Sunday, August 03, 2014

Ezio Auditore (Assassin's Creed Brotherhood)


Ezio Auditore in one of his outfits in AC Brotherhood
I used graphite and colored pencils on oslo paper
My deviantArt link is here 

Assassin's Creed Embers


Set years after Assassin's Creed Revelations, Ezio Auditore lives in a countryside with Sofia Sartor and their children Flavia and Marcello. A retired assassin, he was alarmed to find a hooded figure talking to Flavia one day. It turns out the stranger, who introduced herself as Shao Jun, was looking for Ezio to ask him how to rebuild the assassin order in her country and how to help her people. Ezio at first refused but Sofia convinced Ezio to let her stay.


Shao Jun (left) and Ezio Auditore
Ezio and Sofia
"... love of people, cultures, and the world... fight to preserve that which inspires hope and you will win back your people."


This sad and beautiful 21 minutes and 22 seconds short animation film shows Ezio at the twilight of his life. Though dissatisfied and full of regrets, he is still a formidable fighter in the film even if he's slower than the hero in the three games. Ezio's fans will love this peek at Ezio's last moments (and it's good to know that he and Sofia made a family) and might find the ending a bit intriguing. I was holding my breath at the ending and was quite sad when what was foreshadowed had to happen.

Voice Actors:
Roger Craig Smith - Ezio Auditore
Angela Galuppo - Shao Jun and Flavia Auditore
Anna Tuveri - Sofia Sartor
Peter Arpesella - young man

Directed by Patrick Plourde, Stephane Baudet

Assassin's Creed Ascendance



Assassin's Creed Ascendance is a short animated film set after Assassin's Creed II and before Assassin's Creed Brotherhood. Ezio Auditore was informed that a new threat is growing in Roma. Pope Rodrigo Borgia's son, Cesare, is brewing up trouble to take control of all of Roma. In the next 13 minutes and 32 seconds, Ezio learns how his would-be nemesis rose to power.


Ezio Auditore

Cesare Borgia (middle)

The picture story animation is reminiscent of the artistic style of the Renaissance. The music, voice acting, and scenery will all be familiar to the gamers. There are fewer action scenes than in Assassin's Creed Lineage and mostly just recollection of Cesare's deeds to get to where he is at the start of AC Brotherhood. The picture story might be new to the viewers but it's just as beautiful as the animation in the games.

Voice Actors:
Roger Craig Smith - Ezio Auditore
Andreas Apergis - Cesare Borgia
Carlos Ferro - Leonardo da Vinci
Arthur Holden
Harry Standjofski

Directed by Laurent Bernier (Director) and Ghislain Ouellet (Assistant Director)
Produced by Louis-Pierre Pharmand (Producer), Jean-Jacques Tremblay (Associate Producer), Yves Guillemot, Serge Hascoet, Yannis Mallat, and Sebastien Puel (Executive Producers)


Assassin's Creed Ezio Trilogy



Note: My review will not include the multiplayer modes for AC Brotherhood and Revelations and most of the DLCs. I will provide a list however of DLCs included in this edition (refer to cover above).

Assassin's Creed II is the direct sequel of Assassin's Creed, while Brotherhood and Revelations follow up on the story of the trilogy's lead character Ezio Auditore.

The gameplay is similar to the first game. Memories are accessed through the Animus. These memories form sequences and must be completed by performing the necessary objectives of each mission. Ezio's abilities are pretty much the same as Altaïr Ibn-La'Ahad's in Assassin's Creed but with several improvements. The wall climb and roof run, Leap of Faith, and tracking targets by stealth or gathering information are basically the same. 

At the start of Assassin's Creed II, Desmond Miles is rescued by Lucy Stillman out of Abstergo Industries, the Templars, and brought to a secret, temporary hideout where he is introduced to assassins Shaun Hastings and Rebecca Crane. Their mission is to explore Desmond's genetic memory of ancestor Ezio Auditore da Firenze with the use of a new Animus. They have to locate the remaining Pieces of Eden before the Templars can find them. Desmond will also learn techniques from Ezio by exploiting the bleeding effect. A self-confessed terrible fighter, he can already use eagle vision at the end of Assassin's Creed so it won't be long before he learns the other tricks.

Assassin's Creed II


Set in the Renaissance, AC II introduces the Auditores who live prosperously in Firenze (Florence). The head of the family, Giovanni, is a banker and is also an assassin with various powerful connections. Giovanni and Maria have four children, namely Federico, Ezio, Claudia, and Petruccio.

Giovanni had stumbled onto some conspiracy while working secretly for Lorenzo de' Medici. There is a scene in the game of a brawl involving Ezio and another young man Vieri de' Pazzi after Vieri said some nasty things about the Auditores following Francesco de' Pazzi's arrest, Vieri's father. Giovanni found evidence pointing to Francesco's involvement in a murder. In an amazing turn of events however, Giovanni, Federico and Petruccio were later arrested by the Gonfaloniere Uberto Alberti. While in captivity, Giovanni instructed Ezio to deliver some letters in order to save himself and his sons. Ezio was away when they were arrested. The letters however only served as more evidence for Giovanni's supposed crime. Betrayed by Alberti, Giovanni, Federico and Petruccio were hanged for treason.


On the platform from left: Alberti, Rodrigo Borgia, Federico, Giovanni, Petruccio and executioner

Ezio with Claudia (left) and Maria

With nowhere to go and seething with the desire for vengeance, Ezio, Maria and Claudia were given help by friends and family. The ladies are given refuge by Mario, Giovanni's brother, while Ezio trained to finally become an Assassin. Ezio was completely ignorant of his father's secret work but Mario, also an assassin, had some ideas who betrayed Giovanni. Ezio's task was to track down the perpetrators by following a trail that he later realized leads to a conspiracy even bigger than he first thought.





Set in Renaissance Italy's Venice, Florence, Forlì, San Gimignano, the Tuscany, and some of Vaticano, the game includes several additions and improvements of the previous game. While exploring these places, players are provided some background about the landmarks and the people by the Animus. 

Some of the additions are the character's ability to swim; use of eagle vision while walking; carriage chases and gondola rowing; use of a flying machine sometime in the game; and more interaction with NPCs particularly in shops. There are also more ways to hide from pursuing guards and a notoriety system which can be reduced by several ways.

AC II also features an economic system that allows Ezio to gather funds which can be used to renovate Monteriggioni. Ezio can also purchase artwork, armor and weapons, upgrade pouches, and dye his clothes in different colors.

Combat system has improved and gives the player different choices in dealing with opponents. Ezio can use a firearm, poison blade and other upgrades that Leonardo made by consulting Altaïr's codex pages. He also has an ability to pick up and use weapons dropped or taken from opponents by disarming.

Besides collecting feathers for Petruccio or looking for Assassin's Seals, players can also look for glyphs to complete the puzzles and watch The Truth video of Subject 16.

DLCs included in this edition are The Battle of Forli, Bonfire of the Vanities, and Templar Lair.




More than half of the game was about Ezio growing up and discovering his father's secret work. Whereas Altaïr was a trained, skillful assassin at the start of the game, Ezio has to work his way up. A young man in his prime robbed of his father and his brothers, you could almost claim he was a victim. It is easy to like Ezio because it was like I saw him grow up (especially after you play all three games). His quest for vengeance instead became his life's work. His decision regarding Rodrigo showed how far he had come from the rowdy, young man that he was.

Those who haven't played Assassin's Creed will find AC II not so complicated because you'll learn the trade through missions and tutorials. Running and climbing are fun but the game has more to offer than AC. Collecting, completing mini-missions or just exploring are just as addictive because of the detailed environment and beautiful scenery. You could just wander and look at people and buildings if you want. From just the animation alone, you could tell that a lot of research was done for the game. The clothing and the historical figures and landmarks can be a learning experience. 

The rewards you get from the little things in the game are just as satisfying as completing the memory sequences. In fact, I think that's the most addictive part of these three games. As for the difficulty level, the challenge in AC II and even Brotherhood and Revelations is in how well you perform the objectives in each mission and choosing the means on how to gather information and fight or assassinate people.

If you enjoyed AC, AC II is even better in most aspects. The gameplay, animation, voice acting, and storyline are all better. 

Rating for Assassin's Creed II: 10 out of 10

Assassin's Creed Brotherhood


After his confrontation with Rodrigo Borgia in Assassin's Creed II, Ezio and Mario Auditore thought that the Borgias were no longer going to threaten them until Cesare Borgia attacked Monteriggioni. Barely escaping with his life, Ezio followed Rodrigo's son out of the ruined villa after witnessing his uncle's death. He received helped from a friend who also told him of Cesare's growing power.


Ezio with Leonardo da Vinci


Set mostly in Rome, Ezio sets out to diminish Cesare's and the Templars's influence by establishing his connections with other assassins, recruiting apprentices from the people of Rome, destroying Borgia towers and the war machines that are being developed, and assassinating the key people surrounding Cesare. Ezio will work closely with assassins Niccolo Machiavelli, La Volpe, Bartolomeo d'Alviano, Solari and Claudia Auditore.


Ezio with Assassins


Meanwhile, Desmond and the other modern assassins move to Monteriggioni for security purposes and to find the apple's location. At this point in the game, the player will notice that the bleeding effect on Desmond is more pronounced.




From left: Rebeca, Desmond, Shaun and Lucy in Monteriggioni hideout

In Brotherhood, dual-wielded weapons and short-range weapons can be paired with projectile weapons. Eliminating a lot of enemies faster is easier with the execution streak. Ezio can also use a crossbow and the poison darts, which are an improvement of the poison blade. 

Traveling is easier also because he can call his horse anytime. Plus he can use the crossbow and hidden gun while on horseback. Another means of escape and travel can also be done with parachutes. Ezio will also be taught how to use the climb leap glove to jump to previously unreachable ledges. 

In AC II, Ezio was able to renovate buildings in Monteriggioni. In Brotherhood, he can renovate shops and landmarks in most of Rome. These include not just doctors, blacksmiths, tailors, banks, and art merchants but also horse stables and he can assign empty faction buildings for mercenaries, thieves, and courtesans. Ezio can also purchase some famous landmarks in Rome. Income from shops, faction buildings, and landmarks can be used to buy armor, weapons, upgrades, maps, artworks, and dye clothes.

Recruited citizens are trained as apprentices and sent to missions. They are sent to missions pretty much like those of Ezio's. Each mission has a difficulty level. When the apprentices successfully perform missions, their weapons and armor are upgraded. Moreover, the apprentices can be used to assist Ezio in some missions.

One of the fun activities in the game is collecting. You can look for Lairs of Romulus and acquire special items, collect feathers, and play the Cristina memories.

Meanwhile, players can use Desmond to explore Monteriggioni with his new set of acquired skills.






Those who have not played Assassin's Creed II will easily get lost in the story in AC Brotherhood as it is a direct follow-up of the events of the former. Whatever Ezio has started in Firenze must be dealt with also in Roma where his most dangerous nemesis is gathering power. When I saw what happened to his uncle and the loss of some allies, I thought Ezio had to start all over again. That's partly what he did when he came to Roma. But Roma offers so many things than in the previous game. There's so much to do in the game that it's more time-consuming than AC II.

The gameplay and animation are just as good as AC II's. The only difference is the plethora of activities I can do in the game. Rome is big, and I mean big. Traveling by horse can even be tiresome sometimes. More than just the story, I enjoyed the other missions especially completing those involving Leonardo's machines (which I must say aren't easy). The downside however with having so many things to do (that is if you like completing them) is losing track of the main story. 

Plus there are the apprentices to train. At the start of the game I felt like Ezio was so alone in his fight even when he had allies, but recruiting people somehow changed that. Whereas AC II was like Ezio's personal fight, Brotherhood involved more people and Ezio was no longer just thinking about himself. A mature and wiser Ezio is now poised to take over the losing brotherhood.

I enjoyed Brotherhood as much as I enjoyed AC II. If there is one word to describe AC Brotherhood, it's addictive.

Rating for Assassin's Creed Brotherhood: 9 out of 10

Assassin's Creed Revelations

It was only a matter of time until Desmond would feel the worst of the bleeding effect. After a surprising end in AC Brotherhood, Desmond falls into a coma. He wakes up, well only in his mind, in Animus Island with Subject 16 who explains to him that the only way to save his sanity is to relieve the last bit of genetic memories of Ezio. In the background, the player could hear the events transpiring after Desmond's collapse. Rebecca and his father are taking him somewhere.



Subject 16 and Desmond in Animus Island


After many years as an assassin, Ezio decides to explore the secrets of the library at Masyaf built by Altaïr before his death. He did find the library after a fight with some Templars but it needed keys to be opened. After some investigation, he set out to Constantinople after obtaining the journal of Niccolo Polo which points to where the keys are hidden.


Ezio Auditore

He met Yusuf Tazim who introduced him to the city and taught him the use of he hookblade. Ezio also decides to help the local guild leader to take and defend the assassin dens from the Templars. He does this by recruiting and training assassins. During his search for the keys, Ezio also meets Piri Reis, Sofia Sartor, and the young prince Suleiman. Although he did not want to be involved in the quarrels and issues in Constantinople, it could not be avoided after meeting certain people.

In this game the player gets to experience the game from Desmond, Ezio and Altair. Aptly titled Revelations, 
players will experience Altair's final moments, witness some of Ezio's last important contributions to the brotherhood, and the determine the role Desmond has to play after all his discoveries. 


Local guild leader Yusuf with Ezio
Desmond Miles


Several changes are made in the gameplay in AC Revelations. The usual hidden blades are replaced by a hookblade which can be used to explore the city using ziplines. Ezio also has the ability to pickpocket the enemy during the fight and when he needs to escape he can always hook-and-run.

The eagle vision has been improved again. Ezio can now see tracks in gold or red and see ghost-like figures of the person/s he needs to track.

One of the features that I really liked are the variety of bombs. Remember the smoke bombs in the previous games? There are more in Revelations. There are three types of bombs Ezio can use; the Lethal, Tactical, and Diversion. Ingredients for these can be found all over Constantinople and can be crafted at bomb-crafting stations usually next to pigeon coops. Once you know the trick, combining different ingredients to see what you will create is the fun part.  

The equivalent of Borgia Towers in Revelations are the Assassin Dens. Unlike the former, the dens have more uses. Ezio has to attack the Templar-owned dens then train an assassin to defend them from Templars. While the assassins are still in their training however, Ezio has to organize a den defense every time the towers are attacked. Assassins are trained to the master rank and one is assigned to each den. Training assassins is pretty much similar to what Ezio did in Brotherhood.

Renovating shops and landmarks can still be done in Constantinople to receive income. The art merchants are replaced by book shops and there are no horse stables. Traveling can be done by tunnels and ferries or the usual means.

Animus data fragments scattered all over Constantinople can be used to access some of Desmond's past memories. These fragments are like passes to some portals for mini-games, replacing subject 16's puzzles in AC II and Brotherhood. Desmond's Journey is like a puzzle played in a first-person perspective. Players have to get past various environment obstacles and let Desmond recover some of his memories. 


Ezio looking at Altair

Compared to the previous games, the main story is shorter in AC Revelations. If not for that, I think Revelations would have been just as good as the previous games. There is no lack however of things that I can do while delaying the progress of the story. Collecting, renovating, and exploring are just as addictive. Not to mention the fun in bomb making, completing the difficult (Oh yes. If you have motion sickness you might find this frustrating) but intriguing Desmond's Journey, the challenging den defense and already familiar apprentice training.

All three heroes are also playable and finally the connection is made between Altaïr, Ezio and Desmond.

I don't recommend AC Revelations if you have not played AC II and Brotherhood. The story would be too confusing and the gameplay a bit difficult to appreciate even if there are tutorials. For AC fans however, some questions will finally be answered. Ezio wanted to make sense of his years of work at the start of Revelations and it seemed he was hinting that we might be seeing the last of his work as an assassin. I can't help but feel sad as a fan, but like they say all good stories have to end.

Rating for Assassin's Creed Revelations: 8.5 out of 10
Overall Rating for Assassin's Creed Ezio Trilogy: 9.17

Assassin's Creed Lineage


Set before events in Assassin's Creed II, Assassin's Creed Lineage is narrated from Giovanni Auditore's point of view. Working as an assassin for Lorenzo de' Medici, Giovanni, stumbled onto some conspiracy to bring the Medicis down after the assassination of the Duke of Milano. The loss of the duke meant also a thinning of Lorenzo's allies and a threat to Florence's power. Giovanni has to discover who is behind the conspiracy.


Giovanni Auditore
From left: Giovanni, Uberto Alberti, and Lorenzo de' Medici
Rodrigo Borgia

AC Lineage shows the familiar wall climbs and roof runs that fans of the franchise enjoy. It also features characters who will be important in AC II. The fight scenes are awesome and the scenery beautiful. The three-episode short film shows the places Ezio Auditore will later explore in AC II and the possible reason why Giovanni and two of his sons were executed in game.

Cast:
Romano Orzari - Giovanni Auditore
Manuel Tadros - Rodrigo Borgia
Claudia Ferri - Maria Auditore
Alex Ivanovici - Lorenzo de' Medici
Michel Perron - Uberto Alberti
Devon Bostick - Ezio Auditor
Jesse Rath - Federico Auditore
Connor Nikides Kokolakis - Petruccio Auditore
Devery Jacobs - Claudia Auditore
Michel Perron - Uberto Alberti
Arthur Grosser - Pope Sixtus IV
Shawn Baichoo - Father Maffei
Peter Miller - Galeazzo Maria Sforza

Directed by Yves Simoneau
Produced by Pierre Raymond, Serge Hascoet, Yannis Mallat
Yves Guillemot (Executive), Ian Whitehead (Line)

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Accel World


The technologically advanced world of 2046 is the setting for this 24-episode series. Most people at this time use Neuro-Linkers to access the Internet, interact online and explore virtual and augmented worlds. This neuro-linker is worn like a collar and can interact with the brain.

Hardcore gamer Arita Haruyuki uses this technology constantly to get away from his miserable life at Umesato Junior High School despite having good friends like Mayuzumi Takumu and Kurashima Chiyuri. Fat, short and timid, Haru is a target for bullies. In one of his bad days, he plays squash where he has always dominated the scoreboards. Unfortunately, even in that game someone finally bested him. The intruder Kuroyukihime was impressed by Haru's abilities and wants to be friends with him. His complete opposite, Kuroyukihime is good-looking and famous which only made Haru more suspicious of her intentions.


Kuroyukihime and Haru

Kuroyukihime and Haru in their avatars


The next day after their first meeting, Kuroyukihime asks Haru to cable with her and to try installing a program called Brain Burst. Haru soon learns that the program enables the user to temporarily freeze time by accelerating the brainwaves. Moreover, Brain Burst is also a fighting game where Burst Linkers duel for Burst Points so they can keep using acceleration. Losing all the burst points however automatically uninstalls the program, an event most of the burst linkers fear.

Haru's avatar, called Silver Crow, reflects his subconsciousness. His desires, fears and frustrations show in his virtual features and abilities. Being a gamer, it was easy for Haru to understand the mechanics of the game. Soon enough, his popularity grew and he became good friends with Kuroyukihime. Their goal now is to reach level 10, defeat the Six Kings of Color, and discover the meaning and purpose of Brain Burst. The six kings are the only extant players who have reached level 9. They were in a stalemate when they decided to set a truce preventing each other from attacking the rest to gain burst points. This peace was broken by Black Lotus who is now hunted by other burst linkers.


Haru's friends Takumu and Chiyuri


In this background, Haru's mettle will be tested. Not only has he to deal with foes but with friends and himself. Burst Link may be just a game but for hardcore burst linkers like them, fighting for survival and domination is like a fight for life.  


Silver Crow


The lead character Haru is an unusual protagonist because of his appearance. Moreover he is cowardly, shy and constant victim of bullies. As expected the lead female Kuroyukihime has the opposite qualities. A typical but effective pair for a series about a game and the gamers. I saw several brilliant moments in the 24 episodes whenever Haru spoke from the point of view of a gamer. Games as an escape for reality is true for most people with Haru's background and personality. Although I am not a fan of escapism, gaming is a good venue to redeem oneself, make friends and strengthen real-world friendships. As a gamer, I appreciate all the details they put into the action scenes, the tension caused by the struggles to dominate, and the mentality of the burst linkers. The serious dedication of the players is almost reminiscent of the nearly-foolish but awesome people who label themselves hardcore (some even die playing). After all, the joy in playing games is in losing oneself in all the action and fun.

Action scenes abound. I like how the setting is taken into account in every fight. There are also a lot of details put into the history, appearance and function of the armor, weapons and other abilities of the players --- making it a more convincing series about a game than Sword Art Online. The good animation also justified what the series wanted to deliver.

The romance part was only hinted at but not pursued. Fanservice is also present; a feature that could have been omitted if you ask me.

The ending leaves enough room for a sequel if there's any, but is also good enough for a cliffhanger conclusion to the mystery of the Brain Burst if one observes the growth of the lead character.

There are also some things hinted at in the series. One of those I've noticed is the use of the neuro-linker. It is a collar which seems to imply that a technologically advanced society makes slaves out of the people. If games and virtual reality were a reflection of people's happiness and pain, then I do not think an advanced society is any different from the primitive. After all, only our methods of interacting, loving or harming others will change but not ourselves.


Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Sword Art Online



This 25-episode series about virtual gaming and it effects to the players. It is divided into two arcs. The first arc (episodes 1 to 14) is set in Sword Art Online, tagged the first virtual game world. Players have to go through one hundred floors of the Aincrad Castle to beat the game. However, the game has a catch. If a player fails to survive a fight, both his virtual and real bodies die. Moreover, once the game starts, no one is allowed to log out until someone reaches the last boss.

Meanwhile, the second arc (episodes 15 to 25) is set in Alfheim Online. It's similar to SAO but players can log out and no one will die if the characters is defeated. In this game, players are divided into different elf races. The ultimate goal is to reach the top of the World Tree.


Kirito


At the start of the series, a gaming system called Nerve Gear is introduced. Players need to put on a head gear to access the game and control their character's actions; quite different from the usual console, PC and handheld platforms used for gaming. SAO is a role-playing game, therefore players have to have enough points to level up and defeat the level boss(es) to move on.

SAO creator Kayaba Akihiko announced at the start of the game that the only way to escape the virtual world is to reach and survive the last level. One of these players is Kirigaya Kazuto who uses the screen name Kirito. Being one of the beta-testers, he was a step ahead from most players because he knew how the game works and is familiar of most of the opponents in the lower levels. Soon enough Kirito becomes one of the front-liners clearing the levels for the other players. His skill as a solo player earned him the nickname Black Swordsman.

It was in one of the boss battles where he met Yuuki Asuna, or Asuna. A member of the Knights of the Blood Oath guild, she is known for her fighting skills. Kirito and Asuna start to work together more often and grow more attached as friends and fellow fighters even at the cost of abandoning her guild.


Asuna

Despite their skills and experience however, there still remains the challenge of actually getting to the last boss to clear the game. Whatever awaits them at the top of Aincrad castle and what happens after they beat SAO will be up to Kirito, Asuna, and the other players --- both the allies and foes.


Kirito and Asuna in one of their emotional moments together

The pace and character development was consistent until the second arc. From then on, the series spiraled into a romance story reminiscent of the tale of a princess locked in a tower (in this case a virtual prison) awaiting for her prince's arrival. 

The prospect of a series based on a virtual game seemed promising but the plot is weak when I found out in the first episode that it was going to be another survival story. The characters are thrown together into a place where everyone has to fight their way back to freedom and a mistake could cost you your life. From then, the sequence of events was easy to predict (for me at least). I already anticipated alliances, jealousy from among factions, foes masquerading as allies, and romance between a strong male warrior and a beautiful, popular and skilled female.

Even the character types are not new. Kirito is the timid but talented character while Asuna complements him with her cheerful and hopeful approach at beating the game.

Gamers might appreciate the series but the story isn't just about the game at all. If anything, there's so little about the game and instead it explores how people deal with mortal challenges psychologically and emotionally; SAO is more about self-exploration, realization and the growth of the gamers involved.

I expected that the fight scenes would be the highlight of the series. Most were just okay. There are some inconsistencies if you compare it to actual games. If willpower alone can win boss fights, then we would not need to seek for weapon and armor upgrades and level up to finish games. Then again, the game is unlike anything the world has seen before. On the other hand, the animation is fine. I liked the landscapes in particular.

The first episode alone was a let-down for me. I tried looking for some redeeming qualities of the series in the next episodes but the second arc totally ruined it for me. The first half was not so bad at all but overall Sword Art Online is mediocre at best.


Rating: 5.5 out of 10

Brothers Conflict



Hinata Ema becomes a stepsister of thirteen boys of the Asahina family when her father decided to remarry. She moves in to the family's apartment complex and found it was easy to get along with her new brothers. Being the only child of Hinata Rintaro who always traveled, she found this an opportunity to finally have a real family. However her pet squirrel Juli thinks she has to be careful around the boys because they might try to do something to her.

Her 13 stepbrothers are the ff.: doctor and eldest Asahina Masaomi; lawyer Ukyo who is also the family cook; monk Kaname who took a liking to her the first time she came to the apartment; novelist Hikaru who loves to cross-dress and tease his brothers about their feelings for Ema; triplets Tsubaki, Azusa, and Natsume who are the most expressive of their feelings for Ema; gentle hairdresser Louis who joined Juli in looking after Ema; talented athlete Subaru; mysterious Iori who gives Ema flowers to make her feel better; Yusuke, Ema schoolmate who has a crush on her even before she became a stepsister; popular idol Futo who loves to tease Ema; and the youngest Wataru.

This series with 12 episodes (and 1 OVA) shows how Ema has captured the heart of her stepbrothers. Foremost are the triplets, who soon enough started heated arguments over her. In the end it will be up to Ema to prove to them that all she wants is a family she can be part of.


Juli and Ema

The first words that came to mind when Ema moved into the Asahina's apartment complex was 'here we go again.' It is too convenient to live in separate rooms but still together under the same roof with 13 boys minus the parents. Seems also a bit unrealistic to have such a huge family without the mom looking after them even if the youngest Wataru is still 10. Of course there's bound be trouble with all the manly hormones. It's also unrealistic that almost everyone would fall for Ema the first time they see her, but I guess that's how it goes for most reverse harem genre. 

The series has nothing new to offer. It follows the same pattern of story which goes: girl has to live with the boy(s) or is forced to pair up with the boy(s); the boy(s) or girl or both of them start liking each other; some conflict from another party begins; then finally girl has to make a choice. In this series however there are a lot of choices. There's a type of boy for every girl's fantasy and preference. Their relationship is also different because Ema is a family member.


Ema with her stepbrothers

There is some attempt at characterization mostly on the triplets, whose relationship with Ema has more progress than their other brothers'. Most of the brothers have a story to tell but the others are left out and rarely get some time with Ema.

The animation is fine. The characters have doll-like eyes that suit most personalities. Both opening and ending themes are not so bad as well. The ending theme in particular is sung by the 13 brothers and Juli and has a nice tune.

The series has a typical story and the usual but numerous choices of romantic partners. If you're into this genre however, I think you'll find most of the stuff you're looking for.


Rating: 6 out of 10

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

K



Isana Yashiro finds himself a target for various people when he was mistakenly identified the murderer of Totsuka Tatara, a member of the group Homra. Apparently a video evidence shows Yashiro talking to Totsuka moments before the latter's death. Soon enough Ashinaka High School becomes a battle stage for the people after Yashiro and a power struggle among clans. 




Yashiro insists that he is not the man in the video but he had difficulty proving that even to the Black Hound Yatagami Kuroh who is hunting down the next Colorless King. However, Yashiro and Kuroh later form a team with Neko to escape the pursuers.

From left: Yatagami Kuroh, Isana Yashiro and Neko

Set in the futuristic Shizume City, this 13-episode series follows moments of Yashiro's life after the accusation and the different stories of the clans led by kings who are designated seven colors. These clans have members with psychic powers, the strongest are called kings. The rich animation shows the fight scenes of powerful clan members using various modes of fighting. The series is also full of diverse characters and has an interesting history of the struggle of the kings of different colors.


Homra

Scepter 4

Besides the animation and fight scenes, there is not much to look forward to in the series. There is a lot of emphasis on the background story and too many characters to take note of that there is a tendency to drown the viewers in too much information. A little mystery is good but there's just too many things to remember in so short a series. The pace is slow as well for a series that could have been interesting if done well.

Some viewers might not like Neko because she's running around naked most of the time. Other than that, the rest of the characters are not too bad especially after watching them fight.  Most are interesting at first glance but forgettable.

K has great animation, a promising story and yet it did not turn out as well as I expected. The story seemed weak after a couple of episodes and some characters are easy to forget. I do not even remember most of what happened in the series after I was done.


Rating: 6 out of 10

Monochrome Factor


Nikaido Akira is a carefree high school student who enjoys cutting classes, sports and yet manages to still be one of the top students in school. When he met an entity from the shadow world, his normal high school life changed when he was forced to become a shin and pair up with Shirogane to restore balance in the world. Whatever nonsense Shirogane has been telling him about the shadow world is no joke at all, as he soon learns when he had his first fight. Akira's role in the struggle takes on a different meaning however when he finds out that he has more at stake than his easy life and his friends.

This 24-episode series follows the adventures of Shirogane, Akira and his friends as they explore the secrets of and fight the creatures from the shadow world. 


(Left) Shirogane and (right) Akira

From left: Master, Suzuno Aya, Kujo Haruka, Nikaido Akira, Shirogane, and Asamura Kengo

The magic or weapons used by the characters mostly come from Shirogane. Akira's transformation was also possible through that person from the shadow world. That in itself is interesting because of the diversity of their abilities, but the battles usually end up in draws. There is also no resolution towards the end of the series, only more revelations and promises of fights. There were too many opportunities for some awesome showdowns but none were done satisfyingly. The animation is weak as well. 

The typical good versus evil plot is not new although the twist put a little spark in the otherwise boring, episodic series. That little twist was a bit late to salvage the story however. 

The attempt at humor is also typical and not the type I appreciate very well. Kengo almost always ends up the receiver of jokes and is a "punching bag" for the lead character.

Akira also isn't so different from lead characters of  most series set in a high school environment. He's good-looking, popular, and a bit of a rebel. His opposite Shirogane on the other hand is powerful, mysterious and loyal to him almost to the point of obsession. From there we can easily assume that there will be a bit of romance between the two. The reasons for Akira and Shirogane's pairing up isn't new as well. Akira is forced to fight a battle he doesn't know yet and has to rely on Shirogane for protection. He is a destined hero about to end a long war and was picked not because of his abilities but because of his blood.

The series has some good moments and fans of the supernatural/horror genre might appreciate some of the fights, but overall the story is weak and predictable.

Rating: 6 out of 10

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Kuroko no Basket Season 2



After Seirin High's loss to Touou Academy in the inter-high school tournament, Kuroko Tetsuya and Kagami Taiga vowed to get better for the upcoming Winter Cup. Despite the talent of the freshmen, Seirin is still obviously far from being a match against the other teams; although their threat has been taken seriously. With the arrival of Kiyoshi Teppei, Seirin now has an experienced and cool-headed leader to compliment the hot-headed Kagami and lack of offensive and defensive abilities of the rest of the team. 


Seirin's new lineup for season two

Still, Seirin now has to face more talented teams with new players, some of whom are from the Generation of Miracles and the Uncrowned Kings, the latter talented players overshadowed by the former. One of those is Hanamiya Makoto who plays for Kirisaki Daichi High and is notorious for his "dirty tricks" that sends other teams' best players to the bench, or worse to the hospital. Seirin has to surpass Kirisaki Daichi later in the series.


Shutoku

The more pressing concern however is the anticipated match between Seirin and Yosen High. Both Kuroko and Kagami have old friends playing for that team. They met Murasakibara Atsushi and Himuro Tatsuya at a streetball tournament in the first episode of this series. Murasakibara's height and dominating presence on the court would be a great challenge to hurdle. While Himuro's Mirage Shot and fakes are not easy defend. Himuro was a close friend of Kagami and the person who introduced him to basketball. They lost contact when Himuro distanced himself from Kagami when he saw the latter had surpassed him. Murasakibara is from the Generation of Miracles.


Kirisaki Daichi

If Seirin wants to overcome the old and new opponents, they have to improve individually as well. Both Kuroko and Kagami have let some people have a glimpse of their new techniques but would those be enough to defeat Shutoku, Kirisaki Daichi, Touou, and Yosen? 


Touou

This 25-episode series is a journey of redemption and growth for Seirin High. Compared to the first season the pace is slower, hence allowing more focus on each match, the players' techniques, and character development. The focus also is not only on the best players, the Generation of Miracles and Kagami, anymore. Finally Kuroko's teammates, Hyuga and Teppei get some share of the spotlight. After all, basketball is a team sport. Without the other players---and their history, personalities and skills---there is no strong foundation from which Seirin's goal is built. In season one, I can hardly remember the names of the other players. Now most of the supporting cast are easier to recall. 

More complications were given to Kuroko when he finally hit a wall. In the first season it was made clear that he is not physically gifted nor naturally talented. His current abilities could be said are at its limit. What he will do to make up for his lack of contribution to the team's offense is something to look forward to. Moreover, the other players also have to come up with new techniques. Most of their opponents have already studied their moves and made up possible strategies to challenge them. Like most sports anime, exaggeration is the key. Players have nearly superhuman techniques and the best ones get better every time. The matches are of course slower than the ones we see on a real basketball game to allow the viewers to experience the tension on the court and to listen to analyses by those at the bleachers.


Yosen

I thought season one already had great art, but season two has topped even that. The animation especially during the matches are rich and fluid. Even the opening and ending themes are interesting to watch. The two opening themes, like season one, are performed by GRANRODEO. If you liked Himuro Tatsuya, you'd be interested to know that his voice actor is the vocalist of the band. Kuroko's voice actor also performed one of the ending songs.

At this point, I do not have problems at all if it follows the usual pattern of most series of the sports genre. Each new opponent seems stronger than the last and the stakes are higher with every game; then the lead characters need to lift the team alone if need be when faced with impossible opponents; the new players give the team some hope; and finally, the goal would be to become the best in Japan and win in the nationals.

I do not recommend this as a stand-alone series because most of the players have already been introduced in the first season. Trying to remember everyone at this point would only be confusing. For those who loved season one however, this sequel will not disappoint. If you think season one was good, season two is even better. Viewers who don't mind a bit of fanservice will get some of that as well.

Rating: 10 out of 10