Wednesday, February 26, 2003

Vampire Princess Miyu TV

Genre: Dark, Occult
Parental Guidance Recommended
Hirano Toshihiro. (director). Kawai Kenji (music director). AIC. Sooeishinsha and Pony Canyon. TV Tokyo.

Vampire Princess Miyu DVDs
Vampire Princess Miyu Manga
Vampire Princess Miyu Music
Vampire Princess Miyu Items

Thundersenshi's Description:
Shinma (God + Demon) are supernatural beings that devour the hearts of men and lead them to ruin. Long ago, they were sealed in the dark. However, there are the stray Shinma that live secretly in the human world. They lurk in the division between night and day. The guardian who sends the stray Shinma back to the Dark is said to be a beautiful, golden-eyed vampire girl named Miyu. But no one really knows the truth of who she is or what she looks like. No one ever lives to tell the tale.

(25 episodes)

A newly revamped Miyu. >>> by thundersenshi
After leaving us with the unexplored mystery of the OAV series, the vampire Miyu and her sinfully beautiful sidekick, Larva, are back. But don't expect to see the same child-woman who played around with a teasing, girlish malice and had a penchant for pretty, young boys (as if having someone like Larva around wasn't enough!). This rendition of Miyu, her story, and the events triggered by her existence take a different turn from the original manga and the OAV.

What do you expect from something like VPM? If you haven't seen any of the previous installments, it is probably safe to assume you were lured in by the vampire myths. But if you were planning to be dazzled by blood, gore, and detailed neck-biting scenes, then prepare to be disappointed; VPM is not your typical vampire flick. It is far different from the likes of Vampire Hunter D or Hellsing. In fact, battles between shinma and Miyu are very short, and not as heart-pounding or as adrenaline-rushing as you would have liked. There is little to no struggle involved and the fight is over in mere seconds. Sometimes it makes you wonder what the whole point to the monster-of-the-day storyline was. But you see, Miyu's role as huntress and her sending the shinma back to the dark are not the focus of this series. Though the vampire is the main character, it is actually the human lives who play center stage. It is not so much a horror story as it is a study of tragedy that befall mortals.

The TV series has taken a lot of liberties from the original story. The characters, for starters. Miyu here is much too quiet, less playful. More mature. She isn't the puppeteer who pulls the strings to amuse herself with the play of human life; rather, she's the lone watcher who sees everything unfold, drinking in scene after scene without qualm. It isn't that she gives everything a cold disregard, though. She simply sees them as they are--sad and miserable incidents destroying lives that were otherwise blissfully happy. She is not entirely detached from the human and shinma lives she comes across, but she rarely interferes with their affairs and inner turmoil. If anything, she is more conscious of her role as the Guardian who seals stray shinma back to the darkness. She keeps a tight rein on her emotions, and only lets loose whenever Larva is concerned. As for him, female fans of the series will be delighted to know that he takes his mask off every now and then and he even talks (his punishment being nonexistent in this version of Miyu's story)! We are also given a glimpse of his past in a few episodes, but it was not as elaborately told like it was in the manga. I find this to be terribly unfortunate because the Western shinma's visit to Japan's shores to take back Larva was the climax of the original story.

Also, prior to watching this series, I was told that it doesn't compare to the other versions of VPM. In fact, as I've come to know over the years, a lot of people prefer the four-part OAV that came before this, because it is closer to the feel of the manga. True, there is that. The TV series has so many differences from the versions that came before it, but this does not necessarily mean it is inferior compared to the manga and the OAV release. I think it was a rather beautiful rendition of Miyu's story, something that shows us a new facet of Miyu's life that is entirely apart from those shown in other stories. At first, the episodes come off-beat, nothing really special to take note of. Exactly in the middle of it, though, the series takes a complete turn. The condescending nature of vampires toward human life are highlighted by the mutual fascination that humans and vampires regard each other with. The stories begin to have more depth, more impact. While the first part of the series tended to be more predictable, its other half totally confuses its watchers. The only thing that remains constant here is the tragedy. If you were looking for a feel-good watch, you should go look elsewhere, as the depression in this series can get highly intense.

So is it worth it? Hard to say. An anime like VPM is obviously not everyone's cup of tea. But when one of those melancholic moods takes over you, when a certain point in time comes where you just want to see a lot of angst...then allow yourself to be whistled in the world of VPM. It's an acquired taste.

(Also notable is this series' soundtrack, usually one of the most recommended ones in anime fandom. The music is beautiful, and it fits the series well. The opening song, in particular, reminds me of tunes heard from Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. Others are reminiscent of old Japanese music. Flying ninja and slashing samurai come to mind.)

Individual Rating: Art/Animation 9; Story 8; Characters 10; Sounds 8

Hana Yori Dango (Boys Over Flowers) Manga

Genre: Shoujo
General Audience
Shiina Takahashi.

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Thundersenshi's Description:
Tsukushi Makino had just moved into Eitoku High School -- a posh academy where the richest kids in Japan (and probably the rest of the world) get their education. Upon her arrival, she quickly learns that only money and its influence will spare her from discrimination. Being that Tsukushi has none, she decides to maintain a low profile for her own sake. But Tuskushi's spirited self can only take so much, and when she could no longer stand the sight of bullying and hazing around the campus, she finds herself at the wrong side of F4. F4 is a group comprised of the four richest, most influential, and best-looking guys in Eitoku High. F4 practically rule the whole school. However, even with the whole student body against her, Tsukushi refuses to back down... and declares a war of her own. Just when she thinks things couldn't get more complicated, her defiance gets her tangled on a more personal level with two of the F4 -- the brash leader of the group, Tsukasa Doumyouji, and the enigmatic Rui Hanazawa.

(35 volumes as of December 2002)

A triangle that keeps you guessing. >>> by thundersenshi
What I like most about shoujo is that they're usually very entertaining, if not highly amusing. As a matter of fact, most of them are even funnier than your regular shonen watch. The best shoujo are usually quite special when it comes to humor--and Hana Yori Dango certainly falls under these ranks. Not only because it has the kind of comedy that really gets to me, but because it's got a great romantic angle combined with excellent characters as well. With all these, how can you go wrong? Well, the typical anti-shoujo will need a little more convincing, that's for sure...but let's see if dissecting it a bit further will make it more appealing.

It's a story set in high school, where the kids are at their rowdiest. You know how high school teen flicks always involve funny and crazy stereotypes? Well, in HYD, the word "rowdy" takes on a new level because of one thing: money. Where there's usually the rich and poor, the popular and unpopular, and the beautiful and ugly in a typical high school setting, Eitoku High takes a slightly different stab at this kind of scene. There's just the rich and richer, popular and more popular...and well, you get my drift. Maybe the labels on a typical high school setting would apply...if these students were simply enclosed among themselves in their own little world. But imagine how such an environment would be to an outsider...especially one whose own wealth increased five times wouldn't even compare to what an Eitoku "pauper" normally has. This is where lead character Tsukushi Makino comes in.

Now Tsukushi knows where her monetary value (the only thing that matters) stands. So how does an ordinary girl like her survive in a den of lions? Her solution was simple enough--pretend to be a weed among the carnivores. And it would have worked, too, only her circumstances were not as simple. Tsukushi knew well enough that she may not be rich, not beautiful, but she sure as hell knows she's not a wimp. When she sees a display of unfathomable arrogance and injustice done to her first and only friend in the school so far, her true colors finally surface and she unwittingly comes to her friend's defense. Never mind if she had planned on being obscure; she just crossed paths with Tsukasa Domyouji. And he's the leader of F4, high school boys (he and three of his best friends) who lord over the school. But she refuses to be intimidated and fights back. What comes after is a series of shocking encounters for Tsukushi as she learns firsthand the extent of Tsukasa Domyouji's influence. Now it's her turn to be tortured and bullied around mercilessly. And just when she thought she was going to drown from the misery, she finds a most unlikely saviour--Rui Hanazawa, Tsukasa's best friend. Rui is a quiet, contemplative boy who did save her once from danger, but continues not to interefere with anyone's affairs. However, his indifferent attitude does not stop Tsukushi from being attracted to him, as she senses the sensitive, passionate person behind the stoic surface. And this doesn't bode well for any of them--Tsukushi, Tsukasa and Rui.

Now if you have watched the TV series, you will understand that it is this curious mix of characters and their different worlds that keep one glued to boobtube. It's the same element that makes the manga a fantastic read. You think you've got the romantic angles and personality clashes all figured out, but somewhere in the middle, your guesses will turn haywire. You can probably attribute it to the fact that the mangaka herself went astray from her original storyline as she was writing this. It was as if the characters themselves had their own minds and they chose their own roles to play--thus, the chaotic melodrama was born. The manga is even worse than the anime, for it takes you further into the story that was cut short in its animated incarnate. Dedicated fans have a hard time deciding whether that particular decision of the mangaka was a curse or a blessing. There's also a few slight differences in characterization, especially in Rui Hanazawa's case (I think you will like him better in his original manga version). Of course, there were also a few chapters in the manga that never made it into the anime cut, and there's always those to look forward to when reading the manga.

Individual Rating: Art 7; Story 8; Characters 10

Hana Yori Dango (Boys Over Flowers) Movie

Genre: Shoujo / Romance
General Audience
Credits: (c) Toei, Kamio Youko, Shuueisha, ABC. Screenshots courtesy of this page.

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Thundersenshi's Description:
Makino Tsukushi dreams of one day getting the lead role on stage. But between a budding interest in famous composer Hanazawa Rui, facing up to the arrogant male lead Doumyouji Tsukasa and ignoring snide comments from the female lead Sakurako and her cohorts, this dancer-in-training seems to be having a hard time believing in her dream. But when a curious twist in events happens, she may just prove her worth...with help from someone she least expected.

What happens when the cast of HYD is thrown in an alternate universe? >>> by thundersenshi
Reading the summary, you can probably already guess that this movie takes place in an alternate universe--same characters, totally different setting. But did you expect anything like the cast being dancers in a major stage production? I know I didn't. I should have known there was more to the TV series' opening sequence than the creators let on. This is the untold story of "Fuutsu no Nichiyoubi" ...

The movie is short and sweet, similar to the extra installments other shoujo series' had (such as Marmalade Boy the movie). This, too, could've served better as a special TV episode, as it isn't really a cinematic thriller the likes of Escaflowne's or Rurouni Kenshin's (or even Sailormoon, which is also shoujo) that run for over an hour or so. In fact, I wouldn't recommend this to someone unfamiliar with the HYD series. This installment does not explore much detail on the characters, neither does it give much thought on plot (what plot?). So you see, it is actually no more than fan service at best, placing the characters on a different situation to spark a solid fandom's interest. And it is curious, how they managed to place all these characters we've come to know in the manga and TV series in a setting such as this, while retaining their personalities.

No, this movie isn't half your life, far from it even. But for curiousity's sake, wouldn't you like to see Doumyouji in leotard and tights?

Individual Rating: Art: 7, Story&Plot: 6, Characters: 9; Sounds: 7; Overall: 7

Not a bad idea actually >>> by firesenshi
I always thought that the creators of this movie had a good concept in mind when they thought of this one... or at least in the best interest of the characters and fans of this popular shoujo anime. So when you place the characters in an alternate universe, the idea is that the very theme of the original Hana Yori Dango series would never change. And it didn't. The character designs didn't change, their personalities didn't change, their status didn't change... only the setting and roles changed.

Set in one of the most artistic cities in the world, New York is the best place to have the story of a struggling dancer in training in the hopes of dancing her way to fame until she catches the attention of the top male dancer in the studio. Three guesses on who's playing those. From the original 'rags to riches' concept in the Hana Yori Dango series to the 'zero to hero' formula in this alternate universe, the formula is definitely predictable. The HYD series however proved that the 'soap-opera' themes would work as long as it broke the norms in shoujo. This movie didn't give us a chance to know more about the characters because they didn't provide ample background nor plot (like the above review says, 'What plot?') on the characters. They simply introduced a 'What if' scenario.

And yes, I'm sure fangirls have been imagining what Tsukasa looks like in tights.

The idea would've been okay if they were just a teensy bit industrious enough rather than just distorting your ideas of the characters on a whim. The result: who would've thought that the cool F4 would be cheesy? My other rant was that for a movie that was to be like Center Stage, the dance moves reminds me so much of like the '80s dance movie Flashdance. Somebody please remind them that the aerobics fad is sooo over.

Individual Rating: Art: 7, Story&Plot: 6, Characters: 7; Sounds: 7; Overall: 6

Tuesday, February 25, 2003


Genre: Bishoujo
General Audience
2002 Toei Animation / Visual Art's / Key / Fuji Television

Kanon DVDs
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Everything Kanon

Skysenshi's Description:
It has been seven years since Yuuichi Aizawa left Japan. Now that he is back, he is reunited with his cousin Nayuki Minase and her mother Akiko. Things have been going pretty well for the young boy...except, every now and then, a different girl would appear out of the blue and tell him that he had been friends with her seven years ago. Unfortunately, Yuuichi doesn't seem to remember anything about his past, specifically what had happened in his life the year that he and his parents had left Japan. Little by little, his everyday activities help him remember his old friends. As he puts together pieces of his memories, however, he learns that some of them are treasures...and some of them are meant to be forgotten.

In the end, he discovers why he had developed selective amnesia in the first place. Will he regret bearing the knowledge? Or will he become a bigger man and face the bitter truth?

(13 episodes)

It gets depressing... >>> by skysenshi
One look at the first episode and a regular bishoujo gamer would recognize that this could've come from a bishoujo game. The artwork, coloring, music, hairstyles and the pacing of the first three episodes were screaming, "This is a b-game!" I wasn't too far off as I learned that Kanon is based on a hentai PC game of the same title.

Hentai? Any anime fan that is familiar with this term might be a little surprised. Kanon doesn't, in any way, look like it came from any perverse source. Everybody looked so young and cute, yes, even the adults. It would take a person with Lolita complex to even find these characters remotely sexy. The situations were equally cute and the voices where so darn small you can't help but think Card Captor Sakura.

For all its resemblance to an H b-game, I was glad that they didn't make this anime into a hentai feature. First, because it would've ruined the story, and second, Yuuichi's sincerity in helping all those girls in this animated version would've seemed questionable. It would totally destroy the mood if Yuuichi decided he wanted to sleep his way to episode 13. Yuuichi is typical b-game lead character. He is soft-spoken, very kind, but he has a lot of sense of humor. He also has a soft spot for people in need, whether they be male, female or animal. This is why most of the episodes in Kanon are spent with Yuuichi trying to help so many people find their identities, battle psychological demons, cope with fatal diseases, and simply learn to stand up for themselves.

Of course, one can't help but feel the glow of romance. It's just hard to choose who's best for Yuuichi because all the females in Kanon have inimitable personalities. I couldn't stop laughing at the Yuuichi versus Makoto Sawatari (blond girl in 4th screenshot) battles, wherein the two play pranks to outdo each other. I was also quite amused by Ayu Tsukimiya's (2nd screenshot) penchant for stealing taiyaki and creating trouble for Yuuichi every time she bumps into him. Even the kind and seemingly acquiescent girls, mostly portrayed by Nayuki and Sayuri Kurata, actually have strong backbones and even small doses of selfishness. Yes, they can sacrifice their needs for the sake of their friends, and yes, the women here support each other. But these girls actually have limits, which bring me to think that this title is an honest piece of work.

I must admit I underestimated this title. The slow pacing of the first three episodes made me think of boring clickathons that usually define b-games. I even thought the plot had nowhere to go to. But the sudden appearance of supernatural/psychological battles threw me in for a loop. I was thrown for a bigger loop when twists, both cruel and funny, were injected near the end of the series.

It gets depressing, though. By the eighth episode I was starting to feel an ache in my chest. And by the tenth ep, I had to transfer to my room because I couldn't let my mom's secretary see her boss' 25-year-old almost-married daughter bawling like a baby. All of the girls in Kanon have their own stories to tell-each having their own shock qualities. Highly recommended, especially for b-gamers, romance fanatics, and just those who would love to be surprised every now and then.

Individual Rating: Art: 8; Story & Plot 7; Characters: 9; Sounds: 7

Unexpectedly Powerful >>> by MarkPoa (written ??.??.2004 posted 01.29.2005)
Kanon shares a lot of similarities to the anime To Heart. Both are romance anime based on hentai games. Both feature a kind-hearted protagonist who ends up helping a cast of cute multi-hair-colored girls. Both even feature the one male side-character who does nothing but provide one liner comments.

What sets Kanon apart from its light-hearted fluffy predecessor is its more serious mood. The series does not go for the standard anime romantic comedy formula with slapstick comedy, goofy sidekicks, and weird relatives. Instead, it treats itself more seriously.

When I first saw Kanon's character designs, I was immediately reminded of another anime: the hentai Elven Bride. (Please note that I didn't know it was based on an H-game at the time.) The characters all have more than the standard anime saucer eyes; literally, the characters' eyes are half the size of their heads. This initially turned me off from watching, thinking that it must be as fluffy as To Heart.

However, the characters' personalities gradually come out over the course of the series and this makes them more real, inspite of the kooky character designs. We see how each person is different from the others, why they act that way, why they relate to the other characters as such... It just shows that visuals that are pleasing to the eye are made better by good characterization.

I didn't expect a good dramatic story from this series, but that is what I got. Each of the girls' stories, though sometimes fantastic and requires a brief suspension of disbelief, were nonetheless interesting enough to catch my attention and even elicit a tear or two. The development of the story is deliberately slow... it falls layer by layer like falling of light snow. (Hey, that rhymes!) This actually adds to the enjoyment of the story as the viewer starts to learn about and care for the characters as the series progresses.

For a TV series, Kanon sports beautiful artwork and animation. The slow pace gives the story full room to develop and the characters to grow. There are some CG effects, but I think the animators utilized them very well here. The series also features a good instrumental background music, providing an appropriate sentimental mood to the series. The opening theme best exemplifies this with its soft orchestral tones.

If there is one complaint I have with Kanon, aside from the large eyes, it would have to be the forced happy ending. I think the ending episode could have ended earlier, even on a sadder note. I just found the ending to be a bit anti-climatic compared to the powerful penultimate episode.

Individual Rating: Art: 9; Story & Plot 8; Characters: 9; Sounds: 9

Monday, February 24, 2003

Legend of Legaia 2: Duel Saga

Genre: Role Playing Game
Platform: Playstation 2
2002 Fresh Games, EIDOS Interactive. Screenshots courtesy of Amazon.Com

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Cover Description:
A magical crystal that supplied infinite water to the small village of Nohl is stolen. When a solar eclipse drowns the land in an evil light, monsters become plentiful and powerful, placing the village's very survival at stake. Lang, a rookie member of the Nohl militia, must fight his way across unchartered lands to recover the crystal and restore peace to the land he calls home.

A notch better than the first. >>> by skysenshi

While not up to par with other PS2 titles such as Suikoden III and Wild Arms Advanced 3rd, Legaia 2: Duel Saga can pretty much hold its own. It is certainly better than its predecessor, the eternally tedious Legend of Legaia, in many ways. This game is like a combination of Legend of Mana, Suikoden, Wild Arms, and various other games, just for the sheer amount of activity you can actually do. But let's start with the basics first…

Story and Characters
Come on. Don't tell me you totally buy that cover story about this being an adventure for the sake of the village. Of course it's more than that. It's always about saving the world, isn't it? The story is classic RPG cliché, with characters that are also classic RPG cliché. You have the well-balanced main character (Lang), the sickeningly sweet female mage with ridiculously low HP (Maya), the ultra slow beefcake with lots of strength (Ayne), the monk-like barehand fighter (Kazan), and the beautiful kick-ass female fighter who will never get a decent love life (Sharon). The only thing different now is that the main character is very 21st century. In other words: a whiner with a penchant for shoujo-esque spiels. We are friends. We save the world. We have hope-slash-love-slash-courage! You've seen this trend in Final Fantasy X, Suikoden III, Kingdom Hearts and Wild Arms 3. Gone are the days where lead characters' dialogues are composed mainly of ellipses. Sigh. We did wish for leads that actually talk…now they talk too much.

They talk. In Japanese and English. I have a major problem with the dubbing, though. Between Kazan's bad accent and Sharon's shrill voice, I have a mind to press MUTE every time their turns come up. One major gripe: the background music sound exactly like the ones used in Legend of Legaia. I can even remember exactly where in Legend of Legaia those sounds are used. If there are new original BGM in this game, they are very few.

The visuals, however, are very good. Not Final Fantasy material, but getting there. Lang actually looks like this cute Filipino actor/model named Richard Gutierrez. Sadly, if you're looking for FMV sequences with better detail, you won't be finding them here.

Ah, here is where the huge difference between the first Legaia and this one lies. They're no longer stingy with cash and experience points. The mini-games aren't frustrating, either. Many of the mini-games, though, seem to be lifted from other titles. Like for instance, the planting and harvesting of Legend of Mana, the puzzles and tools of Wild Arms, the auctions of Final Fantasy IX, the cooking, hot springs and room decorating activities of Suikoden, etc.

They've added a camping feature, where you can chat, cook, combine weapons and armor, replenish your status and save. Cooking here is quite addictive because you get to mix so many different ingredients that you buy from markets and whatever concoction you've cooked at camp affects how you perform in battles. Yes, the enemies here are still quite tedious to defeat, but with cooking, you stats increase temporarily, depending on the dish. I'm one of those people who go around the world map just to collect recipes from different villages. Yum!

Speaking of the world map, this is one of the best features that Legaia 2 has to offer. Yes, like other PS2 RPGs, the map is still quite similar to Legend of Dragoon's. You can't explore because you can only go to specific points in the map. What's better in Legaia 2's map system ('course, anything is better than Dragoon's tedious walk-everywhere-even-when-I've-been-through-this-route scenario) is that once you've passed a mountain/dungeon to get to a village, you don't have to go through that mountain/dungeon again to go back to that particular village. It's like having an auto-teleport so early in the game.

Other activities worth mentioning are the Guild Quests where you are hired to take on various mundane and difficult tasks for a price. There's still a battle arena and a casino you can visit to while away the time. You also get to have nicknames, which I think is lots fun—save for that time when I got labelled a Pervert for peeking on my other party members while they were taking a bath.

Battle System
Like I mentioned earlier, you have "tools" in the game. This is similar to Wild Arms' in that you use these to get further in your quests, e.g. break boulders, light faraway switches etc. These are actually your Origins, the summons in the game. You basically use them in and out of battles this way. You have only one specific Origin per person and you don't have to go around the world to get other summons.

The battle system is still basically the same as with Legaia 1. You have combos, which are called Arts. But unlike in Legaia 1, where you have to guard to charge up your Art Points (AP), you just have to use regular/ordinary Arts to charge your gauge here. Your AP decreases whenever you use Super Arts, Hyper Arts, Mystic Arts, and Variable Arts. This is still better than the first Legaia because you don't lose your turn here. You deal damage while charging. In addition, you don't even have to lose AP if you use the right combination of attacks.

Areas That Need Improvement:

  1. Mazes - I don't know why some game developers still insist on putting too many forks and dead ends inside long and winding dungeons. It's not cute. It's annoying. The latest Final Fantasy, Suikoden and even the usually maze-infested Wild Arms series have stopped doing this. Legaia should follow suit.
  2. Save Points - Are scarce. If you encounter very few save points in long and winding dungeons with absolutely infuriating encounter rates, you can't help but get frustrated.
  3. Shortcuts - This would've been useful for summons and combos. This was my main complaint with the first Legaia and they hadn't fixed it here. Other games give you the option to not see full summon sequences because there's no point in seeing the same thing over and over again. With the Legaia series' case, it's the combos you want to cut short. Sure, it's cool to know that your character can do a 20+ hit combo, but do you really have to see every hit in slow motion?

Legaia 2 is a fairly short game. I actually finished it in 4 days, complete with leveling up and the best weapon and armor available. It's a good game, certainly better than the first installment. Enjoyment is actually a guarantee…just make sure you don't play Suikoden III first.

DIFFICULTY: Moderate - Difficult
RATINGS: Gameplay 9; Battle 10; Story 6; Visuals 7; Characters 7; Sounds 5; Replay Value 7

Arc the Lad: Twilight of the Spirits (Arc the Lad: Serei no Koukon)

Genre: Role Playing Game
Platform: Playstation 2
2003 Cattle Call, Sony Computer Entertainment Inc. Screenshots courtesy of RPGFan.

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Skysenshi's Description:
The humans and Deimos remain at war while a sinister plot begins to hatch. On one side is Kharg, a son of noble human blood. On the other is Darc, the unfortunate child of a Deimos criminal. The two clash swords and beliefs, unaware that this is exactly what a powerful evil force intends to happen. The world is at an end, and the fate of Humans and Deimos fall under one responsibility.

Goodbye, Old School RPGs. >>> by skysenshi

I'm starting this opinion with a tip: For the love of your nervous system, stock up on dark elemental armor! I will explain why later. First things first, Arc the Lad: Twilight of the Spirits is set 1,000 years after the last Arc game. You will not see your favorite characters and Arc's name is only mentioned once in the entire scenario. Hopefully, this doesn't keep Arc fans from getting the latest.

Story and Characters
I have never played the Arc the Lad series and this first experience with the latest installment has been quite satisfying. I actually underestimated it, seeing as how I found myself disappointed with the lead character Kharg for being your modern whiny RPG hero. Furthermore, Arc the Lad: Twilight of the Spirits is ridden with old school RPG clichés. Every scene is filled with love-hope-courage monologues that remind you of typical shoujo anime. Nobody is really mean, because for some insane reason, the lead characters find themselves betrayed left, right, and center. And unbelievably, they still have it in their hearts to forgive. You have the usual heroes with dark sides, ultra slow beefcakes with superhuman strength, and pretty kick-ass female characters who will never get love lives.

But it gets better...

Notice I'm talking in the plural sense here? That's because Kharg isn't the only hero. There are two main parties, each with their respective leaders and cliché-defined members. You control Darc half the time, so you can see different perspectives. This is much similar to the Trinity System employed in Suikoden III, where there are three different points of view you find yourself playing. The only thing I find fascinating is that I played Kharg's chapter first, and yet I developed an extreme case of loathing for the humans and Kharg's bratty attitude.

Now, I don't really have to state the obvious—I loved playing Darc. Born a pauper and damned to slavery for the rest of his pre-pubescent days, Darc is far from the spoiled brat his human counterpart has become. Even his allies are funny, which is why I found his chapters to be the most entertaining of all.

Another character to note is Kharg's sidekick Paulette. The girl absolutely breaks the tradition of weak females good only for spellcasting. In fact, she's even stronger than Kharg in attack, defense and HP. How's that? Unfortunately, we all know female party members of this caliber get downplayed most of the time because of Aeris (Final Fantasy VII) wannabes. And that, in Twilight of the Spirits, is Lilia—a useless girl who is so helpless, she practically has Kharg and Darc vying for the position of her Knight in Shining Armor. Well, not entirely useless. After all, like Aeris and all other imitations, she does have the fate of the world in her hands. Sadly, I get terrible headaches every 5 hours of exposure to Arc the Lad.

Now, Twilight isn't exactly Final Fantasy material, but that doesn't mean we should all be looking at the flaws in the 3D CG. The background music sort of reminds me of Star Wars, but they're generally okay. I wish I could turn off the dubbing, though, or at least be able to switch it to Japanese. There are English subtitles anyway.

What boggles the mind, however, is the loading time. If the graphics were as good or better than Final Fantasy X, I wouldn't have protests about the loading. But the graphics aren't as good as Final Fantasy X, so there shouldn't be any noticeable lags. In fact, had I not exchanged PS2s with my brother, I wouldn't surpass most of the FMVs. They cause my own unit to hang.

This game could also use mini-maps in villages. I notice that ever since PS2 games started focusing on imagery, there have been slightly abrupt angle transitioning you can't control. I experienced this in Kingdom Hearts, Suikoden III, and the dotHack series. All but Kingdom Hearts and the new Arc the Lad have mini-maps that give you a sense of visual stability, places where your eyes can rest on. They also prevent migraines.

Gameplay and Battle System
Twilight of the Spirits is like Final Fantasy meets Front Mission. In essence, this is an RPG, and yet the battle system seems like a pumped up tactics game. You can move your characters around in a map where they can attack, use special skills, magic, or just plain walk to a particular area. The only difference this has to a full-blown tactics game is that tactics move in squares. In Twilight, you have free reign over the area of your range. You can even place yourself at an angle that allows you to tackle two enemies at a time. I must admit, the battle system is what got me addicted to Twilight in the first place. I was so hooked that I was at the final dungeon on the 3rd day of playing.

Two major gripes: (1) You can't skip the FMVs; and (2) You have to pick up items/gold BEFORE a battle ends. Gripe number 1 is extremely frustrating, especially in the final battle. Remember the tip I gave at the beginning of my opinion? Well, you need those black accessories if you want to survive the final battle without leveling up and with your sanity intact. Don't get me wrong; going through the entire game was a breeze. Everything was so easy, it's almost laughable. So facing that boss came as a shock. Not because the end was difficult, but because it was mind-numbingly tedious. Now if you want to repeat that experience to correct a mistake you might have made along the way, bear in mind that you can't skip the cut scenes. Prepare yourself for overly long cheesy dialogues.

Gripe number 2 is simply dumb. Imagine this: If you were in the middle of a clan war, do you tell your enemy, "Wait a moment! I have to pick up the gold your friend dropped." And you think your opponent is just going to stand there and watch you rob his brother's corpse? That is basically the concept. Stupid, isn't it? In battle, it is logical to pick up the loot AFTER everything is over. Not during the heat of the event!

Other than those two complaints, the rest of the features are amazing! Gone are the days when you curse at every fork in the road because some would lead you to dead ends. Gone are the long and winding mazes (except in the final dungeon). Gone are the endless walking and searching for enemy encounters when you want to level up. You need only to click at a certain field on the world map and you get your instant encounter. These new timesaving innovations help us zero in on what's happening to your characters and your story, as well as improve your familiarity with the controls. The latter is very important since the Arc the Lad series have been known to not have tutorials.

Best of all, the game is fairly short, but you would feel like you have gone through a lot. The points of concentration converge more on the plot and less on needless battles or finding unknown villages. If other RPGs would go the way of Arc the Lad: Twilight of the Spirits, I'd say developers are headed in the right direction.

Player Status:
Difficulty: Easy
Completion Time: 50 hours (probably less if I had black charms)
Highest Level Achieved: 50 (Darc, Delma, Kharg, Maru, Paulette and Tatjana...because I didn't have black charms)
Ratings: Gameplay 9; Battle 9; Story 7; Visuals 7; Characters 7; Sounds 7; Replay Value 7

Tuesday, February 4, 2003


Genre: Comedy
Parental Guidance Recommended
Credits: 2001 Yamaga Hiroyuki, Nakayama Bujurou, Ditama Bow, Gainax, Shaft

Mahoromatic DVDs
Mahoromatic Art Books & Manga
Mahoromatic Music
Mahoromatic Toys, Accessories
Everything Mahoromatic

Skysenshi's Description:
Mahoro is an android who fights in an underground war. At age 9, her lifespan is nearly up. She is given the choice of whether to continue fighting and last for 38 days, or live a "normal" life and survive for more than a year. Mahoro, unused to doing absolutely nothing, decides to work as a maid at young Suguru's house. Thus begins the adventures of a battle android as she makes friends and learn more about her young master's history.

(12 episodes)

More spice needed. >>> by skysenshi

This is perhaps the most difficult piece to write. It took me a week of procrastination before I was even able to gather my thoughts together to give this anime an actual rating. On one hand, I had just finished watching Hanaukyo Maids, and I had just had enough of too much fan service. You'll see a lot of women who walk around topless, comparing bust sizes. And there's a hot-looking teacher who chases scrawny Suguru non-stop. To top it all, Mahoro, a highly skilled combat android decides to "rest" and work as a maid! (After G-Taste, Emi's Fantasies, Hand Maid May, and Hanaukyo Maids, I never though I'd be touching yet another maid-oriented material so soon.)

On the other hand, the story has a lot of potential. You have here a mix of comedy, action and a bit of drama -- Gainax style. The little complication would be that Mahoro finds herself nursing a tendré for Suguru and yet she knows full well that she is responsible for his orphaned status. The characters are loveable, especially the female ones, though they don't make much of an impact for me to be able to remember their names. They're not your stereotypical male fantasy women who always have jealous fits. In fact, my favorite here is that blond girl who totally worships Mahoro's cooking. The male characters, on the other hand, are props. Not much more than that. The voice acting and characterization for the supporting cast are well delivered, though, which makes things livelier.

It took me 2 weeks to finish this 12 episode feature when I've finished the 96 episodes of Maison Ikkoku in 2 days. The difference: I was bored out of my wits with Mahoromatic. I'd probably get flamed for that remark, especially when it has a lead character that's so cute you really want to pinch her cheeks. And action scenes that can really be so involving you'd forget you were supposed to be watching a shoujo comedy. And a "villain" who looks so yummy and perfect, it's funny how his situation with Suguru gets misunderstood. And an interesting behind-the-scenes bonus that makes the ending worthwhile. But that's just it. These are the only things that would wake me up in the middle of near-stupor. The laughs and awe that I felt while watching only came in spurts, which in turn made me imagine that 12 episodes of Mahoromatic is just far too long.

It might be interesting to note that Mahoromatic is directed by Yamaga Hiroyuki, the very same person who is responsible for the idea, script and direction of another sleep-inducer that is Wings of Honneamise. A very talented and profound person, I would guess, but still, there's something missing in Mahoromatic and I'm not finding the flavor.

Individual Rating: Art/Animation 7; Story 4; Characters 9; Sounds 8

Labyrinth of Flames

Genre: Ecchi Comedy
Parental Guidance Recommended
2000. Studio Fantasia. Bandai Visual. Nihon Koromapiya.

Labyrinth of Flames DVDs
Everything Labyrinth of Flames

Cover Description:
Meet Galan, a spastic geek who'd do anything to be a real, live samurai. But that's just an impossible dream... or is it? When his princess girlfriend gives him the gift of an ancient sword, strange events unfold, and even stranger people drop out of the sky to attack.

Now Galan must overcome his ineptitude and join a bunch of beautiful women in a wacky romp through a kingdom that time forgot. Hey, what could be better?

(2 episodes)

Crazy. >>> by skysenshi

What happens when you combine a delusional samurai wannabe, a sweet-acting violent princess, a well-endowed undercover agent, a perpetually drugged lady-in-waiting, a terribly henpecked bishounen, and a dimwitted pervy king in a one-hour animated feature? You guessed it: Bedlam.

Galan has grand dreams of becoming a true samurai and Natsu, a girl who desperately wants to choose her own husband, manipulates this weakness. She lures Galan into her palace, enraging her father, who had already decided that he had found a more suitable fiancé. Little do these people know that while they are discussing Natsu and Galan's future, a deeper sort of trouble is brewing inside the castle walls. Thanks to Natsu's father's horny nature, international criminals have gotten hold of an ancient family secret that sings to the tune of billions and billions of yen.

The story falls into place as every character gets into one hilarious situation after another. Galan continues to pretend that he's become a samurai, Natsu continues to harass Galan, and the rest of the gang continue to chase after Galan's head for each of his or her own special reasons. And since this is a presentation brought to you by the creators of Project A-Ko and Agent Aika, expect nothing less of the usual fan service-panties, legs, and bouncing boobies that aim to overshadow the so-so quality of the art and animation. Some of the supposedly comedic parts seem a bit painful, though, as they involve a lot of violence and bloodshed. I'm particularly squeamish about seeing the princess' assistant, Kasumi, lug her medication around. If that doesn't look agonizing enough, you still see her get into accidents that would have her bleeding profusely. Ouch.

Good thing there are a lot of unusual scenarios here-wacky antics that I've only seen in this anime (i.e. a particularly bishie guy who ruins his image by dressing up like a gay prince, or this same guy being "violated" by an insane female admirer, or gorgeous assassins that execute particularly erotic Chun Li moves)-that had me laughing out of my seat.

Tsk. Tsk. Crazy.

Individual Rating: Art/Animation 7; Story 7; Characters 8; Sounds 7

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