Monday, April 30

China - the photos you don't see

I usually don't post links, but this really caught me.

Saturday, April 28

Starcraft 2 on the horizon

Well, guess what. After all the numerous false rumours and lead ups which previously fell through, the long awaited sequel to every hardcore strategist's old favourite is finally coming.
Set to be announced at the Blizzard's World Wide Invitational in Seoul this year on the 19th of May, so far there's been a confirmed addition of a 4th race, various new units, and heaps of changes to the old ones. Course it'll also be developed in full 3D.
No clue on the final release date though, so till then, strategy gamers will have to make do with the recently released Command and Conquer 3, which isn't a bad thing at all.
Not much else to say really, will edit this post after the conference.

Friday, April 27

Romeo x Juliet - Initial Review

Episodes watched: 3 of ?

Looks like I finally got round to doing this series.
What first caught my eye about Romeo x Juliet was the quality OP; it's the best one I've seen in quite some time. I won't talk too much about that though, you can see for yourselves.

Although not really following the plot of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, this anime does borrow from the names, characters and some of the setting.
The story begins with the a flashback showing the house of Montague slaughtering their rivals, (can you guess) the Capulets. Not long after, you discover only one member of the family survived the attack (hmm wonder who) and after that individual's escape, the Montague family took over as the sole ruler of the city; Neo Verona.
Many years pass, and the sole survivor has still not been found by the military's best attempts.
A mysterious boy dressed in red has begun appearing as the hero of the city's peasants, fighting against the oppression which began with the fall of the Capulets, leaving the city in a state of gradually building unease.
With a certain someone soon approaching the age of 16, everything will soon be unravelled and the peace will be broken once again.
And so, a story of political struggle, romance and tragedy begins anew.

I was gonna do a more revealing summary, but decided against it. While none of the events at the start can avoid being predicted by even a half discerning eye, I think you'd be better off watching and finding out for yourself. If you're interested...
And you should be. This is overall a very impressive anime so far, with solid characters and very high quality animation.
Being able to pull off an anime based on the famous classic is no small feat, and to do it so well is something which definitely deserves recognition. The music is also decent, especially the OP as I mentioned earlier.
This new plot paves the way for more action scenes which would have otherwise been lacking/nonexistant if it followed the original Romeo and Juliet story, and this means even if you despise all of Will's works, you can still without a doubt enjoy this series.
There are a few jokes and quotes which may appeal to people who are fans of the original, but you won't be missing much if you aren't.
Another series I'll definitely be keeping up with.
Now we just have to hope the producers have an ace up their sleeves for the ending.
Verdict: Excellent.

Initial Rating: 9/10

Tuesday, April 24

Halo 3 - Leaked Beta Footage

Wow, two Halo related posts within a few days of each other.
For all you Halo junkies out there, the video below is newly leaked footage from the Halo 3 multiplayer beta, featuring the map Last Resort which is clearly a larger remake of Halo 2's Zanzibar map.
You get to see the bubble shield, a new human vehicle and the various new incarnations of weapons in action.
Yeah, the music's annoying, don't ask.

Fairly good stuff overall, although I'm sure I'm not the only one who thinks the Mongoose vehicle you see towards the end looks a tad retarded, and they could have put a more useful human vehicle in like a flying transport of sorts, but I shouldn't complain. I just wanted a bike. *cough*

I dunno how impressed I am overall though, as so far I can't help but think all the Halo 3 videos I've seen look like Halo 2 mods. I'm sure it'll be awesome anyway.
If you didn't already know, if you want access to the public(ish) multiplayer beta which starts on May 16th, the only remaining method for taking part is to get a copy of Crackdown.
Since the beta begins on my birthday, I guess I should add it to my wishlist.

Monday, April 23

El Cazador de la Bruja - Initial Review

Episodes watched: 3 out of ?

I have to admit, I only began watching this series because I heard Yuki Kajiura was doing the music, and I was already in love with the ED single Romanesque.

Set in a world of sharpshooters, cowboy hats and scorched desertland, the plot follows Nadie, a young and highly skilled female bounty hunter with an unrevealed past, and Ellis, a mysterious girl who's family was killed when she was little.
Ellis has since been on the run, heading south for reasons unknown to even herself. The bounty on her head does not make her journey any easier.
When Nadie meets Ellis who turns out to be her target, she takes a liking to the strange child and decides to accompany her on her journey on the condition that she will allow Nadie to finish her job once she is done.
Before long, Nadie realises Ellis isn't your average runaway child when she leaps off a rooptop with ease and subsequently heats up another bounty hunter's handgun to the point of setting off the gunpowder inside without so much as merely looking at it.
There's a lot more to the past of both girls which is yet to be discovered as the two begin their journey to WiƱay Marka, the City of Eternity.

The animation is a standard affair, typical of what you would expect from Bee Train. Not too shabby but not overly impressive either.
I enjoyed the first episode but I felt the following episodes were a little bit slow. Not really surprising either, considering how both Noir and Madlax, the spiritual predecessors to El Cazador, didn't really pick up momentum till the later episodes.
The plot looks like it has a lot of potential, and the music is of course excellent in all fields.
I also like the lead characters in El Cazador over the ones in Madlax and Noir, but that stalker blond guy gives me the creeps (I swear if theres another scene of him in the boot of a car smiling maniacally I'm gonna have nightmares). Ignoring the creepy Fye lookalike, the random narration inserts are also a bit annoying.
Putting that aside I think it's not too bad, and definitely worth your time if you enjoyed Madlax and Noir. I know I did.
On the other hand if those two series' weren't to your liking, then I'd avoid this anime at all costs.
It sits on the line if you haven't seen either, but you might as well grab the first episode and see for yourself if you're looking for something to watch.
Verdict: Above average.

Initial Rating: 7/10

Saturday, April 21

Halo 2 - New Map Updates

In what is sure to be a part of Bungie's hype marketing plans for the lead up to Halo 3's release later this year, they've released two shiny new Halo 2 maps a few days ago. (17/04/07)

The maps are called Desolation and Tombstone, and you can download them as a pack together from ingame for £2 ($4 in the US).

Desolation and Tombstone are remakes of the original Halo 1 multiplayer maps Derelict and Hang 'em High, and I have to say they seem pretty decent.
I haven't played any real matches on either of them as they haven't been integrated into matchmaking yet, but they look to be solid improvements over the originals.
If you haven't played the original versions, Desolation is a small circular arena with 2 floors, and the more powerful weapons located in the center, with air vents and jump pads galore. Reminds me of Unreal Tournament for some reason.
Tombstone is a moderate sized 2 base asymmetrical map which might take some getting used to because of all the possible routes. The score points in the bases are at the top level, and long range weapons have a large advantage on this map.

A quick wander around shows they didn't just toss in the old maps after renaming them, they really are remade from scratch. Sometimes you have to wonder whether the sparse similarities in the maps really make them worthy of being called remakes at all.



Are they that different? Well download them and decide for yourselves, cause I sure as hell ain't doing it for you.

Also, not remotely related, the Spring '07 Anime First Impressions post has been updated here.

Friday, April 20

Hirano Aya, and why she rocks

Hirano Aya is an increasingly popular seiyuu (voice actor) from Aichi prefecture, who's casting in last year's anime hit "Haruhi Suzumiya no Yuutzu" made her exceptional talents known to the world.

Born in 1987, you'll notice this made her 17 when she voiced Haruhi.

Not stopping there, she was recently cast as Misa in the Death Note anime, and is the voice of lead character Konata Suzumi in the currently airing series Lucky Star.
Her past works include the voices behind important roles in other series' such as Kiddy Grade, Himawari, NANA, School Rumble, Busou Renkin, Eyeshield 21 and a handful of games too. She was also a member of the short lived band Springs between 2002 and '03.
All this has earned her quite a large fan following.

Now that you know who she is, what sets her apart from the masses of many other decent seiyuu?

Aside from her young age (she was 14 when doing Lumiere's voice in Kiddy Grade), and the fact she's adorably cute, more importantly she's really damn good at her job.
If you want to see a real seiyuu, then watch this Hey x3 interview and you'll see what I mean.

Watched it? Good. Her real voice gave me a heart attack the first time I heard it too.

If you're still not impressed, she was a nominee for 1st place in 4 of the 11 awards at the first Seiyu Awards held last month, and won the best rookie actress award.

Not settling with one talent alone though, she's also a brilliant singer. This was made apparent when she sang Haruhi's insert song "God Knows" (which was an instant chart hit), and other decent songs in the same role including the series OP/ED.
All of the songs stand out from your average anime pieces, and the fact they're all sung in her seiyuu voice is all the more impressive. If you're wondering why, then you didn't watch the video up there ^.

Insert song clip (YouTube).

And there you have it, my favourite voice actor. Go Aya.
Further reading at Ayaism.

Thursday, April 19

FictionJunction YUUKA - Romanesque

While taking a break from blasting out my eardrums with my recently acquired music, I just thought I'd make a mention of the new single Romanesque, another Yuki Kajiura and Yuuka Nanri collaboration piece.
Romanesque is the current ED theme for the anime El Cazador.

Why did I mention it? Because it's awesome.

I haven't watched El Cazador yet, but if you know me you'll know I'm an obsessive Yuki Kajiura fan, and this new single certainly doesn't disappoint. Both songs featured on the single are catchy upbeat pieces, although I personally prefer Yakusoku to Romanesque.

- 01. Romanesque
- 02. Yakusoku
- 03. Romanesque (without vocal)
- 04. Yakusoku (without vocal)

If you're a Yuki fan, check it out.
No really. Or I'll come kill you in your sleep.

Here's a sample clip of the PV on YouTube.

Layout Update

Added a new rotating banner, and resized various elements here and there. Also did a bit of optimizing for load time since I'm putting up so many more images than before.

Oh and, if you're wondering why my banner images are full of headless people, you can blame the folks that created the cropping application known as Pixer. It's times like these that I miss Photoshop (mention Gimp and I'll jump on you like an angry ferret).

Curse my iBook G4.

Wednesday, April 18

Sola - Initial Review

Episodes watched: 3 out of ?

As you can imagine, Sola has left quite an impression on me as I'm devoting a whole post to it so soon.
Not sure which genre to go for, the producers must have decided to toss a bit of everything into it. Scenes ranging from romance, comedy and drama to action should buy at least a little attention from potential viewers.

Sola's plotline follows Yorito, a small-town student who is known best by his friends and classmates for devoting most his time (perhaps too much) to taking photos of the sky. His obsession leads him into a strange encounter with a girl during the early hours of the morning while he was trying to capture a shot of the sunrise.
This would not be the last time they meet however, and the next night he learns her name is Matsuri and that she has a peculiar taste for tomato soup.
Things then take a sudden turn for the worse though, as several nights later he catches Matsuri at an old church, only to find her being attacked by a man wielding a sword and using light as a weapon. At this point I guess it became apparent to Yorito that Matsuri was no ordinary girl, and not just because she has a tendency to attack vending machines.

This sets the premise for a somewhat worn out storyline involving vampires and the such (mm tomato juice), but despite that I personally think that the series is well done enough for it to be worth taking a look at.
I feel the general dreamy atmosphere given off in each episode is great, and I find myself already fond of the characters introduced so far.
There's something about the underlying theme and plot which reminds me of Tsukihime, which is always a good thing. That and Matsuri rocks.
This is one series I'll be definitely be keeping an eye on this season.

Initial Rating: 9/10

As a side note, the short intro at the beginning of the first episode reminded me a lot of my random endeavours in Japan.

Just what the heck is this sign supposed to mean?

Spring '07 Anime First Impressions

Last Updated: 22nd April '07
A quick round up of anime I've seen so far, based on only the first episode. Screen grabs are from the first anime in the list.

*Note about ratings: Initial ratings are much less strict than my usual ones, given that I'm only going by one episode. Even if I gave an anime 10/10 on initial impressions it could recieve a final impression of less than 5.

Sola Initial Rating: 9/10 (Recommended)
Far exceeded my initial expectations for this anime, let alone first episode. I was hooked even before the guy with the sword showed up. Infact, Sola deserves it's own post. Will be following this one.

Darker than Black Initial Rating: 9/10
There's something about the overall drab feel of this anime that put me off, and I got a little bored. This is however just the first episode, and the storyline appears to be interesting. Will watch a few more before deciding.
Edit: Picking up.

Gigantic Formula Initial Rating: 7/10
A somewhat strange and yet still unoriginal idea; not that unoriginality has ever been something I've based judgements off. Very nice animation, and some nice ideas. I don't know what it is with the stupid names, but at first glance you'd prolly guess this anime involves mecha, and you'd be right. Will be watching at least a few more episodes of this one.

Heroic Age Initial Rating: 8/10
Speaking of originality, Heroic Age appears to have it in bucketfuls. Decent animation which is becoming the typical standard these days plus an intriguing plotline means I'll prolly be following this one too.

Ikkitousen Dragon Destiny Initial Rating: 6/10
A sequel to the original Ikkitousen, infamous for it's large chested fighting schoolgirls who must have gone through at least 10 wardrobes of school uniforms before the series end due to the tendency for clothing to tear off like paper while engaged in combat. Not much more to say really, if you're a fan of ecchi stuff then go for it. One noteworthy point is that the character design and voice acting have taken a turn for the better, although animation is still lagging compared to other new series'.

Naruto Shiipuden Initial Rating: 6/10
If you're an anime fan you've probably watched Naruto, and perhaps even dragged yourself through the filler season. Not much to say except it's more of the same. A little disappointing in comparison to the beginning of the first season, but I do like the way they've matured the characters without going overboard. I'm not a huge fan of Naruto anymore but I'll keep watching for the storyline.

Claymore Initial Rating: 7/10
I'm not a fan of the character designs, but it does appear interesting enough (gore filled too). Worthwhile to grab a few more episodes at least I should suspect. I'll decide my impressions later.

El Cazador de la Bruja Initial Rating: 8/10
Music by Yuki Kajiura, OP by savage genius, ED by FictionJunction YUUKA, and a situation with 2 girls and guns, a spiritual successor of sorts to Noir and Madlax, all created by Bee Train. Throw in a bit of pyrokinesis and what more could you ask for? Characters appear a little bit more exotic/interesting this round too.
Another anime I'll be following, might write a proper follow up eventually.

Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann Initial Rating: 9/10 (Recommended)
I was originally gonna pass this one off cause of how childish it looked in the OP, but I'm glad I decided to watch the whole ep before coming to any real conclusion. Why, you ask? Cause it's wtf awesome. It's just as childish as it looks, but at the same time it's also hilariously ridiculous and weird, and I like the characters already. For some reason, it me of FLCL. Yet another series going into my watch list.

Murder Princess OVA Initial Rating: 8/10
And here we have another weird setting, although not quite as mind warping as Tengen Toppa. Quite an entertaining first episode, and the nice twist halfway through was rather uh... unexpected. Seems to be good stuff and I'm in need of more sword wielding chicks this season anywho, so I guess I'll be following this OVA as well (god damn it, so much for my precious hard drive space).

Seirei no Moribito Initial Rating: 7/10
Some very impressive artwork and animation here (best I've seen in a series) and good music too, but overall the events of the first episode didn't grab my attention much. I dunno why, maybe it just seemed a little slow to me. In any case, I guess it deserves a few more watchings, so I'll be getting a couple more episodes before I decide anything.

Lucky ☆ Star Initial Rating: 7/10
Well, apart from the OP being the largest collection of random words and phrases I've seen in a long while, followed by an awful lot more randomness in dialogue, I think this first episode was actually kinda appealing in a cute and comical way. Aya Hirano does a great job with the voice acting as usual too. Ugh, I don't wanna watch any more series'. Shoot me. At least the masses of everyday dialogue will make it easy to brush up on my Japanese while watching.

Kaze no Stigma Initial Rating: 6/10
Reminds me of Tokyo Underground and I actually have no idea why. I see a lot of potential with this series, considering the two main characters closely resemble the ones from a novel I was writing. Either way it looks like I'll be following this too, if not only because I usually enjoy this type of story.

Bokurano Initial Rating: 7/10
This series certainly appears interesting enough, but for some reason or other it didn't appeal to me so much as to make me want to continue watching it. The idea is novel quite novel though, and the first episode already opens up a strange world of questions to be answered. Just not my type of thing I guess. Reminds me of Uninhabited Planet Survive for some reason.

Romeo x Juliet Initial Rating: 9/10 (Recommended)
A very intruiging take on the Shakespeare classic indeed. Don't worry if you're not a fan of his works (I know I'm not), cause this is after all, a 21st century anime, not an 18th century play script. It's not as heavily based upon the original story as I had expected either. Not too sure about the character designs, I was however very impressed by the OP and GONZO's flashy animation. Looks like I've yet another anime to keep up with. I think it also deserves a follow up post cause of how cool it is.

Reideen Initial Rating: 8/10
I'll admit to not having seen the original series this was based off, but it looks like a solid choice if you're looking for another mecha anime this season (yep, another one). More impressive animation to be expected here. I'm still undecided about the rapidly prevaling useage of 3D animation in anime these days, but it's utilised fairly well in Reideen. Just about special enough to make me want to watch it on top of the other heap of shows this spring; it's worth a look at.

Sisters of Wellber Initial Rating: 8/10
An interesting first episode, for lack of a better descriptive word. I'm not entirely sure where this plot is going yet, but at the same time I'm not sure if I'm curious enough to find out. I do like the ED though, interesting style of music and character designs... a little less than typical to say the least. Also a fair helping of random nudity and sexual themes. Not too bad I guess, I'll put it on my watch-when-bored pile.

Hayate no Gotoku
Rocket Girls
Idolmaster Xenoglossia
Les Miserables
Shining Tears x Wind
Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha StrikerS
Princess Resurrection
Touka Gettan
Nagasarete Airantou
Lovely Complex
Toward the Terra

While I have most of the pending series' on my computer, I don't know if I have the time or the will to watch all of them as I've already found enough candidates to follow for this season. Still, I'll edit this post as I sift my way through them. Do tell me if there are any of particular note which I've neglected to watch and/or missed.

Edit: Dear god the pending series' list is growing even faster than the heap of junk in the corner of my room. This is not good. Guess I better get a move on.