TV show reviews


#1

We have a topic for what television shows we’re watching, but the message I added on “Arcade Gamer Fubuki” was closer to a full review, so I’ve started a new topic where we can go into greater depth on a TV series. The what we’re watching topic can then focus on overviews and “here’s an interesting show for you to consider”.

This topic will be for any kind of television, streaming and anime series where it’s reached the end of a chapter such as the end of a season or the series has ended and you can look back over it as a whole.


#2

I just slogged through the three episodes of “Arcade Gamer Fubuki”. Skip it.

It’s a continuation of “Game Center Arashi” and it feels like you have to have watched the anime or read the manga in order to know what’s going on. The novelty of an anime series about a video game tournament that uses footage from real-world arcade games I recognized and/or played myself and some sound effects like the Atari 2600 version of Pac-Man wears off pretty quickly. The idea of setting the tournament in different parts of Japan and using things like images projected on buildings and Mt. Fuji for the tournament audience was okay, however. It was just a little reminiscent of how the Hunger Games movies showed technology manipulating the environment.

The characters are overblown and too far over the top. It’s got the cliche’d “calling your attack” trope in spades, which includes floating above the arcade controls as if you’re doing a handstand but without actually supporting yourself with your hands. The humor was also overblown, but tended to work pretty well.

The special abilities/attacks that allow a couple of characters to play arcade games faster from a floating position comes from magic underwear. Specifically “passion panties”, so of course there’s a teenage boy who’s a big fan of gaming and has a panty fetish involving the main character, Fubuki. It wasn’t until after the series was over that I figured out that the “passion panties” were based on the theme of developing a passion for playing video games. Why the object for the power to be manifested through for a teenage girl had to be panties instead of some other type of clothing? Fanservice, of course. Barring that, maybe it’s explained in “Game Center Arashi”. Arashi wears a hat with the same logo on it.

I fell asleep watching this and had to figure out where I stopped when I tried watching it again. Part of it came from being in a comfortable recliner, covered up with a cozy blanket. I can’t fault the series for that. The rest came from the problems with the story losing my interest. Not even the other half of the fanservice known as the “Gainax bounce” could overcome it. For instance, there’s a big rivalry that’s set up and then kind of goes nowhere before it was changed by the power of friendship that a passion of gaming can instill in everyone worldwide.

As I said, skip it. There’s better ways of spending 90 minutes of your time.


What television show are you watching?
#3

When I was in middle school, I had a friend whose dad owned his own business. This allowed him to buy some pretty nice toys that we got to play with.

There was a slot car set with a track about the size of a ping pong table. I usually chose a car that had a sloping front end, kind of like the car in the logo for a slot car raceway that I found on the Internet. It was perfect for whenever her car wrecked. I squeezed the control trigger down as far as it would go and blasted right through it, flinging it up into the air. She always complained and I always ignored it and did it anyway. I think now she was worried about me damaging the cars.

There had to be other fancy toys they had, but the only other one I remember was the pachinko machine. This was in the late 1970s, so it was all mechanical. I didn’t know anything about pachinko back then. It was just a game where you pushed down on a lever and tried to launch a ball so it would bounce around on the pins and hopefully go in one of the holes. You could launch them fast or slow, one at a time or several in a row. It was unpredictable how they’d fall, but that’s as much meaning as I put into it.

Wikipedia’s got a lot of info on pachinko. The gist of it is it’s one of the most popular types of entertainment in Japan, primarily for gambling. It rakes in more than Las Vegas, Macau and Singapore combined. There’s game parlors that remove the gambling aspect so kids can play. Gambling for money is illegal in Japan, so the way it is done is you rent a starting amount of balls, play and try to get more, exchange what you end up with for prizes, then you go to a nearby store (usually a separate business) and sell them for money. I think the prizes are resold back to the parlors. The companies that make the games have websites that explain how to play them and how the payouts work.

Modern pachinko machines only have the active area of playfield around the sides with a screen in the center. That allows them to play video, include mini-games, a slot machine-like function and vary the gameplay. There’s a lot of flexibility that comes with it, and that leads to these being very popular, with tie-in merchandise like CDs with the soundtracks from the games, figurines of the characters, notebook covers, art books related to the development of the game, comic books/manga and so on.

Pachinko machines have fans just the same as movies and TV shows like Star Wars and Game of Thrones have fans. You’ll see people in cosplay of the game characters, go to release parties for a new game in the series or to meet the voice actors at special events. Developing a pachinko game is every bit as involved as you’d find in a traditional video game.

 
What does all this have to do with TV shows? Well, my next review is about an anime series based on a pachinko machine. Stay tuned…


#4

We watched the first episode of Doom Patrol. It was awful. The story was poor and plodding, and I can’t imagine how they’re planning to make any decent kind of series out of the characters as a team. I give it 2/5, mostly for the cast.

I remember reading the comics when I was very young because it was so weird. I feel that it is destined to fail.


#5

A week ago, I gave you a rundown on pachinko and its popularity. One of the long-running franchises of pachinko and pachisuro/pachislot machines (Japanese slot machines descended from pachinko) is Senguko Otome (Warring States Maidens), manufactured by Heiwa Corporation. The franchise just celebrated its 10th anniversary and there was even a variation called “Battle Masters” with the characters playing golf because Heiwa has a division that runs golf courses.

Heiwa took the events of Oda Nobunaga’s attempt to unify Japan in the late 16th century and used it as the basis for the first game, changing each person into a woman, giving some of them armor that makes it clear they are women (the trope known as “chainmail bikinis”), oversized/fantastic weapons and abilities, and a goal/object they can fight over. This was woven into the mechanics of a pachinko machine as discussed previously. To coincide with the release of the second pachinko machine, the anime series Sengoku Otome ~Momoiro Paradokkusu~ (the English name is changed slightly to Battle Girls: Time Paradox) premiered on Japanese TV in April 2011.

Before I go into the main part of the review, I want you to take a moment to look at the cover artwork for the English-dubbed version of the series. Make a note of what your impressions of it are. We’ll come back to this later.

 
In the series, a schoolgirl nicknamed Hideyoshi is in danger of flunking her classes because she values her social life and doesn’t want to give any of that time up for school work or getting up earlier so she won’t be late to class any more. Her teacher tells her she’s got one last chance to avoid summer school. Her friends tell her the same thing but she doesn’t accept it.

On her way home, Hideyoshi tries to figure out a way to avoid it without giving up her activities. A random comment from a passerby leads her to a temple where she takes a chance in purchasing a pre-made prayer card that says it will help her studies. Think of it as kind of a lottery ticket. She accidentally interrupts a spell someone is casting in the temple, and before she knows it, she’s in the midst of a fight between one woman and several female raiders.

This is the first of several encounters with people she thinks she knows, but as it becomes clearer this isn’t actually her friend from school (even though that doesn’t stop her from calling this person by her friend’s name), she begins trying to make sense of the world around her by relating it to things like cosplay and someone being a tsundere (the initially cold character that gradually becomes friendlier).

The battle ends with the arrival of Oda Nobunaga, Lord of the Owari Province. Back at her castle, Nobunaga’s heart sees something in Hideyoshi beyond a giggly and unusual young girl, and invites Hideyoshi to join in her quest to collect pieces of armor that will help her conquer the land. Hideyoshi doesn’t understand but goes along with it anyway.

Over the course of the next twelve episodes, that quest unfolds, with several intense battles over the armor. Hideyoshi deals with new questions, such as “Why are there only women in this world?”, “What’s up with the talking dog that seems to know a lot about this place?”, “Why is everyone trying to ply me with favors when all I want to do is put on a play?” and a Hobbit’s focus on when her next meal will be. What she wouldn’t give for a hamburger and some catsup.

 
I asked earlier for you to make a note of your impressions of the cover artwork for the home video release. Here’s mine from back in December.

Sentai Filmworks had a Black Friday sale that I missed out on because I just didn’t get around to ordering anything. But a lot of the same items went onto a second sale around Christmas. This time, I did want to get some of them.

Sort them by prices low-to-high. I don’t really need Blu-ray versions, so there’s a lot of DVDs to choose from for a few bucks each. One’s called “Battle Girls: Time Paradox”. The picture’s got a striking woman front and center with “huge tracts of land”. Let’s see what’s it’s about. Hmm. Well, that sounds interesting. Okay, it’s worth a shot. It’s only five bucks right now. Add to cart.

So, there, I admit it. I might have passed this by except for the pretty woman on the cover. One of the reviews I read while researching for my own review was similarly dismissive, saying that there wasn’t a lot of substance in the episodes and it was really just an excuse to show large-chested women in skimpy outfits fighting. With the way the end credits are presented and the couple of bathing scenes that have nudity in it, it would be easy to think that’s all it was.

But while watching the series the first time, I noticed that when one episode ended, I wanted to watch the next one right away. I didn’t really care about skin being shown. I wanted to learn more about this world.

 
Let’s visit that picture again. Use this link to see a higher-resolution version.

Look past the cleavage, past the stripes on Nobunaga’s face. What do you see?

What I see after having watched the series twice now is someone who is fierce, strong, confident in her abilities, and maybe enjoys the challenges that come with being a leader. Above her is Hideyoshi. This one’s a little harder to pin down because what I see is a person that’s anticipating and eager to be in a battle, and that’s not the Hideyoshi we meet in Time Paradox.

The reason for that is the front cover uses artwork of the characters for the pachinko games. The only way I found this out was by learning more about the world and the company that makes the games. As with many things in life, I learned more by looking past the surface.

On the surface, you could call this anime “The Japanese Middle School Girl in Queen Arthur’s Court”. But in many ways, this isn’t Hideyoshi’s story. In the end, she still has many of the same problems she had before, but now receives a little more empathy from someone who went through it with her.

Time Paradox is everyone else’s story of learning to look at things in new ways because they met her. The ditzy, innocent, honest, whiny, always hungry girl whose moods can swing in an instant from “I’m tired and I can’t walk any further!” to “What are you waiting for? There’s food/a room/etc. just up ahead.”

By giving this series a chance, I got to watch a leader who knew mostly how to use force to deal with problems change into someone who exhibits compassion instead. Someone who learned the real meaning of what her grandmother tried to teach her as a girl. Someone who was on their way to learning it, but it took Hideyoshi’s arrival to help her complete the journey.

I saw another struggle with feelings of duty, devotion and love when confronted with what she thought was a rival for her Lord’s attentions and affections. I saw others who liked giving big introductions of themselves get put in their place.

I watched an episode involving putting on a play that had the earmarks of fanservice and cliches about how men react to certain things, or in this case, the talking dog, include a very nice and subtle continuation of an earlier episode about how someone can’t tell a story.

I heard moving and dramatic music. I heard music used for comedic effect with a “not our problem, we’re out of here” impact. I heard music that invoked the Pirates of the Caribbean theme.

And because I learned more about this world, I found an answer to a complaint in another review. It pointed out that people should have been calling Hideyoshi a demon or witch instead of just going along with her strange behavior and use of a contraption like a cell phone. It took me a while to figure it out, but it does seem to fit.

 
This is one of the best purchases I’ve made in a long time. I can’t remember reacting like that before. Going into a completely new subject and the search for info about it kept turning up more and more information. Realizing that there’s a limited amount of time for preserving some of it (the video game Sengoku Otome: Legend Battle was only made for the Playstation Vita, the Vita production run has ended and I don’t own one). Wishing I had about ten million dollars just lying around so I could import the pachinko and pachislot machines and hire Sentai Filmworks to get the cast of Time Paradox to dub the games into English.

As Oda Nobunaga said about Hideyoshi, Battle Girls: Time Paradox is “a fresh wind that we cannot forsee”. Netflix doesn’t have it for rent, but obviously, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed if you buy it.


#6

Quick note about the last review. The golf-based version of the characters was “Otome Masters”, not “Battle Masters”.

 
I’m working my way through the shows I bought about a month ago but wound up taking a detour into a new series I didn’t know about. It’s the story of a Japanese student that suddenly finds themselves in the Sengoku period of Feudal Japan. Almost immediately, they meet one of the most significant people of that time, a woman that wants to unify the country and they decide to help her.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? That’s exactly why I put in an order right after I learned about it. I wanted to see how this would be different from Battle Girls: Time Paradox. It turned out to be a very interesting example of how a common idea can be adapted in a different direction.

The series is The Ambition of Oda Nobuna, and right there is one of the differences. Instead of simply having Oda Nobunaga and the other major players in this part of history be women, the narrator explains that due to the upheaval and turbulence of the time, the firstborn child becomes the de facto ruler of the clan, whether male or female. And so we have a teenage girl named Nobuna leading the Oda clan. Other leaders like Dōsan Saitō, the “Viper of Mino”, are male and/or older adults.

There are other Princess Warriors, including a few that are probably no more than ten, but this is a world where war is a part of their lives, so a lot of children grow up learning military and political skills. Some of the other skills the various characters of all ages have are in the realm of fantasy and magic, such as teleportation, shapeshifting and skill with weapons.

Whereas Time Paradox mostly just had three people doing all the work to get the armor so that the leader could then unify the nation with it, Ambition shows more of the political intrigue and the tactics of the unification campaign include horseback cavalry and soldiers for the Oda clan that have been trained with muskets. Changing from traditional weapons to weapons brought by barbarians (Portuguese and Spanish traders) doesn’t sit well with everyone, but it is amongst the many ideas Nobuna has become open to, and that’s what has strengthened her army to where the Oda clan is more respected.

 
Enter the modern-day Japanese student. With no explanation of how it happened, Yoshiharu Sagara suddenly finds himself in the middle of a battle, just seconds away from being killed when a man pushes him out of the way and the man is struck by a bullet from a musket. The man dies after identifying himself as Hideyoshi Toyotomi, whom Sagara recognizes because he’s a big fan of the Nobunaga’s Ambition series of video games. These are real-world, award-winning games that have been published since 1983 for various computers, consoles and handheld gaming systems. The most recent one, Nobunaga’s Ambition: Taishi, came out in 2017 for PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch and Windows.

Sagara decides that since a significant person from this part of history is dead when they shouldn’t be and he knows what’s going to happen because of the games, he’ll use that knowledge to take Hideyoshi’s place and align himself with Nobuna after he saves her life. He’s around seventeen, so a lot of his motivations are to protect “hotties” or meet them. In one case, it backfires because people got married much younger centuries ago. Much younger. With a shorter lifespan, you started earlier with relationships, including marriages.

He makes no secret about being from the future as he works to help Nobuna. Like with Time Paradox, instead of fear and suspicion that would have gotten him killed, he’s mostly accepted with some skepticism after being labeled as a barbarian and after he proves it a couple of times. Another factor is that she hears his name of “Sagara” as “Saru”, which means “monkey”, and sticks him with that nickname. In contrast for how the reaction more likely would be, think of the Salem witch trials. Or if you like Robert Asprin’s books, pick up Time Scout. There’s a scene in there where a character reveals that a single mispronounced word tipped off the natives when he was scouting the area a new time tunnel opened into and he wound up being tortured for it.

Sagara the monkey doesn’t get tortured, but he does get beat up often by Nobuna when he gets her upset. It’s a common theme/trope with some anime series and some of the journey Sagara and Nobuna take together is learning to cope with new feelings for each other.

In another comparison with Time Paradox, this series also ends with the possibility that it could continue. The Ambition of Oda Nobuna is based on the light novel series that publishes a new volume about every 4-5 months. But the anime series was released in 2014 and covered the first four volumes, so if there were plans to continue the anime, it probably would have happened by now. Sengoku Otome eventually branched out into manga, but I’d say it’s even less likely that we’ll see another Battle Girls anime series.

 
I’ll conclude with just a couple of notes. The next episode previews are about 15 seconds long and only play music over a few scenes, but it’s pretty dramatic and stirring music. The English dub was released by Sentai Filmworks and a few of the voice actors from Time Paradox also worked on this one. It was a nice bonus to hear familiar voices in a second series close in concept to the first one. At present, only the Blu-ray version is available so it may be going out of print in the near future. Both series are available on Crunchyroll but not Netflix.


#7


“Take a chance” has worked well for me so far when it comes finding new anime series. While browsing through the RightStuf website, there was volume 1 of a series called Space Pirate Mito in the clearance section for $0.89. That made it easy to add to my order. If I didn’t like it, I was only out a dollar. I put it aside and figured I’d watch it later.

A few days later, I stopped in at a local anime store to see what they had and noticed they had all four volumes. I didn’t get anything that time, but did want to come back later.

That’s about the time I decided I’d give this a try. I figured before there wasn’t much point getting invested in the series because I’d probably never be able to watch the rest of it. Now there was a chance.

The series looks strange, but in a goofy and fun way. Though it came out in 1999, the hand-drawn animation looks more at home in the early 90s or back in the 80s. Sometimes the ships are done with CGI and sometimes not. You can definitely tell the difference.

Characters. Weird characters. Mito’s pirate gang has a lot of different aliens in it. Pig people, chicken people, dog people and more, a cyborg who can fire rockets from her arms, an android with shapeshifting nanotech. A humanoid with their face on their stomach and the head up top is a decoy or decoration. Mito herself looks like she’s about six but is actually somewhere around 12,000 years old.

Let’s talk tech. One of the ships has arms and hands to grab things like large mallets which are used in a battle. The woman in the picture above is the exo-suit Mito wears. A team from the Galactic Patrol has some kind of heart-shaped beanbag-looking thingy that can morph whatever it’s thrown at into a much bigger robot, so a soda machine becomes a robot with soda cannons and soda-powered jets. Mind-controlling lipstick. Weapons that grow to a larger size when taken out of their holder and fire wobbly energy globs. Weapons that condense people into a cube (still alive) and put them inside a large noodle ramen cup that suddenly appears. Or is it part of their body becomes the cup? The cup has their face on it so you can tell who it is.

 
All that is peripheral. “Story is everything.” You can have the best tech for making a movie, a la Pixar, Disney and others, but you gotta have the story. This is an anime series that doesn’t seem to have the tech except for the obvious CGI ships, but I think it does have a good story.

When researching this, I came across a review that basically said, “It doesn’t look like much but give it a chance.” So I did. I went back to that store and bought all four volumes. It cost me more than it would have through Amazon and I now have a duplicate of the first volume at 11x the price of the first, but I repaid the employee’s time for answering my questions on the previous trip, and I bought local to support them. I did have go put in a quick order from Amazon when I found out there was a second season.

What is it about the story that changed my view from “it’s only a dollar so why not”? Well, it starts off with Mito wanting to visit her half-human son Aoi (pronounced “ow-ee”) on the anniversary of her husband’s death. You know how it is. You’re on the run from the Galactic Patrol, you get stuck on Earth, you eventually fall in love with the man who lets you stay with him while the months and years pass as you wait for your crew to rescue you.

That’s where it turns a little goofy again. He accepted she was an alien, married her and had a child with her. Remember what I said about her appearance when she’s not wearing the exo-suit? Let’s just say there’s a size differential that might be a bit problematic in more ways than one and quickly move on.

Setting that bit of fridge logic aside, she’s got a cover story that explains why she can only show up about once a year, leaving her son pretty much by himself most of the time, but now he’s fifteen and he’s used to it. Reconnecting with him and explaining his heritage is put in jeopardy when the Galactic Patrol shows up and he becomes both a pawn and the center of a power struggle. The first season ends with some pretty insightful points about roles forced on members of society that I wasn’t expecting and draws stronger parallels to the events of today.

Season two focuses on the role Aoi now has in galactic society and how Aoi comes to grips with it. But let’s not forget about the ancient evil that’s been awakened. Is Aoi they key to that confict as well?

 
There’s more I’d like to say about the plot of the second season, but that would involve a major spoiler. I’m long-winded enough as it is, anyway. So let’s switch over to the DVDs and put this one to bed.

Season one was dubbed into English but season two wasn’t. The dubbing was good and allowed them to put in some pop culture references like one for Willy Wonka and another involving Christopher Walken. Since it was released a while back, there’s the typical mismatch between the captioning not being updated to match the dubbed lines. With several of the voices being a bit squeaky, shrieky or shrill, it’s harder for me to catch what’s being said.

The packaging and the DVD menus are arranged in a fun and interesting layout. I’m someone who appreciates details that goes into things like packaging, so it makes buying the four volume set worthwhile to me.

Space Pirate Mito Complete Collection with seasons one and two is available at RightStuff for $30 and there’s still some left of just volume one at the $0.89 price. The Collection been on sale this week for $18. That will end either Saturday or Sunday. (I tried to hurry through the second season so I could get this review ready earlier, but could only catch about 2 or 3 episodes a night.)

As you can see, it’s a series that could have just been fluff but turned out to be worth giving it a chance. Check it out.


#8

The weekly sale did end yesterday, but RightStuf Space Pirate Mito Complete Collection has it on a different discounted price now: $22.49 instead of the regular price of $29.99. It’s still a good bargain.