Hugh Likes Anime: Castlevania

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Netflix’s new animated adaptation of “Castlevania” is a strange beast. This might be expected, as it was penned and produced by Warren Ellis, the creator of such offbeat comics as “Transmetropolitan” and “Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E.” But it is a heck of a fun little gem for all its flaws.
The miniseries is gorgeous. The character designs are iconic and immediately recognizable for fans of designer Ayami Kojima work on the Castlevania games. The animation is fluid with a deep, rich palate.
The four episode series is a certainly on the short side. It feels like a 90-minute pilot movie that was sliced up to create episodes, and it leaves the audience of a cliffhanger, but it’s a good first installment, and there are plenty of easter eggs for game fans to spot.
The plot loosely follows Castlevania III, with elements of series favorite “Symphony of the Night” incorporated as well. After The Church burns Dracula’s wife as a witch for practicing medicine, the Vampire King vows revenge and releases an army of demons on Walachia. The task of fighting off this horde falls to Trevor Belmont, the last son of an excommunicated family of vampire hunters.
Ellis is hardly subtle in his criticism of capital-R Religion in this series, with quite a few talking-head sequences about blind faith and superstition, and a supporting cast of thuggish priests dogging Belmont’s heels. But the action more than makes up for these talky bits, and the incorporation of some of the more fantastical elements of the series are cleverly done.
While short, ”Castlevania” is a tasty morsel of gory vampire-hunting goodness that goes down easy, even as it leaves the watcher thirsty for more. You can watch it exclusively on Netflix Streaming.

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Hugh Likes Anime: MS Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans

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Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans
Streamed via Crunchy Roll

Gundam IBO.jpg
With science fiction credentials that date back just as far as “Star Wars,” the Mobile Suit Gundam franchise has gone through its ups and downs across every conceivable kind of media.  From anime and manga, to literally hundreds of games, to more toys and models than even the most hard-core collector could hope to assume.  These offerings have varied wildly in tone, from the shocking, gritty depictions of war in the original Mobile Suit Gundam, to the “Street Fighter”-Inspired G Gundam, to the downright kid-friendly SD Gundam.
As the 40th anniversary of the franchise approaches, Bandai’s latest offering, “Iron-Blooded Orphans,” may be the most shocking and adult iteration of the series to date.  Nearly all of the Gundam series’ protagonists are in their teens or early twenties, but IBO certainly goes the farthest with a harrowing depiction of the child soldiers.
Set on a terraformed and colonized Mars, the series takes place about three hundred years after a catastrophic war that depleted Earth’s resources.  When teenage heiress Kudelia Aina Bernstein begins calling for Martian independence, she becomes a target of Gjallarhorn, Earth’s theoretically independent peacekeeping force.  She turns to paramilitary army CGS, and their unit of indentured child soldiers for protection.  After reviving one of the long-lost Gundam Frames, the children stage an uprising and form their own company, agreeing to take Bernstein to Earth, the one place where her voice can produce results.  As they travel, she begins to really learn how desperate the lives of these ‘human debris’ children really are, and grows close to Gundam Barbatos’ laconic pilot, Mika.
While Gundam has not shied away from serious issues before, this is probably the most consistantly dark and serious entry in the series, but it does an excellent job, for the most part, in addressing the themes of the show.  The character and mech designs are well drawn, and the plot, for all its darkness, is engrossing.  Season one recently finished and can be found streaming on the Crunchy Roll streaming service.

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Hugh Likes Anime: Food Wars

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Food Wars: Shokugeki no Soma
Studio: J. C. Staff
Streamed via Crunchyroll
When I was a teen, I was really into Iron Chef, a competitive Japanese cooking show which might be viewed as the forefather of most of the Food Network’s current lineup.  “Food Wars: Shokugeki no Soma” is another descendant.  An anime based on manga by Yuto Tsukuda and Shun Saeki, it follows the adventures of teenaged hero Yukihira Soma through Japan’s most prestigious and rigorous cooking school.  Soma is the son of a competitive and mysterious diner owner, and he’s been cooking since he was a child.  At first, he looks down the other students, who’ve ‘never served a customer before,’ but as the series goes along, he learns a lot about cooking through competing with them.
Shokugeki no Soma falls in line with many of the tropes associated with anime aimed at teenage boys.  There are lots of nonsensical rivalries, training, and challenges to overcome while forthrightly contemplating philosophical points.  And also plenty of fan service.  These are certainly the first chef’s jackets that I’ve ever seen with cleavage.  But even the fan service has its own goofy charm.  The series is constantly searching for new ways to express culinary language visually.  These range from a group of people eating a pork-roast so good their clothes explode to a panel of judges piloting a lobster rocket into space.
The first season of Food Wars: Shokugeki no Soma is currently streaming online at Crunchyroll, and is coming to DVD.  While the show ends at a bit of a cliffhanger, and a second season has yet to be announced, this is an excellent series for foodies and anime fans alike.  I’d like to give a hat tip to Jason Banks of the Talk Nerdy To Me podcast for the recommendation.
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