Tag Archives: Swords

En garde! Swashbuckling, duels, and stabbing.

Castlevania Season 2 – Review

Related: Castlevania Season 1

Castlevania Season 3 (TBR)

Similar: Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust

Hellsing Ultimate

Berserk

 

Watched in: English & Japanese

Genre: Fantasy Action Horror

Length: 8 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Improves upon the strong first season.
  • Vampire political intrigue.
  • New characters.
  • Oozes atmosphere.

Negatives:

  • No Church.
  • Ends too quickly.

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We last left Trevor Belmont and his companions in the search for the means to find Dracula’s castle and slay the master of the keep. I left Castlevania with a positive impression though uncertain of whether it could hold up beyond what was, essentially, the opening to a series. Much to my surprise, yet again, Castlevania is superior to what I had anticipated by way of an interesting narrative focus.

Season 2 opens in the past with the arrest of Lisa (Dracula’s wife) by the Church for the “witchcraft” of medicine. While this is a retread, it gives us more detail and makes for a chilling first scene when you know what happens to everyone for ignoring her warning.

After this, we jump to Dracula’s war room, where his strongest vampires from across the kingdom have gathered to plot humanity’s annihilation. However – and this is where the brilliance started – he selects two humans as his generals to lead the scourge, much to the disgust of some vampires, especially one of the Vikings. Beyond their deep-seated loathing for humanity and their tactical ability, these two have the only clear heads in the army not driven by bloodthirst.

Now, at this point, it’s just a good idea (and I’ve harped on often enough about the importance of execution over ideas in past reviews). The brilliance comes in the backstory of these characters, contrasted against the vampires, and their actions going forward. They are simultaneously committing some of the most heinous atrocities against humanity while conveying sympathy. One of the two, Isaac, is Dracula’s Forgemaster. He doesn’t forge weapons, however. His speciality is bringing the dead to life, often forged into demons of great power, though he has equal inclination to revive a fallen puppy as a companion. Makes for an interesting ability.

The appointment of these two as generals leads to much unease among the vampires, many playing politics to gain power or favour with Dracula. There are whispers among the ranks about Dracula’s soundness of mind after the loss of his wife. How will vampires feed if he wipes out all humans? Carmilla the vampire queen of many legends is particularly sly and sharp of tongue. I relish the political drama she brings to the court. I did not expect politics, of all things, to be such a significant portion of the narrative and so well executed.

I haven’t talked much of Trevor and his two companions so far because they aren’t the focus this season. They have enough to do for the eight episodes as they return to Trevor’s home for blessed weapons and a means to access the castle, but the focus is truly in Dracula’s camp. It’s a bold risk to shift from the protagonist. It works. Sure, we could have more of the trio in addition to all screen time with the opposition, but that would go into overtime.

Castlevania Season 2 isn’t all blood, politics, and goodness, unfortunately. The end feels too quick. For seven episodes, we have methodical build up packed with social and political dynamics, feeding us juicy backstory and character motivations until we reach the final episode where, suddenly, so much of it wraps up with too many questions and possibilities remaining unexplored. It needs more. It gives the impression that they didn’t know episode 8 would be the last until they started work on it, realising they needed to close several threads.

I want more – more vampire society, more politics, and more lore (and bring the Church back! Tap that potential). I am grateful to know a third season is on the way. Even so, they could have gone deeper with Dracula’s arc in particular.

Still, I am far from disappointed with Castlevania Season 2. The action is as gory as before (you see someone decapitated by hanging from a bladed noose), the orchestral soundtrack is a perfect match to the atmosphere, and the acting is still quality, now with more accents from the corners of Dracula’s kingdom.

I love that this outdid the first season.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Watch it. Castlevania Season 2 improves upon the first season in almost every way and now goes far enough into the story to warrant investment. If season 3 is any better, I’ll have to consider a Very High rating.

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Ga-Rei-Zero – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Ga-Rei: Zero

 

Similar: Canaan

Blood+

Elfen Lied

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Supernatural Action

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Music is rather good.

Negatives:

  • Lacks weight.
  • Fails at connecting us to characters.
  • Meaningless yuri bait.
  • Narrative doesn’t resonate.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Ga-Rei-Zero is the prequel anime to the manga Ga-Rei, following the tale of Kagura and the fate that forced her to fight her sister Yomi. They are agents of the Supernatural Disaster Countermeasures Division (SDCD) to slay monsters.

I love a good tragedy, especially one that pits ally against ally before the end. The key to a tragic tale, such as this one, is to make the audience care about the characters and their relationship before they must kill each other. This is especially true when you know events are going to turn for the worse and you’re pleading for them to stay allies, stay happy, but nothing you say can change the inevitable. So tragic. So good!

I’m sad to say that Ga-Rei-Zero doesn’t succeed in that respect. These girls are too boring, too clichéd to care an ounce about. The have the typical dynamic of yuri bait anime, with one as the strong katana girl, the other as timid and weak. To be fair, as a slight defence of Yomi, the generic katana girl type wasn’t as oversaturated at time of release in 2008.

These foster sisters have no development. Their relationship grows by way of fan service for character “building” – naked baths with boobs squished against the other’s back, making out randomly, and other yuri bait that is incongruous to the tone they try to convey. Emotional development comes in the form of staring off into space accompanied by a slow pan. That’s another problem. The cinematography is so boring. Every composition is stock standard with a slow pan. Moving manga, as they call it. There’s no detail, no art to anything in the visuals.

The writing is similar, though it’s not so bad that makes it to the ranks of Vampire Knight. It’s just so dull, without any creativity. And the exposition. The first time these girls meet, Yomi dumps the full backstory for Kagura, her father, and herself. Wow! If you told me they made Ga-Rei-Zero by plugging parameters into an anime-creating AI to generate a series, I’d believe you.

The world building lacks artistry. The powers are vague, they try mixing things up with new weapons, such as a gun sword and combat wheelchair, but there’s no cohesion to any of these. (That AI theory is sounding more plausible by the minute.)

Ga-Rei-Zero also needs better narrative resonance – the tying up of a story from start to finish. It opens with an SDCD squad called to fight monsters and dying, followed by the reveal of Yomi as the evil sister to Kagura. They went for a “flashforward” opening, wherein we see an event later in the story with dramatic implications before we rewind back to the start in happier times. Flashforwards elicit one question: “What happened to make things go so wrong?” The mistake they made was having such a long flashforward. They didn’t need to introduce the SDCD. We could get to that later. All we needed to know is the following: monsters are attacking, led by protagonist’s sister, and the good guys are fighting back. The relevant information is in the last few minutes of episode 2 – first episode isn’t needed.

What this does is set the wrong expectations. For the entire series, we are wondering when the SDCD will become a major part of the narrative. It would be as if you opened an Avengers movie on a team fight, but 20 minutes in, you focus solely on Captain America for the rest of the narrative. The longer it goes, the more the audience expects and questions why the rest of the Avengers haven’t joined. If you’d called the film Captain America and had a cameo scene featuring the Avengers at some point in act one, then the expectation isn’t there. It’s all about that initial presentation. I suspect they started this way to have a ton of gore and death immediately, which can be effective shock value, but rings hollow when superfluous.

One defence of this you’ll here is that Ga-Rei-Zero is a prequel to the manga and that the narrative will resonate if you finish the story. But we aren’t here for a manga. Furthermore, it was a simple fix. Cut episodes 1 and 2 save for the last few minutes and play that before the opening credits.

Even if you ignore this poor opening, you can feel that lack of synergy between elements of the series. For instance, the theme of the battle against monsters doesn’t complement the conflict theme between Kagura and Yomi except in the one case where Kagura has to kill a mind-controlled civilian she liked. Good theming has the sub-plots/conflicts support the main theme.

Then we have Yomi’s engagement to the heir of another important family. It doesn’t contribute much, nor does it lend to the theme. Once again, that AI thought, “Every story has a romance, therefore I must put one in.”

What I dislike most about Ga-Rei-Zero is how Yomi’s turn to evil happens. She doesn’t descend into evil like in Gungrave or fall to greed as seen in Madoka Magica. No poor decisions, no character conflict, no slow creeping corruption that seduces her. Nope, mind control does it. The ultimate sin with a tragedy like this is to have an ally turn foe by anything other than their own choices and actions.

All of this dullness and lack of synergy results in a boring anime. There is far worse out there – Ga-Rei-Zero isn’t that bad – but let’s just say that I have more fun with worse anime than this.

Art – Very Low

The CG is hideous for the special vision that allows agents to see spectres and the monsters look even worse. It doesn’t even justify the CG with complex animation. On top of that, the cinematography, character designs, and environments have no creativity whatsoever.

Sound – Low

The music and acting are quite good, but the script has no weight to it, dragging down everything around it. Also, the music doesn’t sync with the action as it should, often going too long as if they have to play the entire track.

Story – Low

Two sisters that slay monsters must eventually fight each other. The story doesn’t do enough to create an emotional connection to the characters for us to care about their fates.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Skip it. Ga-Rei-Zero is one of those anime that only select fans will remember as the years go by.

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Awards: (hover over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive: None

Negative:

No Development

Persona 3 – Anime Review

Japanese Title: PERSONA 3 THE MOVIES

 

Related: Persona 3 the Movie #1: Spring of Rebirth (included in review)

Persona 3 the Movie #2: Midsummer Knight’s Dream (included in review)

Persona 3 the Movie #3: Falling Down (included in review)

Similar: Persona 4 the Animation

Noragami

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Supernatural Action Fantasy

Length: ~1 hr. 30 min. each movie

 

Positives:

  • Looks and sounds like the game.

Negatives:

  • Lacks the relationship development.
  • Boring protagonist.
  • Not enough story.
  • No tough decision made.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Persona may be the best Japanese role-playing game series, known for great stories, tough gameplay, and complex character arcs. It is also known for its several anime adaptations, none of which have a good reputation. With Person 3 going to movies rather than a series and released after Persona 4 the Animation, I had hopes for a better adaptation with lessons learned from its predecessors. I should have thought better.

A 25th hour exists after the stroke of midnight, the Dark Hour, which none but a select few are aware of. The Dark Hour is the time of Shadows, monsters that feed on the human mind and spread apathy in society. New kid Yuuki finds himself dragged into the conflict by the SEES organisation, a group of Persona summoners that fight Shadows in Tartarus, the giant tower visible during the 25th hour. Yuuki’s unique ability to summon multiple Persona will prove invaluable.

This is a great setup for a story. It has everything a young adult audience could want – unique individuals, supernatural powers, a secret society, double lives with school, and a dash of edge (they summon Persona by shooting themselves in the head with magic guns). It’s part of why the game is so beloved. However, going from game to anime, you have to remove the key element of gameplay, which is easier said than done. This does give opportunity to touch up any story issues caused by gameplay interruptions, as the game has to put gameplay above all else. In the case of Person 3 the game, it suffers from pacing issues between key plot points while you climb the levels of Tartarus. The anime doesn’t need to show the several hundred battles it takes to reach the top.

Flipside, the anime does have to make difficult decisions about the protagonist and his potential relationships. In the game, you choose his name (or hers if you play the PSP edition), his dialogue, and whom to date. What is the anime to do? Should it pick one girl and make that the official pairing, igniting a waifu war for the decade? A harem, on the other end, won’t fit the tone. Person 3 the anime went with no relationships, abstaining from any difficult decisions. The protagonist has no personality and the relationships are surface deep.

I don’t understand why they made Yuuki this way. They could have easily given him a personality that didn’t contradict the dialogue choices from the game. Even if there were a contradiction, it would be better than this soggy toilet paper of a protagonist. If you’re going to be so limp with the adaptation, why bother at all?

The relationships are a similar case. Alright, you can’t make the game relationships work without the multiple choices, so what do you have in its place? Nothing? Perfect… With a blank protagonist, what character development opportunities did they expect to find? If Person 3 the game were a favourite of mine, I would be disgusted.

These movies don’t work even when seen with uninitiated eyes. For one, the opening scene with Yuuki entering the Dark Hour and signing the contract with Igor is nonsense without context from the game. The story doesn’t establish his life or set the scene for even a moment first. This scene should have come after his first day of school, at the earliest. The action is good, yet even this grows dull without characters to care about to the end.

The dark tone and grim style are the best features of these movies, which is a pleasure to see translated from old PS2/PSP graphics. Outside of that, everything is either mediocre or worse. These Person 3 movies do not deserve your attention.

Art – High

These movies look great, matching the game’s style, but they aren’t “movie” quality. Instead, it’s a good-looking series stitched together into movies.

Sound – Medium

The soundtrack comes from the game, which is neat. The acting is average – no surprise when most character-building dialogue isn’t present.

Story – Low

Teenagers hunt Shadow creatures using summons during a hidden 25th hour of the day. The Person 3 movies made no tough decision and ended with an anime that has the style of the game, but none of the character.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Skip it. This limp adaptation of Person 3 isn’t worth your time.

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Awards: (hover over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive: None

Negative:

DisappointingShallow

The Seven Deadly Sins – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Nanatsu no Taizai

 

Related: The Seven Deadly Sins: Revival of the Commandments (Sequel)

Similar: Samurai 7

Yona of the Dawn

Fullmetal Alchemist

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Fantasy Action Adventure

Length: 24 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Well-paced.
  • The talking pig.

Negatives:

  • Immature humour and protagonist don’t match the plot.
  • Baby-faced art.
  • Stereotypically battle anime action.
  • No surprises.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Princess Elizabeth collapses into a pub during her quest to find the Seven Deadly Sins, legendary warriors said to have betrayed the king. The perverted child that owns the pub saves her and turns out to be the Sin of Wrath, Meliodas. He soon agrees to aid her plight and, accompanied by his talking pig, they search for the other Sins.

The Seven Deadly Sins came recommended, so I watched it in anticipation of seeing something worthwhile. I waited, and I waited… And I waited. Something worthwhile never came. I like the talking pig – he’s good for a few laughs – and the pacing never drags. That’s about it.

The first warning sign beyond the blobby character designs (though never judge an anime by its cover, and all that wisdom) is the protagonist. Meliodas looks like a kid despite being thousands of years old. (If you’re wondering why from a marketing perspective, it’s to match the age of the target demographic.) His defining trait is groping women. This anime isn’t subtle about his “rapiness” and I’m sure they would have him do far worse if it didn’t affect the age rating. It isn’t funny like what you find in Golden Boy and Great Teacher Onizuka. The gag is that he gropes women – usually the princess. And that’s the whole gag. These jokes only work when there is some form of repercussion or counterplay. It is so encouraged that a point of conflict between him and another character is about how he doesn’t grab her arse as he does to other women.

This “humour” alongside the alcohol jokes had me questioning the target market at first. I had gone into The Seven Deadly Sins without research, so perhaps my age group assumption was off. However, everything else is in line with a typical battle anime for a middle school audience. The baby-faced art and dumbed down story don’t mesh with the sexual and alcoholic humour. It’s not that it’s inappropriate for kids – this is for the individual to decide – but rather, I don’t think they’ll get it. And it’s not the same as adult jokes hidden in Pixar and DreamWorks movies, which slip by children for adults to find hilarious. Thankfully, the series seems to grow tired of this joke and barely uses it after a while.

I don’t know what to make of the other characters. Most don’t do much. Elizabeth is a nuisance who cries at everything, including in the middle of a deadly battle because Meliodas is nice to her. It’s as lame as it sounds. Ban, the immortal Sin of Greed, has the most screen time after Meliodas and the only real character arc. I liked his backstory with the Fountain of Youth and his theme, naturally, of greed. I thought this to be a turning point in the series, but alas, it goes back to Meliodas the Boring. The other Sins are filler characters preceded by much hype and no payoff. I assume they will have their time to shine in later arcs, in which case they should have come into the story later on.

One thing Hunter x Hunter does well is not keeping side characters around when they aren’t story relevant. Naruto is similar with the team system, where it can logically bring along only story relevant characters for the current mission. In The Seven Deadly Sins, once a character joins the group, you know they will hang around doing nothing most of the time.

A final point I want to make on the characters relates to the seven deadly sins theme. This was most famous in Fullmetal Alchemist with the villains, where you get why they have the model the seven sins. Each of those villains is a perfect match to their sin while not being one-note either. They are fantastic characters. The seven deadly sins in this anime don’t seem to have any point of relevance to the theme. Why are they titled after the sins? They each committed some sin as part of their backstories, yet it doesn’t relate much to the sin with the slight exception of greed. Meliodas, for example, failed to protect someone. What does that have to do with wrath? Most of these characters have similar sins, so they could equally fit the Wrath title. Furthermore, unlike FMA, these personalities have nothing to do with the sin, weakening the theme even more. I’m willing to bet a considerable amount of anime bucks that the author read FMA, thought the villains cool, and decided to use the theme in his manga, but made them the good guys to differentiate himself without understanding what made the others so great.

These aren’t terrible characters – apart from Meliodas, perhaps – and have enough dimension to avoid being flat. They simply don’t have anything to elevate them, which is where the theme could have played a significant part.

I haven’t even talked of the action yet. The action is as stereotypically battle anime as you can get. It has impossibly fast moves (no need to animate), delayed damage, invincibility to attacks when standing still, crying ability names, and a secret move for each fighter. The Seven Deadly Sins greatest action crime is the “just kidding” fake-out. Once every fight, a character will take massive damage or an instant kill attack, pretend to take the hit or be out of the fight, but then, “Just kidding!” they’re actually fine. (If they would all die, then we could get out of here.)

It also has the laziest battle progression. With the use of lightning fast attacks almost exclusively, we don’t see how someone survives an attack – they stand there and take it – and the defender has to tell the attacker how his ability worked for the audience’s sake. Every. Single. Fight. If that’s not lazy, I don’t know what is.

When someone breaths fire and the opponent creates a shield to block said fire, we don’t need an explanation. In The Seven Deadly Sins however, someone breaths fire, the opponent takes the fire to no consequence, and then has to tell us how invisible fire-eating thetans cover his skin or some nonsense like that. This is what I imagine a boxing anime would look like if the creator knew nothing about boxing. Did he get through the opponent’s guard by feinting left to land a right hook? “What does feinting mean? His punches just go through because of abracadabra. But don’t worry, the opponent takes no damage because of mumbo jumbo.”

No effort went into figuring out how the abilities work and how characters would attack/defend with them in battle. I’m sure you, dear readers, could all point out instances of impossibly fast or fake out actions in other battle anime and wonder why I criticise them so much here and not there. These action techniques are valued in rarity. When Rock Lee drops the weights and goes lightning fast (note how we can still see the action and slow motion adds impact), it matters because it’s a change from the norm. Sticking with Naruto, you see Gaara survive all manner of attacks without a scratch and you’re thinking, “How the hell does he survive?” He’s the exception, which makes him more interesting. When the series does reveal the secret behind his sand armour, it only has to explain once before we can see it in action, in detail, from that point forward. Deadly Sins’ problem is that these techniques constitute 90% of the action. Add on to this the “everyone has a trump card” ability mechanic, and it becomes boring real fast.

If you are new to battle anime, The Seven Deadly Sins will likely seem decent. It has competent production values – it’s no Beet the Vandal Buster – and fights don’t have padding to last several episodes. The tournament takes a few episodes, not an entire season, which is refreshing. However, in all other respects, I would recommend the established series like Naruto, My Hero Academia, or Hunter x Hunter. The battle genre is one of anime’s most competitive and it certainly isn’t lacking in content to keep you busy for the next century, so to turn to The Seven Deadly Sins, you must be desperate.

Art – Medium

I detest the character designs of The Seven Deadly Sins, especially the baby faces. Though it looks made for kids, the art doesn’t match the content other than in its immaturity. The animation is better than the style.

Sound – Medium

The dub cast uses their Sword Art Online character voices, which I couldn’t un-hear, so you may want to go with the Japanese. Could do with more memorable music – battle anime usually have memorable soundtracks.

Story – Low

When the Holy Knights of Britannia overthrow the king, a princess goes in search of the legendary warriors known as the “Seven Deadly Sins” to reclaim her kingdom and defeat the tyrants. The Seven Deadly Sins is as generic as imaginable in its action, often at the expense of character and story that showed potential. The pacing is good.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: For action anime fans only. The Seven Deadly Sins feels worse than the sum of its parts, owing to a lack of anything to differentiate itself from the competition. You could watch so many other battle anime first.

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Awards: (hover over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive: None

Negative: 

Hollow World BuildingNot Funny

Ixion Saga DT – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Ixion Saga Dimension Transfer

 

Similar: Gintama

Is it Wrong to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?

KonoSuba

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Action Comedy Fantasy

Length: 25 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Surprisingly funny.

Negatives:

  • Bit long.
  • Low production quality.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Ixion Saga DT is another in the endless line of “different world” anime where some kid goes from the real world into a fantasy game. Except…it’s a parody, which instantly reignites my interest in the show. And you know what? It ain’t terrible.

There is some story involving the protagonist Kon “DT” Hokaze serving a princess alongside her other warriors in the world of Mira. The conflict centres on the magical energy called Alma. None of this is truly relevant. The story is merely in service to the comedy. I get the impression that the writer was watching the twelfth fantasy game anime of the season and started riffing on it. Figuring he could make more money from his riff track if it accompanied a story, he turned it into an anime – or so I assume.

That said, the story does have more elements and players in the proverbial game than most other anime of the genre, so if you do require something to drive the narrative, Ixion Saga DT has enough there.

The comedy hits its stride early with a great series of nut jokes at the expense of the enemy commander Erecpyle “ED” Dukakis. When in a fight, DT isn’t afraid of going for the cheap shot (many fantasy protagonists could learn from this guy), so naturally when in a fight against a trained swordsman, he goes for the nuts – spiky dragon boot right in the junk. Erecpyle wakes to the news that one of his nuts had to be removed. Next episode, he loses the second, and the ball puns that follow from his squad when trying to cheer him up after the loss are great. “We have more than enough balls to take on anything.” “They’d have to be nuts to think…” “We’ll crush every one of them nutsos.” Furthermore, his newfound ability to take a hit as no man can earns him the title of Fullmetal Ballchemist. And just wait until you see how the ball rolls to a stop at the end of his arc. I lost it!

The humour is juvenile, crude, not for kids, and quite funny. It works, granted you go in with tempered expectations.

Everything is a joke in Ixion Saga DT. The protagonist’s nickname of “DT” is a jab at the genre’s clichéd protagonists, which is shorthand for the Japanese word doutei, meaning “male virgin”. If you hadn’t noticed, Erecpyle’s initials stand for “erectile dysfunction”. Even attacks are a parody with names in the vein of “something attack” and “whatever beam” yelled at the top of their lungs for no reason.

The humour also turns to the meta when, before the final battle, DT prevents his comrades from making speeches and giving heroic lines because that is a sure sign they will die. There is even an attempt at peace through blasting Imagine by John Lennon across the battlefield. Ridiculous? Yes, but hilarious.

Ixion Saga DT isn’t a great anime, but it differentiates itself in an overcrowded genre by parodying the competition with surprisingly successful comedy. Had this been of a higher quality, yet without the humour, it would bore me into numbness – another Sword Art Online clone from the seas of Kamino. Going for a different angle was the correct move.

Art – Low

Low budget. Characters lack detail and poor quality control led to inconsistent body proportions. The designs themselves look near the levels of the “OC, don’t steal my DeviantArt” type.

Sound – Medium

Several actors are regulars to the otome genre – an interesting coincidence after Diabolik Lovers. The script is snappy from one gag to the next ball gag.

Story – Low

A kid from the real world works as a knight to a princess in the fantasy world of Mira. The story of Ixion Saga DT merely serves as a device to deliver the humour.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: For anime parody fans. If you’re sick of seeing the same fantasy game anime each year, Ixion Saga DT will give you reason to laugh at them again.

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Awards: (hover over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive: None

Negative: None