Monday, April 11, 2016

Dear Boys

The Mizuho High School men's basketball team was non-existent when Aikawa Kazuhiko transfered from Tendouji High. Mizuho had only four members in the team after the previous coach left when he was attacked by one of the players, Fujiwara Takumi. The team was banned from competing in any tournament for a year as a consequence.

Aikawa's persistence gave hope to the four remaining players Fujiwara, Miura Ranmanru, Ishii Tsutomu and Dobashi Kenji. They would have to face opposition from school officials however who are wary of another embarrassing incident. But Aikawa was not just a good player. He was rumored to be a genius and can jump higher than most people. Perhaps there is hope yet to redeem the basketball club's image.

Mizuho boys' basketball team would have to overcome personal issues, face confrontations from hurt upperclassmen and most especially endure the ridicule of other teams. Mizuho now has five players but they are inexperienced, undermanned and untrained. They want a shot at the national tournaments but the journey is far more difficult than they anticipated.

Aikawa Kazuhiko transfers to Mizuho High School

From left: Dobashi Kenji, Ishii Tsutomu, Fujiwara Takumi, Miura Ranmaru and Aikawa Kazuhiko

The Mizuho boys' basketball team trains with the girls' team

For most sports anime, going to the national tournament is the foremost goal. Dear Boys has a different problem at the outset---they don't have a team. This 26-episode series focuses on Mizuho High School's boys' basketball team's struggle to understand themselves and the new team. A promising player in Aikawa comes to their rescue but even with such a player, a five-man team sounds ridiculous. The story now shifts from personal issues among members to consequences of a physically-taxing mission. Talented as they are, they always have that one weakness that other teams will exploit.

There is also some hint at romance in this series. Most sports anime I've seen so far do not emphasize the role of females especially if the series is about a male sports team. Consequently, there's little focus on romance. If you want a little variety, you might enjoy this distraction. Furthermore, Mizuho's girls' basketball team is also given importance, something you don't see often.

The animation isn't among the best. Some angles look off especially during matches. There are also instances that make you question the mangaka's knowledge of basketball.

Some matches take a few episodes to complete. There were match-ups that could have been shortened though. The drama in every match is almost predictable as well. 

The story is still something to look forward to however. After all, who wouldn't want to know the fate of a five-man basketball team trying to get to the nationals?

Rating: 6.5 out of 10

Dancer's Lament by Ian C. Esslemont

Set in Li Heng, this first installment of the Path to Ascendancy series follows the story of Dorin Rav, an ambitious young assassin, who is stumped by an elusive young mage proving to be an annoyance. An earthquake in the Seti Plains exposed a cave and Dorin wanted to be the first to discover its secrets. To his dismay, he learned someone has been lurking about in the shadows. No one has ever beaten him yet until now. He watched for a time, waiting for the person to appear. When he finally got inside the cave he found that it was occupied by a talking corpse and a monkey-looking thing. To Dorin's surprise, the person he was following was just standing behind him. A young Dal Honese mage, Wu, who professed he was the one following Dorin. When they got out of the structure, the mage Wu suddenly disappeared. Since then, Dorin called the mage his rival and vowed he would find and eliminate him. 

Li Heng is ruled by a mage known as Protectress who has a cabal of five. Li Heng has been relatively peaceful despite the prominence of gangs, but Silk is worried for the Protectress Shalmanat. Strange events are happening and even stranger people are showing up. The cult of Hood for example, long outlawed in Li Heng, are gathering new believers. Foremost among their worries however are the rumors that Itko Kan and its king, Chulalorn the Third, are marching.

Iko's first impression of the city was disappointment. A member of Itko Kan's Sword-Dancers, she and her sisters were sent on a political mission to the Protectress to escort a diplomat who will deliver terms to Li Heng. Her time at the palace grounds however proved to be fruitless. What's more, her sisters have become obsessed with rivalries and gossips among themselves. Iko did not want to be involved in any of that, but as a result she has isolated herself. 

Meanwhile, Dorin's obsession at capturing Wu is proving difficult. Dorin is used to working alone but he could not find Wu that way. He decided that he has to gain a reputation in the city and involve himself with the local gangs. His arrogance however might attract the attention of people more skilled and experienced than him.


Dancer's Lament is Ian C. Esslemont's best book so far. I enjoyed everything in the book from start to finish. Not only was it amusing to follow Dorin and Wu's misadventures, I've also learned a lot of things about Dancer and Kellanved in general. They were already among the most interesting pairs in Malazan so my initial worry was how Esslemont would be able to add to their famous story. There was nothing to worry at all. He knew them very well. Only those who haven't paid attention to the books would fail to recognize them right away.

I loved all the cameos too. Most of the characters who are in the Novels of the Malazan Empire series had back stories that were not fully explored. It's exciting to finally get a glimpse of their past.

The action scenes, the intrigues and the humor are all signature Malazan. One of Esslemont's strongest qualities is his description and imagery. I loved Blood and Bone but this is even better. If you don't enjoy (or fall in love with!) the adventures of Dorin and Wu after reading this then I'd have to question your bad taste. Also, if you've been skipping Esslemont (I've heard some Malazan fans don't want to read his books) then you're missing a lot.

He's also not given to philosophizing. Broody characters can be tedious sometimes when not done properly. That does not make his work shallow however. Esslemont's storytelling is smooth, concise and clear.

The only drawback I see is how he'd be able to fit everything in just three books. Dancer's Lament covered only a small part of Dorin and Wu's past. They were just getting to know each other. The book felt more like an introduction and a set-up for the next two books, but I hope that there is still enough room to not leave out any important event.

Rating: 10 out of 10

Friday, April 08, 2016

Myths and Legends of Ancient Greece and Rome by Edward M. Berens

Perhaps the most popular source for Greek and Roman mythology is Edith Hamilton's book. However, Hamilton had covered only the stories that are already popular and did not emphasize the different versions from various sources. EM Berens's Myths and Legends of Ancient Greece and Rome offers a wider variety of stories, is more organized and has a lot of material that are not included in Hamilton's.

The book included the various myths of Greece and Rome and is organized according to the most important figures to the demi-gods and mortals. The first part is about the creation of the world according to Greeks. The last part is about the Trojan war and its aftermath.

Those already familiar with most of the Greek and Roman myths will find a lot of new information in the book not cited in others. If, however, you wish to find analyses of myths, this volume can serve as a starting point for further research. I like this book more than the popular ones because of its breadth and organization. The narration isn't littered with words to make the stories more attractive than they already are.

Rating: 10 out of 10

The Golden Bough: A Study of Magic and Religion by Sir James George Frazer

The Golden Bough was first published in two volumes in 1890. It is a must-read for those interested in comparative mythology and the study of religion.

Sir James George Frazer attempted to explain the succession of the priests of Diana in Nemi known as the King of the Wood. The succession is unusual for its violence. The priest who represented Virbius (or Hippolytus) must stand vigilant lest someone attack him and take his place. To understand this problem better, the author delved into the history of magic, examined ritual and mythology and cited various beliefs and practices from across the world that were similar in function.

He first examined the principles of magic; tree worship; the different taboos particularly those taboos involving the nobles; religious ceremonies; the fertility cults, etc.

The King of the Wood at Nemi was "probably regarded as an incarnation of a tree-spirit/spirit of vegetation and is endowed with the magical powers to make trees bear fruit, crops to grow, etc. His life is governed by a system of precautions or taboos to guard against the influence of demons and sorcerers. But the value attached to his life necessitates his violent death as the means of preserving it from inevitable decay of age/avoid natural death or old age to transmit his life to his successors."

The point of the book is to show that religions or cults were about the worship and occasional sacrifice of a sacred king. It can also be seen in the book that mankind has progressed from its use of magic to organized religion to science in understanding life and the world.

I do not recommend this volume to those who only have a casual interest in mythology. The Golden Bough can be tedious for someone with only a passing interest or little to no knowledge about myths and rituals. The author could fill up pages just enumerating dozens of examples about a particular event or object.

If you have a fair knowledge of world mythology or want to further your studies however, The Golden Bough is a must-read. It is often cited in various comparative mythology and anthropology books so why not read it first-hand.

Rating: 8 out of 10

The Hero of Ages by Brandon Sanderson

The Mistborn Vin released the power in the Well of Ascension even after the mist spirit that tried to help her and Sazed before had wounded Elend Venture so she would keep the power. The prophecies of the Hero of Ages claimed that a savior would one day find and then give up the power in the Well. Believing this to be the right thing, Vin released the power to save the world from the Deepness. But the prophecies were tampered with. A force named Ruin was trapped in the Well and in its desire to destroy the world it had altered the Terris prophecies so that the Hero will be tricked into releasing it. Elend was saved when Vin gave him a nugget of pure Allomancy which contained the power of Preservation, Ruin's opposite. It turned Elend into a Mistborn.

Vin and Elend would have to find clues how to save the world from Ruin. The Lord Ruler had apparently prepared for such an event knowing he would one day be defeated. He had stored food and other supplies in various cities. Their chances grow dim however as more earthquakes occur and the ashfalls increase.

Among the last cities are Urteau and Fadrex. Urteau is ruled by a man named Citizen who had successfully overthrown the nobles. It is a city of skaa where people with noble blood are punished. His tyranny however incited the wrath of Spook.

Fadrex City was able to retain the old structure used by the Lord Ruler. The king, Yomen, doesn't appear intimidated by Vin and Elend even when the pair have a koloss army in tow.

Vin and Elend cannot discuss strategies because Ruin is omniscient. What they're trying to accomplish seems impossible and they're running out of time. People are attacked by the mists and their resources are dwindling. Vin is almost certain that she is the Hero of Ages, but they're not so sure anymore.

The conclusion to the trilogy left me stunned. The author made Vin and Elend's predicament miserable and I almost thought they would never find a way to get out of it. The way Sanderson pushed the lead characters to the brink was just brilliant. Every little detail I tried to remember in the previous two books fell into place. The hints that seemed vague and irrelevant made sense. I was able to figure out who the Hero of Ages was but still I questioned many things up to the last scene. The part about Ruin manipulating the people threw off my previous predictions. I did not expect some of the twists at all. It is a feat rarely managed nowadays what with so many works (books, movies, television series, etc.) that trained me as an audience to be good at guessing.

I don't think I need to say more about how good the series is except that I enjoyed it. It is a rare treat for fantasy fans. You'd have to experience it yourself.

Rating: 10 out of 10

The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson

A year after the events in Mistborn: The Final Empire, what remains of the Lord Ruler's empire is disintegrating. The people have not known any other ruler for centuries. It seems like the freedom from a tyrant is not something everyone wanted after all. Even after Elend Venture ascended to the throne, the Central Dominance is still in chaos. After hearing rumors about the Lord Ruler's stash of atium, two armies lay siege to the capital Luthadel.  One is led by Elend's father, Straff Venture, while the other is led by one of the many kings who declared themselves sovereign in the Western Dominance after the Lord Ruler's death. As if the situation isn't bad already, the Mistborn Vin and her friends are not yet aware that a third army is on its way.

What's more, there are rumors that the mist has been attacking people. Vin has grown suspicious of the mists that she considered her ally. Even among her allies, Vin has to be observant too. It seems that a kandra has taken the identity of one of the members of Kelsier's crew.

Meanwhile, the crew is struggling about what to do with the problems Kelsier had left them. Managing the empire seems a more daunting task than killing the Lord Ruler. Elend's idealism in forming an equal society isn' so easy when he can't even gain the respect of the members of the Assembly.

The Terrisman Sazed's mission to educate the people of their lost knowledge is hampered by strange events as well. During his travels he met the elusive Steel Inquisitor Marsh who led him to The Conventical of Seran. Here he found inscriptions of the previous Hero of Ages. Sazed is convinced that he has to go back to his friends and help them. The legend of the Well of Ascension might just be the answer they needed. Problem is, no now knows where to start looking for it.

This second installment of the Mistborn series is difficult to put down once you start reading it. It has great fight scenes, intrigues in the Assembly, great magic system, and a legend that tickles the reader's curiosity. It isn't simply about armies fighting for a throne or lovers that are about to be torn apart by their separate duties and responsibilities. Mistborn has an intricate and rich history that becomes even more fascinating more mysteries are discovered by the characters.

At one point however you begin to wonder, why include all these details about a legend no one really knows about when there's a more urgent problem of a siege of two armies? Sanderson's ability to pile more and more problems for the lead characters then leave hints of something grander at work in the background left me wanting to read more and more. It's one of those books that you can read nonstop because it gets better. I devoured every little detail. I wanted to find out more until it became difficult even just to rest for a while.

Mistborn: The Final Empire was a good book and I thought it would be difficult to make a follow up with such an ending. I was wrong however. There were already hints in the first book that there are more unsolved mysteries and that the Lord Ruler's death was just the start. The series had more to tell after all.

I also complained in my review of the first book about the setting. The Well of Ascension doesn't offer much explanation but I understood it much better (the part about the vegetation made much more sense when I found out how it works).

If you enjoyed the first book, The Well of Ascension is much better.

Rating: 9.5 out of 10

Monday, April 04, 2016

Phi Brain: Puzzle of God

High school freshman Daimon Kaito is a genius when it comes to solving puzzles. One day he received a strange device along with an invitation from a person named Minotaur to solve a puzzle in a ruin. He was accompanied by friend Itou Nonoha who, although not as good with puzzles like Kaito, managed to help him in dangerous situations. At the center of the maze, Kaito found a bangle which helped him solve the problem within a short time. The bangle is known as Orpheus which glows whenever Kaito is forced to solve an impossible puzzle.

The group behind the life-threatening puzzles is known as POG. Kaito, now a Solver, teams up with fellow puzzle geniuses to solve POG's puzzles and find out the group's purpose in creating such problems. Unknown to Kaito, their high school Root Academy knows about these philosopher's puzzles and is connected to POG.

During his adventures, Kaito met new friends who were also good at solving puzzles. Sakanoue Gammon solved puzzles for money and is intent at competing with Kaito. Cubik Galois is an inventor and is good at mathematics, while Ana Gram is a talented painter.

There is more to the philosopher's puzzles however than just life-threatening situations. The organization seemed to have an unusual obsession on Kaito's potential as a Solver.

Daimon Kaito

Itou Nonoha and Kaito

Sakanoue Gammon and Kaito

Cubik Galois

Ana Gram

As a lover of puzzles, I expected Phi Brain would be about geniuses solving board and card games. Although the series showed some of those, most puzzles are environment puzzles similar to those levels you will find in platforming video games. Not that that is a bad thing. I just wish there were more scenes about strategy and technique. This 25-episode first installment however was about Kaito and his past, the introduction of the solvers and givers and the POG.

It was able to sustain its pace all throughout the series although it was more of an exploration about friendship and self-discovery instead of a story about competition. It wasn't just about toppling a mysterious organization.

I enjoyed most of it because it was light, fast-paced, and had elements of drama, suspense and some hint of romance. The suspense came from trying to discover what the POG's purposes are. There are also mysterious characters that sustained that excitement until the final episode. What surprised me are the number of fight scenes involved in solving puzzles, and perhaps that is why it never bored me.

The animation isn't its best feature and some character designs look funny.

If you like puzzles and you expect to see a lot of puzzles, you might be disappointed. Most of Kaito's challenges needed physical prowess to complete. If you'd like a change from the other action/adventure anime however, Phi Brain: Puzzle of God offers more than just a tournament-type series. Competing also involved strategy and genius.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Neo Angelique Abyss

This is the first installment of the spin-off of the Angelique series and is based on the Neo Angelique game. Set in Arcadia, monsters called Thanatos appear to torment the lives of people. Only the Purifiers have the ability to fight these creatures but very few of them exist.

Angelique's parents were among the victims of the Thanatos when she was a little girl. Because her father was a doctor, she vowed she would continue her father's work. One day a man named Nyx invited Angelique to help him in protecting the world from the Thanatos and to come live with him at the Hidamari Mansion. She also met Rayne whom she nursed back to health secretly at the dormitory. When a Thanatos appeared and attacked the school, Angelique used a power she has not discovered before. She learned that she is the prophesied Queen's Egg, the only female purifier in the world as well as a candidate to be the Queen of Arcadia.

She met new friends during her stay with Nyx and Rayne. It wasn't long before they made up a formidable team that challenged even the Foundation. This rivalry however created more problems outside the constant threat of the Thanatos.


From left: Jade, Nyx, Rayne and Hyuga

This 13-episode series had some potential at first. But bad animation and a typical lead female character ruined that. The fight scenes seemed interesting. The various characters that Angelique met had potentially good back stories. There's also some intrigue between rival factions that added some color to the series.

It had the ingredients to make it an interesting series, so why am I giving it a low score?

First, the animation was bad. Although I rarely consider that even in an anime there were a lot of instances in the series that were just plain disappointment. I don't really mind low-budget animation as long as there's an attempt to be consistent and believable. I was most disturbed by the horse Angelique and the other Purifiers used in their journey. Why do they have just one horse for the carriage? If they could put a lot of attention to costume and fight scenes (the fight scenes were okay), why would they overlook the small details?

Second, the pace destroyed the story's potential to me. I spent most of my time trying to find something that would turn this series around. Good thing it was short.

Neo Angelique Abyss had an interesting story but its execution didn't live up to my expectations. It had some good moments, like the fight scenes, but it isn't a series that you would remember a few months after.

Rating: 5 out of 10

Nobunaga the Fool

There are plenty of adaptations of Oda Nobunaga's life. The themes are usually explorations of Nobunaga's character either as a hero or a villain. Not surprising as Nobunaga's visions and actions can be viewed in many different ways. In Nobunaga the Fool, he has a reputation of being impulsive and brash. Set in two fictional worlds named Eastern and Western planets, Nobunaga the Fool included famous names in world history who battled for peace by controlling lost technology known as sacred treasures.

In the Western planet, the heretical Jeanne Kaguya d'Arc saw visions of a savior-king who will put a stop to the endless wars. She and Leonardo da Vinci journeyed to the Eastern planet to find this man. Jeanne possessed a regalia, a powerful amulet that is used to operate a giant war armor. Jeanne met Nobunaga and decided to stay with the member of the Oda clan as Ranmaru. Jeanne needed to be sure that Nobunaga was the man she saw in her visions. Nobunaga however continued to disappoint her.

Among Nobunaga's friends are Mitsuhide Akechi, advisor and head of the shinobi, and Hideyoshi Toyotomi. Nobunaga's reputation in the court tested their trust in him many times. Often, Nobunaga caused trouble for his family as well.

Meanwhile, the Western planet is united under one ruler, King Arthur. Most people believed he was the true savior-king. Leonardo's escape might just be the opportunity the Western planet needed to engage the Eastern planet in a fight.

"The Fool"

Oda Nobunaga carrying Jeanne Kaguya d'Arc

From left: Gaius Julius Caesar, Hideyoshi Toyotomi and Mitsuhide Akechi

Whenever I watch an adaptation of historical figures or events, there is always that nagging doubt about the quality of the series. Although Nobunaga the Fool portrayed the characters very differently from the actual people in history, they still retained some of their qualities. I think the names only meant to add depth to the characters especially during confrontations without having to spend a lot of time to build up the characters. This 24-episode series didn't make me cringe but it lacked so many things to make it a good watch.

First off, there's too much focus on drama and court intrigue than actual fighting. With such big name characters, you'd expect there'd be more focus in strategy, maneuvering of forces and one-on-one showdowns.

The setting also confused me. Although the lead and supporting characters looked like futuristic versions of the historical figures, the common people looked... common. How can two worlds with advanced fighting technology have commoners that looked like the background of a period or historical drama?

Nobunaga seemed like an average boy who's still at his rebellious change and he's not even a teenager anymore. The series tried to hard to make him look like tragic hero whose motives were misunderstood by most people but the most he did was annoy me.

Towards the end of the series, I was just anxious about trying to finish it. Initially the setting seemed interesting, but it spent too much time examining Nobunaga's and Jeanne's characters and there were a lot of details that didn't add up.

Rating: 5.5 out of 10

Ore Monogatari!!

Romance anime usually has a formula and that is why Ore Monogatari!! is like a breath of fresh air. Not only is it told from the point of view of a male protagonist, the lead characters are quite unusual too.

Gouda Takeo is the complete opposite of his best friend Sunakawa Makoto. Takeo is a big guy with homely features while Sunakawa is handsome and dreamy. If this was like all the other shoujo romance series, the cold and distant Sunakawa would have been a perfect leading man. The big, burly Takeo however caught the eye of the doll-like Yamato Rinko when he saved her from a groper one day on their way to school. Takeo might not be as good-looking as Sunakawa but he's popular among the men because of his physical prowess and cool character.

Rinko fell head over heels over Takeo. But Takeo didn't seem to notice because he was accustomed to being used by girls to get to his best friend. Assuming that Rinko is in love with Sunakawa, Takeo ignored Rinko's advances until one day Sunakawa forced both Rinko and Takeo to admit their feelings. Thus Takeo's love story began.

Young Takeo and Makoto with the latter's older sister Ai

Best friends Takeo and Sunakawa

Rinko and Takeo all lovey-dovey

Rinko introducing Takeo to her friends

I had high expectations for this series because of the unusual lead characters. Sure enough it did not disappoint. It had all the elements common in shoujo romance like humor, importance of friendship, and the joy and pain of young love. You could say it was not different from the other series of the same genre but Takeo and Rinko had different issues from the usual couples. Said issues were resolved easily thought. Takeo's physical appearance did not matter much when people got to know him better. He's kind and gentle. Rinko was an ideal girlfriend as well. She did not complain about how Takeo handled different issues and was always considerate.

The only thing that seemed lacking were conflicts that tested Takeo and Rino's relationship. I think the series chose to be on the safe side by throwing only minor problems at the couple. Takeo and Rinko were too perfect a couple.

That aside, I still enjoyed the series because of its humor. There were plenty of funny scenes involving Takeo. I also loved how Rinko looked at Takeo. She clearly was smitten by his looks especially his manliness. I must admit I approve of her taste for manly men. It was about time we got a lead male character in a romance series who isn't stick-thin.

Ore Monogatari!! doesn't offer anything new besides Takeo and Rinko's unusual attraction for each other, but I would recommend this for anyone who wants to watch something light and fun for a change. Takeo isn't a character who has a troubled past and Rinko is a normal girl with a normal life.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Akatsuki no Yona

Princess Yona is the child of the pacifist king of Kouka King Il. She is sheltered from all the troubles of the outside world. Her life seemed perfect until on her sixteenth birthday she witnessed her beloved Su-won murder her father. Su-won claimed that he is a better fit for the title and will rule Kouka like a king should. She was saved by childhood friend and bodyguard Son Hak who took her to the Village of the Wind. The village's patriarch Son Mundok suggested that Yona and Son Hak flee the kingdom and search for the oracle Ik-su.

Ik-su tells them of the legend of the four dragons who helped the first king of Kouka unify the kingdom. Yona and Son Hak begin the search for the reincarnated dragons to save the kingdom from Su-won.

During their escape, Yona realized that her kingdom was not the paradise she thought it was. Despite her father's vow of nonviolence, people are hungry, afraid and dissatisfied. Yona has always viewed her father as a benevolent ruler but not everyone outside the palace has he same views. Su-won's betrayal has also baffled her. He seemed competent enough as a ruler and had the best interests of the kingdom in mind. Not only does Yona have to find the reincarnated dragons but she also has to understand why the betrayal happened. 

Yona and Su-won
Son Hak and Yona
From left: Shin-ah, Yun, and  Ki-ja
From left: Yona, Son Hak, Shin-ah, Ki-ja, Jae-ha and Yun

I must admit I was iffy about watching this series. When I read the synopsis the first thought that came to mind was "Oh. A princess and her reverse harem." Initially Yona did fulfill what I expected her to be. Ignorant, pampered, and always in need of saving. Not that she had greatly improved. Her experiences did change her but she's essentially the same.

It's not so different from those series with a clueless leader who's prophesied to bring together powerful warriors. There are episodes though that contrasted the rule of a pacifist (King Il) versus a ruler willing to use force to bring about peace and stability (Su-won). The protagonist Su-won isn't exactly a bad guy. Sometimes I had to question the character of the previous king King Il, Yona's father. Yona and those close to her adored him but what would drive a man like Su-won to betray such a good king?

So, yes, it's more than just another adventure story. More than just about a princess trying to get her kingdom back. If you can see past all the cliche in Akatsuki no Yona, you might actually enjoy it.

Rating: 6.5 out of 10

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Diamond no Ace

Sawamura Eijun is a gifted pitcher whose uncontrollable erratic throws caught the eye of a scout and assistant director from the Seidou High School baseball team. During a visit to the school, Eijun faced clean-up batter Azuma Kiyokuni with Miyuki Kazuya as catcher. Miyuki's words encouraged a nervous Eijun who throws his best pitch yet and greatly impressed the two. His inability to control his pitches, lack of proper training and exercise however make him an unlikely candidate for the team's ace. Eijun has to start at the bottom.

Eijun is joined by freshman Furuya Satoru, also a pitcher with high-speed and strong fastballs and forkballs. Like Eijun, he lacks experience in junior high baseball. He was alienated by his teammates who cannot catch his pitches and called him a monster. Eijun on the other hand was just unlucky to have average teammates who cannot match his passion for the game. Furuya also wants to be the ace of the team. He and Eijun will have to earn that position.

Another freshman, Kominato Haruichi, is a second baseman. He has an older brother on the Seidou baseball team who is extremely skilled. Haruichi has always been a big fan of his older brother Ryousuke and always imitated what he did. But imitation can only go so far. Will Haruichi finally be able to shine even when he's on the same team as his brother?

Seidou doesn't lack talent however. Despite Eijun's and Furuya's talks of becoming the ace, Seidou already has an ace. The best players in the team however will graduate after the Fall tournament. It's their last chance to get to the national stage. But even with reliable veterans, a great support system and talented freshmen Seidou has a lot of hurdles to overcome to reach that goal.

Sawamura Eijun
Furuya Satoru
Kominato Haruichi
Seidou High baseball team coach Kataoka Tesshin (right, foreground)
Eijun with mentor and senpai Takigawa Chris Yu
Seidou High Baseball Team
Seidou High baseball team's senior members

If you're a fan of baseball or just sports anime in general, Diamond no Ace continues the legacy of excellent team sports anime. The first season of Diamond no Ace is a story of discovery, triumphs and painful defeats. It has several colorful and memorable characters and intense match-ups. Although it doesn't require the audience to be familiar with baseball, a knowledge about the sport is an advantage when trying to understand to the various gameplays.

The plot follows the usual sports anime formula. A talented but untrained player comes into a promising team vying for the nationals. He wants to be the best in Japan but his ambition is also fueled by his desire to take his seniors to the finals who want to avenge last year's loss. One unique quality that separates this from other sports anime is that the lead character Eijun has a rival on the same team who is as strong or probably stronger than him. My only complaint is that the plays focus too much on the pitchers. That makes it difficult to remember the names of other characters besides Miyuki.

Sometimes several episodes are dedicated to one match and yet there isn't a boring moment. It's a level matched only by another series, The Prince of Tennis.

It's a relief that the 75-episode series did not choose to focus too much on the back stories of Eijun, Furuya and Kominato. Instead, it highlighted the plays and analyses of players. The humor was a bonus. If you enjoy sports anime or if you're a fan of The Prince of Tennis and you want to search for an anime with the same quality of story, Diamond no Ace is the series for you.

Rating: 9.5 out of 10


Set in the city of Ergastulum, two Handymen take on criminals both the police and the underground cannot handle. Partners Worick Arcangelo and Nicolas Brown are the go-to guys of the cops and the mafia. Worick is the charismatic brains of the duo, while the deaf Nicolas acts as the muscleman.

Underneath the intrigues of Ergastulum's gangs lies the mystery of the Twilight, humans who possess extraordinary abilities through the use of a drug called Celebrer. These super-humans are ranked and identified through dog tags. Nicolas wears an A/0 tag.

Meanwhile, from across the Handymen's office and residence lives the prostitute Alex Benedetto. Worick and Nicolas are both aware of Alex's wretched condition. The Handymen decided to take her in when her abusive lover died.

Nicolas Brown

Worick Arcangelo

The Handymen

Alex Benedetto

The first thing you'll notice about this series is its great animation. The choice of the voice actors was also a factor why I had to watch it. Suwabe Junichi (Worick) and Tsuda Kenjirou (Nicolas) have two of the sexiest voices in the industry.

With a title like that you'd expect a lot action, guns, drugs and prostitutes, intrigues and crimes. Gangsta. fulfilled all such expectations so much so that you can feel the desperation and the anticipation of violence. Despite that, there are moments in the series when nothing seems to happen. Sometimes you forget what it's all about, if there was any point to the story at all. The intervals between action scenes and dialogues tend to lull you almost to boredom.

When it finally showed the back story of Worick and Nicolas, the series got more interesting. However, the story about the Twilights wasn't fully explored and the ending posed more questions than answers.

Rating: 6 out of 10

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Deadman Wonderland

When a strange man in red armor slaughtered Igarashi Ganta's entire class and embeds a red crystal in his chest, his life changed forever. Days later he was sentenced to death and sent to a prison camp that  also functions as a theme park. In Deadman Wonderland, inmates are asked to perform various tasks that sometimes result to death. Each prisoner has a collar which constantly injects poison in the bloodstream. There is an antidote however in the form of a candy which must be consumed every three days. It acts as a currency in the prison and is acquired by performing the tasks given to them such as contests and performances.

Ganta believes he can still find the "Red Man" and avenge the death of his friends. However, he must first figure out how to survive the lethal games in Deadman Wonderland. With the help of his new friend Shiro, Ganta might just discover something more to the strange events he's been thrown into since the massacre of his classmates. Maybe it wasn't a random act of brutality after all.

Igarashi Ganta (sitting, left) with his dear friends before the massacre

Shiro and Ganta

The beginning was pretty intense and it's the kind of opening that gets you hooked to the story right away. This 12-episode series is action-packed, has a great back story and full of interesting, crazy characters. The downside to having so many colorful characters however is that they sometimes overshadow Ganta's story. The series tried to pack so many stories in such a short time that it's both exciting and frustrating. The animation isn't bad either. My main complaint is that the lead characters Ganta and Shiro are not as memorable as they should be for a promising series. Some characters become too distracting, you tend to forget what the story is about.

There are some great moments in the series however, especially the fight scenes. I don't recommend this however to people who don't like bloody battles.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10

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