These are a few of our favourite things from 2021

The year is finally coming to a close, and despite having made a list of my top 10 video game releases of this year, I still have plenty of other things I enjoyed from 2021.

It’s time to give them some much deserved credit as things that helped me get through 2021, no matter how new or old the subject in question is. Call this a sort of collection of all things I’ve enjoyed the most across the year before it finally wraps up!

Anime of the year: ODDTAXI

Favourite things from 2021: ODDTAXI

So far as I’m concerned, if an anime is about anthropomorphic animals, it’s probably going to be a good one — think BEASTARS, Aggretsuko, Brand New Animal… you get the picture.

Now throw into the mix a narrative that advances along the same lines as Baccano! and Durarara!!, with a delightfully peculiar sense of humour that frequently covers western references, and dialogue that whiplashes from being comedy gold to metaphorically deep.

It’s probably a lot to take in, even without taking into account its rapping porcupine who never misses a beat with every line of his. The oddities of ODDTAXI are too many to count on one hand, but the eccentricities of it all marry up remarkably well and juxtapose nicely with its real substance.

A dark mystery explores plotlines following the yakuza, a missing schoolgirl, and the depravity of gambling and idol culture, all in the show’s trademark colourful style and through its large cast of characters. Characters are seemingly interwoven from the very beginning, with each episode ending on a cliffhanger, often suggesting how every single character’s actions and motivations are intertwined with one another.

The beauty of ODDTAXI comes in how balanced it is: despite its apparent ridiculousness, it presents a world not far from our own, with an ongoing mystery amid a cast of bizarre characters grounded in social commentary. This results in the show exploring plenty of mature themes, such as how the modern era’s reliance on technology has led society to value how they present themselves to others over being genuine.

There is also a great amount of foreshadowing, with subtle details contained in each episode that will reappear or become significant in a different episode. The attention to detail here makes ODDTAXI well worth a watch as soon as possible. And if you need any good excuse to catch this one without going any further into overexplaining it to ruin all the fun to be had, you just need to check out its catchy opening number.

Watch ODDTAXI on Crunchyroll.

Favourite reading material of the year: Under the Oak Tree

Favourite things from 2021: Under the Oak Tree

My time reading manga this year was mostly eaten up by playing up video games, so I instead took a different approach when it came to reading materials for 2021. I decided to enter the manhwa rabbit hole, because my attention was caught by the very eye catching visuals of Under the Oak Tree, a webtoon adapted from the webnovel of the same name. Originally written by Kim Suji and adapted by Namu, the webtoon is illustrated by P, and is a fantasy story set in the medieval era.

Its main character, Maximilian Croix, has stuttered since a child; she was reprimanded for this by her strict father and suffered both physical and mental abuse. Her past mistreatment has shaped her into a young woman with low self-esteem and poor self-worth, an aspect of her that is immediately apparent right off the bat. This sets up a slow and steady character progression for its main star to blossom into a strong woman and capable figure of authority of the Croix family.

If it was not obvious enough already, its narrative is focused predominantly in the journey of its characters improving their mind, body and soul and becoming the best versions of themselves that they can be. Alongside a captivating leading lady is her flawed eye candy of a love interest, Riftan Calypse.

Whilst the less said the better with regards to his journey for the sake of spoilers, some of the best reveals in the work come from how his layers are peeled back with time and care. Riftan and Maximilian can be viewed as being two sides of the same coin as they grow from their hardships, bond for their similarities, and fall in love for their differences.

In many ways they are unexpectedly made for one another, and their growth both independently and as a unit put together through an arranged marriage is at the very core of what makes Under the Oak Tree such a satisfying read to marvel at. The title is visually stunning, delivers the goods of both fluff and smut, and has readers reeling for more panels of a supporting character who really kicks my side-character syndrome into ninth gear – more Ruth is what the world needs right now.

Read the webtoon on Manta.

Favourite character I’m newly obsessing over: V from Devil May Cry 5

Our favourite things from 2021: V

Whilst I am obviously late to the party on this one, I believe I will be unable to go on any longer if I were to not express just how much I have enjoyed this video game from 2019 this year — and specifically this character. He’s the reason I gave the game a shot, despite never having played a Devil May Cry title before — and why I kept at it for multiple playthroughs on different difficulties despite its escalating challenge. It’s all down to V.

V was bound to grab the attention of a certain pool of gamers what with his corny gothic/overlord edge in design — an edge that is juxtaposed splendidly with his affinity for poetry and a refined verbal palette. It’s unexpectedly charming on its own, but it’s only ever exacerbated when he bounces off other characters for some much needed humorous dialogue that contrasts nicely with the game’s rough and unforgiving gameplay and bleak events. Not to mention the comedy gold coming from a character integral to his existence — Griffon, who is always a welcome sight.

But where V captured me hook, line, and sinker was with his gameplay style that is at complete odds to both Dante and Nero. Instead of being completely hands-on, V instead requires the hard work to be done by his three familiars in order to deal enough damage that he can deliver the final blow himself with his cane. This makes for a surprising amount of multitasking with his gameplay style, such as managing Shadow and Griffon’s health bars to prevent them becoming stalemated, and reading from his book at every given opportunity to refill the Devil Trigger gauge.

Additionally, being able to briefly fly using the help of Griffon, ride his giant familial Nightmare, and surf using Shadow for map exploration are all fun moves, no matter what game we’re talking about. I loved every second I saw of V on screen and every moment I spent in control of him, and I’ve come away from the experience happier just with the knowledge that V exists as a character.

If anyone is in the same boat as I was, fearing whether or not you’d be able to get to grips with the series’ gameplay or understand its expansive lore — do not make the same mistake I did. Embrace the V!

Pick the game up now on a variety of platforms – PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S and Windows.

Favourite Steam add-on: Doki Doki Literature Club Switcheroo!

Favourite things from 2021: Doki Doki Literature Club Switcheroo!

As a diehard otome player, how could you possibly ever think of improving the base game of Doki Doki Literature Club? As far as my preferences go, the answer is by gender bending the cast! Brought to us by MWRoach, this mod was released after three years of development in October, and quite notably just before Halloween. This is an important fact to note, considering how horrifying this mod happens to be — even more so than its original product — but we’ll get into that a bit more shortly.

For those of you who have already experienced the base game, this mod is well worth exploring for what it does to its established characters to suit archetypes of the opposite gender and to reinforce its name of “Switcheroo”. Monika is anything but her sweet and supportive self here, instead replaced by mean boy Mateo who puts down the player character as often as possible. Natsuki, who is now Natsuko, is no longer a tsundere but instead acts unabashedly flirtatious towards the main character, and even the main character has been changed into a gamer, tomboy and even a delinquent.

Satori (Sayori) and Yuuri (Yuri) are best left unmentioned considering their biggest changes come through their plot reveals, and thus that would spoil their routes. As you could otherwise guess already, we have plenty of tropes to enjoy in this mod, such as the usage and exploration of love interest archetypes of the childhood friend and yandere, and dialogue similar to that of Fashioning Little Miss Lonesome with its humour and innuendoes, with some of the very best lines coming from the main character herself.

But what’s most pleasing is how its plotline that borrows from the original game still manages to completely blindside the player with its own twists and new takes on the narrative. Because of this, the mod somehow manages to outshine even the original, as Mateo is even more menacing and horrifying than Monika ever was, the main character’s relationship with Satori felt far better established and more genuine as a result — and this just exacerbates the despair you feel from his fate — and the horror payoff is tenfold here, especially with its CGs and Mateo’s grand plan.

To play Switcheroo!, download the original game on Steam and apply the mod into its files by following the application instructions.

Favourite OST: Gnosia

To ease us into what my next article is going to be heavily centred around, here’s a taster of what to expect. We may have already talked about this one multiple times here on Rice Digital by not one, not two, but three of us, but it’s for good reason. Gnosia was a heavy hitter of a visual novel for this year, and one which will only be receiving increased attention with its upcoming release on Steam.

Having originally come out on the Vita, the west received the trippy, sci-fi experience on Switch earlier this year, and one aspect of it that still does not get enough credit is how its music heightens its ambience and tone, and really makes the experience.

Gnosia’s soundtrack was composed by Q flavor, and each track exudes just the right amount of subtle, penetrating tension to reinforce the emotions that come with the shocking revelations, dark secrets being uncovered, and each alien infection unmasked. It never gets old, despite each loop sharing the same end goal and even result at times.

It’s difficult to cherry-pick standout tracks, because each one well and truly deserves its place in the track list for being so integral to the emotions and delivery of the scenes they accompany. I would go as far to say that if any single track on it was different from how it is now, it would have harmed the final piece to an unrecoverable fault — it’s that flawless. It’s so perfect, in fact, that is has become a staple ambient soundtrack for nights I’m struggling to sleep through — or moments where I experience existential dread.

This is due to the fact that there is always a slight sound of unrest in the pitch changes heard throughout the majority of its tracks — even if they are played during events that are more laid-back, or during moments of peace for relationship CG events.

As examples, the solemn ‘world of probability’ next to the curious tempo of ‘remind me when’ during character interaction moments both become expected to appear during key scenes — and this always adds a sense of foreboding and lingering melancholy during its dialogue.

Then we have the stunningly ethereal track of ‘ULULO’ which is played during discussions in-between voting stages, almost like a constant calm before the storm. But the album is ultimately topped off masterfully with the highly emotional finale of its most beautiful track ‘blue sky, blue stars’, delivering haunting lyrical finesse and a melancholic goodbye to our mind-bending journey with a loud crescendo and white noise.

Gnosia proves to be a treat for both the eyes and ears, and you can experience it on the Switch via the eShop, or hold out for its future release on Steam.

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