Heavy Object Part 1 Review

In the distant future, the nature of combat has changed. Wars are no longer fought with human combatants but instead with Objects, massive spherical tanks, impermeable to standard weaponry and armed to the teeth with the very latest in destructive firepower. However, all of that stands to change when Qwenthur Barbotage, a student studying Object design, and Havia Winchell, a radar analyst, are suddenly plunged into a battle of unwinnable odds when a plan goes awry. With nothing but basic equipment and their wits, the duo scramble to save themselves as well as the lives of their fellow soldiers from certain doom at the hands of an Object, changing the world’s perception of the behemoths forever in the process.

Normally, when you think about the mecha genre in anime, your mind generally jumps to shows like Mobile Suit Gundam, with giant humanoid robots tussling it out with each other with giant laser swords and the like. Honestly, it’s really quite disappointing just how rare it is to find a show that doesn’t fit into those preconceived expectations of what a mecha anime is. Enter Heavy Object, an adaptation based on the novel series from author Kazuma Kamachi, creator of A Certain Magical Index and A Certain Scientific Railgun, which might be the first entry into the mecha genre I’ve seen that I can call fresh in quite a long time.

Although the two series are very, very different in most regards, when it comes to the general premise of each episode, the most obvious comparison that comes to mind is Metal Gear Solid, to the point where I’m certain the first three episodes being set in Alaska had to have been some sort of reference to the first entry in the illustrious game franchise. Each short arc tends to centre around Qwenthur and Havia sneaking around a variety of locations, on stealth missions attempting to take out these nigh indestructible Objects on their own. It’s this general premise that made me really like Heavy Object, because whilst it is still a show all about mecha, the majority of the running time isn’t spent on watching the protagonists’ mecha dispatching Grunt mecha in increasingly similar and trite scenarios, but instead has the two lead characters having to think on their feet in order to save the day. Nothing against the likes of Gundam of course, but it is just really refreshing to see a mecha show that differentiates itself a bit from what everyone else is doing. The whole series also is just generally a lot of fun to watch, which is mostly due to two very likable and energetic leads, as well as a light tone and a genuine sense of adventure that is conjured up via the globetrotting nature of the series, as our protagonists go from the icy tundras of the Antarctic to tropical locales such as the Oceania or even naval battles in the Mediterranean.

One of the only real downsides to Heavy Object is whenever it tries to squeeze in attempts at ecchi comedy because it doesn’t work, as it rarely does. Any and all attempts at jokes of this nature fall flat, offering nothing really new or funny, and just being quite cringe inducing. There’s also this off-putting recurring gag (?) where Qwenthur and Havia’s superior, Frolaytia, seems to reward the duo’s efforts with a peek up her skirt, or the promise to stomp on one of them for sexual gratification. It didn’t really affect me too much, but I could certainly see it making some people uncomfortable.

The only other lacklustre element comes from the characters in general. Although they are fun and likable, as I mentioned, they are painfully lacking in any sort of depth. You can call Qwenthur the ‘Heroic One’ and Havia the ‘Pervy One’ and not be oversimplifying their characters at all. Havia does become a bit less of a coward later on in the series, and he does get one nice moment of character at the tail-end of one of the episodes, but neither of the pair ever receives anything really substantial. The only character who does receive anything of the sort is the Frolaytia, who gets a backstory at the end of this first half, that is surprisingly dark considering the tone of the rest of the series, but does work in fleshing out her character. I can only hope that the other main characters receive the same kind of treatment in the show’s second half.

There is also something of an attempt at a romance between Qwenthur and Milinda, the pilot of an Object in possession of the nation that Qwenthur and Havia fight for, but it’s incredibly half-hearted and barely even worth mentioning. Qwenthur and Milinda rarely have any screen time together, and when they do, the chemistry between the two is incredibly sparse. Again, perhaps this element will gain more focus during the show’s second half, but I’m not holding my breath.

Animation for Heavy Object is a joint effort between JC Staff (A Certain Scientific Railgun, Toradora, Azumanga Daioh) who handle all the 2D animation and SANZIGEN (The Heroic Legend of Arslan, Black Rock Shooter, BBK/BRNK) who focus on the 3D elements. Working together, the pair manage to create a fairly good-looking show, with some very impressive looking CGI that doesn’t look out of place like the majority of CGI in anime tends to.

Funimation UK’s release of Heavy Object contains both the Japanese audio as well as an English dub track, and, overall, I was very impressed with the quality of the dub. Led by Justin Briner (My Hero Academia, The Heroic Legend of Arslan, Drifters) and Micah Solusod (Brother’s Conflict, Blood Blockade Battlefront, Soul Eater) as Qwenthur and Havia respectively, I think the two have a lot to do with how instantly likably the characters come across, which helps carry the whole show. The supporting cast also includes some good performances from the likes of Morgan Garrett, Alexis Tipton and John Michael Tatum.  

Keiji Inai and Maiko Iuchi both provide music for the series, which seems to alternate between a traditional orchestral score, electronic, almost dubstep-like music, and heavy rock, which make for a pretty great and varied soundtrack. The opening for Heavy Object is “One More Chance!!” by ALL OFF, which I was a huge fan of. It manages to combine heavy metal and J-Pop, which you wouldn’t really think would work well, yet it manages to be infectiously catchy. The ending is a softer sounding track, but is still really enjoyable, although I’m not sure exactly how well it fits with such an action heavy show.

Extras included on this release include a clean OP, a clean ED, trailers and commentary tracks.

In Summary

As long as you can put up with a bit of less-than-stellar comedy, the first half of Heavy Object delivers a large dose of unique and incredibly fun mecha action.

Title: Heavy Object Part 1
Publisher: Funimation (via Anime Limited)
Genre: Mech, Action, Military, Sci-fi
Studio: J.C. Staff, SANZIGEN
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2015
Format: Blu-Ray
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 15
Running time: 300 minutes

Score: 8/10

No-Rin Review

Idol-obsessed farm boy Kousaku Hata is devastated when his favourite idol and dream girl Yuka Kusakabe unexpectedly announces her immediate retirement at the peak of her career. Taking the news hard, Kousaku spirals into a depression, locking himself in his room, which his fellow students at the Tamo Agriculture school try to bring him out of. On the day that he starts attending classes again, Kousaku gets an unexpected surprise as his beloved idol, under the guise of Ringo Kinoshita, transfers into his class. Taking advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, Kousaku decides to get close to Ringo, and uncover the reason for her early retirement.

No-Rin, a 2014 anime adaptation of the series of novels by author Shirow Shiratori, is a show that I suspect has the potential to be extremely polarizing. This might kind-of go without saying, given that comedy is normally very divisive, but No-Rin’s particular brand of sex-based humour is something that I could almost certainly see people turning their noses up at, or totally dismissing out of hand, and I wouldn’t blame them. Whether it be a character being lovingly nicknamed as ‘Tits McGee’ or a lengthy conversation about the phallic nature of Egg Plants (and that’s just Episode 1!), the comedy present isn’t exactly what you’d call highbrow, but I suspect it is the brazen and unrepentant sex jokes that made me love it a whole lot.

Yes, as much as it might make me sound as mature as a twelve-year-old schoolboy, I had a lot of good laughs whilst watching No-Rin. The gags I mentioned before are just the tip of iceberg when it comes to how far No-Rin seems to push the boundaries, and I was really taken off-guard by how far it goes at times, with some quite raunchy jokes that I dare not spoil here. Needless to say, it’s the biggest draw the series has, and if the humour doesn’t sound like your kind of thing, I’d very much advise you to stay far away. However, if it does sound like something that you might like, I could recommend it on the comedy alone.

However, despite the big focus on comedy, No-Rin actually tries to do a little bit more by throwing in a bit of romance too, which, whilst a good attempt, isn’t really too successful. Although I think that the protagonist Kousaku and Ringo have some good chemistry together and there are some genuinely sweet scenes sprinkled throughout, the way the show itself approaches romance and the less comedic elements in general, needs some work. The biggest fault is the fact that all the jokes seem to dry up whenever there is any kind of character or relationship development. I don’t just mean in the moment itself, which would be fine, but in the slightly more character-focused episodes, the jokes aren’t anywhere near as frequent as in the other episodes. This is especially noticeable in the last two or three episodes, where the comedy almost fades out entirely. Granted, I think that actually giving the characters a little bit of backstory and depth is good and might be worth losing a few jokes for, as it is an area that most comedy anime seem to totally avoid, so I have to give it props for that. However I just wish we could have had the best of both worlds, with a few more serious moments whilst not sacrificing the comedy. Another trap that the series falls into is that the ending is inconclusive and rather unsatisfying, but such is the danger of adapting from ongoing source material.

No-Rin’s animation is handled by Silver Link (Fate/Kalied liner Prisma Illya, Watamote, Yurikuma Arashi), who, as far as I’m concerned, might just be one of the most underrated anime studios currently active. Whilst they may not have the unique and distinct style of Shaft or the insane levels of detail of Kyoto Animation, their work is always high quality, and has a ton of energy behind it, and No-Rin is no exception. I also really love how the animation occasionally switches style giving it a lot of visual diversity. From an old school video game to a manga, even an impromptu tribute to Sailor Moon, Silver Link certainly cram in a whole host visual styles, making No-Rin a visually interesting series to say the least.

Funimation UK’s release of No-Rin comes with both and English and Japanese audio, and I’m quite a big fan of the dub for this series. Austin Tindle (Is This a Zombie?, Gonna Be the Twintail, Attack on Titan) voices the lead Kousaku, and does so with boundless enthusiasm, imbuing the role with the energy needed to make a lot of the gags work. In stark contrast to Tindle’s energy, Jad Saxton (Fairy Tail, High School DxD, Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid) delivers an excellent low key performance as the nigh emotionless Ringo. The supporting cast is also great, including some relative newcomers such as Lynsey Hale (Seraph of the End) and Derick Snow (Prince of Stride: Alternative) as well as some more established voice actors such as Caitlin Glass (Full Metal Alchemist) and Morgan Garrett (Love Live Sunshine).

Music for the series is provided Akiro Matsuda (Sound! Euphonium) and Tomoki Kikuya (Hidamari Sketch), who deliver some pretty great and memorable tracks that do a good job of capturing the general atmosphere of the series. Similarly, the OP, ‘Himitsu no Tobira Kara Ai ni Kite’ by Yukari Tamura and the ED, ‘Mogitate Fruit Girls’, by Yukari Tamura and Kana Hanazawa, who are part of the Japanese cast, also capture the tone of the series, both being full of energy.

Special features on Funimation’s release include commentaries, promo videos, commercials, a textless OP and ED and trailers.

In Summary

No-Rin won’t be for everyone, but I loved its rather unique brand of crass humour and high energy animation. Even if the romance aspect falters a bit, it doesn’t stop it from being a brilliant, side splitting comedy.

Title: No-Rin
Publisher: Funimation (via Anime Limited)
Genre: Comedy, Ecchi, Romance
Studio: Silver Link
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2014
Format: Blu-Ray
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 15
Running time: 300 minutes

Score: 8/10

Show By Rock Review

Cyan Hijirikawa has always regarded herself as nothing more than an ordinary girl in a mediocre world. She has great talent and skill at playing the guitar, but can never muster up the the courage to join her school’s light music club. However, after she decides to play her favourite rhythm game, she is suddenly sucked in and finds herself in a new world called Midi City, where music reigns supreme. Not all music is pure though, and an evil plan is in motion to engulf the whole city in darkness.

Adapted from the iOS and Android rhythm game developed by Geechs in conjunction with Sanrio, Show by Rock is a disappointing effort from the usually great studio Bones, that, whilst far from awful, is underwhelming at best, especially when compared to the studio’s prior work.  

At its heart, Show by Rock is attempting to be a music-based comedy show, and the reason I wasn’t a huge fan of it is because it isn’t particularly great at being either. Comedy, of course, is incredibly subjective, so whilst some may get a kick out of the humour here, it did absolutely nothing for me. I’m not sure I could put a fine point on what made the jokes fall flat, I’m usually quite the fan of physical comedy, which is essentially the show’s bread and butter, but I could count on one hand the amount of times I even so much as smirked, never mind laughed, throughout the 12 episodes, which is a huge sticking point in a comedy anime.

I could probably excuse the lackluster comedy if the series worked well as a pure music series, but even then it’s just plain mediocre. Take away the techno-fantasy setting, and you’ve got a paint-by-numbers plot that seems to lack any real momentum. There’s rarely anything interesting happening story-wise, as a typical episode mostly consists of the bands playing gigs or songwriting, with some melodramatic character stuff thrown in here and there. The whole fantasy element to the plot rears its head on occasion, but mostly stays in the background, as more focus is placed on the whole band thing instead, at least until the last couple of episodes. I feel that some kind of split between band show and action show might have worked better, or at least made it a little bit more interesting and fresh. This is teased a little bit in Episode 1, when we see Cyan defeat a monster with music, but this is something we don’t really see again until over halfway through. The one thing I will say is that I was never really bored at any point, and in a general sense it’s fairly entertaining, but it all just feels rather hollow, the kind of thing you’ll forget almost as soon as you’ve seen it.

As you might expect, the music itself plays a very important role and it’s yet another area that Show by Rock just fails to deliver on. Although it may be a little unfair to compare to other, much more popular shows, the only other music anime I’ve really seen are the KyoAni classic K-On and the global mega-hit Love Live! School Idol Project, which are both series I adore. Of course, there are a multitude of reasons why I love both of those, but the music is definitely part of it, with there being some genuinely great and catchy tracks that have worked their way into my regular music rotation. Even off the top of my head I could hum you some ‘Fuwa Fuwa Time’ or ‘Snow Halation’, but there’s nothing anywhere near that quality in Show by Rock. It’s all just kind of bland and none of it stands out as being something I’d really want to hear again.

One huge misstep in the music department is that Funimation decided to dub over all the music with English voice actors and it doesn’t work at all. Going back to the other shows I mentioned earlier, both of those have really good dubs, and I think part of the reason why they’re good is that they switch to the Japanese voice actors whenever there’s music. It’s fairly obvious that songs written in Japanese are probably going to sound better in the original language, but I guess the folks over at Funimation thought otherwise. Either way, the English lyrics are just plain cringe-inducing, and whilst the voice actresses are pretty good at singing, it just doesn’t sound right. I think a nice option would have been a choice between the English dub with English songs and English dub with Japanese songs, but sadly such an option is lacking.  

The choice to dub over all the songs in English, making it a less than preferable language choice, is made all the more disappointing by the fact that this actually isn’t a bad dub, music aside. Funimation pulled in some pretty great voice actors such as Caitlin Glass (Maki from Love Live!), Monica Rial (Tsubaki from Soul Eater), Alexis Tipton (Musubi from Sekirei) and Vic Mignogna (Edward from Fullmetal Alchemist) to name a few, and they’re all excellent here, with the possible exception of Monica Rial’s occasionally annoyingly high-pitched turn as Moa, so it just makes it all the more sad that the changes to the music hurts what is otherwise a very solid dub.

Despite having some issues with the insert songs performed by the bands, I thought the background soundtrack from composer Yasuharu Yakanashi was actually pretty good, being quite rock-infused, as you might expect from the show’s name. As for the OP, ‘Seishun wa Non-Stop!’,and ED, ‘Have a nice MUSIC!!’, they are both performed by the in-universe band formed by our protagonists, Plasmagica. I have mixed feelings about both because, whilst I generally can’t stand either of them in English, the Japanese versions are actually pretty enjoyable.

As well as music itself, a key element to making a great band anime comes from the band members themselves, but even then, Show by Rock’s cast is really nothing outstanding. Granted, the characters are probably the best thing about this show, perhaps barring the animation, but given I haven’t really had many nice things to say about it up to this point, that isn’t really saying a lot. The band consists of four members, Cyan, Chuchu, Moa and Retoree, and of the four, Chuchu is the only one I’d say is given any kind of depth, which comes in one of the best episodes of the series. The others are pretty fun to watch, but lack any kind of development at all, really. There are small things, such as Retoree wanting to make friends, and doing so via the band, but given she’s part of the band to begin with, and is already friends with the other band members before Cyan joins, it’s kind of moot. Then there’s Moa, who is an alien, a fact that is just about the only thing we learn about her, that genuinely adds nothing to either her character or the plot, and is never mentioned again after around the half-way point. That said, there is still some fun chemistry in the group, but everyone is just kind of forgettable.

If there is one thing I will give the series, it’s that it’s really good looking and well animated. Produced by Bones, who are responsible for hit shows such as Fullmetal Alchemist, Ouran Highschool Host Club and Soul Eater, Show by Rock is really colourful and vibrant, which is the kind of aesthetic that I tend to go for, although it might not be for everyone. An element of the art I instantly fell in love with was with Masaru Oshiro’s character designs, which are pretty unique and incredibly cute. Despite the fact that the animation is probably the strongest part of Show by Rock, even that comes with a caveat, this time being CGI. Now, for once, my complaint isn’t that the CGI looks bad, per se, in fact it’s actually quite high quality, but I don’t think it’s implemented well at all. Instead of blending the CGI with the traditional 2D animation, there are whole sequences rendered entirely in 3D, with a totally different art style to the rest of the series. It’s jarring and gives the show a pretty disjointed feeling, as it often switches back and forth from the CG to the 2D multiple times within an episode. Also, despite the quality of the CG, I actually think the character designs for the 3D sections, which feature anthropomorphic versions of the characters, are just plain ugly. 

Funimation UK’s release of Show by Rock is a no-frills affair, coming with a couple of audio commentaries and nothing more, even missing the usual clean opening and closing.  

In Summary

Whilst it can be fun sometimes, Show by Rock offers about as much depth in its story and characters as a puddle, and is largely just bland, forgettable and, ultimately, disposable.

Title: Show By Rock Season 1
Publisher: Funimation (via Anime Limited)
Genre: Music, Comedy
Studio: Bones
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2015
Format: Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack (Blu-Ray version reviewed)
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 12
Running time: 300 minutes

Score: 5/10