Genre: Comedy, supernatural, romance, mystery, occult detective.
Episodes: 12 (+3 ONAs, Original Net Animation)
The past year or two have been great for the anime lovers. Heaps of great anime have been released and more are coming out as you read this article. For the next few weeks, we at RS will be trying to review some of the latest. The first in the sequence will be Bakemonogatari, anime adaption of the light novels of the same name by Nishio Ishin (of Death Note: another Note, xxxHolic: another Holic)
There are not many who would give up immortal life, the ability to suck blood and/or, in a few cases, handsomeness as depicted in the Meyer series. Well, Araragi Koyomi, the protagonist of this series did give up his supernatural 'infection' for a peaceful life. Third year student Araragi was cured from his disease by one Meme Oshino. He then continues to bring others having similar supernatural problems to him and saving them. The story starts with him rescuing attractive tsundere Senjogohara Hitagi from falling down some stairs only to discover that she was almost weightless. After initially being threatened by her (by staplers and pocket knife to the mouth, no less) Araragi convinces her to see the supernatural doctor Oshino. He explains the existence of oddities in day-to-day life and promises to help her only if she helps herself. We delve into Hitagi's sorrowful past and understand the reason for her lost weight. But even after this case is solved, encounters with oddities don't cease for Araragi. He meets several girls with similar paranormal problems: a lost spirit, one carrying a monkey's paw, another cursed by snakes. Each story arc is neat and presents startling emotional exploration of their pain and yearnings. In between solving the cases the viewers are presented with the eventful (read hilarious and female dominated) daily life of the newly formed couple of Araragi and Hitagi.
The good and the bad:
It's an odd series, which will either turn you off or capture you absolutely in the first few sequences. The CG backgrounds, light colour palettes, heavy shadows and effective uses of perspective make this anime unique from the other horde of anime. This is a distinctive, eye-catching world of layered silhouettes in soft pastel colours, using minimal animation, staccato cutting between still frames and copy and paste to sly, humorous effect. The real beauty of Bakemonogatari isn't the animation though, which many felt to be budget consuming, it's the word span shower every minute of every episode. Even subtitled the effect is quite…ah, unnerving.
The conversations among the characters are ever so engaging and humorous. I think this is the anime's most appealing quality: the clever dialogues and of course, the voice acting for all the characters. On the surface it may appear as a generic harem show with funky art style, but it's not: the mental pressure, sufferings, anguish and the sacrifices on the unfortunate girls to get rid of these make Bakemonogatari so engaging and thought provoking (yeah, right *snickers*).
The superfluous use of meta-humour (jokes about jokes) can be quite off footing. The heavy references to the Japanese culture can be bothersome too. Fans of xxxHolic will find it similar. Sometimes during conversations a frame with only a text pops up, related to the character's emotions or even to NOTHING at all. Most of the times these are nuisances.
Bakemonogatari will keep you engaged, as it is mostly conversations. Anime of this genre is preferred by many including yours truly, and who knows, maybe you will get addicted to it too after watching this anime. As to the availability, I am sorry, you will have to collect it from the net; the local cartoon channels are not scheduled to stream it any time earlier than a year. Even so, please try to watch it. You won't be disappointed.
Splinter Cell Conviction Review
By Murshid Saqlain
SAM Fisher returns in Splinter Cell Conviction to do what he does best: immerse gamers in thrilling stealth scenarios that demand intelligence and reflexes worthy of putting Jason Bourne to shame, to some extent at least. The latest in Tom Clancy's popular series isn't only about the amazing gameplay, it offers so much more in the form of an intricate conspiracy story, stunning visuals, innovative exposition, and great voice acting.
First thing you notice about Conviction is the gorgeous graphics. Level design is top notch and often leaves the gamer admiring the environment more than focusing on the situation at hand. From bustling city streets to secret research labs to the interiors of the White House, as you traverse through the brilliantly designed levels, you can't help but feel that you are in a real world with real problems. The cinematic cut scenes along with great voice acting aid the immersion process. The voice actor of Fisher shines as he threatens and grumbles in a deep voice, but the villains do a good job too by cursing or crying for mercy depending on the situation. The soundtrack is another bright spot of this game, as the gritty music accentuates the dark mood.
Missions may be completed either by using stealth or straightforward shootout, stealth being the recommended method to fully appreciate the complexity of the game. As you run from cover to cover, seeking the haven of shadows, you can take out enemies by hand to hand combat and then perform “executions”, which are essentially free insta-kills by marking your targets. The Execution ability becomes increasingly important late game when multiple enemies guard a room with lots of open space and nowhere to hide. Fisher's weapons are usually equipped with silencers, so it's possible to complete missions without ever raising an alarm, which is perhaps the most satisfying aspect of the game. Of course, a few missions require you to engage enemies head on, where the gadgets come in handy. Frag grenades and sticky mines are extremely useful in narrow corridors whereas the portable EMPs are essential for shutting down lights long enough to take out the guards silently.
The missions themselves have some variety. There are a few innovative levels where your only objective is not to assassinate all the guards silently. A chase scene is particularly my favourite. Although it was short, it was exhilarating while it lasted. Later on, Fisher is equipped with the coveted Sonar Goggles, the pride of the Splinter Cells. The goggles allow you to see through walls and locate enemies. In the final missions, however, enemy Splinter Cells will have these goggles too, shoving stealth approaches out of the door for poor Sam. But Sam Fisher isn't mightier than the Secret Service for nothing, you know. Splinter Cell offers you to finish your mission in a variety of ways, and it is fun to try them all.
Splinter Cell Conviction's single player campaign is painfully short even though it is full of bright moments. However, challenges and multiplayer modes redeem this flaw. Challenges are a fun aspect, and increase the replay value; for instance, you earn points for stunning three enemies simultaneously with an EMP grenade or throwing enemies off ledges enough times. These points may be used to upgrade weapons and gadgets. There is a different co-op campaign where you can team up with a friend over LAN or Internet and complete stealth missions in various new levels. Completing challenges and the co-op mode is sure to keep you busy for a long time, as some of them aren't exactly a walk in the park. If you are feeling confident, try the Realistic difficulty mode, and even the main campaign won't seem so short anymore. But it makes completing the game that much more glorifying.
If you have the patience and want to walk in the boots of a deadly secret agent on clandestine missions, then Splinter Cell Conviction is the game for you. Happy hunting.
Corrigendum: In the May 6th issue of Rising Stars, the game review “Mount & Blade: Warband” was also written by Murshid Saqlain. Apologies to the writer for the absence of a credit.