There will always be something enticing about the portrayal of MMOs within anime. Like .hack//sign before it, Sword Art Online tickles the fancy of those who revel in finding the glitches, the rare objects, the dark and hidden zones of online worlds that subvert the otherwise strongly governed rules and are all but untouched by the masses. For the first half of the series at least, again like .hack//sign, the pesky outside world cannot interfere, for the players of SAO are locked into Aincard by a nefarious programmer. Reach the 100th level and escape the game, if you die you die for real, if you try and take off the gear used to access the game, you die.
Three simple rules, ten thousand players, starting pistol... Go. From there protagonist Kirito, a beta tester and all-round MMO connoisseur, is able to single-handedly charge through what would otherwise take squads, groups, even whole guilds to defeat. A lovely bit of wish-fulfilment intimating that by relying on solitary skill rather communal co-operation a single person is able to succeed and thrive.
A few years ago I almost lost the hearing in my left ear. The gory details are best omitted, but I was left with (what the doctors claimed) was 20-30% hearing and only two thirds of the bones I should. For all intents and purposes I was deaf in that ear, a lopsided and mono world where car alarms didn't exist (a boon at 3am) but wearing headphones was painful.
Two years and two operations on I have most of my hearing back. All of this is just context for me to say: my hearing is precious to me and I am precious about it. It is a cliché to say that you don't know what you've got until you've lost it, but when it's personal it really brings it home.
What begins as a creeping sense of malevolence with Ookami Kakushi (lit. Wolfed Away) develops into mute indifference as the threat of a mysterious scythe-wielding lunatic ebbs into frisky sexual encounters. The series starts with the faint hope of a slow burning mystery, that is resolutely extinguished however by sedentary pacing and continual non-events. Unsurprising then that the original creator behind Higurashi no naku koro ni has similar duties for this as well as the Peach-Pit duo taking responsibility for character designs. The outcome is a tasteless melange of different inspirations ranging from Night Wizard to Project Zero to Myself; Yourself and many points in between that still maintains its own distinct approach but ultimately lacks the focus needed to succeed.
the melodious next episode previews which, set to drum beats, are narrated by a soft, rasping voice
Hiroshi, his writerly father and his wheelchair-bound sister have recently moved to the rural town of Jogamachi. Divided by a river into the old and new areas, rumours abound of man-sized wolves roaming the surrounding hills; it isn't until a friendly acquaintance from school disappears though that Hiroshi begins to realise there may be more to the town than he initially assumed. With a local harvest festival upcoming - focused on the town's abundant Hassaku fruit, a type of fragrant orange - and strange occurrences increasing, the local populace's strange affection for Hiroshi may be more a curse than a blessing.
Kara no Kyoukai is, without hyperbole, one of the most ambitious and intelligent series, movie or otherwise, to come out in the past ten years. As the progenitor of the Type-Moon dynasty it is afforded the means to avoid the overbearing franchise overload that can scare away fresh viewers. It presents a world precariously balanced between a chaotic realm of magic and spirits, and the more mundane world of humanity. Instead of falling prey to the common fantasy trap of treating the setting as the story, a stunning selection of characters is carved out who are not attempting to simply survive but trying to thrive in the ordinary world of emotions and ego. Bolstering this cast are some elegantly malevolent antagonists: from the physically tortured to the mentally deranged, rarely has there been as solid a set of evildoers in one series.
they are painted in shades of grey: whether twisted by magicks or a natural predisposition
Following the story of Mikiya Kokuto as he leaves high school, he is immersed in the unseen world through his affection for the stoic Shiki Ryougi who suffers a near fatal accident which causes a dormant power within her to awaken. Araya Souren, a mage of immense skill, meanwhile wishes to reach the Spiral of Origin, Akasha, the source of all knowledge and a kind of holy grail for those seeking knowledge; to do this however and to avoid the universe's natural defences against this sort of intrusion, he constructs an elaborate plan to use Shiki's now awakened power: the mystic eyes of death perception. Summoning aggressors to temper and hone Shiki, his quest has severe ramifications and the aftermath spills out long after he is assumed defeated.
The last movie in the Kara no Kyoukai franchise is in no hurry - two full hours to complete one of the best series of recent memory and it does so with grace, thoughtfulness and poignancy that surpasses even itself. Pulling together threads which have run throughout all of the films, it sublimely finishes the narrative which saw Shiki's alter ego perish, an event which has haunted her emotionally and physically since awakening from her coma. As well as slowly revealing the minutes before the incident which put her in the hospital, the last gasp of the mage Araya Souren is revealed and with it, the truth behind the murders that started four years prior.
The special brand of darkness which is continuously plumbed has layer upon layer of detail
Set after Oblivion Recorder, a new spate of ferocious murders has caught the eye of both Shiki and Daisuke, Mikiya's cousin who investigated the murders before. Shiki wanders the back alleys of the business district, searching for the murderer and avoiding attacks by local thugs while Mikiya becomes more and more worried about her, beginning his own investigation that takes him down a path populated by drug pushers and prostitutes. The perpetrator, Lio Shirazumi, finds Shiki first but loses an arm in the resulting scuffle; retreating, he discovers Mikiya in his apartment which has become a madman's shrine to Shiki. She is captured and tortured by Lio, still struggling with murderous urges, her salvation relies on Mikiya who may befall Lio's uncontrollable cravings.