Friday, 27 May 2016

NANATSU NO TAIZAI CHAPTER 174-175 REVIEW: MELIODAS VS COMMANDMENTS = A.M.A.Z.I.N.G


August cannot come fast enough. It's because of chapters like this that Nanatsu no Taizai is one of my most anticipated anime series this year. The manga is on a roll. I always thought that it would be hard to follow the fight in Camelot.

There was so much tension in that battle against Galan, so many gasp-worthy moments that it, more or less, defined the quality of this arc as a whole.

And then we got this tournament, another opportunity for Nanatsu no Taizai to take Shonen tropes and do them way better. My eyes cannot quite believe the awesomeness of these last two chapters.

Nanatsu no Taizai is ridiculously good right now. I think we've all been waiting to see Meliodas unleash his true strength ever since he finished his training all those chapters ago. But I didn't think we would get to the final battle so soon.

That is if this is even the final battle. The structure of this arc as a whole makes no sense. There is no specific pattern to most of these events, which is why this is my favorite manga at the moment. You never know what you are going to get with this series.

Escanor decimating the Commandments was Jaw dropping enough. For Meliodas to immediately go on a murder spree against the giant and the fairy only escalated matters. And you have to love the way that fight was structured, with Meliodas becoming the overwhelming aggressor and the two demons surviving by a hair from panel to panel.

It sort of reminds of the first time we saw Priscila on the battlefield against the Ghosts in Claymore. This wasn’t quite as tension-filled as that. But Meliodas was on fire. He must have killed both of them four or five times, at least.

That moment when the commandments assembled Avengers-style against Meliodas has to be one of the standouts in Manga this whole year. Because you knew Meliodas was screwed the moment the smoke cleared and we saw the full force of the commandments arrayed against him.

Chapter 175, in particular, was amazing. From the moment he came face to face with Zeldoris, this fight refused to let up. You could almost feel his bones break against the Derriere's barrage, and that was before Graylord's magic bound him in place.

This is without a doubt the most awesome fight we have ever seen in Nanatsu no Taizai. It was fast paced and brutal. The way Zeldoris casually ripped Meliodas' arm off was almost chilling because you knew the Captain of the Seven Deadly Sins had just met his match.

And what a way to end things, giving Meliodas a ray of hope, a possibility of escape, the chance to essentially end the demon scourge with a single awesome stroke, only for Estarossa to bring the whole show to an abrupt end. 

Honestly, I CANNOT WAIT to see this animated. How the hell is Meliodas getting out of this one? The man is all but spent, shredded by the barrage of nine ferocious demons and a revenge counter that didn't quite pay off.

If you're not reading Seven Deadly Sins, you have no idea what you're missing. 


+RATING: 10/10

What if they actually do it? I mean, what if they actually kill Meliodas? I don't even know what that would mean. There isn't a single person left that can save him. Unless Elizabeth has some hidden goddess powers we don't know about.

Saturday, 14 May 2016

BOOK REVIEW: THE LAST APPRENTICE - CURSE OF THE BANE


I Miss books like this. It almost feels like I have spent the last few years immersed in the dirt, grime, darkness, and corruption. Don’t get me wrong. I can appreciate the recent trend to add stark grit and realism to most, if not all, fantasy fiction.

But, sometimes I miss authors like Joseph Delaney, who draw readers into a world that is more fantastical and magical than it is gray and depressing. Even when things get sour, books like this have a way of injecting a spark of fun into the entire experience.

+THE PLOT:

Now it's the dark's turn to be afraid.

The spook and his apprentice, Thomas ward, deal with the dark. Together they rid the county of witches, ghosts, and boggarts. But now there's some unfinished business to attend to in priestown. Deep in the catacombs of the cathedral lurks a creature the spook has never been able to defeat; a force so evil that the whole country is in danger of being corrupted by its powers. The Bane!

As Thomas and the Spook prepare for the battle of their lives, it becomes clear that the Bane isn't their only enemy. The Quisitor has arrived, searching for those who meddle with the dark so he can imprison them-- or worse.

Can Thomas defeat the Bane on his own? Is his friend Alice guilty of witchcraft? And will the spook be able to escape the Quisitor's Clutches?

+MY REVIEW 

Curse of the Bane is a very startling sequel. Most sequels are prone to repeating the experience of the first book, only shaking things up by taking a slightly darker turn, raising the stakes ever so slightly and ramping up the pace.

Joseph Delaney essentially went from 10MPH in Revenge of the Witch to 180MPH in Curse of the Bane. The sudden upswing of events is very unexpected.

-A new Beginning

To kick things off, Thomas Ward doesn’t really appear that different from when we last saw him in the first novel. Suddenly thrust out on his own and expected to tangle with a boggart while his master recuperates from illness back at home, a lot of reviews I have read seemed particularly taken by the action-packed nature of the first few pages of this novel.

I personally thought it was boring. Thomas Ward managed to make fighting Boggarts sound so dull. To begin with, Boggarts make very little sense. It wasn’t until this book that I realized that they were actual spirits rather than flesh and blood creatures.

Even taking that into account, the idea of defeating a boggart by trapping it in a hole is just…charming as Delaney’s approach to monster fighting was in the first novel, there was an element of silliness in Curse of the Bane that just didn’t work for me this time round.

-PriesTown

The book didn’t really kick things off until we got to Priesttown. In Revenge of the Witch, Gregory painted the Ecclesiastical land as the enemy of Spooks, Witches and everything that played with the dark, and for all the warnings he gave Thomas about avoiding Priestown, I was surprised that we got to see it so quickly.

A far more curious place than Chipenden, Priesttown is responsible for most of this book's greatest moments. A city filled to the brim with priests, enemies to the Spook and all he stands for, you have to commend the novel for the nerve-wracking moments it squeezed out of Priest Town.

Knowing that Gregory and Thomas were wading into the heart of the enemy’s territory, where every hand would seek to stone them and every voice would work to cheer them off to their cruel deaths, injected the sort of tension into my reading experience that I honestly didn’t think The Last Apprentice could deliver.

You knew that danger lurked everywhere, within every man and every woman. And Joseph wasn’t afraid to take things down a darker path, exploring the corruption of the men and women of God, the vile things they had done in the name of their beliefs and the lengths they were willing to go to cement their place in the world.

You will be hard-pressed to find a better setting for the spook’s most dangerous battle.

-The Bane

Speaking honestly, Mother Malkin was a ridiculous villain, dangerous when facing a little boy in the dark but nothing special in the light of day. The finale of her story was one of the weakest elements of the first book.

The Bane, on the other hand, is a far cry from mother Malkin. A vicious villain made more menacing by the fact that he is invisible. A power capable of invading the mind, tearing out your inner most thoughts, corrupting your morals, forcing you to act against your own will.

The perfect blend of psychologically malevolent yet physically intimidating, I started out laughing at the idea of being pressed by the Bane. Like that could compare to the fates vicious monsters from other works of fiction could dish out.

Then I thought about, and Delaney painted a more vivid picture of the experience. And now I cannot think of a more disturbing fate. I have read gruesome deaths from Ian Eccleston’s Malazan novels that left me feeling rather perturbed with the nature of life and death in fantasy. But somehow, the Bane’s pressing supersedes all that, maybe because of how silly it all sounds.

Delaney deserves full marks for the Bane, a monster that could inhabit multiple vessels, corrupt the purest of souls and turn any intent towards its own goals. You could sympathize with Thomas who, as he slinked through Priest Town’s alleyways, couldn’t stop questioning whether it was his will he was enacting or whether he had lost to the Bane and it was, in fact, driving him towards its own ends.

-The Family

While mildly interesting in the previous book, Thomas’ family made for very entertaining reading this time round, allowing the story to descend into various depths of emotion.

While hardly a serious book, Joseph Delaney’s second novel in the Last Apprentice Series has a way of striking at the heart strings, first starting with Tom’s relationship with his father and all the tragedy it hinted at, then eliciting rage from Jack and his bullying ways, then finally creating color and warmth in the way Thomas’ yearning for his home, seeing his Mam and eating her cooking clashed with the negative reception with which she often meets him.

The Revelation surrounding Tom’s Mam, while not wholly surprising, was very enlighting, opening the way for more interesting world building. It’s a little Sad knowing that she only married his Dad out of appreciation for his kindness. IN a way, it changes my perception of Tom’s Mam, if only just slightly.

-Alice

Alice infuriated me, though not because of her representation as a character. Alice was a ball of fun this time round, undergoing so much character development.

For all her silliness and the irrational decisions she made, you couldn’t help but empathize with her situation and how her past had shaped her understanding of people.

Foolish and almost selfish as she was portrayed this time round, all Alice has ever wanted is a roof over her head, hot food, and a warm fire during the winter. So many have sought the Bane for fame, riches, and otherworldly rewards.

It says something about the girl that her only wish is to find a nice Home.

My peeve with Alice emanates from her relationship with Tom, who really stretched my patience. Sure, he’s young, a child if you think about it, and for the most part, I was willing to forgive the many irrational decisions he made, or at least I tried.

Tom’s determination to risk the country as a whole for the sake of Alice, over and over again, became irritating. Even knowing the things she had done, I don’t want to say I expected more from Thomas, but I did.
Though, some of the best moments of the novel came from Thomas and Alice, especially those times he could do little more than watch as she slipped further towards the dark.

I cannot help but root for Alice. I want to see her triumph. And in that regard, it feels like everything the Spook does only pushes her further towards the dark, which is a shame.

I want to see those two get along. But every time it looks like the spook might handle her with a warmer touch, his stern attitude wins out.

+VERDICT:

This is a very entertaining book, that much is obvious from the very first page. The fast pace and rapidly changing situations keep you hooked to the pages, and the elements of horror add a strange and fantastical sort of magic to the experience.

Thomas’ struggle with Alice’s place in the world make for very interesting reading, exploring the idea of using the dark to protect the Country. You know that plot will probably run throughout the next couple of books.

Young Adult books like this are rare, emphasizing adventure and the supernatural over any elements of romance. Maybe the fact that the novel is largely populated by adults and children in their early teens has something to do with.

Either way, we need more books like this on the shelves. Very entertaining. Worth every hour I spent reading it.  The Bane was so deliciously menacing.

+RATING: 8/10


Wednesday, 11 May 2016

ANIME REVIEW: KEKKAI SENSEN - INSANE, AWESOME


What the Hell did I Watch? This anime makes no sense, and that isn't a bad thing. Wait. No, it is a bad thing because it feels like there were so many wasted opportunities in Kekkai Sensen that could have made the anime great...

Except it is great. It's been so long since I had this much fun watching anime.

Kekkai Sensen is confusing. Even after seeing it through to the end, I cannot quite decide what I think of it, and whether that is a good thing.

+THE PLOT:
Libra is a Motley Crew of eccentrics and superhumans. When Leo joins their ranks, his suddenly tumultuous life gets crazier than ever. Werewolves, ancient vampires, beautiful ghosts, lonely mushrooms- Hellsalem's Lot has a little bit of everything, all of it bizarre. Kekkai Sensen is the story of Leonard Watch and his journey through the strangest place on earth.
+MY REVIEW:


Has anyone watched Baccano? Did you like Baccano? Kekkai Sensen has been compared to Baccano! And I wholeheartedly agree with that comparison. Both anime are very erratic in the way they approach storytelling.

Supposedly, if you liked Baccano, you cannot help but love Kekkai Sensen. Both series are apparently cut from the same cloth. I personally disagree with that assessment. I didn't like Baccano. I couldn't even make it past the second episode.

Kekkai Sensen, on the other hand, is an explosion of fun. The plot follows Leonard Watch, a young man with special powers that joins a group of Super Men known as Libra. With a collection of zany characters by his side, he does his part to save his new home of Hellsalem's Lot.

There is a definite lack of order in this show. Most of the episodes have no real purpose, instead stumbling about from one random scene to another. The cast constitutes a series of wildly exaggerated characters with vague abilities and no real objective.

I won't even try to explain Leonard Watch and his so called 'All Seeing Eyes of the Gods'.

Here's the thing. Kekkai Sensen isn't really big on the details. Little about the concepts that drive the supernatural world of HellSalem's Lot are explained. The villains are usually evil for the sake of being evil. No complex backstories or emotional punches to explain their actions.

DO not watch Kekkai Sensen if you are looking for a semblance of story within which to lose yourself. I meant it when I called this anime a series of random scenes with very tenuous connections in between them.

Kekkai Sensen isn't the sort of anime you 'Get Into'. It will not engross you, forcing you to tune into each new episode just so you can get your fix of plot twists, character developments, and story driven action.

Kekkai Sensen is like an art piece. You have to simply appreciate it for what it is. Most of the events of the anime center on Libra, a motley crew of men and women with special powers. As heroes, they are larger than life, with over-the-top abilities and ridiculously exaggerated techniques.

All they do is fight, from the first episode to the last. Every fight has to be big, with massive explosions,  a litany of manly groans and the obnoxious block letters that are always raining down from the sky, announcing the unleashing of a new Blood Release Technique.

Think Sengoku Basara set in Modern Day New York, with elements of Durarara mixed in. Everything rests on the shoulders of the characters. The majority rarely receive the limelight they deserve. In fact, the series has a tendency sideline everyone that isn't Leo, Zapp or Klaus.

But it's fine because the few minutes Kekkai Sensen does assign to them- every few episodes- are worth the wait, delivering mostly nonsensical yet engrossing dialogue, humorous shenanigans and Balls to the Wall Action.

It is difficult to fault Kekkai Sensen. Do not get me wrong. There are a lot of things wrong with this anime. Some episodes try too hard to get serious, many times desperate to force us as viewers to sympathize with characters like Klaus.

There are Waaaaaay too many characters in the show that the writer makes no effort to explain or expound upon. They simply show up, participate in very memorable situations only to disappear, never to be seen again.

The action scenes are excessive. As I said, everything is bigger than it should be and nothing is ever explained. Considering all that he has been through in the first season, I still don't know what Klaus can do, or Zapp, or for that matter, Leonard Watch and his Fancy eyes.

Sometimes Kekkai Sensen does try too hard. Most of the time, however, it doesn't try at all. And it is that effortless delivery that brings all the ridiculous, clunky and ineffective elements of the anime together to produce something truly memorable.

Give this anime a proper opportunity to impress you, and you probably won't be disappointed. You will spend many an hour planted firmly in your seat, thinking, "Wow! I am still here, watching this. Why?"


+VERDICT:
The English title of this anime is Blood Blockade BatteFront. Think about that title. Sound it out, if you must. This anime is everything that title makes you think it is. And I couldn't recommend it more.

Kekkai Sensei is everything a decent anime shouldn't be. The show is vague. Its characters are underdeveloped and the plot is almost non-existent. Yet, you would be remiss to miss out on the unique viewing experience that Blood Blockade BattleFront delivers.

And I understand. Some of you are going to watch this anime and think, "Wow, What a load of nonsense. That’s 12 hours I will never get back.” And that's quite alright because you're not wrong.

I think Kekkai Sensei is amazing and am not wrong either. Kekkai Sensei is both of those things, difficult as that conclusion might be to understand. Your perception of the anime will basically come down to your personal preferences and tastes. At some point, after the first four episodes, your brain will make a choice to either adapt and praise Kekkai Sensei or damn it for all its nonsense.

And there is so much nonsense. Yet it all comes together to create one hell of a chaotic ride that you cannot help but watch. Be warned, though, the finale is garbage. For one hour at the end, Kekkai Sensei becomes normal, and none of the decisions it makes work.

And why should they? The anime is pretty erratic throughout its run. For the writers to decide to give the series a normal ending, when Kekkai Sensei had made no effort to lay the groundwork beforehand, makes no sense.

But this one mark does little to diminish the memorable experience Kekkai Sensei delivers.

+RATING: 7/10


+HIGHLIGHTS: My favorite episode of this entire show revolved around burgers and a tiny little creature with Amnesia. The emotional punches the episode somehow delivers by the end, despite its silly concept, were unexpected.

Zapp really grew on me. Everything with this character was enjoyable. Abrams and Deldro deserved more screen time. They were a joy to watch.

Aligura was definitely my favorite villain of the show, this despite her limited screen time.


Monday, 9 May 2016

NARUTO EPISODE 459 REVIEW: HOLY HELL! THIS WAS AWESOME


Holy Crap! This...This was as perfect as a Naruto Episode gets. Even as a fan of the series, episode 459 caught me a little off-guard. Maybe's it's because of all the terrible filler we've had all year, but this episode was all kinds of special, exactly what I needed as a Naruto fan for the story to engage me once more.

Truth be told, I don't remember the last time we got an episode this well directed. And am not merely talking about the art or animation style but the overall approach. Whoever made this episode, where the hell have they been for the past few years?

I am getting shivers just thinking about what the remainder of this arc holds if Studio Pierrot actually maintains this level of quality.

+THE EPISODE:

 Kaguya emerges from Madara and turns her wrath against the vessels of her son's power.

+MY REVIEW:


Seriously, this was perfect. Right off the bat, you could see the effort put into the episode with the quality of the art and animation. Then the story kicked things up a notch, showing us Kaguya's revival via a frenetic series of shots revealing her form as she emerged from Madara.

You have to commend the animation team for the atmospheric tension they squeezed out of every scene, killing the music just as Kaguya approached her victims, and using Sakura's terrified shivers to display the monstrous levels of power escaping from the so-called-god of the Shinobi world. 

Most of this arc was ruined by the show's tendency to rush through plots and brush over the most important aspects of the story. Where One Piece, for instance, might allow us to fully appreciate certain scenes for an episode or two before reaching its objectives, Naruto tends to immediately transition to its goals.

But that approach worked this time around, particularly because of how unpredictable it made the episode. Do you know the last time I watched a Naruto episode that actually surprised me? It's been a while.

So believe me when I Say that I was quite shocked to realize that, not only was I wholly invested in the events of this episode but I was on the edge of my seat, which boggles my mind. Naruto just doesn't do that anymore.

When Kaguya warped them all into another dimension, within the blink of an eye, my jaw dropped because I was suddenly right there, with Kakashi and Sakura, Sasuke and Naruto, falling towards a lake of Lava, with nothing between me and certain death.

Then came all the split second life-saving decisions reminding us that we were watching Naruto and these were Ninja, Kakashi doing the impossible  and somehow saving both his and Sakura's lives as well as Obito, all with a single scroll and two Kunai-again, another jaw-dropping moment.

And from there, events quickly escalated. Suddenly, there were flying Shinobi, special summons and badass teleportation Jutsu, all working to bring Kaguya down.

At some point the music changes and an operatic choir explodes onto the scene, belting out an apocalyptic tune as Naruto does his best impression of Luffy's Gatling gun against Kaguya's hair.

Another moment that just had the hairs on my back standing. And, again, it doesn’t sound like anything special, until you actually see how they executed it. The timing was just perfect. Here I was waiting for another showing of mind blowing shinobi craftiness, only for Kaguya to try ending things with an earth-shattering frontal assault.

And all that was before things took a horrific turn: and again, another scene that you could have shrugged off as generic, if not for the execution, with the music falling silent, Sasuke and Naruto going white as sheets and their eyes widening in true horror for the first time in the entire war as Kaguya broke through the walls of dimensions and crept up on them like that girl from the grudge, all demon-eyed, black nailed and deadly.

THIS EPISODE WAS AWESOME. It delivered action, surprises, even horror, all in short and well time bursts. I don't know who directed this but they deserve a medal. Forget about the music and the art style and animation; this Naruto episode exceeded expectations by delivering tension-filled atmosphere.

And that alone made every possible difference.


+RATING: 11/10. You have to love Sasuke’s casual yet logical way of dismissing Sakura and Kakashi yet again as being utterly useless in the fight against Kaguya.

+HIGHLIGHTS: Everything


Wednesday, 4 May 2016

BORUTO: NARUTO NEXT GENERATIONS CHAPTER 1 REVIEW: THE DEATH OF SASUKE AND NARUTO?


What the hell did I just read? I cannot decide whether I should be angry or excited about this, the first chapter In the Boruto: Naruto Next Generations series. Maybe a little bit of both.

Thinking about this chapter objectively, it wasn't very entertaining. I mean, the first four pages blew my mind. But then we got 50+ pages of unnecessary drama. I understand that every manga needs time to set up its story but you do not open your chapter with such enticing imagery, and then expect us to enjoy several dozen pages of Boruto whining about his life.

But let's forget all that for now. In fact, let's forget this whole chapter because, if everything I have seen on the internet is to be believed, then everything I read in these 60 odd pages was a rehash of the Boruto Movie.

I haven't seen the Boruto movie yet. I would like to enjoy it when it finally comes out, particularly a version with Japanese audio, so I am not very happy about all the spoilers I got this time round. And, because this manga is clearly taking the Dragon Ball Super route and essentially expounding upon material we already know, the next few chapters will probably be dedicated to wrapping up the Boruto movie story.

In other words, I have to find a way of gleaning the new information while avoiding all the spoilers.

My Point: this was a stupid chapter, drawing us in as readers with a kick ass opening before reverting to material most people have obviously already seen. 

But let's forget all about that for now, because those first four pages were almost worth the time I spent reading this chapter.


+Boruto VS Kawaki

There is so much to unpack in those first four pages:

1). First of all, I don't know what I think about the art. Maybe it's because I know this isn't Kishimoto drawing the chapter but something felt ever so slightly off. But, then again, as with most manga, I will probably acclimate to the new look.

Straying beyond these first few pages, of all the characters we saw in this chapter, Sasuke is the only one who truly didn't look right.

2). Let's try and digest this idea that Naruto and Sasuke are actually dead. I mean, sure, we do not know for certain that they are dead. But, just look at Konoha. There is no way the village could have been decimated so thoroughly if the two greatest Shinobi in the world were still alive. 

In which case, we have to ask: how the hell could this have happened? IN what universe could some random upstart like Kawaki have possibly defeated and killed both Naruto and Sasuke. Even taking into account all the possible powers that Kawaki might bring to the table, consider the enemies Naruto and Sasuke have faced over the years.

We can all agree that, big as the world might be, there are no Shinobi left in the world that could possibly fall within the class of Obito, Madara and Kaguya.

In which case, you have to wonder. How the hell did Naruto and Sasuke die? This question matters, by the way. Short of going the route of natural causes, it will be difficult for the new author to kill the manga's two biggest guns in a way that actually satisfies us as fans.

And I don't think anyone will buy the idea of Naruto dying of the flu because plausible at that might be, there couldn't be a dumber way of putting the legendary hero to sleep.

3). Seriously, let's try to digest the idea of Naruto and Sasuke dying because it just boggles my mind. Sure, it would be difficult to create a credible threat in this new world with Naruto and Sasuke still walking about, but the idea that they actually killed Naruto and Sasuke...I mean, why?

4). Boruto has the Byakugan. Interesting, though he only has it in one eye. If the writers want to make things interesting, they will probably kill off Himawari and have Boruto transplant one of her Byakugans into his skull.

Either way, even knowing that Boruto came out of Hinata, I was never certain that he would acquire Byakugan. 

5). Are we going with curse marks again? What's with those tribal tattoos that Boruto and Kawaki were spotting. Kawaki kept talking about the death of the Ninja, so maybe they have introduced a new power, some force that has no relation to chakra.

I have heard speculation about the Samurai coming into play this time round. So maybe the Samurai decided to conquer the world, though I wasn't aware that they have any special powers.

6). What if all this was a dream? What if Boruto was simply imagining himself as the big hero, standing in the ruins of Konoha as he fights to save his home from a vicious criminal? That would be sad, that Shonen Jump was so desperate to make money that they turned to such despicable tricks.


+RATING: I Honestly don't know what to make of this chapter. I cannot decide if I like or despise the implications of those first four pages. But then again, this looks like something totally new. And that might be a good thing.