets out on her own, just doing her own thing as she pleases. She reunites with them fifty years later, but not long after, Himmel dies of old age. It's only then that she realizes that even though she spent ten years with him, she never truly got to know him, and now that he's gone, she'll never get the chance to do so. Frieren begins to ponder the nature of connections at a time when it's already too late to say goodbye. This time, she sets out on a new journey, with a new band of companions, to see the world she had already explored with a new perspective, experiencing all the danger and joy that comes with it.

It's been a while since I've read the manga, even though I own all the volumes that are out in the US right now, so I don't quite remember the nitty-gritty details about the manga's paneling and artwork. But like I mentioned above, Frieren is the type of story that absolutely NEEDS a good, proper adaptation that treats the source with respect, and bad adaptations often do the opposite. Remember Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer and Tale of the Outcasts? Luckily, the staff at Madhouse absolutely understood the assignment. There's so much care put into the animation in this show, from the lush, gorgeous backgrounds to even little things like the movement of fabric and each characters' unique body language, not to mention the dynamic action scenes that actually feel like they have weight to them. Case in point, the scene where Stark kills the Solar Dragon. I mentioned before in my Pluto review that being slavishly faithful in adapting a comic book to the screen isn't always the right call. If you're just copying the manga panels frame by frame, it can compromise how the anime adaptation looks, and there's benefits to experimenting with things like the storyboarding and camera angles. In Frieren's manga, the scene where Stark kills the Solar Dragon is just six manga panels, but the staff for the anime decided to make it into a full-on action scene that's packed to the gills with dynamic camera angles, experimental animation that favors fluidity, kineticism, and impact over staying on-model, and creative storyboarding that no static medium could imitate. One thing I did notice about the anime is that it really seems to like using negative space. There's tons of scenes where the background is just the sky and nothing else, whether it be framing a character's face or taking up 80% of the scene, and there's just something about the way its used in Frieren that just feels so atmospheric.

Speaking of atmospheric, the soundtrack! I've only just started becoming familiar with Evan Call's portfolio, but he's been hitting home runs with all the soundtracks he's been making. Josee, My Happy Marriage, and now Frieren. I've heard his music for Violet Evergarden is pretty good too, but I haven't seen that yet. But hot damn, Frieren might just be his best and most versatile soundtrack yet, mainly in that it makes really good use of folk music and Irish or Celtic sounds to really give it that Tolkien fantasy feel. The same goes for the action, which often times mixes folk music with epic choirs, which actually made a better combination than I expected. Whether it be subtle oboes and acoustic guitars or a full-on orchestra, Frieren's soundtrack goes hard, and I didn't find any moments where its usage felt inappropriate or out of place. That being said...I'm gonna get lynched for saying this, but I wasn't really a fan of the first opening or the ending song. The visuals and lyrics for them are find, I'd argue astounding for the former, but...I don't know, every time I hear YOASOBI sing, I always wind up mistaking her for a Vocaloid, and the robotic-sounding voice she uses just feels...off for a series like this. Milet doesn't have this problem, but her voice hurts my ears whenever she tries to go for the high notes. Ironically, I liked her song "Bliss" more than "Anytime Anywhere," and I wish the former had been the ending theme song instead. I do like the second opening, though.

But the characters are where Frieren as a show really shines. Even if they do start out as recognizable archetypes, the series really takes its time to show what they're like: How they behave, feel, and interact with each other, along with expressing their opinions on various matters and showing what they're like outside of whatever conflict they're facing, all done with a superb attention to detail, to the point where you can't sum them their personalities up in just one sentence. Having the series start from defeating the Demon King rather than ending with it probably helped in this regard, because Frieren as a show isn't about the epic monster fights or some grand journey to save the world, it's about how important making/maintaining friendships and connections are and how they can make an impact on people no matter how fleeting the encounter. It's kind of like Natsume's Book of Friends in that its approach to characterization favors subtlety over excessive melodrama, and many of the post-Demon King adventures Frieren finds herself on lean more into being laid-back and heartwarming, exploring how Frieren's journey impacted her in both big and small ways. Even the minor characters Frieren and her party meet have their own stories to tell, and don't feel like just generic NPCs who just take up space. Frieren is a series that actually puts in effort to get you to care about our main party, and on that front, I think it succeeded with aplomb.

Seriously, you have no idea how much I want to hail this series as an undisputed masterpiece. Alas, not even Frieren is perfect. I already mentioned my issues with the first opening and ending themes, but those feel more like nitpicking than anything. One thing even fans of the manga tend to dislike about Frieren is one particular tournament arc that puts Frieren's adventures on hold for over 20 chapters and embracing more generic shounen tropes that feel out of place in a series like this. While that particular arc isn't bad, I do agree that it's not as good as the stuff before it. The second half of the anime covers this particular arc, and now that I think about it, the whole arc and the justification the series tries to argue for it does come off as really silly, especially in regards to how one character approaches the third test and how she treats Frieren even though she's, y'know, the strongest living mage ever. Yeah, I don't like Serie. She's a petty brat who really needs a good slap to the face. There was one aspect of Sein's introduction episode that really rubbed me the wrong way, though that's a minor thing, and the English dub softened it a bit so it's not as off-putting. But really, those are the only criticisms I have of Frieren, and from what I've heard, there hasn't been a repeat of the mage exam arc since. I should probably get back to reading the manga.

It's honestly a modern miracle that Frieren even got a high quality adaptation at all, especially since anime don't usually get full 24-26 episode runs anymore, and Frieren wound up getting 28, which really helped the pacing and story progression. Frieren: Beyond Journey's End is a series you need to see if you like a more character-driven fantasy that favors subtlety and atmosphere over action and melodrama. For me, while Frieren didn't become one of my favorite anime of all time (If this had come out when I was much younger, it probably would have dethroned Shounen Onmyouji as my favorite anime of all time), it did remind me of why I really love anime as a medium and as an art form, even if the current anime landscape is still overrun with soulless, corporate, substanceless isekai wish fulfillment power fantasies made only to cater to the lowest common denominator. But even beyond that, Frieren is living proof that it's the execution that matters, along with how an adaptation, if put in the right hands, can help a series thrive and become beloved for years to come. There's still more Frieren after the point where the anime ends, but it could very well stand toe-to-toe with greats such as Cowboy Bebop, Trigun, Clannad, and many other anime that have been revered over the years. Frieren: Beyond Journey's End is a series that absolutely earned its popularity, and here's hoping its success continues in the future.
Man, I haven't done these in a long while. I really need to get back to reading. Oh well. Here's some more mini reviews for whatever books I read recently.


The Girl and the Witch's Garden by Erin Bowman
: 5.5/10
Ehhh...I really wanted to like this one, but there was so much about it that felt off to me. The characters were pretty basic, the villains were equally one-note, and for all of its talk about magic and its history and the organizations behind it, it all felt more like window dressing than an organic part of the story, so none of the reveals left much of an impact. Also, I felt like the resolution to everything was way too clean. This really could have been something good, but it just feels indistinguishable from other middle grade books tackling this same premise. It was playing it way too safe for its own good.


The Unicorn in the Barn by Jacqueline Ogburn
: 8/10
This is a very cute, charming story about a boy who's dealing with his grandmother's decline in health and encounters a pregnant unicorn being tended to by his neighbors, a family of vets that specialize in magical creatures. I wanted to do a longer review of this, but the words didn't come to me, so I decided to make this a short review instead. I enjoyed the cozy fantasy premise, the prose was age-appropriate for its intended demographic but engaging at the same time, and I found most of the characters to be charming. I did find Allegra to be too mean at times, but the book's strengths make up for its few flaws. Also, the cat is awesome.


Nick and Charlie by Alice Oseman
: 3.5/10
I've been a fan of Alice Oseman's Heartstopper comic series for about a couple of years now, and I've enjoyed what I've read. I found it to be a pretty nice LGBT story that actually avoids a lot of common pitfalls that tend to plague romance stories, and it actually has its characters talk to each other rather than force drama by way of miscommunication and misunderstandings. Unfortunately, I can't say the same for the prose novels for Heartstopper, and the first side-story, Nick and Charlie, is literally everything I described. The whole story hinges on Charlie not bothering to just tell Nick about his insecurities, instead letting them stew until it culminates in an unnecessary argument between the two of them. This was painful to read because usually Heartstopper doesn't resort to this kind of cliche melodrama. It felt like this novella was written by a different person entirely rather than the authoress herself. If you like your teenaged angst, this is fine, but I'm not a fan of stories whose conflict completely hinge on characters not bothering to just sit down and talk, because the whole "misunderstandings caused by miscommunication" trope has been done to death and is often just used to drag out conflict/drama for longer than it needs to, making it all feel really contrived and forced. I'm just so sick of it, and one would think that Heartstopper would know better.
This review was just written today.


Rating: 80/100

In the wake of Cardcaptor Sakura's popularity in Japan, it was only a matter of time before it got a movie, and sure enough, Madhouse made one in 1999. Taking place during the events of the first season, as indicated by the absence of Yue and that Sakura still refers to Syaoran by his surname, one day after school, Sakura decides to participate in the local shopping district's year-end lottery for fun. The grand prize is a five-day trip to Hong Kong, though Sakura doesn't think she'll win that. Surprisingly, she draws the winning ball. Alongside her best friend Tomoyo Daidouji, her older brother Touya, her crush Yukito Tsukishiro, and Kero, Sakura heads off to Hong Kong, hoping to have a fun vacation and excited to go outside the country for the very first time in her life. But little does Sakura know, the trip may be connected to her recent, prophetic dreams featuring a mysterious woman and Clow Reed himself, creator of the Clow Cards.

Would you believe me if I told you that I actually watched the two movies before I committed to watching the whole 70-episode anime? I've mentioned my history with CCS before in my review of the manga, but tl;dr for those who don't wanna read that: I initially brushed off the series as a kid, got into the manga later, watched the movies, and then watched the full series in my college years. Kind of a weird watch pattern, I know. It took me years to really warm up to the series and shed my original childish view of it. It's especially weird since I watched the movies before the series, and the movies require you to already be familiar with the characters to really understand what goes on. I do remember enjoying the first movie when I first watched it as a kid, and rewatching it again thanks to owning the DVD that Discotek put out years back, I found that I still enjoy it, and it's aged a lot better than I initially thought, with the exception of a couple aspects.

For one, the animation for this movie is simply stunning. The TV series already had quality animation for its time, but with a movie budget, it really manages to shine brighter here. The animation is amazingly fluid, facial expressions are detailed, and the backgrounds and locales are given a lot of care. I can't speak for the anime's depiction of Hong Kong, as I'm not Chinese nor have I ever visted the place myself, but I did appreciate the movie showing Syaoran's family, as they were only briefly mentioned in both the anime and manga. I do kind of wish the movie utilized the actual setting more, because it's mainly just used as a backdrop for the plot or an excuse to have the characters wear Chinese outfits. The music is also a highlight, having a good balance of the series' most famous pieces and new ones made just for the movie, using everything from energetic jazzy saxophones, soothing erhus, and swelling orchestras to really make it feel more cinematic and epic. I have a soft spot for the ending theme song in particular, as it's a cute, soothing little pop ballad that I always found myself nostalgic for even as a kid.

Considering the movie both focuses a bit more on action than usual and that it takes place during a particular point in the series, don't go into this expecting much in the way of character development. A good chunk of the movie consists of Sakura going around Hong Kong and chasing the two birds that serve as the villain's minions. The movie expects you to already be familiar with and care about this cast of characters beforehand, so if you haven't seen the TV series, you'll probably be lost on who these people are and why Sakura has powers and uses cards. I got around this by reading the manga, even though Meiling was a creation of the anime and I hadn't seen it by that point, but even without prior knowledge, I did enjoy the movie and following the characters. I admit I'm not a huge fan of the villain here, mainly because she's just a one-off who has a really weak reason for doing what she does, and the little knowledge we learn about her proves to be arbitrary and not have anything to do with her defeat, so it's hard to really get invested in her and her conflict with Sakura.

Speaking of the movie's problems, I had no issue with the story, as predictable as it was and even with the cliche villain, but it does contain some contrivances that come out of nowhere and have no explanation. For one thing, somehow, Sakura and Tomoya, two kids in a very large city, run into Syaoran and Meiling, in the exact same areas, with nobody having any prior knowledge that the other group would be there. Not only are neither of these given any solid explanation, in the case of Meiling, Tomoyo just bumps into her, which is cliche as hell. In Syaoran's case, his arrival comes off as a major Deus Ex Machina because he just appears right as Sakura is about to be swallowed by the sorceress in the well, even though there was nothing that indicated that he knew Sakura would be there, or even that she was in Hong Kong. How in the world did he even know where she would be? Even something as simple as "my magic senses are tingling! I feel Sakura's presence!" would have made it feel less silly and convenient, and it'd make sense since Syaoran is a direct descendant of Clow Reed and has his own magic! But the movie doesn't even do that much!

Plot conveniences and cliches aside, I did enjoy the first Cardcaptor Sakura movie, even if, as an adult, it's very much a predictable children's movie that doesn't affect the TV series in any way. I think I enjoyed it a little more as an adult than I did when I was a kid, since now I actually am more familiar with the characters and saw the TV series. The first Cardcaptor Sakura movie, while not perfect, is a good first leap into the big screen.
This review was written on April 28th, 2024.


Rating: 92/100

These days, when you ask people what the best Pokemon spin-off games are, the go-to answer is usually Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Time/Darkness/Sky. The first Pokemon Mystery Dungeon games, Rescue Team, were pretty well-liked when they first came out, even getting a remake for the Switch in 2020. But during the Nintendo DS era, the series got a sequel in the form of the Explorers games, Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Time and Darkness, both of which improved on the first games in every way possible. It even got a third sequel, Explorers of Sky, which many hail as the absolute best iteration as it expands on them further. Replaying it recently thanks to having bought Sky on the Wii U eShop before its closure, the Explorers games aged a lot better than one would think, and it's very easy to see why people continue to hail them as the gold standard for Pokemon Mystery Dungeon games to this very day. Yeah, I'm in agreement that Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Time/Darkness/Sky are the best PMD games, no cap.

Similarly to Rescue Team, Explorers has the protagonist living in a world solely inhabited by Pokemon. This time, the player character washes ashore of a small, bustling village called Treasure Town after a storm, with no memories of what happened to them or how/why they've been transformed from a human into a Pokémon. They befriend a timid young Pokémon with a mysterious artifact, and said Pokemon dreams of joining what's known as an exploration team, a group of Pokemon who get to traverse the world, find treasure, and help others in need. Together, the two Pokemon join the Wigglytuff Guild to train as an exploration team, exploring the strange, randomly generated "mystery dungeons" that have been showing up in various regions lately. Along the way they learn that a mysterious Pokémon has been reported stealing very important artifacts called Time Gears, and ultimately get swept up in a quest to save the world before time grinds to a complete halt.

The graphics are the same as the Rescue Team games, just adding the generation 4 Pokemon this time around. Cute, lively sprites against vivid, colorful backdrops make this world feel rich and interesting, and the different varieties of dungeons and locations make it much more expansive and wondrous than Rescue Team's setting. With the introduction of Gen 4 Pokemon, there's much more variety in building your parties. The first two Explorers games already had a robust selection of player and partner Pokemon, but Sky takes it a step further by adding in six more Pokemon choices. I always stuck with Pikachu being one of the two in my playthroughs, but I won't deny I liked evolving my Eevee MC into an Espeon. Speaking of expansion, the game's soundtrack retains the composers from Rescue Team, but most PMD fans find the music in Explorers is far more memorable, with some bosses even having their own unique themes this time around. Seriously, I can't tell you how many different, fanmade remixes I've seen for Dialga's battle theme in particular, and that just goes to show how well-loved the soundtrack is in general.

The game mechanics from the originals are expanded upon here as well, with Explorers even fixing some issues Rescue Team had. Remember how in Rescue Team, you weren't allowed to recruit beyond a certain number of party members if your slots were full, and that you weren't allowed to get rid of party members without permanently releasing them if you wanted to recruit more? Explorers nixes that mechanic and allows you to send party members to the guild if you want to recruit beyond your threshold, and you don't risk losing the new recruit if they faint before you complete a mission. This is a very welcome change that many fans appreciated, me included. Sky in particular introduces a new location called Spinda's Cafe, where you can turn food into drinks that'll increase your stats (Only if you use gummis), or trade in useless items for better ones or prize tickets to win something better. Later on you get access to new dungeons that can only be unlocked from the Café, and the NPC's that hang around in it are fellow explorers who discuss their recent explorations, or Pokémon who have mission requests. I will admit, one thing I don't like about Sky is that the method to unlocking certain hidden dungeons is made harder with having them be exclusive to Spinda Cafe, but that's a minor gripe at best. The Explorers game even introduce a butt-ton of new items, particularly items exclusive to each individual Pokemon, all with their own uses and benefits for said Pokemon. You have to put in a lot of work to get them, but a lot of these species-exclusive items can really save your ass if you know how to use them and in the right circumstances. Explorers also introduces a new aspect to exploring. You don't just rescue Pokemon in distress, find lost items, or escort Pokemon through dungeons, Explorers introduces arresting outlaws and criminals as part of the gameplay. Whether they're stationary or requiring you to chase them before they reach the stairs, fighting criminals also gives you more reason to explore dungeons and reap the rewards, which I'm sure PMD fans very much appreciated, me included.

But the thing about the Explorer games that really spoke to PMD fans are the story and characters. Rescue Team was a cute, fun game series, but many found the story and characters to be a little bland, and the side characters don't get much in the way of development. Rescue Team's main plot just consisted of dealing with natural disasters. The team behind the PMD games seemed to realize this and addressed all of those problems with Explorers. Not only are the characters (Both the main and side characters) much more developed and fleshed out, all with their own unique and endearing personalities, goals, strengths, and weaknesses, the story is much stronger, tighter, and has higher, more personal stakes, along with having the MC's past as a human made out to be much more important to the plot. It also has a VERY robust post-game, and again, Sky takes all of this several steps further by adding five side stories that you unlock as you progress through the game, where you play as different characters and go through their stories from their points of view. It's not on the level of Naoki Urasawa or anything, but before Pokemon Black and White came along, Pokemon games didn't exactly consider having engaging stories and multidimensional characters to be a priority. You could argue that the Explorers games didn't need to go this far, but the fact that they did shows that the devs really put a lot of thought and care into making a fun, engaging spin-off game with stories and characters and succeeding in making you care about them. Also, full truth, Explorers of Sky is the second video game to ever manage to make me cry. You can thank the fifth and final side story for that, and I doubt I'm the only one. That should tell you how much the devs succeeding in creating fully fleshed out, well-realized, three-dimensional characters, and in a Pokemon spin-off game, no less! Oh, and if you're worried that the character of Shaymin would have the same annoying, irritating personality it had in the Giratina and the Sky Warrior movie, don't worry, the Shaymin in Explorers of Sky is far nicer and nothing like the Shaymin in that movie.

I don't really have any issues with the Explorers series, other than that one foible with the Spinda Cafe. I'm not gonna gripe about Chatot's actions towards the hero and partner in regards to the Perfect Apple incident because everyone and their mother has done that already, though I also hated that. But yeah, Explorers are definitely the best PMD games by far, and Sky in particular became one of my favorite games of all time. Later PMD games haven't been able to reach Sky's level of quality, with Gates To Infinity really dropping the ball. Yeah, I didn't like Gates To Infinity and feel it's the worst PMD game out of all the ones that came out in the US. Super Mystery Dungeon was marginally better, but it made really baffling decisions in regards to getting rid of certain well-established mechanics. You can't even give nicknames to any Pokemon you recruit in that game, for God's sake! Is it any wonder Explorers' reputation only got better as more PMD games came out? I loved Explorers when I first played it as a kid (Still own my DS cartridge of it) and I still love it as an adult. I'd gladly recommend people play this if they want an amazing Pokemon game, but actually doing so is gonna be a challenge. The Wii U eShop shut down in March 2023, so you can't get it off there anymore, and good luck finding a cheap second hand copy of the original DS cartridge, as those usually go for over a hundred bucks nowadays. Seriously, how is it that demo carts for Sky are cheaper than the actual game itself?! Well, considering Rescue Team got a remake for the Switch in 2020, here's hoping a potential remake for Explorers is in the cards. But even in their original format, PMD Explorers are wonderful, fun, engaging Pokemon games that have absolutely earned their popularity and high reputation, and more Pokemon games ought to be more like them!
New PMD for Switch when?

Remakes of Rescue Team was all well and good, remakes of Explorers would be wonderful (since I never finished MD Time), but an all new PMD adventure with Gens 7-9 represented would be awesome.
I wonder how a PMD adventure with the Paradox Pokémon would work.
Remakes of Rescue Team was all well and good, remakes of Explorers would be wonderful (since I never finished MD Time), but an all new PMD adventure with Gens 7-9 represented would be awesome.

That would be nice, and I'd love that too, but currently I'm not holding my breath.

Anyway, new review started on February 1st, 2024, but just finished today.


Rating: 81/100

These days, Fire Emblem as a franchise needs no introduction. While it's not quite the cultural phenomenon on the level of other Nintendo franchises like Mario, Zelda, and Pokemon, it's popular and well-liked all the same. But this wasn't the case before 2012. Before then, Fire Emblem was a struggling franchise on its last legs on both sides of the Pacific. Sales were declining in Japan, and its fandom in North America was almost non-existent, the various characters appearing in Smash Brothers games notwithstanding. Figuring the franchise's death was imminent, Intelligent Systems decided to go all out on what they thought would be the franchise's last hurrah, Fire Emblem Awakening, with the caveat that if the game didn't sell 250,000 copies, the series would be cancelled for good. Against all the odds, Awakening proved to be the shot in the arm the franchise needed to keep living, as it would go on to sell 242,000 copies in its first week alone, and a lot of good marketing and promotion on Nintendo of America's part helped the series gain some newfound popularity overseas, to the point where sales of the 3DS went up significantly just so people could play it. Granted, later games like Fates, Three Houses, and Heroes would eclipse Awakening's sales numbers years later, but there's no denying that Awakening basically saved the franchise from certain death. But does the game hold up 12 years later? As somebody who didn't get into Fire Emblem until 2021, I say...yeah, I think it does. I did go through two different playthroughs of it, so that ought to tell you all you need to know.

The story centers on a young man named Chrom, the prince of the Halidom of Ylisse who leads a ragtag peacekeeping force known as the Shepherds. One day, he and his merry band of friends happen upon an individual with no memories (Who serves as your player avatar) but an incredible aptitude for military strategy. Impressed by this person's skills, Chrom recruits them to join their cause. With the aid of this mysterious tactician, Chrom must deal with the warmongering nation of Plegia, whose kind holds an insatiable grudge against Ylisse for past war crimes, the appearance of undead beings called the Risen (Why they don't just call them zombies, I have no idea), and an enigmatic masked youth by the name of Marth who claims that the world is heading down the path of certain calamity. Unlike most games in the franchise that have a set main character you play as, Awakening allows you to not only choose your player character's gender, but customize their appearance, even if the customization options are fairly limited. Granted, a Japan-exclusive FE game did it first, but Awakening was the only game with an avatar character to get brought to the US.

For an early 3DS title, the graphics are simply stunning. The game utilizes cute, animated 2D sprites for the overworld segments, surprisingly well-made 3D models during both the story segments and the in-game battles, and stylish visual novel-esque portraits for regular conversations and support segments, all of which compliment each other a lot better than one would think. The animation can look a little rigid at times during the battle scenes, but those didn't bother me too much, and the more cinematic cutscenes are more fluid. As much as I love Shadows of Valentia, I think the cutscene animations in Awakening are better than it. The backgrounds and set pieces also get a lot of care, all the way down to the versatile, varied map designs. But the gameplay is what Fire Emblem Awakening is most known for. Awakening is the first FE game to allow you to pair up units in battle, and depending on that character's skills, they can either throw in some extra attacks, increase your stats, or heal you. Your knight is too slow? Pair them with a mounted unit so they can be carried further than their usual movement range! Not only that, each unit has their own unique skills that they acquire as they level up. These can include farming gold bars, increasing speed on fliers, attacking several times rather than just twice, and so on. Not only that, the game encourages you to change your characters' classes, as doing so will allow them to inherit the skills that come with those classes, With the game's large cast of characters and job classes, this gives Awakening a lot of replay value in that there's hardly any limit to which units you can pair up and what they can accomplish on the battlefield, giving you a whole smorgasbord of different battle styles and strategies to try out.

Building onto this is Fire Emblem's support system, which makes for a good segue into the characters. As cliche as the characters are, Fire Emblem Awakening does manage to do an admirable job of giving most of them endearing personalities and the right amount of depth, even if it couldn't quite do so for every character (SpotPass characters, anyone?). Seriously, Awakening has a TON of supports between characters, not just in the base game but in the DLC, fleshing them out even more. Though with the closure of the 3DS eShop, you can't access those anymore unless you know how to hack your console. The supports do a lot to develop the characters already, but Awakening adds in some extra scenes, particularly with the barracks, where characters drop some details about themselves outside of supports, though you can't control which interactions appear. Not only that, if you progress their supports, any couple that reaches their highest support level will receive huge boosts in stats and can really breeze through some battles. So yeah, character development is actually a really important game mechanic in Awakening. So much so that Fates had to nerf it quite a bit. But even outside its importance as a game mechanic, many of the characters do change and grow over the course of the narrative...with the exception of Robin the avatar, who is intentionally subdued and bland on purpose, as they're meant to be a self-insert for the player. But I feel like Robin would have benefited from some more personality and character flaws. Though to be fair, Robin is still a decent person and has some degree of agency, unlike FE Fates Conquest's interpretation of Corrin. I do feel Echoes and Three Houses have stronger characters overall, but Awakening did pave the way for those games in terms of how they treat their characters, so again, we have Awakening to thank for that.

Another layer Awakening adds to both the characters and gameplay is a mechanic that it borrowed from Genealogy of the Holy War: Marriage and having children. Not only is time travel important to the overall plot of the game a la Sailor Moon, pairing up characters not only allows access to new units in the form of said characters' children, depending on who their parents are, the children can inherit their parents' skills and all the bonuses that come with them. So you can pair Lissa and Donnel up and have Owain be an absolute killing machine on the battlefield like Donnel is if you give him the hero class and all the skills that come with it, or have him be a mage if Henry is his father. Add onto this tons of DLC maps that make grinding and making money easier than ever before (If you managed to buy them before the eShop shutdown), and you have one of the most accessible, newbie gamer friendly FEs ever. But that's not to say Fire Emblem Awakening is a perfect game. For one, not every support conversation works. Seriously, I really could have done without the whole "guy walks in on a girl showering or changing" trope in Chrom and Female Robin's supports. Second, the game requires you to marry Chrom off to one of a few female characters by the end of chapter 11, but it doesn't tell you this or give you any indication that it needs to happen unless you learned about it off the internet. If you didn't learn about it beforehand, the game railroads Chrom into marrying whichever female character he has the highest support with, and this includes Robin. My first playthrough railroaded my Robin into marrying Chrom...right after that God-awful B-support he has with her. So yeah, keep that in mind should you decide to play Awakening for the first time.

Also, as much as I liked the story of Awakening...the final couple of chapters completely unravel and fall apart, nowhere near the level of quality the rest of the game had up to that point. Without spoiling anything, it pulls a Gundam: Witch From Mercury in that it throws in a bunch of random Deus Ex Machinas that completely invalidate and contradict previous events for the sake of convenience, all of which come right the hell out of nowhere, opening a ton of plot holes and raising a lot of questions for everything that happens in those final chapters. "One of the most important characters died? Naw, he secretly survived without any explanation and is back to save the day! The villain revived himself and is ready to kill everybody? Well, conveniently, I stole the real magic item he had for a fake! I also foresaw everything in a random dream that I never mentioned and schemed all this secret stuff without telling anyone about it!" Like...what? The execution of those final chapters is so stupid and haphazard that they feel like they were cobbled together by a bunch of kids who are trying and failing to write an episode of Gargoyles.

On the whole though, Fire Emblem Awakening is a pretty good game, and it's easy to see why FE fans love it so much. I know I enjoyed my time with it, the final few chapters notwithstanding. Regardless of your feelings on the game, Awakening pretty much saved an entire franchise from being permanently cancelled, and if not for its massive success, the later FE games like Fates, Three Houses, Echoes, and Engage would never have come into existence, so whether you've been with the series from the beginning or are a first-timer, fans owe Awakening that much.
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