Archive for January, 2010

Chu*Review: Yo-Jin-Bo: The Bodyguards

When you think of the term ‘visual novel’, I can bet that at least most people think of what is termed as a ‘harem’ visual novel, meaning that the playable character is a man and there are several attractive female characters around him, most (if not all) of which the player is able to make the playable character get romantically involved with at the end. While this is a real treat for guys who like this kind of thing, it leaves us girls who might be interested in this concept out in the cold (unless we like that sort of thing).

Luckily for us ladies, there is also something called an otome, or ‘reverse-harem’ visual novel. This type of visual novel is just as it sounds; a story where the playable character is female and there are several attractive male characters around her, several of which you can most-likely hook up with in the end. The first one I ever heard of was Neo-Angelique Abyss, which has no English translation at this time. However, that led me to realize that there must be more than just one otome game out there. So I did some research and found one that was rather highly praised: Yo-Jin-Bo: The Bodyguards.

STORY

You start off as Sayori, a regular high-school girl. Sayori goes on an archeological dig with her classmates to the ruins of a castle to see if they can dig up anything that could tell them about the castle’s past. In the dirt, Sayori sees a shining pendant and picks it up, forgetting to tell her superior about it and bringing it home accidentally. Later that night, she has a dream of a feudal era princess begging Sayori to help her, and suddenly Sayori is sucked back in time, charged with the task of finding a way to prevent the princess’ death. During your quest you meet a rag-tag group of merceneries named Yozaburo, Jinnosuke, and Tainojo, whose nickname is ‘Bo’. They team up with the princess’ bodyguard Muneshige, a rather questionable priest name Mon-Mon, and an anti-social psychopathic killer (who is, incidentally, my favorite character) named Ittosai to save the princess as they uncover a large conspiracy.

The story never got boring to me, and even better is that it the story changes depending on which guy you’re gunning for at the end. The story doesn’t deviate too much on each story path of course, but they are different enough that it won’t get boring playing the game six times to get each guy. It’s also very easy to find a walkthrough for this game online that will outline which choices to make to get what character if you want to be sure that you don’t miss out.

And there is quite a bit you can miss out on. In addition to nabbing all 6 guys, there are also ‘bad’ and ‘death’ endings for each path, making a total of 18 possible endings.

CHARACTERS

Now while the word yojinbo means ‘bodyguard’ in Japanese, you can see they also used the main characters’ names as a play on the title of the game (The three main guys names are Yo, Jin, and Bo. Get it? HA!). A cheesy move, yes, but it sets the pace for one of the best parts of this game, and that is that this game doesn’t take itself too seriously. At all. This becomes apparent when we are introduced to the characters.

First of all, Yo, Jin, and Bo are such good friends that they fight and bicker at every turn, even during heated battles. This adds quite a bit of comedy to the story. The characters also make quite a number of pop culture references on things like Disney, boy bands, and Final Fantasy. They even break the fourth wall when they discuss Mon-Mon’s failing attempts to ensure he is an achievable love interest at the end of the game. I must admit that I was assuming the characters would be much more serious since the few pieces of art I saw before playing showed no signs of there being so much comedy, but I enjoyed the game’s light-hearted moments.

Because of the comedic liberties taken with these characters, they aren’t the most deep and interesting people you’ll ever encounter. However, as you play through each of the guys’ paths, you’ll learn more about them and will begin to see attraction brew between your chosen guy and Sayori. The game does a good job of making these interactions believable, and you do find yourself rather attached to the characters by the end of the story.

GAMEPLAY

This game plays through like a regular visual novel, clicking through text and having the ability to let the game auto-cycle through the text and to skip quickly through text to the next decision point. Those decision points, however, are where the game begins to get interesting.

The decision points are timed, giving you only a brief amount of time to make a decision. I haven’t played too many visual novels so I’m not sure if this is something unique, but I have never heard of or seen something like this in a visual novel before. It adds the tenseness of the situations you’re in, because if you were experiencing what was going on in the game in real life, you’d only have those few brief moments to make a decision anyway. It adds an interesting sense of realism to the game.

The game also has more than enough game save slots and a quick-save feature that you can use just by clicking a button. However, in my experience, the quick-save button only saves in the first slot, so if you’re using multiple slots you may want to leave the first slot open for quick-saves.

Another thing I like is that although it plays on full-screen by default, you can go into the configuration menu and change it to be windowed, allowing you to play while doing other things. I am always multi-tasking, so this was a big plus for me. You can also adjust the volumes of the background music, sound effects, and character voices to fit your preference. There is also an ‘extras’ menu where you can view collections of the images you’ve seen in the game and enjoy some other goodies as well.

ART AND SOUND

Because there is no actual moving animation in visual novels (for the most part), the music and still-frame art are two extremely important elements, and Yo-Jin-Bo does not disappoint.

The art is very well done, both with the characters and the backgrounds. The full-body shots of the characters are very limited (about only 2-3 a character) but the close-up faces that are put next to the text box are also done very well and have a variety of expressions. The design of the characters’ clothing and the backgrounds really make you feel like you’re in the feudal era, which works well to balance out the game’s pop culture references and to keep you grounded in the story while still appreciating that humor.

Now the sound in this game comes in two parts: the voice acting and the music. The voice acting is absolutely superb. The seiyuu in this game are very well-seasoned and well-known voice actors, many of them coming from big shows like Saint Seiya and Bleach. They voices they use work very well with their respective characters, and are chock-full of emotion.

As for the music, it also excels. It has a very feudal era feel to it and is very catchy and addicting. Even though they only have a handful of songs that they use several times, they never get boring and fit the scenes they’re used in perfectly.

OVERALL

Yo-Jin-Bo: The Bodyguards is a fun and entertaining visual novel to play. While its story and characters aren’t mind-blowing, the graphics, voice work, and music most certainly are. Couple that with a story that keeps your interest and some good comedy and you have a game that is fun to sit down and play diligently or play casually to relieve some stress at the end of a busy day. If you’re a fan of otome games, this is one title you have to check out.

FINAL SCORE: 7/10

Advertisements

Comments (15) »

Rant ~ Kimi ni Todoke

In my extensive blog about the state of the anime industry, I gave several suggestions on how to use fansubs properly while still supporting official releases. I was delighted when my good friend Jon of JanaiBlog took my ideas to heart and started holding seasonal anime samplers. He lists whats coming out this season, everyone that will be attending votes for which shows they would like to sample, and we go over to his place and watch an episode or two each of the shows that garnered the most interest. It’s fun and exposes everyone to anime they would not have normally tried.

At the last sampler Jon hosted, one of the shows we watched was Kimi ni Todoke. We only watched one episode, but by the end of it, my friend Alicia and I were (embarrassingly) squeeing like fangirls, and while Jon was changing over to the next anime, we talked excitedly about going home, checking out the rest of the show, and hoping that it somehow would get licensed in America. We were instantly hooked.

A few weeks later, I finally had enough down time to try and scour for some more episodes. I found them, and fell more and more in love with the series as I watched. I finally was all caught up at episode six, but by then, my perspective had changed.

You see, Alicia and I had been the only people at the sampler who had enjoyed Kimi ni Todoke. Even after the sampler, I got a lot of flack from Jon and my other friends for loving the show so much. Everyone thought it was a generic shoujo show, and I believed (and still do) that it was unique in many ways. I couldn’t understand everyone’s hatred of it. However, the show absolutely sabotaged itself in those six episodes. How, you ask? With the one thing that everyone that hates this show hates it for: Sawako.

Now, I am known for my hatred of main characters in anime. I can love a show to death but absolutely dispise the main character. Seiya from Saint Seiya makes me want to tear my hair out. Usagi from Sailor Moon is downright irritating. I wanted to pimpsmack Mirai from Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 more times than I could count. I generally avoid main characters at all costs and instead delve into the other characters in the show, and it’s very rare that I find myself even being able to stand a main character let alone actually like them.

Now, let’s talk about Sawako.

I adored Sawako at first. She is extremely relatable. Everybody can remember what it felt like to be excluded as a teenager. Each and every one of us has had at least one moment in our younger years where we were teased, bullied, or laughed at. We’ve all had our points in life where we felt lonely and just wished for someone to talk to. Sawako embodies all of the pain, happiness, confusion, and frustration of being a teenager and trying to find your own inner-strength. She was an excellent main character for the show.

Then, she opened her mouth.

At first, the stuttering, crying, and unsure re-asking of questions (“You really like me? Really? REALLY?”) were fine, and very indicitive of what Sawako was meant to portray. The problem is that they made her do it every time she appeared on screen. The stuttering turned into what could be misconstrued as some kind of mental disorder, her crying turned to whining, and the funny, coincidental miscommunications between her and her newfound friends were happening several times per episode. In fact, I almost dislike Sawako’s two female friends (who are so memorable that I forgot their names!) as much as I do her just because they are so thick-headed that I almost started screaming at my computer screen.

I was still fine with all of this because after a few episodes, it began to die down and Sawako started acting slightly more sure of herself, which is normal, good characterization! However, once the above-mentioned misunderstanding occured and made Sawako’s friends think she hated them and was spreading rumors about them, she regressed so hard that it made my head spin. Mostly because I was slamming it against my desk. Seriously Sawako, didn’t you just realize that speaking your mind was the best way to go, like, in the previous episode? Did you forget already?

As shown by my initial acceptance of Sawako’s behavior, I think that these annoying traits can be very tolerable when used in moderation. For instance, Tohru from Fruits Basket is one of the few main characters that I do love, but her constant self-doubt can get annoying at times. In fact, I thought that Sawako was very much like Tohru at first, and I think she still would be if she wouldn’t display these behaviors so often.

Now that I think about it, the problem here may not be so much with Sawako as it is how the creators used her. They seemed to be going in the right direction at first, but they lost their way somewhere within those first six episodes. I would love to have a discussion with these creators about how they handled this poor girl. In fact, if I wrote them a letter, it might look something like this:

Dear Creators of Kimi ni Todoke,

I understand that Sawako is unsure of herself. I understand that she is scared, and frustrated, and in love, and is trying to deal with these new emotions that she is feeling. I understand that she wants to be friends with everyone very badly, and that making those first steps towards that is something that fills Sawako with fear. I understand that she is lonely. I understand the she is awkward. I understand that she is emotional. I understand that the kids in her school talk about her behind her back. I understand that her name sounds like Sadako and that she looks like the character from “The Ring” with the same name. I understand that her classmates also drew this correlation and like to make fun of her by calling her Sadako. You did an excellent job of showing us these things through actions and back story.

Now, stop telling us all of this over and over again. We get it already. Really. I promise.

Seriously. Stop it. Right now.

Love, Gina

In the world of writing, there is something called exposition. Exposition is the process of telling a viewer or reader something about the story through actions, or relevant dialogue, or a flashback scene. When done correctly, it is executed in a way that doesn’t feel forced, awkward, or out-of-place. Kimi ni Todoke accomplished this, yet didn’t seem to realize it and felt the need to try over and over and over and over again to tell us about how severe Sawako’s problems really are.

It was as if the creators baked us a batch of chocolate chip cookies and said ‘here viewers, try this. They’re chewy and sweet and delicious!’ So, we took a bite or two and said ‘wow, these really are chewy and sweet and delicious!’ The creators then took the entire batch of cookies and shoved them down our throats, saying ‘NO REALLY. TRY IT, YOU’LL SEE HOW CHEWY AND SWEET AND DELICIOUS THEY ARE!!!!’ We got that from the first few bites. There’s no reason to overload us with more cookies to prove your point.

Now, I can’t stomach another bite. I have ceased watching Kimi ni Todoke. Will I ever watch it again? Maybe. It’s entirely possible that I may pick it up again sometime in the future. I still want to see how everything will end, but I can’t imagine watching this show in doses of more than two episodes at a time. I think I’d go crazy.

Comments (3) »

My Top 10 Anime Of The Decade

With a new decade upon us, a lot of lists of the best anime of the decade have been springing up, and a lot of you wonderful people have been wondering about what my picks would be. So, I have put together a list of my top 10 anime of the decade!

Now, there are some things I’d like you to keep in mind with this list:

  • This list is, of course, all based on my opinion. It is neither definitive nor indicative of the anime industry as a whole. They are simply what I feel were the best.
  • I do not watch anime in the same abundance as many others do. In fact, it was a struggle for me to find 10 series to put on the list. So, if some of the bigger anime are not on this list, it isn’t because I don’t like them, it’s probably because I never got around to watching them or watching enough of them for me to feel as if I can call it one of the best series of the decade.

Enjoy, and Happy New Year to everyone!

#10 – Ouran High School Host Club

Ouran is about Haruhi, a new student at a very rich, prestigious school that features a Host Club, where good-looking male students spend time with and serve the female students. When Haruhi accidentally wanders in to the club room and causes some property damage, she is forced to work for them to pay them back. The problem, however, is that they want her to work for them as a Host, because they all think she’s a man!

Now you can probably assume from the description of the series that it’s full of comedy, and you would be absolutely right! Not only does Ouran boast some of the most ridiculous characters you could ever think of, it also has a lot of heart-warming moments. It also, in my opinion, makes very sly social comments about the arrogance of the rich and the flightiness and immaturity of young girls.

If you’re a fan of the manga, you’ll definitely get a lot of enjoyment out of the anime, but be warned that the manga is still going on in Japan and the anime was only 26 episodes long. This of course means a lot got cut out and they had to throw together an ending which, quite frankly, doesn’t measure up to the rest of the series. Still, it’s worth a watch and definitely took me by surprise as one of my favorite watches of the decade.

#9 – Tokyo Magnitude 8.0

What would happen if Tokyo were hit with an 8.0 magnitude earthquake? That is what Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 is all about. The creators did tons of research to try and best simulate what would really happen if such an event occurred. Their findings are told through Mirai, a young girl who is out and about in town with her little brother Yuki when the earthquake happens. They run into a stranger, a woman named Mari, who cannot bear to let them try and make their way home alone, and the three of them go on an emotional quest to try and find the remnants of their families.

Without a doubt, this was one of the most emotional and visually stunning shows of the decade. We see the best and worst of humanity in this show, and it does a great job of pulling the viewers emotions in, making us really want to see these three poor souls find their ways home and reunite with their loved ones. This show also boasts one of the biggest emotional roller-coaster endings of the decade. I’m not ashamed to admit that it left me in tears.

The show is short and sweet at 11 episodes, but it still can feel rather slow-paced at times. However, the show has this interesting way of throwing something surprising into the mix as soon as the show begins to feel that way, so regardless of the pacing, you’ll never be bored with this series.

#8 – Bleach

Ichigo Kurosaki was just a normal teenager who could see spirits until an undead monster called a Hollow attacked his town. Rukia, a shinigami assigned to his town to put down these monsters, meets Ichigo and realizes he can see supernatural things. Their fates become intertwined as Ichigo is pulled into her world and become an important part of the fight against evil.

Bleach gets a lot of flack. Still, I am one of the many people out there who love this show. I love all of the characters and back stories as well as the memorable and over-the-top fights. It also has a good mix of tension and comedy as well. My favorite part of this show, however, is the music. Regardless of what you think of Bleach, you cannot deny that the music is top-notch.

Given the sheer size of the series, it of course suffers from a lot of pacing issues. There are also a LOT of characters to keep track of, and the filler arcs can be downright terrible. Being one of the ‘big three’ shounen series out now, it’s panned by a lot of people, but that won’t stop me from declaring proudly that it’s one of my favorite shows of the decade.

#7 – Fullmetal Alchemist

Ed and Al’s father was an alchemist, so when their mother died, they tried to use alchemy to bring her back to life. Unfortunately, doing such a thing is considered taboo in alchemy, and it resulted in Ed losing an arm and leg and Al losing his entire body, forcing Ed to seal his soul into a suit of armor. The two must now stick together as they join the military to try and find a way to make amends for their sins and get their normal bodies back.

I did an entire blog on Fullmetal Alchemist, so I won’t go too deeply into it here. The story is incredible, the characters are engaging, and the music is emotional and wonderful. The world that the story takes place in is rich as well, and it gives you the feeling of an epic quest, which is exactly what you get when you watch this show. It’s a series that is not to be missed by any anime fan.

#6 – Saint Seiya: Hades Chapter ~Sanctuary~

Saint Seiya is a series that was originally made in the 80’s, and is largely considered the grandfather of sentai anime. Masami Kurumada had written his Hades Arc into his manga, was which also released in the 80’s, but he never got around to animating it. So you can imagine the delight of the fans when he decided to pick this decade to finally animate this stunning story by releasing Saint Seiya: Hades Chapter ~Sanctuary~, Saint Seiya: Hades Chapter ~Inferno~, and Saint Seiya: Hades Chapter ~Elysion~.

Not only is this a more-than-worthy sequel to the original series, but they kept and even updated a lot of the original music, and the characters and fighting scenes are just as awe-inspiring as they were in the 80’s. It feels like it belongs with the original series, but is still gorgeously animated and feels fresh and new.

However, not all went as planned. Due to internal disagreements and copyright issues, there was a lot of switching of seiyuu, or voice actors, during the three sets of OVAs, as well as animators. The quality of animation dipped during ~Inferno~ and ~Elysion~ because of it, which is why I chose ~Sanctuary~ as the best of the three. Still, this 13 episode OVA was without a doubt one of my biggest anime highlights this decade.

#5 – Hayate no Gotoku!

Hayate is a poor teenager whose family leaves him in debt to some not-so-friendly people. He meets Nagi, a rich teenager and total stranger who oddly pays his debt for him. However, in order to pay her back, she hires him as her butler, which starts off a slew of hilarious events.

If you love comedic anime that are full of references to other anime and Japanese culture, then you are going to love this show. The animation is crisp, the music is addicting, the characters are hilarious and lovable, and playing ‘spot the reference’ only makes the experience of watching this show more enjoyable.

The only possibly negative thing I can think of about this show is how long it is, but even with it being 52 episodes, it never gets old or boring. You have no excuse not to check out this excellent series. It’s definitely one of the best of the decade.

#4 – Welcome to the NHK

Welcome to the NHK is about Sato, a hikikomori, or social recluse, who has dropped out of school, has no job, and is living alone secluded in his apartment. By a twist of fate, he meets a girl named Misaki who becomes determined to help him integrate back into society, intertwining their fates in a way that nobody ever imagined.

This series is one of the most emotional I have ever seen. The story is funny but is also very sad and raw in the way that it portrays how society treats people who are different and the darkness it can plunge those people into. It’s a look into both the dark and light sides of humanity, and it holds very little, if anything, back in this portrayal.

The one complaint I hear against this show is that it can be almost too depressing at times, and I do agree with that to a point. However, I think that is a poor reason to not watch this amazing piece of art. It doesn’t take away from it being one of the decades’ best anime offerings.

#3 – Fruits Basket

Tohru is living in a tent. What she doesn’t realize is that she’s also living on the property of the Sohma family. When her presence is discovered, she is invited to stay with them in their house. However, she soon finds out their secret: Their family is cursed to have 12 of their family members turn into animals of the Chinese zodiac when under stress or embraced by a member of the opposite sex. She vows to keep their secret, but as she delves deeper into the Sohma family, it becomes more and more dangerous to know what she does.

Fruits Basket is one of my favorite shows of all time. It’s funny, emotional, the animation is great, and the characters are incredible. There isn’t a person in the world who can’t relate to at least one of the members of the Sohma family as we see them go through everyday trials in some very unorthodox ways. It does a great job of balancing comedy with drama and tension.

I can’t really describe the love and connection I feel with this series, but if you give it a try, I bet you’ll feel the same.

#2 – Itazura na Kiss

Kotoko confesses her romantic feelings to Naoki, but he turns her down. Her day gets even worse when she returns home and her house collapses! A high school friend of her father offers them a place to stay until they can get back on their feet. However, in a twist of fate, her father’s high school friend is Naoki’s father! Living with Kotoko begins to change Naoki’s mind about her and the world around him, however, as they live together both he and Kotoko grow and change side-by-side.

What makes this series stand out is its masterful characterization. We get to see the characters go from high school students to adulthood, both main characters and side-characters. The evolution of each character is handled beautifully and each one is so realistic that you find yourself truly caring about their fates. This is also another title that masterfully blends comedy, romance, suspense, and at times, even drama and terror. The manga was so popular that it got made into several Japanese and Korean live-action drama shows before it even became an anime.

The unfortunate part of this story is that it was never finished. The creator died before she could finish it. However, she had told her husband of the ending she had wanted to have, and when it was made into an anime, he oversaw the ending to make sure it was exactly what she had wanted. She can rest in peace knowing that she left this incredible piece of work behind for all of us to enjoy.

#1 – Higurashi no Naku Koro Ni

Keiichi just moved to a small village called Hinamizawa. His new friends warn him that the god they worship will curse him if he doesn’t abide by the village’s rules, but when strange occurrences start happening, he begins thinking there may be more to this curse than his friends are telling him.

Higurashi is simply a masterpiece. The characters are deep and engaging, the music is perfection, and the story will go places that you won’t even be able to fathom. Despite its outward appearance, this show is gritty, gruesome, bloody, depraved, and all of the things that make up a great horror story. It is downright jaw-dropping and breathtaking to behold as everything unfolds and truths are revealed.

The one big flaw that this show has is its animation. It’s pretty, but the characters are drawn rather oddly with big heads and tiny bodies. However, it doesn’t deter from watching the show at all. Also, the show is laid out in arcs that reset the story every 4-6 episodes. It can get a little confusing, but it’s still very possible to follow the story and enjoy it, making it an exciting and unique way to view a story. This is, without a doubt, the best anime of the decade.

Comments (2) »