Life is Strange: Before the Storm

This review contains spoilers for Life is Strange and Life is Strange: Before the Storm.

DONTNOD’s indie time travel adventure game Life is Strange has sold over three million copies since its release. While a sequel is in the works, Deck Nine games have produced their own game, a prequel in three parts to cover how Chloe Price met Rachel Amber during Max’s absence.

The game begins with Chloe sneaking into an old mill to see one of her favourite rock bands, FireWalk (a Twin Peaks reference). There she collides with some shady characters and Rachel appears and rescues her. The next day, the two skip school together and grow closer, a bond that is ultimately cemented when Rachel discovers something shocking about her father.

The mechanics of Life is Strange: Before the Storm work in exactly the same way as the original game, you walk around, interacting with objects and people. Unlike Max, Chloe doesn’t have a time travel ability, but you still make big decisions which affect how the game unfolds. Chloe also has a ‘backtalk’ ability, in which you have to select the right option from multiple dialogue options within a short time limit in order to win an argument.

Choose your words carefully if you want to get your way!

Where Max would take photographs of various scenes throughout the original game, Chloe’s option to interact with her environment is graffiti spots located throughout the game which I thought was a nice reflection of her personality as Chloe likes to creatively reinterpret the world to her own style. The game also lets you choose the kind of graffiti you want to make which is a nice bonus. This isn’t mandatory to the game in any way but it’s a nice extra designed to encourage you to explore each environment you’re in more thoroughly.

Anyone who played Life is Strange will know that Chloe’s relationship with Rachel was incredibly important to her, so it’s not surprising that their relationship forms the heart of this game. I was pleasantly surprised that Before the Storm doesn’t skirt around Chloe’s sexuality or her feelings for Rachel, and you have the options to express a desire for ‘something more’ and to kiss Rachel at points in the game. Rachel also calls Chloe ‘cute’ and ‘hot’ at multiple points in the game and their big Shakespearean moment feels like a romantic declaration. Although they get more in the way of flirtatious and romantic interaction than Chloe and Max, it would be nice if it had been more explicit e.g. use of the words girlfriend, lesbian, bisexual etc.

Weird costume aside…Chloe was happy to be with Rachel.

Before the Storm isn’t without its flaws. Many of the characters from the original game make a return – Joyce, David, Nathan, Victoria and Principal Wells, and many of them feel well realised in relation to their characterisation in the original game, especially Joyce’s ongoing struggle to help Chloe and try to move on herself. There are odd inconsistencies though – David is presented as an abusive character in Life is Strange but Before the Storm repeatedly tries to present him as a heavy-handed but sympathetic character who you even have the option to forgive and be nice to on multiple occasions. This is one of many choices that seems completely pointless as anyone who has played Life is Strange will know that chronologically, Chloe is at odds with David by the time Max returns, so it makes no difference if you choose to attempt to build bridges with him in this game.

Rachel is a core character in Before the Storm and the first two episodes focus primarily on her and Chloe and their relationship, but this is pushed to the background in episode three with Rachel’s family drama taking centre stage, and it’s not clear why. From the end of the first episode it is hinted that Rachel’s fire starter moment and her potential supernatural powers will be the main focus of the story, especially in relation to the appearance of the crow and Chloe’s bizarre, premonition-like dreams. But episode three seems to drop this entirely even though it could have been used to explain why Rachel and Chloe stayed in Arcadia Bay when they both had the means and the determination to leave.

Rachel Amber – twisted fire starter

Another upsetting moment was the post-credits scene which hints at Chloe desperately trying to get hold of Rachel who is trapped in the Dark Room. This event takes place after Before the Storm, and not only will confuse people who have only played Before the Storm but upset those who have played Life is Strange. Anyone who has already played Life is Strange knows Rachel’s fate, so to remind them of it seems cruel and unnecessary, particularly as Before the Storm had just finished with a happy Chloe/Rachel summer montage. I don’t understand why anyone would think this scene was a good idea, particularly at the end of an episode that didn’t even resolve Rachel’s own supernatural powers storyline.

If you’re a Life is Strange fan debating whether to play this game I would say it is worth it, if you’re prepared to accept that the final episode is a big letdown for the potential that had been built up. I’ve read that many things were cut from the finale including a potential explanation for Rachel’s supernatural powers, which is hugely disappointing if true. That said, this game offers a well-characterised teenage Chloe and her relationship with Rachel is hugely satisfying to finally see. For me, this game is worth playing for their beautifully blossoming story alone and it still offers some wonderful scenes worthy of the Life is Strange universe…even if it sadly loses itself to melodrama towards the end.



Napping Princess: The Story of the Unknown Me

Kokone is distracted from making a decision about where to attend university after graduation when her father is mysteriously arrested and men she has never seen before arrive at her house to steal his tablet. It all seems connected to a parallel world she experiences in her dreams, but how?

Napping Princess has a slow start, as it builds not one but two worlds, trying to tease the audience without giving too much away. Kokone’s dream world ‘Heartland’ feels like a very standard anime fantasy world but it offers up lots of visually spectacular moments such as the Princess Ancien (the heroine in Kokone’s dream world) sneaking back to her room after using magic when she’s not supposed to. Personally though, I prefer Kokone’s awake ‘real world’ scenes for the majority of the film, perhaps because the plot and character relationships are more clearly established.

Eveything is just a bit more exciting in Heartland

Two things pleasantly surprised me about this film. The first is that the humour is pretty good, and there were many more laugh out loud moments than I expected. Early in the film, after her father has been arrested, Kokone has to try and hide and escape from men she doesn’t recognise who come to the house in search of her father’s tablet. Some silly slapstick ensues as she tries to fit herself around corners and into cupboards while they search. I particularly loved that the film openly makes jokes about the men being the stereotypical ‘dumb goons’, even down to one moment when one of the men demands to know why he wasn’t warned about Kokone coming to steal the tablet back, and the goon tells him he didn’t want him to be upset so he said nothing.

Kokone’s dad is hiding something, but what?

The second thing I really enjoyed was Kokone’s friendship with Morio, an old friend she reconnects with, who helps her on her quest to uncover the truth behind the tablet and rescue her father. Even though there’s a moment where they have to nap in a motorbike together and Kokone tells him not to touch her butt, the movie doesn’t feel the need to shove them together romantically just because it can, which is always refreshing to see.

Safety first – always wear a helmet when riding your magical bike!

The ending of this movie is a pretty strong payoff as it ties in themes of family, and tradition versus embracing the modern with an obvious but brilliant metaphor. Some of the plot devices along the way feel a bit too convenient – Kokone doesn’t know anything about her deceased mother because her father won’t talk about him, but it seems unlikely she never would have tried to find out more about her by herself, especially in the age of the internet when you can easily google people. Still, in spite of some of the slightly far-fetched plot elements this film is an enjoyable ride, and it offers lots of laughs and some great anime visual spectacle too. Definitely worth seeing for any anime fan.

I’ve Always Liked You

Is there anything more heartwarming than a bunch of teens in love? I’ve Always Liked You is an anime that does what it says on the tin, revolving around a group of students who are each carrying a secret torch for someone.

We open with Natsuki who is trying to confess her love to her childhood friend Yu (against a picturesque sunset backdrop of course for dramatic effect). Natsuki manages to get her feelings out, then chickens out and tells Yu she was joking and ‘practising’ her confession for a real one to someone else.

The relationship was doomed when Yu told Natsuki her hair looked like a rice bun…

Then we have Mochita who wants to confess his feelings to the purple-haired Akari with just one obstacle – he’s never even talked to her before. And then there’s Ayase who has feelings for Natsuki and hopes he might stand a chance with her if he makes a bishie boy anime transformation…

Although there are plenty of romantic crushes between the characters, Natsuki and Yu’s ‘will they, won’t they’ remains the central focus of the anime, with Natsuki’s inability to tell Yu her true feelings being further complicated when Ayase asks her to a concert and makes Yu jealous.

I enjoyed this anime from start to finish. The various romantic situations all felt quite natural for a high school romance – from the friends who don’t have the courage to move into something more to the teen who’s crazy about someone they’ve hardly even spoken to. Natsuki’s obliviousness to Ayase’s romantic interest in her even after he invites her to a concert with him also felt like a common romantic misunderstanding.

It was time to compare the results of their Cosmo romance quiz…

If you enjoy romance anime I think you will enjoy this movie. I’ve Always Liked You veers to the fluffier side of anime, but still invests in its characters with simple but well-created storylines and effective close-ups of shining eyes and clenched fists to really hammer home all those angsty teen feelings.


Keita is a teenage boy with a one track mind – games, games and more games! He overlooks socialising and hobbies in favour of pursuing his hobby so is taken aback when pretty, popular academic Karen Tendou asks him to join her Gaming Club. To her shock he turns down her offer as he prefers to play games for fun and not in a competitive way.

“I’m just a girl…standing in front of a boy…asking him to play video games with her.”

I had expected Gamers! to play out with Keita joining the club, getting to know the other members and attempting to win Karen’s affection, so I was happy when everything was turned on its head so spectacularly. Keita is nonplussed by turning down Karen’s invitation and is socially inept enough that he doesn’t realise he’s done something radically against social norms by rejecting a girl much higher than him in the school social hierarchy. He also doesn’t realise how much he has embarrassed Karen with the rejection. Things get hilarious pretty quickly when another popular kid, Tasuku confronts him about his behaviour in what turns into an over the top melodramatic slanging match on a bridge.

Gamers! continues to play with expectations as we see Karen completely fall apart over Keita. She falls for him hard, and is completely reduced to cartoon ashes, a sparkly eyed gooey mess or a jealous monster over Keita’s interactions with other girls and his utter obliviousness to her feelings. In fact, the show sets up such clear roles and types for each character with the sole purpose of destroying these setups. I really enjoyed this ‘in your face’ method of letting the audience know that comedic chaos is about to unfold in the very first episode.

All’s fair in love and games

Although gaming is continually mentioned and referenced throughout the anime as you’d expect, there’s a smaller focus on it than I had thought, and really I’d define Gamers! as a romantic comedy. The show sets up increasingly more elaborate and wacky misunderstandings between characters, who think X is dating Y when actually Z is dating Y and X wants someone else altogether. Although it seems over the top, it works really well a lot of the time as each character has their own foibles – Karen’s pride, Keita’s inferiority complex – and these form the heart of misunderstandings and miscommunications just as you’d see in real life.

Gamers! is a sweet anime packed full of laugh out loud moments, and romances you’ll want to root for, even if only for more humourous moments.

Gamers! is now streaming on Crunchyroll.

New Game!

Aoba is fresh out of high school and greener than green when she starts her first job at the game developer Eagle Jump. Inspired by a game she loved as a child she is thrilled to find out she’ll be working on the sequel. But with such zany colleagues she’s in for a heap of wacky misadventures along the way…

As someone who is a few years into the working world, I immediately recalled and related to the feelings that New Game! immediately conjures up as we see Aoba meeting her team and adjusting to their quirks, trying to work out when to ask for help and how to do it, and feeling excited about her first paycheck. Each episode focuses on a different topic with titles such as “What Happens if I’m Late to Work?” and “That’s How Many Nights We Have to Stay Over?”. You can dip in and out of them if you just want some light office-based humour but you’re likely to enjoy it more if you watch them chronologically as the series also charts Aoba’s adjustments to adult and working life and it’s enjoyable watching her learn and grow as she takes advice from her teammates.

I enjoyed how realistically the office environment is rendered, admittedly with some otaku feeling touches to the environment. There are multiple shots of Aoba looking at her computer clock across the episodes, a really simple but effective way that I found made me feel more immersed in her working life and routine. I think this is the first anime I’ve ever seen that features an office environment for most of the scenes and the little touches are really nice and really help give the impression of a creative company’s working space.

New Game! renders a colourful but realistic office environment

The relationships in New Game! also feel natural, with Aoba quickly finding her place amongst her female colleagues in spite of a few newbie mistakes like locking herself out of the office every time she goes to the bathroom because she forgot her key card. The humour flows nicely, with some one-off gag moments that remind you that the anime is based on a four panel manga, as well as some more cleverly built up jokes – there is a great one in particular where Aoba walks in on her colleagues in a compromising situation, but it’s too good to spoil here!

New Game! also makes a few nods to yuri relationships in a way that repeatedly threatens to cross the line into something explicit, but then always wimps out at the last minute. It’s perhaps unsurprising that an anime so exclusively about female friendships and relationships would hint at this to try and widen its audience but also bewildering at times when moments are created then not built on any further. There are also light fanservice-y moments in general with the odd butt close-up but it’s so infrequent and brief that it never feels like you’re watching a fanservice anime.

“What do you mean our romantic relationship can only be implied?!”

I’m really enjoying this anime and definitely recommend it. New Game! offers a sweet and happy story about a young woman’s first foray into the working world, and as she pursues her dream it’s impossible not to remember being the newbie and find yourself rooting for her every step of the way. With a great assortment of characters and genuine laughs I’d recommend this to anyone looking for a funny anime set in the working world that offers up lots of great office humour.


Naru is a self-labelled “average teen” who wants to shine but feels inadequate next to her gorgeous, popular, in-a-band friend, Yaya. A chance encounter with a mysterious blonde girl called Hana at a shrine leads her into the world of yosakoi, a traditional Japanese dance.

In spite of its cutesy graphics, Hanayamata adds some emotional depth from the first episode which I was pleasantly surprised by, and we see the main characters struggle with their insecurities and fears in an understated way. Naru, for example, agrees to join Hana’s Yosakoi group but only as an assistant at first, betraying her anxiety that she isn’t a good enough dancer to “dazzle” and be worthy of the group. Tami is a well-behaved daddy’s girl who chooses to break away expectations from of her to join the group, and Yaya in turn battles with her own jealousy as she sees Naru step out of her insecurities and start to believe in herself again.

Hana’s motto – life’s too short not to be happy!
Although I was impressed with Hanayamata’s commitment to clear-cut character motivation and insecurity from the beginning, it did then move back to comfortable and cutesy territory once this had been established. Some of the scenes are excessively sentimental – Naru gives more than one emotional speech about how much yosakoi means to her, and how much her friends mean to her, which might be more powerful if it was more than five episodes in, but luckily a lot of the more sugary emoting is usually balanced with some light comedy. Perhaps because of the solid character establishing at the beginning, even the simpler scenes in Hanayamata feel weighted enough to avoid slipping into pure fluff territory.

It’s tough being the only glass half full member of the group sometimes
For me, Hanayamata is a nice “middle of the road” sort of anime. It offers enough character depth and drama to avoid floating away on its own fluffiness, and Naru’s stage fright and insecurities will be easily understandable and relatable to many. But it is still a fairly lightweight cutesy anime about five girls embracing friendship and a new passion. If you’re looking for something with pretty shoujo style animation, silly comedy and engaging main characters it’s definitely one to put on your ‘to watch’ list.

A Girl on the Shore – Inio Asano

Koume is feeling pretty blue after her crush, the local playboy Misaki uses her for his own sexual pleasure then dumps her like a hot potato. She turns to Isobe, a boy who has always had a thing for her, looking for some rebound sex. In spite of Isobe’s declared intentions, Koume isn’t interested in a relationship with him, so the two step into uncharted waters of sexual exploration with each other instead.

Koume and Isobe’s relationship is dysfunctional from the outset as they navigate what is the first ongoing sexual relationship for both of them, complicated by their jealousy. Isobe also hides a dark secret which is compounded by Koume’s lack of regard for him into anger and destructive behaviour.

From reading the summary of this manga I had expected some kind of love story, so I was surprised to find more of an anti love story. Koume uses Isobe with no respect for his feelings at all, and Isobe is violent towards her when she angers him. I didn’t feel fully sympathetic for either character, which was jarring at first, but once I got used to it, it was also a refreshing change to read such flawed, selfish and complex characters.

Although this story wasn’t what I expected there is a lot to praise about this manga. I found it enjoyable to read a manga that neither puts sex on a pedestal of “that special perfect first time” as many shoujo manga are apt to do, but displays it with an openness that is never pushed to salaciousness, right down to the artwork even displaying pubic hair, a rare occurrence in manga and anime. The artwork style is also really interesting, and the photo realistic backdrops are impressive to pore over.

A Girl on the Shore is a great story, but the ending felt rushed for me in comparison to the emotional buildup. Isobe is shown to be struggling with depression to the point of suicidal thoughts, and yet after a pivotal moment when Koume worriedly searches for him in a rainstorm, he is revealed to be totally fine, with no satisfying emotional payoff for how he overcame his personal demons.

On the whole I enjoyed this story overall and would recommend it if you’re looking for a complex teen relationship story. Inio Asano presents a dark and flawed portrait of his characters, and it’s really something you can get stuck into.