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Julia's Reviews on Various Media

New review!


Rating: 83/100

The Atelier series has always been a rather niche series, especially in America, where gamers tend to favor more action packed and violent games rather than more low key affairs, especially story-driven games that have more to offer than that. That doesn't necessarily apply to every video game lover in the States, as I myself love JRPGs for their rich stories and often three-dimensional characters. My love for game franchises such as Pokemon, Kirby, Harvest Moon, and even visual novels such as Phoenix Wright and Clannad, is an attestment of that. Once I decided to branch out into playing other games, the Atelier series piqued my interest, and I have wanted to check it out, but I didn't have any of the consoles needed to play them. Once I saved money via my job and got a PS Vita, the opportunity to get the games presented itself, but I was always curious about whether which Atelier game was considered the best. Opinions varied among Atelier fans, but out of all of them, I thought Atelier Escha and Logy: The Alchemists of the Dusk Sky seemed the most appealing to me (Though I did wind up playing one of the spin-offs, Mana Khemia, first, because of a friend's recommendation). So now that I've played it, what do I think of it? Well, after playing this and a couple other Atelier games, I can safely say that I really like this one a lot!

A direct sequel to Atelier Ayesha, in a tiny apple orchard village called Colseit, two young, fresh-faced alchemists, Escha Malier and Logix "Logy" Fiscario, have been given government jobs by their local administration at the Central R&D Division. But the two alchemists have different personalities and experiences with alchemy, which both exasperate and compliment each other. Together, Escha and Logy take on various jobs, such as running errands and fighting monsters that come too close to town. But the biggest mystery their world has to offer is that there are mysterious ruins floating in the sky, and no airship has been able to penetrate the turbulent winds that surround it. After a while, the duo, with the help of their friends and families, hope to build an airship strong enough to reach the floating ruins in order to uncover its mysteries once and for all. By the way, for anyone wondering, you don't have to have played Atelier Ayesha before playing this, as I played Escha & Logy before Ayesha and was able to understand it just fine, but Ayesha provides some context for why some events in Escha & Logy happen the way they do, especially in regards to Nio's presence and some of what she does later in the game.

Like all the other Atelier games, Escha & Logy's main gameplay mechanic is item crafting. You have to explore various locales to gather materials, both in the overworld and winning them as prizes if you defeat monsters. Coming off of Mana Khemia, which I happened to play first, the way the game goes about item crafting is different from how the former does it. For one, you still have to use materials to craft certain items, but instead of spinning a wheel and matching the element to the material's element to get the best results, getting the best properties involves changing around the materials you use and using various items to manipulate the properties of the item you're making. As you get better at alchemy, you're also able to use special alchemy skills that can either increase an item's elemental attributes, get rid of certain attributes you don't want, get more of an item you want, and so on, though some are only unlocked through buying experiments from Marion. While I do admit I prefer Mana Khemia's take on alchemy, Escha & Logy's take on it is pretty fun in its own right, especially once you get the hang of it.

Since Escha & Logy is a game that came out on the PS3 back in 2013, it's graphics are pretty good for its time, though anyone playing modern games now might consider them to be outdated. I personally don't think so, as I think they do their job well. The backgrounds and different areas are well rendered, the in-game sprites for both the humans and monsters look great, and the game has some pretty cool dungeon designs. Some might take issue with the fact that Escha & Logy uses more muted, earthy colors compared to more colorful games that have come out before and after, though I think it makes sense considering the world the Dusk trilogy takes place in and the lore behind it. From a gameplay standpoint, Escha & Logy's battle system is slightly similar to Mana Khemia, being turn based while also allowing for all kinds of strategies to make battles more varied and fun, such as support attacks, guarding, using items in battle, and unlocking new skills. But if you're coming into Escha & Logy thinking just leveling up will help you win battles, don't count on it, because similar to other games in the Atelier series, increasing your strength, defense, and magic abilities is heavily reliant on crafting the best items with the best properties, ingredients, and attributes, making you really have to use your head in regards to how you want to construct your equipment...though I found Escha & Logy's take on it to be far less obtuse and tedious than Atelier Sophie's. I don't have as much to say on the soundtrack, as it does its job, the various songs range from okay to amazing (Sky of Twilight in particular is a great battle song), but I do think it should have toned down the high pitched woodwinds somewhat, as they hurt my ears a bit.

The Atelier series has always prided itself on being more character driven stories than heavily narrative focused, and Escha & Logy is no different. I will say that I feel Escha & Logy's cast of characters is better than that of Mana Khemia, mainly in that they have stronger, more consistent writing that fleshes them out more, and since the game has a lot of character events you can activate, you have plenty of time to get to know them and learn about their strengths, weaknesses, what motivates them, and so on. And they don't have moments where they act needlessly mean-spirited and cruel for no reason. Sure, the cast still adheres to some rote stereotypes at first, but the solid writing and the sheer number of events that you can unlock flesh them out and develop them much more. The only character I can say that I truly hated was Katla, mainly because she's an annoying brat who's constantly lying to people about the stuff in her shop, and she's pretty useless in battle, though even then she's NOWHERE near as bad as Mana Khemia's interpretation of Pamela. God, never make me think of MK1's Pamela ever again. Though...will anyone kill me if I say I prefer playing this game with the English dub rather than the Japanese audio? Because...as much as I hate to say it, Escha's Japanese voice actress can get really loud and really shrill a lot of the time, to the point where sometimes it hurt my ears just listening to it. Sorry, Rie Murakawa.

As far as the main story goes, Escha & Logy doesn't have much in the way of an overarching narrative at first, with a lot of your time being spent fulfilling assignments like fighting monsters, synthesizing items, or gathering ingredients. I say at first, because there does come a point where the game does introduce an overarching conflict later on, though it comes in bits and pieces, and doesn't come into focus until near the end, and that's only if you manage to activate certain events before the game's deadline. Like previous Atelier games, you're given a time limit of three in-game years to get everything you need done, though from what I've heard, Escha & Logy's time limit is the most lenient out of all the Atelier games, especially since Atelier Shallie would go on to nix the time limit entirely from that point onward. I do think the game's story isn't as strong as Mana Khemia's, and by 2020's standards, it can very much be considered by-the-numbers, but that's not to say its bad in any way, and it makes sense for Escha & Logy's narrative scope. I know some people might take issue with the fact that you have to play the game twice to unlock the best ending, especially since your second playthrough isn't going to be much different than your first one other than your lead character and some bits of dialogue, along with actually allowing you to fight the final boss. The New Game+ option does remedy a lot of this, as it carries over everything from your previous playthrough, like levels, armor, weapons, items, recipes you bought, quality of life features you unlocked, and so on. The game does remedy a lot of issues that Atelier Ayesha had, which others have already pointed out in their reviews, so I won't repeat myself here.

Honestly, my only real complaint about Escha & Logy as a game is that while I appreciate that the game as a ton of character events and cutscenes to unlock, the sheer number of them can be really overwhelming, and many of them are just comedic filler that don't really add anything to the characters or story in question. It's not fun wanting to just go to a shop and get a new recipe book, only to get hit in the face with a long cutscene that seems to drag itself out, and there are times when several play back to back. I know Katla's events are particularly annoying to get through. But everything else about Atelier Escha & Logy: Alchemists of the Dusk Sky more than make up for the few shortcomings it has. As of this writing, I've finished four Atelier games total: This, Atelier Ayesha, the first Mana Khemia game, and the Atelier Marie remake. I'm currently in the process of playing Ateliers Lulua and Sophie, though I'm almost finished with the latter. After all this, I still think Atelier Escha & Logy is my favorite Atelier game, but that might change since I own more of the games, especially now that many of them are on the Nintendo Switch, which for me is the easiest way to play them. Atelier Escha & Logy: Alchemists of the Dusk Sky is a cute, relaxing game that's true to its core franchise's ethos and a pretty solid game in its own right, and I feel it was the best point of entry into the franchise for me.
This review was written on April 23rd, 2024.


Rating: 75/100

Out of all the kinetic novels Visual Arts/Key have released, especially in the US, many Key fans consider LOOPERS to be the worst one they put out, citing the following reasons: Shallow characters who are either underdeveloped or underutilized, too much style over substance, too short to make the most of its potential, predictable storyline, awkward pacing, not like the writer's usual style, so on and so forth. Considering that Loopers was a collaboration between Key and Ryukishi07 of Higurashi fame, people probably set their expectations too high after their success with Rewrite years prior. I wound up playing Loopers out of curiosity and because I wanted to play more visual novels since I've played very few of them. I'm not familiar with Ryukishi07 or his writing, so this is my first time playing something he worked on. I have played other Key games and while I do agree with the criticisms people have with Loopers, I honestly don't feel it's a bad game at all. Yeah, it's the weakest game in Key's output, sure, but even the worst thing they made is far from being absolute garbage. I feel Loopers does have a lot to offer, even in its flawed state.

The story focuses on high school student Akira Taira, aka Tyler, whose passion is treasure hunting, especially geocaching, which is basically GPS-assisted scavenger hunts. During one of these hunts, he runs into two friends from childhood; fraidy-cat tsundere Kiriko Hiruda aka Hilda, and her mischievous bestie Reona Machimura aka Leona. They spend some time catching up on old times and even partaking in Tyler's treasure hunt. But that morning, odd things begin happening to them, and they make a startling discovery: They're repeating the same day, August 1st, over and over again. After an encounter with two mysterious strangers, Simon and his friend Mia Fujikawa, Tyler and Hilda find out that they're stuck in a time loop. Simon and Mia are also stuck in the time loop, having formed a club called the Loopers consisting of people who are in the same predicament, and even invite Tyler and Hilda to join them. Unsure of what to do to navigate their new situation, Tyler and Hilda join the Loopers, and the kids work together to try and find a way to escape the time loop and return to their normal lives.

If there's one thing Loopers has gotten near unanimous praise on across the board, its the graphics and art style. For one, the bold, vibrant colors and more stylized, cartoonish, angular look of the character designs are vastly different from Key's usual output. These characters wouldn't look out of place in a Danganronpa game, they're that different from Key's usual look, and all of this comes down to who they hired to be the art director and character designer, one Kei Mochizuki. I'm not familiar with this person's work, but damn, I really hope Mochizuki-san gets hired to do more stuff like this because their character designs are pretty awesome. The colors in this game really pop, giving it almost a graffiti-like vibe to it. The backgrounds and CGs are no slouch either. Seriously, you could pick any image in this game and frame it up on your wall, they're that good. Seriously Key, hire Mochizuki to do more visual novels! The music is also pretty good, and the songs are all well-sung, that's really all I can say about it.

I do agree that the cast of characters and how they utilized do feel rather basic, and their general archetypes aren't anything you haven't seen before. With this being a 6-hour long kinetic novel, and the cast here being larger than most kinetic novels that Key put out previously, the short length and pacing might have something to do with it. It's hard to develop a large cast of characters in a small time frame, and it never feels like we really get to know most of them. Joe, Holly, Ritapon, and Simon definitely get the short end of the stick, as other than some little details sprinkled around, they don't really change or develop much, Joe and Simon especially. The latter just feels like a walking plot device to make things more convenient for the other characters. He's rich and has a photographic memory? Gee, how convenient! I wish the game had expanded on them more, or had some side scenarios showing what they were like before they got caught in the time loop. The funny thing is, this is the first kinetic novel that's told from a third-person point of view, not from the POV of any particular character, which is usually par for the course for Key VNs, so Loopers could have used the opportunity to have sequences from their POVs. The game does it with Tyler, Hilda, and Mia, so there wasn't really anything stopping Key from doing the same with the other characters. Ironically, the characters I felt had the best chemistry and development were Hilda and Leona, and the latter spends half the game in a coma! But even with all the characterization problems this cast has, I still enjoyed watching them interact and seeing them come to terms with their situations.

That being said, one character definitely has me conflicted: Tyler. On the one hand, he is a VAST departure from other Key VN protags. Tyler is energetic, enthusiastic, passionate, loud, and has a hobby that he enjoys, far from the usual disillusioned, angsty, stoic, snarky protags Key is known for, and honestly...I really appreciated this. If Tyler were in something like, say, a long shounen anime, he'd definitely be seen as boring and cliche, but since he's a Key VN, where those types of characters are usually the best friend to the MC, he's honestly really refreshing. He's consistently kind to others, doesn't give a shit about anything except his hobby, and enjoys life. After having to deal with the irredeemable asshat that was Kouhei Orihara from One: Kagayaku Kisetsu e, I'll gladly settle for Tyler any day of the week. On the other hand, the game has this really bad habit of shilling Tyler every chance it gets, whether it be everybody praising him up the wazoo, having his treasure hunting hobby solve everybody's problems, and generally worshipping the ground he walks on like he's some kind of saint. Yeah, I like Tyler as a character and all, but the shilling got to be way too much, especially near the end. I don't want to call him a Gary Stu, as that term has become rather loaded these days, but considering how every single character in the game puts Tyler on a pedestal, I can absolutely see why people who played the game are tired of him. I do agree that even outside of him being different from other Key protags, Tyler is kind of bland and he could have benefited from some character flaws to make him more believable, interesting, and compelling. Also, I like Mia just fine, but...Key, I think it's time you stopped relying so much on the "sick girl who's secretly dying" trope. You've done it so many times that it's become boring and bordering on emotionally manipulative. There are other ways you can make the audience feel sympathy for a female character, you don't always have to rely on the trope of "secretly dying from a soap opera disease" over and over again.

While I do agree with the criticisms people mentioned above, with the game feeling too short to expand on its ensemble cast and not making more use of its material, none of that really hurt my enjoyment of Loopers. For one, I actually really liked its story. Most media that use time loops as a premise tend to play them for only tragedy and drama, not much else. Loopers does treat the idea of a time loop seriously, but manages to give it just enough levity that it doesn't feel overbearing, angsty, or melodramatic and is generally a more chill, slice-of-life story at heart. Plus, there's no sexual content or skeevy fanservice in this (Other than one joke, but it makes sense in context), in case anyone was worried about that. Personally, my only real issue with the story is the weird horror elements in the prologue, and the way the game tries to explain it. There's this long, drawn out sequence involving Hilda being put through the wringer in the beginning, with it being played dead seriously like something out of an actual horror story, but not only does nothing like this ever happen again in the game, the way Loopers explains what happened flat-out contradicts its established rules. The game claims Leona put herself into a coma voluntarily, but that's not what happened: Leona briefly went berserk, fell into a coma, and her...apparition or something tries to murder Hilda, which causes Hilda to have a mental breakdown. I know Ryukishi07 is mainly a horror writer, but I feel like that piece of the prologue didn't quite mesh with the rest of the game, which is funny because from what I've read, he wanted the game to be more of a straight horror, but Key rejected a lot of his ideas because they didn't fit Key's image. Honestly, I think all the horror scenes in general should have been excised entirely.

Yet even taking all of these things into account...I still enjoyed the game as a whole. A contradictory statement given my rating? Sure. Loopers is pretty flawed in its current state, and people might be right in that this is the weakest VN Key has put out. But coming from the perspective of someone who hasn't played their longer VNs, and has played few VNs in general, Loopers is hardly the worst game to ever exist, and even Key's weakest game still has something to offer for those who are into this kind of thing. I enjoyed the story, music, art style, and watching the characters interact, and my gripes with the game didn't hurt my enjoyment of it. I'm probably biased since I recently came off playing the absolute dreck that was One: Kagayaku Kisetsu e, which I feel is way worse than Loopers could ever be. While I do feel Lunaria: Virtualized Moonchild and Stella of the End are better, I don't think Loopers should be overlooked. Is it a flawed game? Yes, and I agree that the game should have been given more time to flesh out its characters. But even with my gripes with the game, I didn't hate it. And for what it's worth, it seems like Key and Ryukishi07 have realized how incomplete the base game is because it was just announced that it's getting an enhanced version called LOOPERS PLUS due to come out in 2024, with it being specifically mentioned that this new version will have new art, music, and original scenarios both during and after the main story, with particular focus being given to two characters who were often mentioned by name in the base game but never got portraits. Hopefully LOOPERS PLUS fixes the flaws the original had, and I also hope it gets an English release in some capacity (Complete with a Switch port! That's how I played the vanilla game!). I'll definitely buy the enhanced version if it ever comes stateside, but even with its flaws, I liked the original Loopers game and feel it shouldn't be overlooked just because it's not as good as the rest of Key's output.
This review was written on November 7th, 2023.


Rating: 57/100

So...this exists. And apparently it's come into the limelight now because somehow, for some reason, the streaming website Mubi somehow got their hands on it, gave it English subtitles, and put it up for streaming. That's how I learned about it, along with following the Twitter account WTK, which is a good source of home video news, licensing news, streaming news, and so on. But most old school animation afficionados know something pretty interesting about the Yuki's Sun pilot: This is actually the solo directorial debut of one Hayao Miyazaki. Miyazaki worked with Takahata on plenty of TV shows and directing some episodes of stuff during the 70s and 80s before moving onto movies, but this was the first time where he was the only one in the director's seat. But you're probably wondering just what the hell Yuki's Sun is about. Based on the 1963 shoujo manga by Tetsuya Chiba, Yuki's Sun follows a little girl named Yuki, who lives a happy, peaceful life in an orphanage until she's adopted by the affluent Iwabuchi family. When circumstances leave the Iwabuchi family penniless, Yuki finds herself on a journey to make a new life for herself, and maybe even rediscover her real family, with the only clue she has being the wooden cross necklace she always wears around her neck.

Being made in 1972, Yuki's Sun was actually meant to be a pilot for a TV series, but unfortunately, that went nowhere. If one were to judge Yuki's Sun on its own merits, what with it being a 5-minute short film...yeah, this has 70s shoujo melodrama written all over it. But if you can believe it, that's not the pilot's biggest problem. The biggest problem holding Yuki's Sun back as a film is that the whole thing comes off like an animated summary of the series, or a literal commercial for the manga, rather than a story on its own merits. Let me put it this way: Remember all those VHS commercials for the old animated Disney films back in the 80s and 90s, the ones that would basically summarize the entire movie to the point of flat-out spoiling important plot twists? Yuki's Sun feels like one of those but without the eighties power ballads or corny nineties music in the background. And yes, I'm not kidding you when I say this short film basically blitzes through the manga's entire story, complete with dropping plot twists like candy. "Hey, Yuki's adopted family had shady dealings with townspeople! Hey, Yuki has to save her sick adopted sister and walk through a literal blizzard! Hey, Yuki reunites with her biological father but he dies immediately afterward! Hey, Yuki hops a train and then reunites with her biological mother!" With literally no cohesion or explanation for how any of this plays out. If a TV series had managed to get made, I bet Miyazaki probably would have given these plot developments the proper build-up and pathos they deserved, but just throwing them in a five-minute short film doesn't really work.

It doesn't help that 95% of the pilot consists of a narrator talking over it and explaining everything. All she really does is summarize the entire premise of the manga, and the only other bits of dialogue come from Yuki, who has a grand total of three lines throughout the entire short. But even with the pilot's super short length (Literally five minutes long), Yuki's Sun is basically one of the earliest shoujo melodramas, rife with tropes and cliches that would fit right in with a soap opera: Missing biological parents, blunt force drama, bad things happening to the MC at every corner, adoptive families who have shady stuff going on, so on and so forth. Yuki's Sun might as well be Candy Candy before Candy Candy came into existence. I think Yuki's Sun choosing to just be a summary/commercial for the manga may have been what did it in, because it crams so much into five minutes, making it feel really rough and half-baked, and Miyazaki's early inexperience as a storyteller does unfortunately play a part in this. Also, how the hell is Yuki able to go through a friggin' blizzard without a coat or winter clothing?! She wears nothing but overalls and a short-sleeved shirt as she's dragging her sick adopted sister through a blizzard, she should have succumbed to either frostbite or hypothermia from that! I don't know how the manga makes this story play out, as no English translation of it exists, official or fanmade, so I can't read the manga for myself, though I admit I'd certainly like to.

Honestly, the pilot's only real saving grace is its animation. For a short film that came out in 1972, it's surprisingly polished, reveling in beautifully painted backgrounds and fluid movement. Animation as a medium was still fairly in its infancy, yet there's traces of his signature crispness in the way Miyazaki animates the characters, especially in one sequence where Yuki is running along a river, which was unheard of in animation at the time and wouldn't be refined until the eighties at the earliest. And keep in mind, this was six years before Future Boy Conan. Granted, Yuki's Sun wouldn't really make Miyazaki as a household name, as his later movies wound up doing that for both him and Ghibli. So yeah, while Yuki's Sun as a pilot film is an interesting piece of unearthed animation history, it's kind of an amateurish, cliche short film that is unable to stand on its own and feels more like an animated commercial. It's a shame a TV series for this didn't get made, because it probably would have been pretty good, especially since Chiba-sensei's manga is already so short (Four volumes), and Miyazaki probably would have done the story justice if he was given the opportunity to do so. I'm glad that whoever at Mubi found this put it up for streaming to make it more accessible for people, but it's not really going to interest anyone who isn't interested in learning about Miyazaki's early ouveure.
Oh lordy. Get ready, folks, because I'm gonna go on a rant. This review was written on April 8th, 2024.


Rating: 48/100

Many know the company Visual Arts/Key for their visual novels: Kanon, Air, Clannad, Little Busters, Rewrite, their kinetic novels, and so on. But while Kanon is the first VN that they produced under their Key banner, the staff that formed Key were actually part of another company before this, Tactics (Which would later come to be known as Nexton), and in 1998, they released an adult rated visual novel called One: Kagayaku Kisetsu e. It was initially never exported outside of Japan, but in its home country, it was quite popular, to the point of getting a ton of ports to different consoles and supposedly pioneering the concept of VNs having more low-key, emotional, character driven dramas that many Key fans endearingly refer to as "nakige" or "crying game." One: Kagayaku Kisetsu e did get a fan translation and that was all it got as far as English exposure. So imagine my surprise when I found out that it suddenly got a complete, from the ground up remake out of nowhere that came out in December of 2023, and said remake getting an official English release, at that! I'm gonna keep referring to the game by its original title, One: Kagayaku Kisetsu e, because just saying the word One would just be confusing by itself. Seeing as a piece of gaming history was being released, I thought I'd give it a try and see what it's like.

...Yeah, I regret that choice. A LOT.

Much like Key's later works, you play as a young man, one Kouhei Orihara, who lives his mundane, day-to-day life, going to school and spending time with (translation: harassing) his childhood friend Mizuka Nagamori. His parents have been out of the picture since he was young, and after his younger sister dies, he begins to seclude himself in the Eternal World (Though it's not referred to by name in-game), a world within his mind, an alternate space that Kouhei seemingly created out of his want for a place in which nothing ever changes. There's no real explanation for this whole thing, and the game wants you to just go with it. He starts receding into this world about a week before disappearing, during which everyone (including the girl he loves) forgets about him, and he falls into the Eternal World completely, making it seem as if he never existed in the real world. His only hope of returning is to form a strong bond with someone prior to leaving, and to follow his guide back to the real world. You get to choose one out of six girls: The aforementioned childhood friend Mizuka, who wakes him up every morning and worries about him; Rumi Nanase, an outgoing tsundere who Kouhei is always bothering; Misaki Kawana, a polite blind girl who's something of a jokester; Mio Kouzuki, a mute girl who's part of the drama club; Akane Satomura, a quiet, sullen girl who spends her days standing in an empty lot before school, and Mayu Shiina, a girl who mourns her dead pet ferret. There's even a secret route involving a male classmate, but you have to have gone through at least one other route to unlock it.

The story by itself isn't anything special, and Key would go on to refine it a lot in their later works. I know I just mentioned the entire premise of the game, but in all honesty, the whole Eternal World stuff only takes up 10% of it at most, and 90% of the game just consists of literally going through each day individually until you get locked onto a girl's route. Not only that, it also has Jun Maeda's favorite storytelling tool where the first half consists of wacky comedy before shifting hard into drama later on. I'm not gonna lie, the comedy really doesn't work here, because a lot of it just consists of Kouhei intentionally saying and doing ridiculous things that no sane person would do, most of which just feel like needless padding dragging the scene out for longer than it needs to. Hell, there's one scene that plays out the exact same way twice in a row, complete with all of its dialogue being reused. Like...lazy much? Actually, a good chunk of the game feels like its just plodding along and dragging itself out while having nothing to really hook anyone in. My playthrough of one route was just five hours without skipping, but so much of the game's story just consists of Kouhei talking to people while nothing interesting is going on. For the first half, there's literally no conflict, and even the slice-of-life segments just feel dull. Granted, One: Kagayaku Kisetsu e was one of the first visual novels to try out more low-key, character driven stories, and that's fine, but in my opinion, Key's later works managed to do them better, especially Air, Clannad, and even their later kinetic novels. Even other visual novels from other companies that came later had more going on, like Code:Realize having the main plot revolve around Cardia and her friends looking for her missing father and a cure for her poisonous body. Jack Jeanne had both the seasonal plays and Kisa trying to hide her identity. Those are longer VNs, but playing them, I never felt like they were just dragging their feet and struggling to find stuff to do like One: Kagayaku Kisetsu e does.

Since this review is about the remake and not the original PC game, there is one thing I feel the remake did improve upon, and its the graphics. Not that the original artwork from the PC game was bad, and it does have its own distinct look that would influence Key's later games down the line, but the remake not only redoes everything from the ground up, one thing I appreciate is that the sprites here are actually animated. The game does give you the option to turn off sprite animation, but I think the animated sprites add to the immersion, especially with little touches like mouth movements or the way a character's hair moves. The CGs are no slouch either, and they're all well drawn and used whenever it's appropriate. There are even some chibi scenes drawn in that weren't in the original, and those are cute, too. Nexton brought Itaru Hinoue back to re-design the characters for the remake, since she worked on the original game previously, and while some might not like that the characters look more stereotypically moe and cutesy-poo compared to her original designs, what with their large eyes and small mouths, I found them to be just fine. My only gripe with the character designs is that Kouhei and Shun Hikami look way too similar to each other, to the point where I could mistake them for being twin brothers. The music is fairly good too, though I don't like that the game doesn't let you skip the credits sequence even after completing a route.

Considering that this is a game from 1998, back when slice-of-life VNs weren't the norm, stuff like character development wasn't common for games like this, and really, it shows. A good majority of the characters are little more than one-note stereotypes: Rumi is the tsundere, Mizuka is the motherly childhood friend, Mio is the mute clumsy little sister-type girl, Mayu's the childish crybaby, so on and so forth, and even as you get into their routes, they don't really change much or become more three-dimensional as the game goes on. We don't even learn about what their lives are like outside of school, for crying out loud! Key would later learn from their experiences on One: Kagayaku Kisetsu e and manage to create better, more fleshed out characters in their later games, especially Clannad. One could argue that the characters here provided the base templates for other characters in their later games. Funnily enough, as much as I usually hate the tsundere archetype, I actually like Rumi as a character, mainly because her anger towards Kouhei is completely justified and understandable considering he harasses her on a near regular basis. If I were in her position, I'd want to deck his ass, too! So good job on One: Kagayaku Kisetsu e for making me actually like a tsundere for once! Even if I'm not a huge fan of her route. Also, fun fact: The PS2 port of One actually put in a completely original route featuring a new heroine to pursue, Natsuki Shimizu, though for some reason she was left out of other ports and remakes, this one included.

You may have noticed that I haven't mentioned much about one particular character, Kouhei. That's because I've been stalling. Well, time to stall no longer. I might as well just rip the band-aid off and go on my soapbox, because honestly, I can't hold back any longer: I FUCKING HATE KOUHEI ORIHARA!! I'm not going to mince words here, he is the absolute worst visual novel protagonist I've ever had the displeasure of playing as, and for all I know there are probably worse ones out there considering this was originally an eroge. All throughout the game, no matter which route you choose, this guy acts like an unrepentant jackass who continually does stupid things and is flat-out mean to pretty much every girl he interacts with, whether it just be bullying them to stave off boredom or disrespecting their boundaries even when they tell him to stop whatever he's doing, with him being at his absolute most reprehensible during Mizuka's route, who is the main heroine, need I remind you. He bumps into Rumi multiple times and elbows her in the stomach? Nah, its all her fault and they're gonna be late for school, along with constantly bothering her during class. Mizuka wakes him up every morning and makes sure he gets to school on time? He constantly repays her by pulling dumb pranks on her whether it be sleeping naked and having her see him by accident, doesn't leave her notes when he does manage to leave early, and treating her like shit. Akane doesn't want to talk to him? He constantly hounds her during their lunch break. Good lord, I've never wanted to punch a male self-insert MC so bad before now, and the few times he does try to be nice to someone, its immediately undercut when he does back to his usual antics yet again. I know people complain that Key's games are emotionally manipulative, but in my opinion, I think One: Kagayaku Kisetsu e fits that bill because it really wants you to sympathize with Kouhei but does nothing to actually convince you that he's worth caring about as a character. He never actually grows as a person, learns from his mistakes, or overcomes his flaws, and going back to Mizuka's route, his actions are so God-awful and reprehensible that what little remorse he does show does absolutely nothing to make up for what he did.

You're probably thinking "But don't people like characters with flaws? If he was nice and perfect, he'd just be a boring Gary Stu!" And you're right, if a main character in a story had no flaws or faced no adversity, we as an audience won't care what happens because we know everything will just be hunky-dory, and if my college writing classes taught me anything, flawless MCs don't make for good storytelling. But here's the thing: There's an art to giving a protagonist intentional character flaws, and if their negative traits outweigh their positive ones, or the MC doesn't actually deal with their flaws, there's no reason for the audience to bother caring about them or following them on their journey. The point of character development is to see how they change, learn, and grow, whether it be through their experiences or their actions having consequences for them or others around them. Just as it can be bad to have everything go perfectly and therefore having no conflict, the opposite spectrum can be just as problematic, where something can be so bleak and dark, or if a character we're supposed to root for doesn't change their ways at all, that you question just what the point of it is. For specific examples of flawed characters done right, here are a few: Prince Zuko from Avatar: The Last Airbender; starts out as a villain, but does have morals and honor in how he tries to catch the Avatar, has several boundaries that he refuses to cross even then, faces several moral dilemmas and makes several bad decisions throughout the series, has to work hard to rectify his mistakes, and eventually becomes part of the team of heroes. Even going back to Key's work: Tomoya from Clannad. Tomoya is nothing like Kouhei in that he's actually nice to the people he talks to, and even when he does tease them, it's nowhere near the downright mean-spirited levels that Kouhei does, and any flaws that Tomoya has as a character and bad decisions that he makes are not only called out in series, especially in After Story, but he actually makes a conscious effort to address them.

And you want to know what Tomoya doesn't do? TRY TO SET UP HIS FEMALE FRIEND TO GET FUCKING RAPED BY A STRANGER FOR FUNSIES!!! Yeah, I'm not kidding, there's a segment in Mizuka's route where Kouhei, I shit you not, sets up a situation where he tricks Mizuka into accompanying him at school at night in an attempt to have a stranger rape her. This is already bad enough on its own, which already kills any sympathy I could ever have for Kouhei as a character at all, but do you want to know what makes this whole thing even worse? Accessing this scene, along with being a shitty person to Mizuka in general, is a REQUIREMENT to get the best ending in not just Mizuka's route, who again is the main heroine, but for the entire game!! Just...why? Who thought this was a good idea? Because it isn't. I don't think I need to go into just how gross, tasteless, and fucking awful this whole scenario is, especially in regards to how thoughtlessly it treats the subject of attempted rape in general, but the fact that One: Kagayaku Kisetsu e still wants the audience to sympathize with Kouhei afterward is just...I can't. Nothing this game does could ever convince me to like Kouhei as a character, and other than updating the art and removing the sex scenes, nothing else has changed from the 1998 version, Kouhei's shittiness included. Like I mentioned before, I've only seen the anime adaptations for Air and Clannad, and haven't played their VNs yet, but I can guarantee you that Yukito and Tomoya are far better, far nicer, far more compelling VN protagonists than Kouhei could ever hope to be. Basically, I don't hate Kouhei because he has flaws, I hate Kouhei because the game goes way too far in making him flawed while trying to convince the audience to continue caring about him when he continually indulges in his shitty behavior and gets away with all of it. Mizuka, you deserve so much better than to keep putting up with Kouhei. Just ditch the guy! Jun Maeda, what the fuck were you thinking when you were writing Mizuka's route? What in the world made you think this was a good idea? Outside of Mizuka's route, Mayu's route just reeks of implications of child grooming and pedophilia, especially when you take into account that Mayu is a middle schooler who acts like she's five and possibly mentally underdeveloped. Need I say more? You know what? Maybe the bad ending where he just flat-out disappears is actually the good ending, where people won't have to put up with his shittiness and just forget about him!

Wow, I haven't gotten this angry about a character since...probably Minko from Hanasaku Iroha. But man did it feel good to let all of that out! In conclusion, you know how some remakes are just one-to-one remakes, without changing much, while some actually go to the trouble of smoothing out some mechanics or fixing some flawed story elements, or even characterization? One: Kagayaku Kisetsu e may be the former, but I feel like it'd be so much better if its remake had been the latter. There's so much about it that not only aged like milk, but is just terrible on principle, and not even because of the time period in which it was made. I know complaining about the game is pointless since if not for this game, we wouldn't have gotten stuff like Clannad and Little Busters. Key fans owe the game that much, and I have nothing against that. But One: Kagayaku Kisetsu e is completely bogged down by questionable writing decisions, glacial pacing, underutilized characters, a weak plot, and the absolute irredeemable shithead that is Kouhei, and what little good qualities it has just aren't worth going through all the slog and tedium. I honestly wouldn't recommend it to casual visual novel fans or even Key fans. If you want to buy it, you can get it off of Steam for $20 and other websites that sell it, and it's even available on the Switch too, though for some reason the Switch version costs $70. I have no clue why, though I've heard its because the Switch version was done by a different publisher. But seriously, there are better visual novels out there. Planetarian is a good gateway to Key's body of work, since its short, sweet, and doesn't have a God-awful male protagonist. Or even stuff like Code:Realize, Jack Jeanne, Digimon Survive, Clannad, Harmonia, Lunaria: Virtualized Moonchild, the Ace Attorney series, and so much more! Hell, I was more invested in Lunaria: Virtualized Moonchild than I ever was in One: Kagayaku Kisetsu e! Please, play anything except this. Spare your sanity.

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
: 5.5/10
Man, I really ought to like this influential book more than I do. The story centers on a family and a preacher friend traveling from Oklahoma to California to find work after their farm is ruined by the dust bowl, but poverty, corruption, and a broken system hit them at every turn. I would have liked this story a lot more if half of it didn't consist of pointless filler. Seriously, half the book consists of random stuff that has nothing to do with the story itself. There's literally a whole chapter focused on a turtle crossing the road. What purpose does it serve? I have no clue! You could cut them out and nothing would be lost. I also found the prose to be rather drab, most of the characters were bland save for a select few, most of the dialogue consists of vernacular that's really hard to decipher, and the ending was...ehh. There were only a few characters I liked, and I did enjoy learning about how the Great Depression affected people at that time. But this is one classic I could not get into.


Ellie Engle Saves Herself by Leah Johnson
: 5.5/10
Ehhh, this one didn't grab me. A girl who discovers she can somehow bring the dead back to life after an earthquake is an interesting premise, but a lot of how it was executed here didn't make a lot of sense. The book breaks its own rules when it comes to Ellie's powers, the characters are kind of bland, there's an out of nowhere twist about one character that is just baffling, and the story itself juggles too many themes at once to the point where none of them get the proper development and care they deserve. Also, why would Ellie care so much about her so-called best friend who literally only uses her to make herself look better and even forgive her after said friend abandoned her? Uh, no. Too saccharine and too busy for me.


This Winter by Alice Oseman
: 4.5/10
Unfortunately, just like Nick and Charlie, This Winter is also not a very good short story in the Heartstopper universe. It tells of Charlie's extended family coming to visit for Christmas dinner, but he's increasingly uncomfortable with their constant probing questions and stereotyping of him. Normally this would be right up my alley, but the new characters are all totally one-note, the story itself is way too short to really utilize its potential, and a lot of it is spent on indulging in angst. Plus, the story just ends abruptly, with literally no resolution or anything! The characters say certain things will happen but they just don't! The hell?! The only real saving graces of this novel are the fact that one part of it is told from Tori's POV and that it explains when and how Nick's family got a new puppy. Also, why does this story want me to sympathize with someone who kicks their son out of their house just because she can't be bothered to figure out why he's uncomfortable with his extended family putting him on the spot?
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This review was written on April 29th, 2024.


Rating: 95/100

Man, I really shouldn't have put this off for so long. I mentioned in my previous Natsume review that during 2016-2020, I was neck deep in anime burnout, to the point where I couldn't bring myself to watch more than an episode of anything at least once in a blue moon. During that time, seasons 5 and 6 of Natsume Yuujinchou aired in 2016 and 2017, and since it had been four years since season 4 ended, I wasn't sure if I'd be able to jump back in since the series is fairly strict with its continuity. I was able to get out of my burnout, and to my surprise, Natsume began receiving English dubs starting in 2022, which proved to be the perfect way for me to jump back into the series. I decided then and there that as soon as season 4 got a dub, I'd finally get off my ass and watch seasons 5 and 6. As you can tell by the review, I finally made good on my promise and finished both, OVAs included. It still surprises me just how amazing this series manages to be, not just in its overall quality, but the fact that since that time, the series switched production companies while maintaining its core staff. Like with my first review of Natsume, I'm going to have this review talk about seasons 5 and 6 together, as talking about them separately would be kind of redundant.

The series still focuses on Takashi Natsume's adventures helping various youkai and people with their problems, while continuing to build on everything previous seasons established. That aspect of the series hasn't changed one bit, and its all the better for it, keeping the subtle touch that made the previous seasons so good. It helps that even with the animation production company changing from Brains Base to Shuka (Why is that, I wonder?), all of the staff from previous seasons were kept on; the director, scriptwriters, music composer, and of course the voice cast. Consistency is really important when maintaining a long running series, and often times, shows that go on for a long time, especially the more prominent series, tend to either meander or become very different from how they started. Natsume Yuujinchou is one of those few series that manages to stay consistently good in both its animation, characterization, and writing quality in the years since its first airing and, other than a few minor foibles, never lost sight of what it's mean to be. That's a feat not many series can boast, and I'm so glad the change in animation companies didn't hurt the series any, as some shows that change animation companies tend to look quite different than their previous seasons, and the resulting changes can really hurt a series if done poorly. Take note, Laid-Back Camp season 3 and your weird photographic backgrounds with bad filters.

Remember how I mentioned in my review for seasons 1-4 that every season focused on different themes and goals? Seasons 5 and 6 are similar in that while they continue to flesh out Natsume and the cast around him, more focus is given to the adult characters this time around, with season 6 finally taking the time to expand on one character in particular: Natori. While Natori has always been a presence in the show, seasons 1-4 never really went deep into his background. These two seasons do just that, really going into detail as to how seeing youkai affected his life, how he came to know Matoba, why he became an exorcist and how, and the affect his job has on his relationships with others. We also get some more backstory on Reiko, Touko, and Shigeru throughout both seasons. Season 6 even has one episode that fleshes out, of all people, Natsume's two male classmates Nishimura and Kitamoto. They were fun characters in seasons 1-5, sure, but I really liked the revelations it presented with them in season 6, as it really recontextualizes their friendship with Natsume. Season 6 even brings back a character introduced in season 3, Shibata, Natsume's former bully and gives him another episode that shows how he's changed since his initially awkward reunion with Natsume prior. Another theme seasons 5 and 6 have in common is showing Natsume expanding his social circle, with more people learning that he can see youkai outside of just Tanuma and Taki.

Like I mentioned before, this isn't a series where you can just jump into a season and understand what's going on right off. Seasons 5 and 6, while still having a laid-back atmosphere, do expect you to have watched the previous four seasons and keep track of what previously happened, especially when it comes to characters like Matoba and what they've been up to. The finale of season 6 even drops a pretty huge revelation about Natsume's heritage, and I'm betting season 7 will probably elaborate on this, though I could be wrong. One thing that did confuse me is that both seasons 5 and 6 have eleven episodes as opposed to the usual 12-13 previous seasons had, though they did get some extra episodes in the form of OVAs. A warning for anyone planning to watch any of the OVAs for these two seasons: Don't watch the one about Nyanko-sensei being made to babysit a couple of kids. That OVA is cliche, boring, annoying, the premise relies too much on the characters being idiots, and the kid characters are so whiny and insufferable that I wanted to smack them every time they opened their mouths. Natsume normally never has bad episodes, though I think this OVA might be the first. Its only saving grace is that it's a standalone OVA that is pretty disconnected from the series itself, so you can skip it and not miss anything.

I've already gone in detail my feelings about the series as a whole in my previous review, so I won't belabor the point here. It took me way too long to get around to watching seasons 5 and 6, but better late than never, right? Natsume's Book of Friends is still a great anime in my book, and the fact that we're getting another season has me hyped as hell. No way am I gonna miss out on more of one of my favorite anime of all time! Since I actually own the blu-ray for the movie Ephemeral Bond, now I have an excuse to finally get around to watching that. But yeah, seasons 5 and 6 are an excellent follow-up to the previous four and it's quite honestly a modern miracle how its continued to maintain its level of quality over several decades on every level. Fans of Natsume's Book of Friends owe it to themselves to watch these seasons. Though again, don't watch that OVA I mentioned above unless you have a tolerance for crying kids.
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