Ongoing Investigations: Case #109

After a full year Katanagatari comes to a close and it has been an interesting journey. Nisio Isin is still very obviously Nisio Isin no matter what he does. That means playing the with genre, winking at the audience, bizarre and sometimes immensely annoying characters, and metric tons of dialog. With 12 swords and 12 owners we have gotten a good deal variation in how the episodes felt. Some of the owners and swords were far more interesting than others but that is expected with having to create 12 pairs of antagonists and weapons. Also some of the later swords only count as swords because the author says so. I am going to assume that the episode that completely threw out the formula completely and had Nanami as the main charter was a highlight for most people.  The ending has parts that will either be very shocking or super obvious depending on who you are. It starts with a  speech that exemplifies the fact that characters do not stop talking no matter what happens. The final episode also has the prerequisite Boss Rush that seemed inevitable from the beginning. In the end everyone who had a plan involving the swords had an immensely elaborate Rube Goldberg styled plan that could have been simply solved without the swords in reflection. In fact there is some extremely sketchy logic that will probably annoy the daylights out of anyone not drawn in by the story. I enjoyed the story and like the Monogatari Series it proves he can write something I don’t utterly despise like the Zaregoto Series. But his style is still a hard pill to shallow and I can easily see why people would avoid his work like the plague.

I read Natsume’s Book of Friends vol. 1 which I was very excited about since I loved what I saw of the anime. This is the story of Natsume who can see yokai and who has felt isolation because of it. When he moves in with yet another set of relatives he starts to learn more about his long gone Grandmother who had the same power and used it to dominate the spirits. Things get hectic as spirit after spirit comes after Natsume to get back their “name, ” which his Grandmother had collected into a book. So far the stories have all been ones I watched on screen. Each has a little humor, a little nostalgia, and most times a very quiet and melancholy feel. Natsume is a really gentle soul and its wonderful to watch him listen to the stories of the yokai while also learning about his Grandmother. The artist’s lines are quite loose which adds the whimsy I am so found of to the stories. Though I have to say I enjoyed the anime just a bit more, the soft color palette and light music really added to the stories. Nevertheless, I want more Natsume and hope to find stories that weren’t animated in its pages.

A good deal of my recent vacation was spent playing Recettear. It is an unusual little indy Japanese game that was recently translated by Carpe Fulgur. In the game you run an item shop to pay off a loans your father left you when he ran off to be an adventurer. The fairy in charge of debt agrees to help you run the shop to pay off your debt. Half the game is you buying and selling items in town. The other half is teaming up with adventures to go into dungeons and get items to sell in your shop. Every week you have to pay an increasingly large payment. If you fail to pay off the debt than the game starts over from the beginning but lets you keep and levels and items you and the adventurers have gained. If fact the game almost encourages you to loop at least once.  The adventure game portions play like a Zelda style dungeon crawl. The maps are very simple and there is no puzzle elements. While the levels and the enemies change every 5 levels most of it is pallet swapping with some changes in the behaviors of the enemies. If you easily get bored by Diablo styled games you very well might be bored by the time the second dungeon is unlocked. Despite the game’s flaws its unique premise and length make if fulfilling while keeping it from wearing out its welcome. If after beating the game you want more there is still a good deal of alternate play modes and side quests that can be competed as well. Also most people probably used Louie most of the game but the other adventures play differently and are fun to try when the pressure of paying off your debt is gone. This was a fun experiment and I hope to see other doujin games like this imported. Capitalism Ho!

We finished up Banner of the Stars I this week (the people I’m watching with had already seen it) and as expected it was a good series. Lafiel and Jinto were already a solid pair that needed exploring, they are a treat to watch interact and see their slow but steady relationship grow. Each character added to the mix is a great addition and pretty much a joy to watch all around. Seeing a consistent crew to play off Jinto and Lafiel was fun, and it allowed them both to grow outside of each other. And the time they spent at the bar was quite memorable. I was glad we got to meet Dusanyu who is next in line for the throne and had only really been mentioned for a while. He has a very calm demeanor but his teasing of Kenesh and her past relationships was most amusing. Other great additions were the brothers Nereis and Nefee who were competent but good for a laugh and that rather sadistic Spoor. This series really excels at its characters, but the plot is not quite up to that standard. I never felt truly invested in the battles and we certainly don’t learn that much about who the Abh, as a society, really are, what they are fighting for or against, or even who their enemies are. Yes, we have seen the groups they are attacking, but for the most part they are pretty faceless. There are battles and they look nice, but the most interesting parts of the story are the relationships.

Watching Banner of the Stars I again with Narutaki reminded me why Lafiel is on MAL as one of my favorite characters but Banner of the Stars is not on my Top 5 anime list. That is not to say that Banner of the Stars is anything less than a 9/10 series that I would easily recommend to most anyone. Banner is a character based space opera that takes a very personal look at two characters caught in the crossfire of a galaxy at war. The focus on the extremely micro view of  Jinto and Lafiel gives the show a unique feeling. I felt the story was stronger than Naurtaki did but it does equal the epic levels of Legend of the Galactic Heroes. But it can be an easy trap to compare everything to Legend of the Galactic Heroes and then have it come up short.  It is easy to miss out on some great series that you would have otherwise enjoyed. I enjoyed seeing a simple love story that plays out over a grand background. The characters are extremely memorable in Banner and the banter can be delightful. Also it has hot space elves. That is a really shallow selling point but don’t doubt its strength.

I watched Sym-Bionic Titan episodes 5-11 (actually I watched them weekly thanks to Cartoon Networks website) which Wikipedia is calling the season finale, but it is unclear if that is a fact. It has been a nice ride with a lot of variety of episodes though of course almost all of them have a cool robot fight. Episode five hits us with a good deal of Fast and Furious references and also the racing guy’s voice just made me want to punch him; other more serious episodes occur like Shaman of Fear which was seriously scary; and great fights and secrets abound in episodes like Shadows of Youth and Fortress of Deception. I was glad to see progress being steadily made between Lance and Ilana, and even Octus gets some development, too. Ilana being able to accomplish more in the later episodes was nice though I still think she could use a serious infusion of capability, especially since Genndy says he wanted to create a strong female character. I know there was some serious questions about the future of this show, but I hope to see it continue in the New Year.

There truly needs to be more Lafiel fan art:

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