Nintendo Wii U, 3DS News & Features

Review: Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth (Nintendo 3DS)

The Phantom Thieves, S.E.E.S and the Midnight Channel Investigation Team unite to take on cinematic cases and movie-based missions.

Review: Goat Simulator: The Bundle (Xbox One)

Things are about to get Maaaaaaaaaaaaaaaad!

Review: Layers of Fear 2 (PlayStation 4)

"The world's a stage, but the play is badly cast."

Anime Review: Pigtails and Other Shorts

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Pigtails and Other Shorts (UK Rating: 15)

Production I.G. is a venerable old house of anime, having been around for over 30 years now. In that time, it has produced some true classics in series and movies both. Psycho-Pass, Ghost in the Shell, Kuroko's Basketball, and so many more. In that time, they have also produced numerous OVAs and short movies, often for special projects and events in Japan, showcasing new or upcoming talent. Five such films are collected here - coming courtesy of All the Anime, the special collector's edition Blu-Ray/DVD combo set is available from February 25th, while the regular release is available everywhere from March 25th.
 
First up is a short that takes the title spot, Pigtails. At first, it seems to be about a young lady living in a little house on a beach. It's only as the story progresses that it becomes evident it's not a beach at all. It's a wasteland. The blue ocean actually a purple, irradiated pool. The narrators for this story are everyday objects. Talking pegs, umbrellas, pillows, portable TVs. While the human character speaks, none of it is heard by the audience.
 
The girl lives a quiet, everyday life. Alone. Alone in her wasteland. Alone until her regular visitors pass by. A group of masked men who come and bring her everything she needs to live. At the same time, they examine her, head to toe. The story sees a young man come to visit her, and the objects outside her home revealing the truth to the world beyond the wall to the objects that live in her home. Some pegs on the washing line argue between the old worn out red pegs, and the shiny new white pegs. The new toothbrush wonders why there are two old toothbrushes left alongside it, yet never used. The umbrella and cushion question the balloon as to what may lay beyond the wall.
 
This is, by far, the best of the bunch. Deeply melancholic. A chilling dystopian nightmare of a future painted in charming pastel. Based on Mitsuami no Kami-Sama by Machiko Kyo, this work was strongly influenced by the devastating Earthquake off the coast of Japan in 2011, which in turn resulted in the nuclear fallout in Fukushima. It's easy to see how. This is the directorial debut of Yoshimi Itazu, a man who has yet to put much more directorial credit to her name but shows great promise here.
 
Upon starting the next short - Li'l Spider Girl - it seems it could be something out of a weekly shonen series. Telling the tale of huge arachnid beasts that are wreaking havoc throughout feudal Japan. Fire breathing spiders the size of horses terrorise a town, at their head a monstrous half woman, half spider reminiscent of Arachne from Monster Musume gone full kaiju. Standing against them is a classic Onmyoji, throwing seals and slicing spiders like a master. This dramatic opening sequence is just a retelling though. A story of an old book, told by the bookseller, to the teenage girl who is working in his shop. A teenage girl who foolishly manhandles the antique book, breaking a seal and releasing a spider demon from the story.
 
This one isn't going to be crushing buildings and breathing fire though. It's the titular Li'l Spider Girl, a cute little girl in a Kimono with big watery, red eyes. The dramatic story at the start tells how after the Onmyoji slaughtered the great spider queen, the Li'l Spider Girl fell from the corpse of her parent. The Onmyoji took her in but found she was slaughtering the townsfolk. There the book ends, meaning the bookshop pair are left not knowing her true nature. This one is a deceptive tale that jumps between light-hearted and strangely dark. It feels much longer than its brief 25-minute running time.

 
Next is Kick-Heart and it's one for all the Pro Resu fans out there. When masked wrestler M accidentally wins a tag match alongside his partner Chicken against the lady tag team of Lady S and Vacuum Fat his booker is none too pleased. The only way out is taking part in a one on one deathmatch against Lady S at the legendary Tokyo Dome (or Tokio Dome as it's known here for copyright purposes!). It's not just about the wrestling though, as the story takes a look at M's life outside the ring, taking a page out of the book of Nacho Libre as he goes to help an orphanage full of kids.
 
Kick-Heart is one of the most adult of the bunch. Filled with innuendo and allusions. Not just that the M (masochist) male wrestler is desperate to get beaten by the S (sadist) female wrestler. Lots of scenes and moves really emphasises the positions. Kick-Heart goes for a cartoonish, fantastical style. For example, during the opening tag match, the female wrestler 'Vacuum Fat' is a towering, gargantuan ogre that absorbs M between her rolls of fat, within which the bones of past victims melt away. The one-on-one match at the conclusion has some actual wrestling moves but turns them into preposterous versions of reality, as the characters jump meters into the air before crashing down.
 
This piece comes from Masaaki Yuasa, a serious veteran of the industry. Though, this was not his first work, unlike many others. Since then he has directed some truly seminal works, including such memorable and fantastic works as Night is Short, Walk on Girl, Lu over the Wall, and Devilman Crybaby. The type of work he produced in those can be seen in its infancy here. The crazy, fluid, art style, the suddenly shifting between dramatically different tones. Fans who have just stumbled on his work, and are enjoying it, will be happy to see more of it here.
 
The next film comes from the same team that produced the insanity that is Dead Leaves, that being Hiroyuki Imaishi and Imaitoonz for Oval x Over. This is one of the weakest. Three, three-minutes shorts produced to advertise the Bridgestone Indy Japan 300 mile race. Each shows a snippet of the race, with some crazy over-the-top characters like a Speed Racer-esque homage. It's not particularly bad, it just doesn't deliver on what it's trying to be.
 
Finally, there is Drawer Hobs. This 24-minute short is the work of one Kazuchika Kise. A man who has long been part of the industry. From animating on series like City Hunter and Dirty Pair in the '80s, to acting as character designer in Made in Abyss and as animation director for the breakout Your Name, but this short was his director debut. Centred around a single, call centre employee named Hiiragi Noeru who is living alone in the big city. One day, her mother sends her an antique chest of drawers (or as some people think they're called, chester drawers… those people are mad. Actually mad). A seemingly innocuous gift, but one that turns Noeru's life upside down.
 
There are six of the titular drawers, each happens to be inhabited by a small child. This isn't some sort of creepy horror anime though. The children are helpful little spirits, like the Shoemaker's Elves. There's Masa, dressed up like a classic Japanese fisherman/chef, he cooks Noeru food and teaches her to cook for herself. Tae is a proper little Japanese lady, done up in her kimono with hair bunned up. She's dedicated to teaching Noeru to become more refined. Her counterpart Yuki is a little lady helping Noeru with her fashion and makeup. Daigoro is safety conscious and dedicated to keeping her safe. Finally there's a duo of questionable help. Daigoro is a chubby little meatball who likes eating and watching TV while Hanpei is a hyperactive little troublemaker, he just seems to like causing chaos. This group of children is here as attendants of the Hiiragi "Landlady," helping as they have many others in her family's history.
 
A bit of a mixed bag, but more good than not. The best thing about this production is that every story feels like a tale that the creators wanted to tell. They're clearly invested, and the experimental nature of the art, animation, and storytelling is refreshing, even in the weaker of the films. The stars of the show more than make up for the missteps. From the heart-warming Drawer Hobs, to the madness of Masaaki Yuasa in Kick-Heart, to the engrossing story in Pigtails. There's something for every audience here.

Anime Review: Darling in the FranXX - Part One

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Darling in the FranXX - Part One (UK 15)


The Jian is a bird incapable of flight. With only one wing, the only way it is able to fly is by finding a partner to support it. A male and a female who works together to take to the skies. The reality of this creature is seen drastically differently by the two partners at the start of this story. A pair in a similar situation. To one, the birds are something profoundly beautiful. To another, they're pitiful creatures, having to hide in the leaves, only able to dream about what should come naturally, with a potential that they may never get to fly at all. This creature is the metaphorical base for the premise of the show, where boy/girl pairs of children must work together to man huge Μecha in a fight to reclaim a dystopian world from terrifying Kaiju. Coming from Manga Entertainment, this first part contains episodes 1-12 and is available from May 27th.
 
Darling in the FranXX takes place in a dark dystopian future. Beings known as Klaxosaurs have slaughtered mass amounts of the population, and the remnants are forced to hide away in huge moving fortresses known as Plantations; something that looks like a cross between the Technodrome and a Roomba. To try and combat the threat children are taught to do one thing, to learn how to pilot the titular FranXX. Much like the Jian birds, Franxx cannot fly on their own. Each requires a male and female pair who are perfectly in sync to operate a Franxx. The male is known as the Stamen and controls the actions of the Franxx. The female or Pistil acts as the connection between the pilots and their Franxx.
 
The children who pilot the Franxx are created in a lab and raised in an orphanage, indoctrinated that, unless they can become pilots or "parasites," their lives are worthless. This mindset ruins a young boy who is unable to learn how to become a pilot. Each child is given a three digit code, and the young boy at the heart of this tale is codenamed 016, though he has named himself Hiro. Hiro is part of a class of students training to protect Plantation 13. While all the other kids in his class are finally reaching their goal of becoming pilots, Hiro and his partner have failed. He's depressed and trying to accept his fate. That's when he has a serendipitous meeting with a very special Pistil.
 
This girl is code 002, a Special Forces pilot of legend and infamy. A psychotic, pink-haired, beauty who is rumoured to be not quite human. To contain the blood of the creatures she fights. Rumoured to kill any pilot that partners with her three times by draining his blood. She makes a big impression Hiro with certainly a unique introduction. Skinny dipping in a lake, she bursts out of the water right before his eyes, snatching up a fish in her teeth at the same time. She seems instantly drawn to Hiro, saying she'll unleash the power within him, if he becomes her "Darling."
 
She gets her opportunity quickly, as the ceremony for the rest of Hiro's class is interrupted by a huge Klaxosaur assaulting the 13th Plantation. 002 heads out with her partner against the gargantuan creature, but only manages to stun it before her partner is unable to continue. Hiro gets to try out at being her Darling, The pairing of the two ignites the Franxx back to life just in time for the Klaxosaur to recover, it transforms into a whole new form and explodes through its enemy with signature Trigger style.

 
Despite Franxx being centred around huge Mecha against gigantic Kaiju, the battles are all classic Trigger, filled with fast action, impressive effects, and truly dynamic moments. Also, being Trigger, there's more than a little innuendo. The pilots are posed within the Franxx with the female member bent over on all fours, directly in front of the male, and the camera angles make the most of that. It's nowhere near Kill la Kill, but it knows what it's doing. The parasites' phrasing doubles down on it with comments like "It feels like I'm deep inside of you," and "I can't tell where I end and you begin." Not to mention the suggestive moaning when they "connect," and at one point the girls complaining if the guys go too hard or fast.
 
The majority of the remainder of this first part sees the group of Parasites from Plantation 13 undertake missions, learning to work together, and especially developing relationships between them. Hiro and 002 are the focus and heart of the story, as they're repeatedly kept apart by superiors and friends. The fellow trainee Parasites are terrified their friend will die and the superiors have numerous ulterior motives which are not explained, just hinted at.
 
The standard kids go out and kill monsters, the Klaxosaurs ranging from Metroid looking creatures, Dune style sandworm, and lumbering Dinosaurs. As they head out on missions, they mature and grow closer, dealing with a coming-of-age type tale atop this Kaiju-slaughtering backdrop. But there's more to this story, and those paying attention will find hints to the real story lurking in the background.
 
The kids meet up with a platoon from another Plantation and find there's is abnormal, and this other group whispers secrets behind their back about the strange unique Franxx they have, the weirdness of having multiple teenage code members. Why is Platoon 13 so different? Why is it okay that a Special Forces member is working with these amateurs. There are so many unanswered questions in regards to not just the characters, but the world too.
 
These hints to some darker story elements and themes are prevalent throughout. Even in the innocuous and light-hearted episodes. In the obligatory beach episode quickly transforms from a showcase of the girls' assets into an investigation into a ruin of what was once a city, these children having no frame of reference as to what the world was, suddenly stumbling on the truth of their history. Setting things in motion for these children, and by proxy, the audience, to discover the truth around the world's society. Similarly, a silly episode centred around the kids hitting puberty and arguing over the boy's perviness, seems to be a standard "we live together but we're splitting the house in half with a line, don't cross it!" episode. However, it starts to look at how the kids yearn to become respected adults in their society. Only, that can't happen. There are no relationships. No sex. The students don't even know what a kiss is. There is no growing up. Children do not get to become adults. Adults are forever.
 
On the extras front, there are two episode commentaries available with the cast of the English dub, in addition to a handful of the promotional web preview videos for the series, the Textless opening theme for "KISS OF DEATH". This slamming theme couldn't be avoided around Tokyo a few years back and it's easy to see why. Performed by repeated chart topper Mika Nakashima, and produced by J-Rock legend HYDE. Finally, there's a 3-part series of pre-broadcast specials. These were used promotionally to introduce the series before it began in Japan.
 
This is Trigger's take on Evangelion, and just like that inspiration, there's a lot more going on here than kids being forced to fight giant monsters. What's going on with the creepy adults? Why can't kids become adults? What's the deal with 002 and her having the Klaxosaur blood? Why is Hiro special? So many things to find out and the hooks this series have sunk in, have sunk deep. This coming of age tale offers up a lot of promise for its second part. Not to mention the glorious art and animation that helped elevate Kill la Kill translates wonderfully to the grand scale of the Mecha.

Anime Review: Dragon Ball Super Broly

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Dragon Ball Super Broly (UK PG)


For countless anime fans, Dragon Ball was their introduction to the medium; a series that has kept putting out new content over thirty years after it was originally created. While series creator Akira Toriyama is beginning to take less of an involved role, merely providing overall treatments and outlines, the series has hit its biggest accomplishment to date. This latest film, a retelling of fan-favourite movie-only character Broly, became something truly special. Receiving cinema releases around the world, it raked in over $30 million worldwide! Now the movie is getting its home release, but does it justify the hype? VEGETA IS THE HYPE! Coming courtesy of Manga Entertainment, this film is available from May 27th.
 
The old Dragon Ball Z Broly movies were covered recently by Cubed3, as part of our Dragon Ball Movie Retrospective. They were fine. What really made them memorable was Broly himself. A gargantuan, behemoth berserker, that easily overpowered the Z fighters. It also gave a chance for more Saiyans to be part of the universe. Now re-introducing the character to said universe, and finally making it officially canon.
 
While this moving is taking place during Dragon Ball Super, the opening of the story reaches all the way back to preceding the original Dragon Ball. Giving a glimpse at the original home of the Saiyan race, the Planet Vegeta. Here its king, Vegeta III, father to the famous prince of the series, is hosting his master, the tyrannical King Cold. This opening scene actually shows the abdication of King Cold. He's stepping down in place of series favourite Frieza. Along with serving as an introduction to the young version of Frieza first stepping up into the big boy boots of galactic dictator, it also gives a chance, albeit brief, to see the Ginyu Force once again, always a joy.
 
The is not much of a joy for King Vegeta though, as while Frieza comes bearing gifts - the introduction of Scouter technology - he also brings a harsh reminder of who's in charge, slaughtering a few "Monkeys" before heading back out. If Frieza's brutal debut wasn't bad enough, King Vegeta's mood is made even worse when he notices another intruder. A commoner baby in the same nursing capsule chamber as his son. This lowborn pissant is the titular Broly, a baby who had been singled out for his impressive power and latent abilities. King Vegeta will have no commoner seen as higher than his little prince and sends Broly off in a pod. A fate not particularly strange, many Saiyan babies are sent off-world in the manner, to conquer primitive worlds. It's how Goku got to Earth after all.
 
Broly's father, Paragus, expects more for him though and races off to rescue his progeny, only to find himself stranded alongside him on a strange alien world. Meanwhile, key elements of the Dragon Ball story play out in montages and small scenes. Bardock rescues his son, including a glimpse at Gine, Goku's mother. Frieza takes out Planet Vegeta. A young Vegeta and Raditz are seen with a comical Nappa. All nice small fanservicey moments, all the while, Broly and his father are learning to live on this hellhole of a world.

 
Jumping to present day, the story actually takes place a little after the closing arc to Dragon Ball Super, with Goku and Vegeta sparring back on Earth, while Whis and Beerus are chilling out with Bulma. Goku has become inspired by the Tournament of Power arc and the kicking he took from Jiren. Vegeta's happy to spar just to have the opportunity to whoop Goku for the foolish promise Goku has apparently delivered on, resurrecting Frieza as thanks for his help in winning the multi-universe throw down.
 
That resurrection is already biting Goku in the ass, as Frieza has sent some of his lackeys to Bulma's lab to snatch the Dragon Radar and the few Balls she had already collected. Strangely, both Bulma and Frieza are hoping for a somewhat similar wish - now both groups have to race to grab the final ball. But Frieza has managed to add two new recruits to his cause, Paragus, and Broly. With the Frieza forces a shadow of what it once was, Frieza's got people desperately trying to find new cannon fodder and two new Saiyans were a perfect addition.
 
This whole thing is the setup for a showdown between Broly and the duo of Vegeta and Goku. The majority of the movie is made up of this huge fight scene, and that is awesome. There's also a little side story introducing a pair of new characters who recruit Broly, one, in particular, a small green alien girl, holds a lot of promise for when she invariably returns in Super - but back to the important part: Saiyans beating the crap out of each other. This is the very best version of that to date. The fights, the character designs, just the silky smooth animation, and art.
 
Much of that is thanks to one man. Naohiro Shintani. A fan like many who grew up on Dragon Ball who worked his way through various Shonen over the years, including various One Piece productions before finally working on his beloved Dragon Ball with the OVA in 2008 Yo! Son Goku and his Friends Return. Now he's back again as a key animator, with a style reminiscent of Toriyama's earlier work, more in line with the manga than the anime. His style lends to a lighter, faster, and fresher look. The choreography of the fights once again focuses on actual martial arts and, less widescreen shots of rapid teleports, quick punches, and repeat. Instead, the camera chases the action, slips into first person, flies alongside characters that are rocked by insanely explosive impacts. It's the very best. When the Saiyan's pull out the signature special moves and energy blasts, things look even better. Reminiscent of Studio Trigger at points.
 
This release comes with both the English and Japanese release… including Vic Mignogna. And the less said about that, the better with the controversy rocking the anime dubbing scene online. There were rumours he would be redubbed. He has not been. That's all to be said on that here. There were rumours of a huge amount of content left on the cutting room floor, almost the length of the film. That is not here. Not one iota of it. Really disappointing. Rumours of scenes of Vegeta and Raditz as kids on missions with Nappa all gone. Terrible shame. Perhaps there'll be an "uncut" or "ultimate" release down the line with this bundled in.
 
The absolute pinnacle of a crazy, over the top, old-school battle scene. No strategy, complex magic systems, and clever use of special abilities. Just big Saiyan warriors kicking the ever-loving crap out of each other, for about an hour straight, and looking absolutely amazing the whole time. It sets up a few little things for the inevitable next part of Dragon Ball Super (looking for an announcement this Goku Day, that's May 9th) but what this basically is, it is one absurdly long fight scene. And that's exactly what many fans wanted. An exhilarating, explosive, entertaining showcase.

Anime Review: Kiznaiver

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Kiznaiver (UK 15)


A group of students of class 2-A in Sugomori is getting a very special assignment. They have to figure out if world peace is possible, and their lives are on the line. Seven eclectic kids from this class are kidnapped and forced to undergo a surgical experiment that inexplicably links them together; linked through their pain; Both physical and emotional. Coming courtesy of Anime Limited, this collection contains the complete series, all 12 episodes, and it's available now.
 
Katsuhira Agata is getting bullied regularly; getting beaten up and his money taken... and he's fine with that. He's seemingly emotionless, unfeeling, and inexpressive. His childhood best friend, Chidori Takashiro, is constantly trying to get him to stand up for himself with no luck. Thankfully on the latest bullying session, Katsuhira gets some backup from the neighbourhood badass. A punky, pink-haired, bespeckled, badass, known as the Mad Dog. His name is Hajime Tenga, and he's a classic, Onizuka style, nice-guy thug. Happy to look after Katsuhira. Even if Katsuhira doesn't even really care about the beatings. After all, he says he doesn't even really feel the pain of them anyway.
 
A trio introduced, the story takes a hard left and dives straight into the overarching premise. Katsuhira is confronted by a girl eerily similar to him. Deadpan and seemingly emotionless. She spouts some insane nonsense before swiftly Sparta kicking him down a flight of stairs. Luckily for Katsuhira, the damage from the fall is shared. Shared with the other students that have been kidnapped. The recently introduced Chidori is there, along with Hajime too. Accompanied by some new faces. There's Nico Niiyama, a young, hyperactive, pigtailed, cliché schoolgirl. Tsuguhito Yuta is a charming slimeball, at least when dealing with the ladies. He's considerably less friendly with the guys.
 
It's an eclectic group. Though not quite as eclectic as the group that has some pretty crazy plans for them. The deadpan lady who helped Katsuhira down the stairs is one Noriko Sonozaki, the representative of a shady organisation who is using the children in an experiment to establish if world peace is possible. To do so, they've performed some insane surgery on these kids, including sci-fi style implants. Linking the children together through their wounds - a clever pun in Japanese between the words for "bond" and "wound." Causing pain in one splits it evenly across all the others. With this connection in place, the children have to complete a series of missions. The purpose of the experiment is to see if true bonds can be formed between people and thus if world peace could ever be achieved. These missions each have to be completed, with a simple overarching task atop them all. For the kids to all survive the Summer together, then the Kiznaivers will be disbanded.
 
The first mission for them: self-introductions. It couldn't seem any easier. Just a self-introduction, but when the students don't share their innermost truth they get a shock. Literally. Katsuhira is hooked up and getting tortured with electric shocks whenever they don't share. This initial experiment teaches them how their pain is shared but subsequently, they learn physical pain is the least of their worries. It's the emotional pains that cut the deepest.

 
The second mission is tracking down their seventh member. One Yoshiharu Hisomu, a perverted masochist that gets off on pain. A difficult person to be linked to when pain is shared. Missions after this see the group working together to help overcome the tragedies within the pasts of their members. Basically embarking on slice of life style activities while this group of forced friends begin to build bonds together.
 
Written by Mari Okada, a renowned anime writer and director, Kiznaiver is at its heart an exploration of the bonds between people. An exploration of what could happen if people could truly understand the pain of their fellow man. Even more complicated, what if those people were a group of teenagers dealing with the pains everyone goes through during puberty. The pain of jealousy; the pain of heartache; the pain of the betrayal of a friend. It's a fascinating premise, but one that little is done with ultimately. Many of the characters in the group feel wasted. Why have a cast of seven characters, only to develop less than half of them?
 
The story may be disappointing, but the presentation is not. This is a Trigger work after all, and while this is not the type of series that can make the most of their particular strengths, they deliver a great looking show. The best of it though, is the opening. It's a psychedelic kaleidoscope of lights and moments that is truly memorable. Especially thanks to the music. Its set to the amazing Lay your hands on me, the final work of iconic Japanese Electronic synth duo Boom Boom Satellites. Sadly, a brain tumour took guitarist and vocalist Michiyuki Kawashima a few months after its release. In their 20 years, they produced numerous albums, toured with big names from the West, have been repeatedly sampled, and crafted themes for anime series like Ninja Slayer and Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn.
 
A great premise for the story that drags its heels, and somehow manages to feel drawn out, even with just 12 episodes in the season. It spends far too long focusing on the contrived love triangle, yet without giving it any teeth - plus the huge emotional breakdown scene feels completely undeveloped. Meanwhile, the overarching plot of the story is just an utter mess. The finale is the worst part… there are a few really wonderful moments where Okada's writing hits home, but most of it feels like the sort of overdramatic teenage melodrama found in a CW drama.

Review: Vaporum (Xbox One)

There's plenty of room at the Arx Vaporum. Just don't expect to survive the night.

Review: Golem Gates (PlayStation 4)

The RTS genre gets a healthy dose of card game action in Golem Gates.

Review: Draugen (PC)

Fjord noir, psychological thriller, meets the boring world of walking simulators. It's Draugen for the PC.

Review: Alien: Isolation (PC)

Alien videogame done right. Admire its purity.

Review: Castlevania Anniversary Collection (Nintendo Switch)

Vampire hunters had better beware, because Drac is back and he's brought all of his friends.

K-Pop Korner - The Best of Korean Music
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