I know that we’re only 3 episodes in but so far the remake of Urusei Yatsura has been fantastic! I’m so happy that the studio didn’t modernize the show itself, so we still get to see all that old-school awkward jokes but in modern graphics and with amazing seyuu. And Darlings of the world, rejoice — Lum, the best waifu from the 80s, is back!
Summer Time Render is an anime that looked all good and dandy on paper and was supposed to be right up my alley. A finished story told in mere 25 episodes, with the pretty standard now but still exciting key idea about time-rewinding, that simultaneously offered a fresh twist on who the opponents of the main characters are. The concept of the Shadows and shadow sickness was fresh enough to keep me invested during the first 10 or so episodes. Truth to be told though, the only two reasons I continued to watch the second half of the show were inertia and the lack of competition.
The first half of the anime is a pretty solid thriller. You have to guess whether this or that person is actually a Shadow and whether he or she already was one at some particular point before; Subaru Shinpei, armed with the knowledge from the previous loop, is trying to get a better outcome for everyone… fun stuff, really! Not groundbreaking but fun. The second part went full EoE though. It became much, much, much more action-oriented and kinda lost those thriller vibes, I don’t think that I had a feeling that I was about to see something unexpected during the last 10 or so episodes. The anime still would throw some facts and rules about the Shadows at you here and there, but I had already lost interest and really didn’t care whether these rules made any sense, so it was difficult to me to appreciate the brains and spunk the heroes demonstrated exploiting those rules in the face of adversity. Also, speaking of characters, surprisingly enough the cast turned out to be pretty bland. You’d think that 25 episodes should be enough to make you care for at least some of them but somehow all the people in Summer Timer Render ended up being nothing more than bunch of walking bullet point lists (“I’m a grumpy but actually nice old dude, whose wife is a Shadow”, “I’m a writer sharing the body with my long-dead twin brother”, “I’m your normal main character”), with no real personality, who didn’t give a single reason to sympathize with them.
Overall, I’d say that Summer Time Render is a disappointment. It’s not bad but it’s just sad that it had all the potential to become a good action-thriller, the one that you maybe won’t watch again any time soon but still will remember (something like Mirai Nikki comes to mind), but instead ended up being a drag.
I have to say from the beginning that I liked Soul Hackers 2. Moreover, it was a day one purchase for me — maybe the trailer came out at the right time, I had just finished SMT V and after that questionable experience was excited to try another, non-open-world-like SMT game — but the idea of getting these cards as a preorder bonus sealed the deal (this is a shitty screenshot from amazon — the cards look great in real life):
I’m a simple man (and a hoarder), give me some crap as a bonus and you get me heh =) By the way, by the time I pre-ordered the disc I had already read and watched some reviews, so I was aware that “Ringo’s ass is nice” and the main complaints were “the dungeons are boring” and “I wish Ringo could run faster”. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ I knew that it was going to be a dungeon-crawler, with minimum side activities, and, frankly, was fine with. Who knows, maybe I was the target audience, one of the people who wanted to play a kinda PS2-era JRPG in 2022 — a turn-based one, without an open-world, at the same time without some crazy maze-like randomly generated dungeons. I spent about 60 hours with Soul Hackers 2, finished all the side-quests, 4 floors of Soul Matrix for each character and whereas it’s definitely a game made on a budget it never felt like a chore.
So, about those dungeons… it’s true that they are not especially spectacular. They are definitely not Persona 5-quality and it’s truly a shame that everything in Soul Matrix looks the same. I mean, they could’ve at least used a different color palette for every character, even Tartarus in Persona 3 had more variety. However, frankly, it’s not such a big deal as people claim it to be. The dungeons in Soul Hackers 2 are not huge, their layout is fixed and relatively simple, so I think I finished even the most complicated ones (Soul Matrix 4F) in about 1.5 hours, so they never felt truly annoying. On top of that, somehow I always visited Soul Matrix when I was already overpowered for a particular floor, so I didn’t even have to fight much there.
Speaking of being overpowered and all that — Soul Hackers 2 is not a super difficult game. I’d definitely recommend to play on Hard, it was pretty well-balanced and never felt unfair. It will not make anyone familiar with turn-based JRPGs sweat bullets, so for, you know, “real challenge” Very Hard may be a better option but you are unable to use items in battle on that difficulty, so it was a no-no for me, I’m not a die-hard SMT fan who’s ready to spend hours to fuse demons for every situation. The combat system in Soul Hackers is a bit different comparing to, say, Persona yet at the same time familiar and comfortable. I loved the idea of a separate Ruin skills category, in other games I’d rarely use Sleep/Poison/etc,. because they are rarely successful and usually end up being just a waste of a turn but here they also deal damage and enemies can be weak to them. I know some also didn’t like that you don’t see demons in battle, but I found a silver lining in that — I didn’t feel particularly attached to any demon, so I fused them away mercilessly (I kept Idun and Alice in SMT V until the very end of the game, even though they were absolutely useless at the point, just because I couldn’t force myself to discard or fuse them).
Where Soul Hackers 2 truly shines is its characters and dialogues. The cast is very small, so you have enough time to get to know every of the five main heroes and I, a bit surprisingly, liked all of them. Yeah, even Saizo, whose design implied that he’s going to be one shady dude. I don’t know if she’s the best character but Ringo is definitely a great protagonist. Unlike in many, many, many games I didn’t want to facepalm every time I read another one of her lines. I would suggest to try and go to every hangout event — not only because they will open up new gates in Soul Matrix but they are just well-written.
Overall, I’d say that it was a very right and timely decision by Atlus to release a spin-off SMT game. I hope that Soul Hackers 2 was sold well enough for Sega/Atlus to justify more experiments and not just release Persona and SMT games every 2-3 years.
Phantom of the Idol may well be the hidden gem this season. MAL users were clearly not impressed with it (the average score currently stands at about 6-something), and I think the first episode played a huge role in that, probably a lot of people dropped it immediately. Heck, I would’ve dropped it too if Nastya hadn’t convinced me to give it another chance and watch a few more episodes. At a glance this anime just didn’t have anything to differ from dozens of other idol shows. “Oh, we’re a small idol group with 2 fans but by working really hard and not giving up we’ll reach the top!” What a novel idea eh? Except that in reality Phantom of the Idol turned out to be more of a comedy than idol anime. Kind of like “If My Favorite Idol Made It to Budokan I could Die”, which was also unexpectedly awesome. I even assumed that both these anime are made by the same people but that doesn’t seem to be the case.
I have to admit though, that “Phantom” is an “one joke comedy”, that may be not for everyone. Technically, there are two jokes but you get the point. Either Niyodo does something totally inappropriate for an idol or his fans switch to full-otaku mode and start to behave like savages. I have nothing against this type of comedy if it works (Komi-san, *glaaaaare*), moreover, this show is only 10 episodes long, so there’s not much time to get tired of all that. Unfortunately, the length of the show is a double-edged sword, because even two weaker episodes can spoil the overall impression a bit. I already said that the first episode was not great but the last one was also on the meh side. The show ended in a way you’d expect, with an anniversary concert and a lot of questionable 3D during the performances. There still were some decent jokes here and there (“– I just can’t memorize the name of this song, is it In-and-Out or Out-and-In? — In-and-Out or Out-and-In, this is so deep!”) but that was certainly not the show’s finest hour. However, all things considered I’m happy that I didn’t drop this anime and it became my probably second-favorite show this season. It’s funny, short, has a great main character and there are lots of scenes with expressions like this, what’s not to like?!