Utawarerumono (2006, OLM)
Eruruu discovers an unconscious masked man who reminded her of her late father. She takes him back to her home in the rural village of Yamayura to nurse him back to health. He himself has no memories of his past and is unsure why he has a mask he can't remove nor why the local residents have ears and tails.
Soon he earns the respect of the locals and when their tyrant emperor crosses the line, he takes the lead into overthrowing him and establishes his own empire, "Tuskur". However, peace doesn't last as Hakuori's talents attract a lot of unwanted attention. He and his new found friends soon find themselves caught up in a spiral of relentless battles to keep their people safe and, little by little Hakuoro's past also begins to catch up with him.
Decided to watch this because I really enjoyed playing through the sequel visual novel/SRPG titles. Based on an adult visual novel of the same name (there's also an edited toned down version, "Prelude to the Fallen"), it starts off very similarly to the Mask of Deception game.
Right off the bat it's a very lively first episode despite the cliche setup. Pacing is good. There is never a dull moment. Every episode has something happening and it's great watching the characters support each other. It's as funny as it is serious, like other good shows that's intense but knows when to lighten to mood and take a short breather. There's many wholesome moments.
It's not your one man army kind of show either so even though the main cast are stronger than the average character you see a lot of coordination and team work going on which is why it makes it more intense and makes you want to cheer them all on. They're more human in a sense.
Audio is great. It has a catchy OP and there's also that signature sound of clashing blades at the start. Art on the other hand isn't so good. The red episode titles are horrible and the 3D CGI used for the crowds look stiff. Character art isn't that great either. The odd episode like 14 you see some very bad drop in quality too such as characters look very out of proportion. Well, at least the animation is good with some fluid battle scenes despite some blatant repeated usage.
There's also pretty much no fan service in it despite the source material; maybe just one or two bath scenes and boobs joke but not your usual, oops I groped you kind of joke. It more of a brief still.
Having played only the Mask games, I liked how it shows how Tuskur came about, origin of the Tatari and the seal. A bit disappointed that it didn't explain Kuon and her "mothers" so might have to play the original game to find that out.
It's a great story as long as you don't mind a bit of sci-fi mixed into what's mostly your feudal fantasy show.
There's a 3 part OVA that probably takes place after episode 24 but it's more of a joke and as with most OVA's it's filled with uncensored fan service so, you're not missing anything by not watching it. Or if you're interested in Urutori's maternal side, Kurou's secret admirer or Touka's survival side, you might like it.
Worth A Watch
Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception (2015, Whitefox)
Utawarerumono: Itsuwari no Kamen
Taking place some time after Utawarerumono, a travelling young girl named "Kuon" encounters a lazy, laid back but intelligent young man who was wandering in the winter snow with amnesia. After escaping from a slimy Tatari she decides to become his guardian, giving him the name "Haku" after the Utawarerumono and help him look for work to settle in this unfamiliar world.
As he travels together with Kuon they meet Ukon who accompanies them to the capital where Haku's easygoing nature ends up making him many new friends. Soon they find themselves earning the trust of General Oshtor helping him maintain order in the city in areas that the law couldn't reach but, it turns out it wasn't just small simple tasks.
Art quality is much better than the first season (although I prefer the game, Mask of Deception's more detailed, higher quality art). A lot of it along with the music is the same as the game apart from the theme songs. It's also good to see characters from the prequel make an appearance even though they don't have much of a role or much screen time.
Just like the game the first half is very laid back with very little happening as Haku and Kuon travels around the country meeting new friends along the way; almost a slice-of-life kind of way before bigger scale events like the first season happen. Each episode carries less of an impact as the prequel did.
Unfortunately, I think they put too much of its own original direction in to turn the show into too much of a comedy, making it less interesting to watch instead of keeping the odd tint of mystery the original game kept here and there. It makes some major changes to the important turning points of the original story. They also took the liberty of over-emphasising some of the characters which make them a lot sillier than they should be.
They gave the show its own original ending whereas the original visual novel was much better and had more impact in my opinion. It was one of the major reasons for the way the third game "Mask of Truth" picks up. It was even the main reason why I immediately started playing the second game after finishing the first because, I wanted to see how the story went for the characters from there.
When Anju appeared in public for the first time in episode 7 without a veil, there was probably no plans to continue the Anime as it forms a major point of the third game's story. If they ever do produce a season three, they're going to have to make a lot of changes to the main story's flow which they've also did with this season's ending too.
Despite all that, it's probably still worth a watch as a comedy show filled with fan service (for both guys and gals). Just don't expect as great a direction as the first season. And if you're still waiting for a season three, I think you could read the list of changes below before watching the "Mask of Truth" playthroughs on YouTube in the meantime.
Like the ongoing competition between Copopo and Maroro.
While there are bath scenes, they're not as direct as the game.
I'd say this second season has more fan service than the first - a lot more such as longer bath scenes and nudity instead of just the odd brief stills. Probably overdid it.
Kuon is also more mischievous than in the game where she was more of a "big sis" character.
They also overdo it with Ruritie's boys love obssession.
Haku does a lot of odd jobs in the capital whereas in the game he doesn't.
They really go out of their way to make Atuy fall for Haku during their early meeting compared to in the game.
In the game Haku doesn't actually meet Karalua until he stumbles into the secret room whereas here, she meets Haku naked in the hotspring. Extra fan service in the Anime.
Anju just parades through the crowds with a veil on whereas here, she doesn't and just appears in public without concealing her face. This might be why there's no S3 because the third game has a large part to do with her hidden identity.
The bugs were freed by Haku and the others, they didn't free themselves. This wasn't too big a change.
Twins Uruuru and Saraana (UruSara) actually appeared randomly before Haku all the time whereas in the show, they don't appear until they've been escorted to the capital. Again, not too bad a change although it was fun with them clinging onto Haku while in their black cloaks.
Anju's love consultation, scene with Nosuri in the sewer is original to the Anime. Same with the threat letters which was probably overdone.
They had a much better build to Mikazuchi's reveal and why Nekone was scared of him whereas in this show he's just portrayed as your usual perverted old man.
There's a lot of fan service, mostly steamy bath scenes, awkward camera angles and nudity; both girls and your "pretty boy" characters.
Rest assured it's also filled with characters that are into "boys love" so it's not just fan service for the male audience. They make Rurutie a very big BL fan than in the game as she imagines every pairing possible... The BL is even a lot more graphic than the game too.
Rurutie and Atuy weren't sent into battle representing their fathers to fight the Uzurushans.
There was no hostage rescue plan with just only Rurutie, UruSara and Haku alone. They end up meeting Jachdwalt while helping out with the war and end up learning about Shinanon before going to rescue her instead. That said, this scene helps make the twins have more of a role than they did in the game.
Vurai was only reckless on the battle field killing hostages, he didn't end up attacking the town either although in the game, Jachdwalt didn't end up escorting everyone back to a village anyway. On the upside this does help highlight the coldblooded ruthlessness in him. It does again, help give UruSara more of a role. Haku isn't attacked by Vurai nor get traumatised from this. Pretty much the whole of episode 16 is original to the Anime.
Cocopo and Mukkuru weren't shown to fall for each other so Cocopo wasn't lead away when they were transporting the supplies. They faced Kuro instead.
Kuon wasn't held hostage to infiltrate the fortress although they do end up facing Kuro.
Kuon doesn't awaken and cause an explosion during the chase. Not sure if they added this in to give themselves a new way onto a S3.
Rurutie doesn't try to confront her friends and ask them to surrender. Yes, she's a princess but in the game she treasures her friends too much to this. Another odd moment for comedy during the last couple of episodes as Cocopo goes to the rescue.
Oshtor also didn't hurt his leg saving Nekone from the debris because Jachdwalt slashing the warehouses at the harbour is original to the Anime
Anju loses her voice from the poison where she doesn't here.
UruSara try to seal Vurai's power while the entire gang fight him before they flee from the palace grounds. Vurai gives chase and Oshtor decides to fight him to give everyone a chance to escape. Nekone, worried about her brother, runs back to the scene while Haku follows her hoping to bring her back. Oshtor seems like he was cornered by Vurai but he was actually just waiting for Vurai to let his guard down. Nekone blasts Vurai with her magic, thinking her brother was going to be killed but this actually ends up saving Vurai instead as it knocks him out of the way from Oshtor's last burst of energy to finish Vurai. As a last resort, he commands the mask to expel the last of his life force to defeat Vurai which leads to him turning into salt.
So in other words in the visual novel, Oshtor didn't have to die; you could say it was Nekone's fault. To help alleviate this pain, Haku takes on Oshtor's role so she didn't have to shoulder that burden of guilt alone. I think this would have been a much better reason for Haku to take on the "mask of deception" besides just to become the pillar of support for Princess Anju to take back her empire. He becomes the emotional support for Nekone too so that she wouldn't completely breakdown from the guilt of indirectly playing a role in her brother's death and, also in turn destroying the empire's chance of being restored which she knows matterly a lot to her dear brother. Whereas in the Anime, this isn't the case as Oshtor decides to expend his life force right from the start and Haku only takes it on the weight as a last wish from his good friend Oshtor.
Worth A Watch
Listeners (2020, MAPPA)
Humans are constantly under threat by giant beings known as Earless and the only ones who can stand against them are Players who can pilot equally sized robots known as Equipment. Echo Rec who aspires to become a Player lives together with his sister in the rundown town of Livechester which had been brought to its ruins 10 years ago when the most powerful Player, Jimi Stonefree had wrecked havoc. Now it was considered the slums where its people made a living by picking up scrap parts from Equipment disposed of by other Players.
While doing his daily rounds, Echo comes across a rare part in the trash but to his surprise, discovers it was an unconscious female Player who had amnesia. When their town suddenly comes under attack again, Echo rushes to the girl with the Equipment he had built from junk parts. Fortunately, the girl hadn't forgotten how to pilot an Equipment making quick work of the Earless. And so, Echo decides to name her after the rare part that lead to her, "Mu". And so, Echo decides to travel the world to help Mu recover her memory and in turn discover the secret behind her power that resembles the legendary Jimi.
Went into this show blind and had decided to watch it because someone had said it was good. It was also by Mappa who produced ACCA-13 one of my favourite shows so I thought why not give it a go. The title sounded like (pun not intended...) like it had something do do with sound and it kind of does since all the nouns and pronouns follow that theme.
It's basically a comedy action show with guitar amps that transform into mecha.
It's got fun characters that's for sure even though the character designs aren't your usual fan service sort but, it's not aimed at kids either with its innuendo and the odd dirty joke. It has has a night life area after all but, at least it's one of those rare shows without the awkward fan service.
The Three Witch Sisters just remind me of NieR:Automata with their black dresses and masks but not as cool since they're more like The Three Stooges of the show.
It starts out fun as you watch Mu and Echo on their journey but, it gets kind of messy towards the end as it puts on a serious face and tries to reveal more of the world setting in scrambled order. Fortunately it reverts back to its original style character driven action show direction for the wrap-up.
Visuals have a retro feel to them much like ACCA-13. All the areas resemble Western countries such as that of UK with it's pub (even has a town named, "Livechester" after all) and also the US with familiar tall high school lockers. Mecha designs are quite good too (considering they're guitar amp parts) and the fight scenes aren't too bad either. 3D models blend in well apart from the odd moments they look like frozen figures. It was fun to see a bit of tribute to Vocaloid, Hatsune Miku.
I like how the ending songs are all different and the animation is different too; kind of like bonus scenes you could have seen during the episode (or "track" as they call it) but didn't.
It's an ok-ish show. Fun characters, great looking retro aesthetics; just not that exciting a world setting and story. Otherwise, like rock music and ever wonder what guitar amps would look like if they transformed into giant robots? Here's your comedy action show.
Worth A Watch
Great Pretender (2020, Wit Studio)
After the honest life didn't work out for him, Makoto Edamura decides to become a swindler as people have been accusing him to be one when he found a job at a shady company. Now his ambition was to become the best and richest in Japan but, one day while trying to scam a foreign tourist named Laurent he meets his match and almost gets arrested. By chance he jumps into the same taxi and decides to go with him to LA. Only later did he realise, he's already been conned multiple times but he wasn't ready to give up yet and was ready to beat Laurent an international con artist at his own game by seeing who can con the most out of the most wealthy and dangerous criminal in LA.
However, after losing Laurent decides to keep Makoto as part of his operations no matter how reluctant he was. Makoto just can't escape his schemes. Whatever he tries to do Laurent always manages to foresee and so he finds himself continuing to take part in Laurant's plans to con the rich and powerful, but good moral lacking characters.
An original show by Wit Studio better known for Attack on Titan. It's got all the things you'd usually see from similar stories such as car chases. Every criminal they target controls entire cities with corruption so you get a sense of scale of what our "phantom thieves" are up against.
Characters are good; you've got the annoyingly manipulative Laurent who always manages to read ahead, Makoto who's overly straight (probably why he's named that, "makoto/real"), Abigail who's angry all the time and your classic seductive beauty Cynthia. Since they don't consider themselves a team, it's interesting what each of the swindlers end up choosing to do that lead to a change of plan.
Each case spans five episodes mostly apart from the last, taking you to Los Angeles, Singapore, London complete with various brand placements; no parody brands in this show unlike most Anime shows. Well for the most part anyway, mainly Asian places have real brands.
Unfortunately it gets to the point where you just think, "This is all just part of their grand scheme. Everyone's involved right?" It's the same every case. Makoto thinks he's gotten off to a great start by himself then suddenly it's all part of Laurent's scheme again.
Artwork isn't exactly spectacular. Background art is almost lifeless, little animated but it's clean. Despite that there's some good attention to detail such as how much make-up they give to the female characters and when whereas in other shows, they just draw them with make-up all the time. On the other hand, I'm not a real fan of the unique looking colour scheme as it feels like someone looking at the world through tinted glasses but... maybe that's the idea? The con artists and power abusing characters seeing the world in their own way? Those big grins really bring out the con artist image in the characters.
Music is very retro like those old secret agent shows with its saxophone which suits the whole swindler plot. They speak in a lot of languages such as English, French and Chinese Mandarin which actually don't sound too bad compared to most shows. Well, I guess they did hire natives to voice them.
Since it's based on adult con artists and criminals, expect brief mentions of drugs, nudity and sex although nothing terribly graphic. With that in mind I'd say there's pretty much no fan service as long as you don't count Cynthia seducing their victims.
If you're after a comedy show with a mature setting and classic retro setup instead of your usual gag show or high school setting, you might like this. Group of con artists who only go after the criminals with strong characters and your classic tale of romance. Oh, and your hint of Boys Love. The final case gives the show a good finale wrap-up and closure.
I think the only reason this isn't in my recommended is the lack of a creative world and the story setup with your group of con artists isn't anything new either despite the strong characters. Wit Studio might have chosen Ryota Kyosawa best known for his crime stories for this common setup as it's the safest bet for appealing to as many people as possible via Netflix. The scams are just too perfect, no screw-ups at all although I guess like Laurent puts it, "it's scripted entertainment".
On an off note, Makoto's place reminds me of Hina's place from Weathering with You where you can clearly see the Sky Tree and narrow alleyways in between the buildings.
Worth A Watch
Akudama Drive (2020, Pierrot/TooKyo Games)
Everyday Girl is honest to a fault and wouldn't even use money that she picked up, even if she had the means to pay it back afterwards. The owner didn't want it back either claiming, "dropped money was bad luck." Unfortunately this becomes the case for Everyday Girl as she is arrested for not paying for her food and the police station she just happens to be the place where one of the notorious Akudamas "Cutthroat" was due to be executed.
Four selfish, egoistical S-rank Akudamas - Brawler who relies on brute strength, Courier who couldn't care less about anyone, Doctor who loves to dissect and Hacker have been sent anonymous messages to jailbreak Cutthroat and Everyday Girl finds herself caught up in the mess (along with a small time criminal). It turns out the five misfits were hired to take part in a number of high risk, high paying jobs. Now Everyday Girl has no choice but to play along keeping the criminals convinced that she was a skilled Akudama too just to gain their respect and not get killed, knowing little that her once peaceful life was going to flipped right round.
Decided to watch this because of the hype and dived in blind without knowing what it's about. Only knew it wasn't going to be your happy, smiley show with the "aku (evil)" in the title and all the gore screenshots I saw from tweets (along with people fawning over Cutthroat).
Sure enough, the show feels like a cyberpunk Battle Royale, the violent dark comedy Japanese movie. It starts off quite violent but the over-exaggerated gore dampens down quite quickly (for a while).
Presentation is over-the-top as each Akudama wanted criminal is introduced and the reckless fight scenes are just ridiculously silly you're laughing more of the time but they do have some style to them, not just throw as many special skills as possible. The fights are your usual overpowered characters but at the same time the situation can change so quickly you won't be batting an eyelid.
It's a silly action show (bullet trains are revered holy entities) with dark humour. It's quite fun watching the misfits try to get through the plans even though they don't work well together as well as wondering how Everyday Girl is going to get out of her situation. On the other hand she also just seems overly naive despite everything she's been through.
Everyday Girl is probably the only character that can lighten up the gloomy mood as she grows from your everyday person to, someone who must do whatever it takes to survive and protect.
Cyberpunk landscape of Kansai looks great, very sci-fi being lit-up with holograms floating around everywhere in contrast to the grey surroundings festered with crime as you'd expect from the genre. Yet they take a lot of care to preserve what symbolises Japan such as Torii gates, wooden structures and Hanko stamps. It's also quite creative with some of the scene transitions as they piece the backgrounds together part by part. Despite being a short 12 episode series it doesn't skimp out on the world setting and tries to explain it with a pair of silly mascots.
Version I watched was censored but not the kind that's done so badly you might as well be watching a black screen. And where there's ridiculously over-exaggerated amount of blood and gore, there's usually a lot of fan service too although I guess it is cyberpunk. You've got a seductive doctor in revealing clothing, the odd innuendo, maybe a "bath" scene and implied sex too.
I'm guessing people like Cutthroat despite his psychopathic nature because he can be a loyal bodyguard and, they did a very good job of portraying his mentally unstable, childlike mind.
Story is fast paced which makes sense for a short series but it doesn't feel rushed because it gives you enough time to digest all the new bits of story. There's never a dull moment that's for sure. A very cyberpunk-like themed show where everything isn't all rosy and everyone does their best to survive so if you're after cheery show, this obviously won't be it.
There's one episode with an extra scene after the ED so don't miss it. Oh, and that canned Takoyaki? It's real.