Bleach Volume 68

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The Ordinary Peace

The first volume of Bleach to be released in the UK after its official end over in Japan, Volume 68 does its best to regroup everyone for one last push, but does it do well?

The battle between the Shinigami and the Quincy still rages on, though most of the invading villains were wiped out in the last chapter (with little-to-no thought), leaving only the top brass on either side of the war. The goal of the Quincy, or specifically the goal of their leader (the still-hard-to-pronounce Yhwach), is to kill the Soul King, an omnipotent being that apparently ties all the realms together. After breaking into the Soul King’s realm and defeating its guardians in Squad Zero, Yhwach is finally about to achieve his goal as Ichigo and his fellow humans are hot on his tail.

The volume begins with several remaining Captain Level Shinigami gathering together, battered but not beaten, under the orders of former captain Urahara. The original mad scientist plans to open a portal to the royal realm and lead an attack on the remaining Quincy. Speaking of whom, Yhwach succeeds in stabbing the Soul King before Ichigo and his friends arrive, but then uses his influence over Quincy blood to force Ichigo to slice the Soul King in half to finish it off. This surely means the end of all realms of reality?! Right?! Well, I won’t spoil how, but no, and in fact when he is foiled Yhwach gets the chance to do it again, but goes down a different route, for some reason, and tries to absorb the Soul King’s power for himself instead.

Just to touch on some of the other happenings in this volume: Captain Commander Kyoraku visits Bleach’s iconic villain Aizen with an offer to partially free him in exchange for his help; classic Captain Ukitake finally does something in this final arc… briefly (but so you don’t get your hopes up, it’s not revealing his Bankai…) and the Quincy “Schutzstaffel”, or Elite Guard, who were powered up in the previous volume (at the expense of all the other characters Kubo had built up…) appear a few times in the background towards the end, with one or two lines shared between them. I mention that because Schutzstaffel member Askin Nakk Le Vaar is featured on the cover for this volume, but doesn’t even get a single line of dialogue and barely appears. Weird! You’d think maybe Aizen in his prison bondage (oo-er) or Ukitake would have featured on the cover instead.

The volume ends with Yhwach gaining even more power while his men watch on, and Ichigo and friends, along with the Shinigami, getting ready for one last run at them.

So, unlike the previous volume which was great and had a well drawn fight take up most of it, this volume is a come-down after that, where the good guys and the bad guys re-collect into groups and then get separated, leading to an inevitable final showdown between the two of them in the last few volumes to come. As always it’s well drawn, even if there’s a lot of standing around and talking, but it comes with a few “huh?” moments surrounding the lead villain’s goals and an interesting twist with a much-loved Captain… that literally become irrelevant two or three chapters later. This may be the final calm before the storm, but it wasn’t as exciting as it should have been. More… mildly annoying.

Title: Bleach Volume 68
Publisher: Viz
Genre: Action, Adventure, Supernatural
Author(s): Tite Kubo
Type: Manga
Original vintage: 2015
Format: Book
Age rating: T
Length: 208 pages

Score: 5/10

UK Anime and Manga Christmas Gift Guide 2016

It’s currently [insert number found on this site] days to Christmas and you’re either in two camps; calm as a cucumber and ready for the big day whether you celebrate it or not, or stressing out because once again it’s the day everyone is pressured to give SOMETHING to someone and fulfil an unwritten Christmas law. We promise ever year we’d start sooner or worry less about spending as much money, but we never seem to learn the lesson.

But I’m here to say ‘don’t worry’; I have once again compiled a list full of ideas to fill your head and internet baskets up with. So put the kettle on, get comfy and open up those tabs as we get ready to cross off that Christmas list of yours!

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“I’m not made of money”
Gifts under £10

Just because you’re strapped for cash, doesn’t mean you can’t give the gift of anime or manga!

Many single volume manga fall safely into this: Tokyo Ghoul, The Ancient Magus’ Bride, Is It Wrong to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?, Attack on Titan, and much more. Introduce your loved one to a new series or get the latest volume they’re reading. Does a friend have a Kindle? They can purchase several manga omnibuses for a cheaper price, so why not get them a voucher?

Although TV series are hard to come by within this price bracket you can get the Bleach series in parts for cheap, if you’re unsure they want to dive right into a full set. Older, shorter series such as High School of the Dead sneak in here and can be a bloody surprise on Christmas Day. Even Supernatural: The Anime Series just makes it into this margin. But you’re more likely to find films for under a tenner; ranging from Makoto Shinkai’s Five Centimetres Per Second, to Mamoru Hosoda’s Summer Wars. Studio Ghibli’s Spirited Away just makes it in here too.

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“I suppose they were extra nice to me this year…”
Gifts £10 – £25

If you’re sold on getting them literature, omnibus manga is the way to go, especially for long-running series such as Tsubasa and Oh My Goddess! which can be a salary by themselves if you purchase them all. But there are also many other wonderful series to invest in; the collector’s editions of fan favourite Fruits Basket, the classic Astro Boy is out in bigger volumes, plus the Evangelion main series AND spin-offs have had the omnibus treatment. The murder mystery series Monster has all volumes out in the same format and vampire fans will love Dance in the Vampire Bund. In addition, you can grab some light novel collections, such as the yuri series Strawberry Panic in omnibus form, within this price bracket.

In terms of physical discs, a lot of newer series that are split into parts (television series for example) or are shorter in length can be purchased for this budget. The Devil is a Part Timer or part of Kill La Kill would make great little gifts. You can grab RWBY seasons 1 – 3 in steel book form for this price bracket, or DVD editions of Another and Elfen Lied if you happen to be buying for a horror fan.

For movies, Studio Ghibli has most of its library (including double play) within your budget but there’s also an eclectic variety of anime films from A Letter to Momo to The Empire of Corpses that shouldn’t be ignored. Got a friend who loves a nostalgia trip? The 30th Anniversary steel book edition of the original Transformers movie is the right way to go, or even the Pokemon movie collection to satisfy the 90s kid at heart.

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“I earnt it so I’m going to spend it!”
Gifts £25 – £50

Did a friend of yours go see Makoto Shinkai’s Your Name in cinemas and love it? Treat them to The Place Promised in Our Early Days/Voices of a Distant Stars twin pack. The Miss Hokusai Ultimate Edition would make a delightful surprise under the tree as well.

As for TV series, there’s loads of stunning Blu-ray collections to brighten up your friend’s faces for old and new shows. Just think how pleased they’ll be when they unwrap Chobits, the new Death Note complete collection, or Yurikuma Arashi on Christmas Day. You can’t go wrong with the new shinier collection of Cowboy Bebop as well, especially if they’re a veteran anime fan.

At the top end of the scale there’s also several limited editions to snag: Eden of the East, Assassination Classroom, Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo and Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun make it within this budget.

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“I’m making it rain!”
Gifts £50+

Got someone special who deserves the extra few pounds spent on them? Luckily in recent years the UK has been fortunate to receive special editions of many series.

The movie collection Garden of Sinners can be snagged for £60, whereas buying just one season of Fate/Stay Night UBW will set you back easily £70 if you’re going for the Blu-ray editions.

Anime Limited have lots of lovely special editions for those with the money to splash such as Aldnoah.Zero, Terror in Resonance and The Tatami Galaxy, just to name a few.

Taking another step up the price bracket is the Ultimate Blu-ray edition of Vision of Escaflowne; 760 minutes equals £100+. The full Blu-ray edition of Full Metal Panic has all 3 seasons for a similar price. If you really want to push the boat out, however, Fullmetal Alchemist fans can practically drool over the limited edition version of the 2003 classic anime, and that’s just for the bonus features written on the web page! It technically comes out on Boxing Day, but imagine how surprised they’ll be when they see this delightful set appear on their doorstep when they least expect it.

Don’t forget about manga; if single volumes or omnibus aren’t cutting it, you can grab many box sets of several long running series. Give someone a complete collection (e.g. Claymore, Death Note, Ouran High School Host Club) or the first push into a lengthier running story (Bleach, One Piece and more).

All prices are correct at the time of writing this article.
Have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from everyone at Anime UK News!

Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in A Dungeon? On the Side: Sword Oratoria Volume 1 Review


danmachi-on-the-side-sword-oratoria-volume-1Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?
(henceforth referred to by its Japanese abbreviation DanMachi) is one of my favourite light novel series, so when a spin-off series was licensed in the form of Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? On the Side: Sword Oratoria (henceforth known as Sword Oratoria) I was excited. I love this universe and the chance to experience it from the perspective of different characters was a welcome one. However, has this first volume managed to live up to my love of the main series?

Sword Oratoria focuses on the famous adventurer Aiz Wallenstein as the main character, someone that readers of the main DanMachi series will be familiar with. Aiz belongs to one of the most powerful Familia in the city, Loki Familia. This first volume takes place during the same time frame as the first DanMachi volume and starts off with Loki Familia’s expedition down to the deepest depths of the dungeon. The dungeon is where all adventurers go to battle against monsters to earn a living. This is the journey that eventually led to Aiz saving Bell from a Minotaur, which had gotten away from her while she was hunting a pack of them. Her encounter with Bell is one that we know changed his life significantly, but seeing it from Aiz’s perspective is also quite interesting.

The furthest we’ve been in the dungeon with Bell thus far (as of Volume 6) is down to around the 20th floor, so being able to go much further in with the Loki Familia group is a welcome change of pace. Author Fujino Omori openly admits that Aiz is too powerful a character to frequently use in DanMachi (she’d instantly save the day for Bell just by clicking her fingers) so giving her a series all of her own works out very well. Sword Oratoria gives Aiz the chance to take on enemies that are more suited to her level and fighting abilities. It also gives Omori the chance to write more about Loki Familia and spend some time with the characters we’ve come to know through DanMachi itself (like Loki and Bete).

Being the same author as the main series, Omori has the ability to freely overlap the Sword Oratoria and DanMachi plotlines. Thankfully the overlapping is kept to a minimum for this volume, which I feel is important because it allows a new story to develop. Aiz and Bell interact a lot more going forward in DanMachi, so one of my main concerns for Sword Oratoria is that portraying the same scenes as DanMachi could begin to feel redundant beyond being from Aiz’s prospective. Running Sword Oratoria alongside the main series also means that nothing of importance can happen that could impact on the main storyline, at least not until it catches up with the timeline of the latest volume.

I think Sword Oratoria is important to the DanMachi series as far as newcomers are concerned. While not everything is explained in as much detail as it was in the main series, stuff like Familia, levels, stats and the world are explained in enough detail that even if you’ve never watched the anime, or read the original books, you’ll still be able to slip into Sword Oratoria quite comfortably. It’s not just a good starting point, though, as veterans of the DanMachi series will find a lot to love here too. Omori has very obviously set out with the goal of exploring Aiz as a character and leaves various hints throughout the plot that Aiz wasn’t always the quiet, often emotionless girl we’ve come to know. Couple this idea with some impressive battles and we’ve matched the quality of DanMachi at its best – although I will confess that I do miss our usual dungeon exploring with Bell.

Omori has written Sword Oratoria from a third person perspective with the occasional jump to first person if Aiz has anything on her mind (which, admittedly, is rare), and his usual style of writing shines through in his detailed explanations of the world around the characters. This series has a new illustrator named Kiyotaka Haimura (he also provided illustrations for A Certain Magical Index) and the art on offer is really good. One of my favourite pieces is a two page spread dedicated to Aiz delivering the final blow to a high level monster, but the opening colour pages also depict this same battle with other members of Loki Familia and looks pretty cool in its own right.

While I have some concerns about the future of Sword Oratoria and the overlap and consistency it requires with the main series, I’m equally really excited by getting to spend some real time with Aiz. I’m not sure I’ve enjoyed my time with the first volume as much as I do DanMachi itself but I’d still highly recommend it to other fans of the series and newcomers alike. This is definitely a series to keep an eye on.

Title: Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in A Dungeon? On The Side: Sword Oratoria Volume 1
Publisher: Yen Press
Genre: Fantasy, Action, Comedy Romance
Author(s): Fujino Omori (author), Kiyotaka Haimura (illustrator)
Type: Light Novel
Original vintage: 2014
Format: Book (digital edition available)
Age rating: Teen
Length: 240 pages

Score: 9/10

The Perfect Insider Review

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Genius programmer Shiki Magata has been living in an isolation for 15 years on a solitary island after she murdered her parents and was judged to be mentally unsound. Professor of architecture Sohei Saikawa and his student Moe Nishinosono, a maths prodigy, take a vacation to the island to meet the convicted genius. However, when the two end up finding a corpse, they are caught up in a series of serial murders and must untangle a complex web of clues and events in order to identify the killer and how it connects to the events 15 years prior.

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Based on the Japanese novel Subete ga F ni Naru: The Perfect Insider, this anime adaptation from A-1 Pictures, the studio behind Sword Art Online, Your Lie in April and Aldnoah Zero, proves to be a competent mystery anime that has some interesting ideas that are marred by flaws in the overall execution.

Although I think I’d hesitate to call The Perfect Insider a boring show, one of the biggest problems the show has is in how it’s paced. At only 11 episodes long, it’s a little shorter than other single cour anime, most of which are around 12 or 13 episodes, however it still feels a little dragged out due to the very slow pacing. Not only are there almost two whole episodes of set-up before the first murder, which happens at the tail end of the second episode, the progression to solving the overall mystery feels pretty glacial. The overall gist of each episode after the murder is that Saikawa, Nishinosono and people from the research lab go around looking for clues, then when they find the clues, hypothesise about what the clue means in relation to the murder. The issue with this is that all the hypothesising rarely leads to any immediate advancement of identifying of the killer, and it just feels like the show is treading water. It’s very telling when a character in the sixth episode, more than halfway into the series, says “We haven’t even solved a single mystery yet”.

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As you might might expect from all the hypothesising, most of the show is taken up almost entirely with scenes of dialogue. Now, this isn’t inherently a bad thing, and despite what I’ve said about it up to this point, I actually found each episode to be quite engaging, and it certainly held my interest every episode until the end, but, with that being said, director Mamoru Kanbe (Series Director of Elfen Lied and Episode Director on anime such as Cardcaptor Sakura and Baccano!) probably could have done a little more to make these scenes more visually interesting. When it comes to dialogue-heavy anime, the benchmark will always be the ever popular Monogatari Series. As a franchise, it is almost entirely made up of scenes of dialogue between the characters, with some sparse scenes of action thrown in. Despite most scenes just being two people talking, it is never boring to look at for even a single frame, and it’s all the more interesting and engaging for it. Of course, it would be silly to want the unique and wacky visuals of something like Monogatari for a series that takes itself much more seriously like The Perfect Insider but Monogatari has really set my expectations high for how visually appealing something as mundane as dialogue scenes can be in the hands of the right director and studio, and this show just really doesn’t live up to that bar. Even if it was just more variety of camera angles or adding some interesting or distinct camera movement, it would have been an improvement over what we got. The way the dialogue scenes in The Perfect Insider are presented is perfectly functional, and the dialogue itself is still interesting, but I still can’t help but feel I wanted a little more out of it. Towards the end, there is one scene of dialogue that does exactly this (which I can’t discuss in detail because of spoilers) but even so, I can’t help but feel it’s too little, too late.

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As well as the story about the series of murders at the research facility, there is also a B plot that explores the backstory of Shiki Magata, set 15 years prior to the events set in current day, that shows her killing her parents, why she did it, and the aftermath. Even though it takes up a relatively small amount of time in each episode, this story definitely feels as if it could potentially put a lot of people off the series entirely. Without going too much into spoilers, it deals very directly with two incredibly taboo topics, and it’s very likely to make most people uncomfortable watching the series. This element of the show is introduced fairly early on, and it’s pretty blatant to see the direction in which it’s heading, so if you do feel uncomfortable with what you see, I’d advise you stop watching, because it only gets more extreme as the episodes progress. If like me, however, you aren’t so easily scared off by an anime trying to breach controversial subject matter, then there’s a good chance you might find this more involving than the mystery itself. Being a young genius, with mental capability well beyond her years makes Magata very interesting to watch and the show explores the character well considering just how little screen time this side of the plot actually gets, only taking up two or three minutes of each episode, usually at the end. In all honesty, I wouldn’t have been upset if this was the main story and all the mystery bit was more of an aside, as I almost always found these parts way more interesting than anything else in the show.

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Even though Magata is a great character with plenty of backstory and depth, the same unfortunately can’t be said for the rest of the cast. Protagonists Saikawa and Nishinosono are two very forgettable characters and don’t really get a lot in terms of development throughout the series, which is focused almost entirely on Magata. I wouldn’t say they’re totally bland, Saikawa in particular is quite intriguing, being pretty cold and calculating, but I don’t think it’s anything that I haven’t seen before. We do learn a bit about Nishinosono’s past, but ultimately I think it adds little to her character. There is something of a relationship between the two leads but it’s not very interesting and the two have very little chemistry. The blandness also extends to the supporting cast, although to an even worse degree, with not a single one of them having anything vaguely memorable or interesting about them in the least.

Famed studio A-1 Pictures handle animation for this series, and this is a pretty big departure from their usual fare. The majority of anime that A-1 produce tend to be very colourful and vibrant productions, like fantasy series Sword Art Online or The Seven Deadly Sins, even extending to their other works such as SaeKano and The iDOLM@STER, but The Perfect Insider is an incredibly subdued affair. Everything has a very washed out and desaturated look to it, and it’s certainly a look that suits the tone to a tee. It’s nice to see some variety from the studio, as a lot of their shows tend to look rather similar. I think that perhaps the best visuals in the show, however, aren’t in the actual show itself, but rather in the opening and closing. Both are incredibly unique, visually impressive, not to mention stylish. If any of the energy or style displayed in these opening and closing had made its way into the show itself, I think it really would have improved it a lot. The fantastic Opening and Ending are paired with equally fantastic music, with the opening song, ‘talking’ by KANA-BOON being infectiously catchy, and the ending song, ‘Nana Hitsuji’ by ScenarioArt being equally good. Even though I thought both Opening and Ending are great, I can’t help but feel that they don’t quite match the tone of the show, but they’re still enjoyable nonetheless. 

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Animatsu’s release of The Perfect Insider only contains Japanese audio with English subtitles, and the voice cast all give solid performances. Leading the show are Yasuyuki Kase (Bleach, Durarara x2, Code Geass), Ibuki Kido (Bladedance of the Elementalers, Pan de Peace!, Golden Time) and Atsumi Tanezaki (Terror in Resonance, Seraph of the End, High School Fleet) as Saikawa, Nishinosono and Magata respectively, with Kase probably being the best of the bunch, giving a convincing performance of someone very detached from the world. The series music is contributed by Kenji Kawai (who also scored Ghost in the Shell, Fate/Stay Night (2006) and Eden of the East) and I thought he did a great job. The use of music is fairly sparse, which only makes it more effective in context.

In Summary

Although it suffers from some pacing issues and some rather mundane presentation in places, The Perfect Insider is still a pretty solid mystery anime, although it’s definitely not one for the easily offended.

Title: The Perfect Insider - Complete Season Collection
Publisher: Animatsu
Genre: Mystery, Thriller
Studio: A-1 Pictures
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2015
Format: Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack (DVD version reviewed)
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles
Age rating: 15
Running time: 275 minutes

Score: 7/10

Streaming review of Yuri!!! On Ice, Episodes 1-8 (Crunchyroll)

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“Galocher – to kiss with tongues.”
“La galoche – an ice-skating boot.”
– Definitions from Petit Robert, France’s most popular dictionary.

It seems that in France ice skating and kissing go hand-in-hand (I know neither of those definitions involves hands, but it feels weird referring to it as “foot-in-mouth” because you keep accidentally thinking of “foot-and-mouth” which is a very different area), so perhaps many a French fujoshi and fudanshi may have been watching in awe last week when they (kind of) got what they finally wanted – a sports anime where the central characters were both gay and in a relationship, as indicated by what has probably become the most talked about scene in anime this year. But to reference another gay icon, Kenny Everett: “I’m giving away the plot! Go and see it – it’s all done in the best possible taste!” Let’s stick to the chronology before we get to the big moment.

The “Yuri” in the title is a bit confusing. Firstly, it is not “Yuri” as in “lesbian manga”, this is guys we are talking about – and it’s guys in the plural as there are two Yuris. The first is 23-year-old Japanese figure skater Yuri Katsuki (who for the purposes of this review we shall refer to as Yuri K.), who is pretty talented in his sport but recently has been in a slump. He doesn’t cope well under pressure and as a result has slipped down the rankings. The other Yuri is a Russian figure skater named Yuri Plisetsky (later referred to as Yurio), a 15-year-old with natural talent and a punk-like attitude. This is made clear at the end of one tournament when Yurio finds Yuri K. hiding in the gents, upset, and tells Yuri K. to quit the sport.

Yuri K. does unofficially leave figure skating, distancing himself from his coach and returning to his hometown where his family run an onsen. During this time, Yuri K.’s hero, 27-year-old Victor Nikiforov of Russia, wins his fifth consecutive Grand Prix Final. Yuri K. decides to visit his local skating rink, where he performs Victor’s winning routine in front of the rink’s owners (and his childhood friends) the Nishigori family. His performance is perfect, but there is one problem: the triplet children of the Nishigori family record Yuri K.’s performance, then post it online, and the whole thing goes viral.

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The fallout from this is pretty dramatic. While Yuri K. tries to relax in the family springs, he gets an unexpected visitor – Victor Nikiforov – who saw the clip and was so impressed that he demands to be Yuri K.’s new coach. As a result Victor moves in and makes the shock announcement that he is having an ‘off’ season. When the press track Victor down, Yurio then arrives on the scene and tries to take Victor back to Russia, because Victor has promised him that he would coach him for his senior debut. To sort out the problem, a contest is held at the rink and whoever does the best out of the two will be coached by Victor. Yuri K. wins with a routine based on the theme of “Eros”, and thus Victor does become Yuri K.’s coach, with both Yuris promising that they will win the next Grand Prix.

Thus Yuri K. and Victor begin their competition, facing off against fellow Japanese competitors and challengers from overseas. After qualifying to represent Japan in the Grand Prix, their first assignment is in China where Yuri K. is able to perform under huge pressure. Despite his nerves, he is able to skate wonderfully, to the delight of the crowd and Victor especially, which leads to the big scene referred to earlier, which occurs at the end of the seventh episode. After the end of his routine, Victor and Yuri K. rush to each other, arms open wide, and as a close-up indicates, with their lips very close together. However, just before you see anything, Victor’s arm blocks the sight of it, although the reactions of just about everyone watching the event in the stadium and at home seem to indicate that what actually happened was that these two guys kissed – and as if that is not enough, the next assignment will see the duo in Russia taking on Yurio.

Obviously the main talking point of Yuri!!! On Ice has been the kiss scene, but before we talk about this, let’s look at the ups and downs of the show so far. Dealing with the negative points to begin with – first, there is annoyingly little explanation of how figure skating works. One of the problems with sports anime is that it often covers sports that many people don’t know the rules to, and thus they have to explain what certain things are: this is down in Haikyu!! and more recently All Out!!, but Yuri!!! On Ice (which at least does come top in the list of the sports anime that overuse exclamation marks) don’t explain what all the fancy jumps are, which for me has always been one of the major put-offs of any of these sports in real-life. It would be nice if the show explained the scoring system or told you what a “Salchow” is – for anyone wondering, it’s a jump where you start off from the back inside edge off one foot.

Another issue comes from the fact that much of the time rather than getting on with the plot, you are seeing all the other competitors doing their routines, which again is a problem given the lack of explanation in some of the terminology. All you can really judge the characters by is their passion as explained in their internal monologue, and whether or not they fall down at any point. As a result, you kind of care less for some of the minor characters because often you don’t know what is going on.

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On the plus side, there is the overall quality of the animation, as well as the impressive soundtrack – not just the opening and closing music, namely “History Maker” by Dean Fujioka and “You Only Live Once” by Wataru Hatano – but also the incidental music, such as the tracks the skaters perform too. But for me, the main plus point is the diversity. Anime is often a closed shop when it comes to characters of different ethnic backgrounds, but Yuri!!! On Ice is able to make up for this. Not only is the central relationship between someone from Japan and someone from Russia, but we also have characters from China, Thailand, Switzerland, Canada, Italy, South Korea, Kazakhstan, the Czech Republic, and the main American skater is Hispanic. Perhaps this is not surprising given the director of the series, Sayo Yamamoto, is the same woman behind Michiko and Hatchin, which is set in Latin America.

If you want a more detailed argument, you are probably best reading the posts on the AUKN forums by our reviewer IncendiaryLemon, who dropped the series after six episodes, and editor Rui. I can assure you it is about ten minutes of your life you will never get back (sorry guys).

But now it is time to finally discuss the key moment. The one that has got so many people talking over the past week: the scene at the end of the seventh episode in which all the evidence suggests that Yuri K. and Victor kissed. If you look at some of the social media websites, in particular the more American-dominated ones like Tumblr, you will see post after post explaining how, even though you never actually see the kiss, it definitely happened.

You can see people drawing lines behind Victor’s arm showing that if it wasn’t there you would have clearly seen the two kissing each other; you can look at the claims that the reactions of everyone watching the moment are a clear indication that nothing other than a kiss would have proved that shocking; you can even examine the claims that the show references actual real-life gay figure skaters: namely footage of a young Victor shows him wearing the same outfit as Johnny Weir, an openly gay American skater who has reportedly faced much prejudice in his career, which I find amazing – in the sense of finding figure skating to be a homophobic sport, when it comes across as one of the glitziest, showy, camp sports around. These are people dressed in sparkly suits, dancing around and in Yuri K.’s case being taught by a ballet teacher. To a figure skating layman like me, if you were to ask me about homosexuality in figure skating, I would have said that I was less surprised that openly gay Weir was facing discrimination and more amazed at the fact that Torvill and Dean were married to each other. The only sport I can think of as being camper is an all-male cheerleading squad (I can’t watch Cheer Boys!! without regrettably sniggering).

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However, despite all this and all the support that this scene has, my reaction has been one of frustration. Part of this is partly due to my own background – I’m pansexual and have been in a long-distance relationship with a genderfluid American for six years, as of 1st December. As someone who is pansexual, a fudanshi, and a fan of all these sports anime that appeal to someone of my personal tastes, I’m frustrated at the fact you don’t see the actual kiss yourself, on screen. You go by everyone else’s reaction. Because you don’t see the kiss, you still have that tiny seed of doubt in your head that the kiss didn’t actually happen. I’m 99.999% sure the kiss did occur, but that 0.001% is horribly getting to me. I don’t want to go by what everyone else sees – I want to see what is actually going on, and share in the reaction of the characters at the same time as them.

One of the problems is the pressure to accept that the kiss just happened. Thanks to Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and the other social media outlets, you sometimes get the feeling that if you say that the kiss didn’t happen the immediate reaction is fans will accuse you of homophobia, or will say that you wouldn’t feel like that if it was a straight kiss or perhaps a lesbian kiss. One article I’ve read concerning Yuri!!! On Ice was on Anime Feminist where Amelia Cook writes:

“Since the episode aired I have seen raw, vulnerable reactions from LGBTQ+ fans openly stating how deeply it affected them to see queer subtext made text, how they hoped it would be seen by young people who aren’t yet old enough to feel comfortable with their identities, how much seeing such a moment would have meant to them at that age. Why on earth would anyone in our fandom actively seek to reduce such an impact?”

Well, maybe it is because of my age (I’m 30), or maybe it is because I’m British and our country has had a troubled history concerning gay rights – yes, we now have gay marriage, but it wasn’t until the 1960s that homosexuality was legalised; it wasn’t until 2003 when Section 28 which banned teaching anything positive about homosexuality in schools was finally lifted; in Northern Ireland there is a big row over a Christian bakery refusing to bake a pro-marriage cake for a gay couple, bringing up debates on gay rights and freedom of speech on both sides – but I don’t think we have reached that far yet. Yes, it has made a great impact, but the impact is still a little short for me. Mind you, in terms of gay rights we Brits are still further ahead than the home countries of the main characters. Japan only recognises same-sex partnerships in some areas and with no legal standing, while Russia’s negative attitude towards gay rights is pretty well known. Cook also writes:

“Victor’s arm obscuring where his lips meet Yuri’s cannot possibly be an artistic decision; either we see them kiss or there was no kiss. Disagree? Prove it. Never mind that obscuring a kiss is completely consistent with the show’s storytelling style so far, leaving deliberate information gaps and inviting viewers to read between the lines. Pics or it didn’t happen.”

I’m sorry, but I genuinely don’t think we’ve reached that point yet where simply implying that a gay kiss happened means the characters are certainly gay. That is a future step, the one beyond, that the next wave of anime might take us. But what Yuri!!! On Ice can do is take the next immediate step and actually show an on-screen kiss, uncensored, beyond all doubt, showing that these characters are definitely a gay couple. Now it should be highlighted that the eighth episode also features kisses, but one is of Yuri K. blowing a kiss to the judges, which, while not that romantic is certainly fun; and the other is another blocked-off kiss in which Victor kisses Yuri K.’s skating boot, which is not as exciting as flesh-on-flesh contact and thus not really any further indication of anything romantic – unless it turns out that Victor has some form of foot fetish.

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I wish to say that I bear no animosity towards anyone, in particular to Cook whose article makes many great points and I would urge people to read at their leisure. What I am trying to say is this: it is good that we seem to have a canon gay relationship in a relatively mainstream sports anime series and that these characters appear to kiss. It would be great if we could actually see those lips meet, for the characters to declare their love and their relationship openly, to rid my and indeed anyone’s mind of that 0.001% of doubt.

Let me put it this way: in a year that, let’s be honest, has been pretty shit for just about every decent human being concerned, one of the ways that I would definitely be cheered up would be to see Yuri K. and Victor do a kiss on screen. It doesn’t have to be a big kiss. It’s doesn’t have to be a galoche, it can be a simple peck. But I do want it to be one where I and everyone else in the 3D world can clearly see happening.

For me, personally, I would be ecstatic if I saw it. It would be for me, personally, not just the anime event, but the TV event of the year, because after years of being a fan of all these sports anime like Free!, Haikyu!!, Kuroko’s Basketball, DAYS, All Out!!, Cheer Boys!!, Yowamushi Pedal, Prince of Stride and so on, it would be great not to have to simply imply the characters are gay, but say that they definitely are, and that they love each other, no matter what hardships they may face.

Title: Yuri!!! On Ice
Publisher: Crunchyroll (streaming)
Genre: Shonen-ai, Sport
Studio: MAPPA
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2016
Format: Legal stream
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles
Running time: 200 minutes

Score: 8/10

Review of Scumbag Loser

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SAITEIHEN NO OTOKO -Scumbag Loser- vols 1, 2, 3 © 2012, 2013 Mikoto Yamaguti / SQUARE ENIX CO., LTD.

“Employee of the month is a good example of how somebody can be both a winner and a loser at the same time.” – Demetri Martin

Released as a single omnibus edition, horror manga Scumbag Loser is a series that seems hard to appreciate. Maybe this is the reason why Yen have released it as one large book rather than three separate volumes, because the overall feeling reading it is that if the volumes were individually released the chances of stopping after the first volume would be much greater.

Perhaps one issue it is has is the unappealing central character, the “scumbag loser” in question. Masahiko Murai is a high school student who is pretty lower down in terms of popularity in his class. The only positive quality he seems to have is that he has a very good sense of smell, but this is outweighed by the fact that the smells he likes are usually unappealing. For example, the first thing he is seen smelling is a pair of girl’s knickers.

Murai is also obsessed with people he considers to be losers and trying to prove that is above what he calls the “biggest losers”. In his class the biggest loser is the ugly and smelly Yamada, but things then suddenly change when Yamada announces that he has a girlfriend, which in Murai’s mind means that he is now the biggest loser, something that he cannot handle. Thus, he falsely claims to have a long-distance girlfriend, and picks the name Haruka Mizusawa, a girl he knew five years ago. But then, to his horror, he finds that Haruka Mizusawa has transferred to his class – and she does indeed claim that Murai is her boyfriend, completely unprompted. The reason why Murai is filled with horror? Mizusawa died five years ago.

After school, Murai and Mizusawa meet up. Murai asks Mizusawa to actually be his girlfriend, and promises that he will do anything to keep the relationship going. Mizusawa, who appears to have a sadistic streak complete with a menacing grin, demands that from now on she wants Murai to introduce her to the “biggest losers” that he knows every Wednesday. This then begins to snowball, partly because of Mizusawa’s disturbing personality, but also because the personalities of everyone in Murai’s class, as well as those of his family, start to change dramatically.

As stated, it is a hard manga to like, primarily because the characters are relatively unappealing. The manga is called Scumbag Loser for good reason. Murai is unpleasant and unattractive, while Mizusawa is manipulative. However, as a horror manga, unpleasantness is what you should expect. The best character in my view comes later on in the story. Yumi Ookura is a wannabe pop idol who auditions for an idol group whose manager wants unappealing members. In the case of Ookura, it’s that she has no social skills. She too also becomes obsessed with Mizusawa, who also auditions for the group.

However, there are some positives to this series, the main one being the artwork. Mikoto Yamaguti’s art is suitably creepy, especially when it comes to drawing Mizusawa’s toothy grin. It kind of puts you in mind of the Titans in Attack on Titan, in that you can almost envision her eating those she torments. Plus, this smile starts to spread towards other people, making it even creepier in its sudden uniformity.

Having said this though, sometimes the artwork is not so great. The “Mature” rating of Scumbag Loser mainly comes from the violence as there is a fair amount of blood spilt in this manga. Whenever there is nudity or a sex scene, what are seen as the rudest parts (i.e. the groins and the nipples) are always obscured – sometimes in odd ways. For example, there is a scene where Mizusawa and Ookura’s idol group entertain some fans sexually, so they have their buttoned-up shirts unfastened and opened so you can see part of their breasts, but not fully so the nipples are covered. However, at some angles it feels like the shirt is covering so little that you feel that the nipples are almost on the sides of the boobs rather than on the front.

Scumbag Loser is a hard manga to get through: the length, the characters, the plot make it a bit of a slog. The artwork in some areas does make it enjoyable, but sometimes when you are reading through the book it feels that it just isn’t worth it.

Title: Scumbag Loser
Publisher: Yen Press
Genre: Horror, Psychological
Author(s): Mikoto Yamaguti
Type: Manga
Original vintage: 2012
Format: Book
Age rating: 18
Length: 600 pages

Score: 4/10

Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D’s Season 2 Collection

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When we last left our duelling heroes, the signers had overcome their differences, united and saved the world from certain destruction. Old rivalries mutually fizzled into friendships, lost characters found their true homes and every plot thread from the beginning was neatly tied in a bow. For all intents and purposes, the ending of Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D’s Season One was a perfect conclusion to the series as a whole. Given the commercial nature of the franchise however, the show must go on! Can Yusei find another reason to start up his Duel Runner and continue to play card games on motorcycles though?

The short answer is, unfortunately, no. Picking up months after the Dark Signers’ defeat, years of social inequality have come to an end with the construction of the Daedalus Bridge, connecting the once divided New Domino City and Satellite – where we now find our main heroes. Yusei, Jack and Crow spend their days renting an apartment and tinkering with their card-clad bikes in hopes of entering the World Racing Grand Prix, a team turbo duelling tournament.

Despite the obvious set-up, the second season of Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D’s almost feels afraid to commit to the event, with over twenty-five episodes passing between its first mention and the competition actually starting. The interim time is largely spent on smaller episodic stories like Jack trying to hold down a job and Yusei teaching Akiza how to ride a Duel Runner; cute stories that could be entertaining relief during larger arcs, but just come across as delay tactics here. This suspicion is intensified when our new villains start to make their move, which is at a snail’s pace and involves schemes that are frankly bizarre even for Yu-Gi-Oh! – I mean, an army of duelling robots? Frankly, it makes me wonder whether the writers actually knew what their new end-game was and were simply biding time until they figured it out.

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If you hadn’t picked up on it already, the pacing is all over the place; some arcs start so abruptly that I even had to check that I wasn’t watching discs out of order! Just when it was looking like the World Racing Grand Prix was upon us, with character introductions and even an opening ceremony, another series of standalone episodes followed, before Yusei found himself plucked from the city and into the faraway, western-themed Crash Town! Now, the Crash Town arc isn’t bad – it’s actually an enjoyable story of redemption, but its placement just strikes me as very unusual.

A plus side to the smaller, standalone episodes however, is that they gave the perfect opportunity to develop some characters who really needed a bit of a push without the distraction of an overarching narrative. It was nice to see Yusei and Akiza able to interact in a more relaxed environment, especially as the series continues to not-so-subtly tease that there may be romantic feelings.

The character who benefits the most from this extra attention though, is easily Jack Atlas. Initially introduced as a duelling celebrity in opposition to Yusei, Jack has since abandoned his glamorous lifestyle to live with his former rival, Crow, in the Satellite. Old habits die hard though and a lot of the series’ funnier moments stem from his struggles with the new reality – such as arguments with Crow over his $30-a-cup coffee habit. Jack is also given plenty of opportunities to show off his more redeeming qualities too; like when he takes responsibility for accidentally jeopardising an undercover investigation by bringing down a gang of smugglers himself. These instances would fuel me to respect Jack more, something Seto Kaiba sorely lacked in the original Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Monsters anime.

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From a production standpoint, the second season of Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D’s is largely identical to the first, right down to the occasional card misidentification in 4Kids’ English dub (the only language option on this release). The casting and performance of the voice actors is a strong point, with the exception of Eileen Stevens as the turbo duellist Sherry LeBlanc, whose awful attempt at a French accent sounds more like an impersonation of Arnold Schwarzenegger! (I don’t know who decided that the French sound Austrian either).

It is worth noting that due to 4Kids Entertainment skipping some episodes for a multitude of reasons (commonly attributed to low ratings and a need to push out Yu-Gi-Oh! ZeXal), a total of thirty episodes aren’t included in this release – including the entirety of the final story arc, effectively making this the end of Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D’s in the West (unless you watch the missing episodes in their original Japanese on Crunchyroll).

After a first season that still stands up as one of the best Yu-Gi-Oh! instalments to date, it is disappointing to report that this follow-up doesn’t live up to its predecessor’s legacy. With it struggling so much to find its feet after such a perfect finale, perhaps this serves as an example of why stories shouldn’t exceed their natural lifespan.

Title: Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's Season Two
Publisher: Manga Entertainment
Genre: Shonen, Card Game
Studio: Gallop
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2009
Format: DVD
Language options: English dub audio only
Age rating: PG
Running time: 1298 minutes

Score: 5/10

The Place Promised in Our Early Days / Voices of a Distant Star Twin Pack Review

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Makoto Shinkai is currently known as the director of 2016’s biggest Japanese animated film, Your Name. But many years prior he was a beloved director of shorter, more unconventional pieces, originally starting out as a one-man production powerhouse – doing everything from the storyboards and animation to even voice acting – with only a few movies to his name. Back in 2013 Anime Limited announced they had licensed his earliest work, Voices of a Distant Star and The Place Promised in Our Early Days, as a Blu-ray and DVD combo, however it was subjected to numerous delays. It probably wasn’t planned at first, but its eventual release conveniently falls just after Your Name comes to UK cinemas, ready to satisfy newly-made Makoto Shinkai fans eager to see where his anime filmmaking skills started. This is the first time that both of these films are available in the UK in Blu-ray format.

Voices of a Distant Star is his earliest commercially available work; an OVA written, directed and produced by Makoto Shinkai telling the story of two teenagers whose relationship is torn apart when school girl Mikako is recruited into the UN Space Army to pilot a mecha against an alien race called the Tarsians, whereas Noboru stays on Earth and continues his education. The pair attempt to keep in contact via cell phones, with Mikako sending her friend texts from the battlefield, but as she travels deeper into space, the time it takes for her messages to reach him become impossibly further away.

The OVA is 25 minutes long so does not go into great detail about when the war come about, how Mikako learnt to pilot the mecha or why the aliens are as they are, but in this instance it does not matter. The OVA focuses on the main characters’ relationship with the themes of long distance communication and the loneliness it creates. Like the war backdrop, we do not see the full journey of Mikako and Noboru’s relationship but their simple interactions and emotions resonate clearly. The pair have a few intimate moments and clearly defined character motivations so it’s heart breaking to see the pair yearn for each other from a vast distance. Even if you haven’t experienced a long distance relationship you can empathise with Mikako as she chokes up realising that her simple message will take years to reach Noboru. It’s also refreshing to have a female as the mecha pilot fighting in the war and the male waiting for her to come home whilst staring at his phone, praying for it to ring – it proves that such emotions are universal, regardless of gender.

A premise such as that of Voices of a Distant Star could have easily drifted into Evangelion territory with a traumatised pilot, or even contained She the Ultimate Weapon melodramatic vibes but it avoids them both beautifully. Mostly because of the restricted running time but also at the end of the day, although they miss each other, they have to keep going. Mikako doesn’t stop fighting in the war because of her lost love, nor does Noboru grow old without moving on with his life; it’s a tragic but relatable tale.

Originally released back in 2002; visually it hasn’t aged well, and not because it’s in 4:3. The backgrounds are gorgeous, especially when we’re shot into space with Mikako, and the planet designs are unique too, but the characters themselves, especially in the facial department, are uneven and bland. The 3D is especially bad in places with the mecha units themselves most guilty of it. Harsh criticism considering Makoto Shinkai did it all by himself, but I will say that the little action we do see is choreographed well, and there are far worse looking anime out there with longer time frames and bigger budgets.

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The second movie of the combo pack, which is more prominent on the packaging, is The Place Promised In Our Early Days, which takes place in an alternative timeline where Japan has been divided after the second world war, with Hokkaido taken by ‘the Union’ to conduct experiments inside a mysterious tower built so high into the sky that it captures the interest of three teenagers: two boys Hiroki and Takuya, and a girl named Sayuri. The two boys are planning on building a plane and flying to the tower themselves to see what’s beyond it, but their plans are halted for three years when Sayuri suddenly disappears. Where she went holds the key to what’s going on in the mysterious tower.

This is Makoto’s first feature-length film that actually has many elements from Voices of a Distant Star all the way to his latest work Your Name, and its fascinating to see how his ideas have developed over time and been refined in latter works. Place Promised is clearly his very first attempt at a feature-length however as there are a lot of pacing issues and ideas that feel like separate mini-films tacked on into one. The opening act focuses on the relationship between the three teenagers; first the two boys who have been friends for ages, then the girl tagging along for the summer of 1996 where their relationship blossoms. Understandably it’s important to develop the relationship considering how central it is to the plot, however this act does drag and it doesn’t help that the characters themselves are all quite similar in looks (all sporting young faces and the same shade of brown hair) and more importantly, similar in personalities – idealistic, hardworking and rather bland overall. There are no big emotional outbursts or variety in character traits to help divide the group up; it’s easy to confuse the boys especially with each having their own intimate scene with Sayuri in the past. Even in the latter scenes when the stakes are higher, the three characters fail to really express much emotionally to drum their turmoil and character into the audience’s hearts.

Like Voices of a Distant Star, Place Promised has a rich history and an impending war threatening the relationship between the three characters that the film either glosses over, rushes out via technobabble, or leaves for the audience to look it up with Google. However, in Place Promised the lack of information actually hurts the film, especially in the second half when it starts to take over the main conflict of the film and directly affects the three teenagers. You could get away with this if the backdrop and main science fiction elements were simplified but sadly this film takes place in an alternative timeline, where parts of Japan have been split and owned by different parts of the world that’s not explained in the film itself, then there’s a terrorism conspiracy plot going on in the back ground and the scientists in the tower have their own plan of exploring the concept of parallel worlds. The parallel worlds idea is a fascinating one which is hinted in the easy-breezy opening act mostly via Sayuri, but doesn’t feel fully realised within Place Promised itself; they hint at multiple different ‘dreams’ existing at one time, and yet we’re restricted to just the two we’re shown in film. It feels like a wasted opportunity. Elements of people existing and being connected in different realities is thankfully explored again in Makoto’s Your Name, with far better results, but in Place Promised a lot of the film ends up being either a drag or half baked.

The animation for Place Promised shares Voices of a Distant Star’s stunning backgrounds but thankfully steps up the animation budget; everything is visually more fluid and brighter in colour, and despite the characters all suffering from very similar faces and hair colours/styles, they’re better drawn and animated compared to his previous short.

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Although it’s not advertised in the Blu-ray’s packaging there’s actually another Makoto Shinkai short in here; She and Her Cat, a five-minute short that he developed completely by himself aside from the score and the female voiceovers. Originally released back in 1999 it tells the simple story of a year in the life of a male cat and the relationship with his female owner. It’s a simple yet sweet tale and really worth a watch; even in five minutes you can see how much work Makoto put into it and his writing talent shines through. I wish, however, that there was an English dub for it; some of the subtitles go by fast but pausing breaks the poetic nature of the piece.

The short can be found in the extras menu; alongside alternative Japanese audio for Voices of a Distant Star with Makoto voicing the main male character, plus storyboards and a trailer collection. For Place Promised there’s a trailer collection alongside interviews with the Japanese cast of the three main protagonists. There are also two interviews with Makoto talking about the production of the films separately.

The Voices of a Distant Star and The Place Promised in Our Early Days Blu-ray combo is an important collection whether you’re a long-term fan or new to Makoto Shinkai’s work. It’s fascinating to see how Makoto’s vision, unfiltered by bigger budgets and studios, unfolds on screen, and know that all the hard work he put into them brought him into the limelight we see him in now. The films are not perfect by any means but they are clearly the result of one man’s hard work and joy for the medium regardless of the obstacles he had to overcome to create them. This a collection to pick up if you’re a film buff, Makoto fan, have a curiosity for anime production or all of the above.

Title: The Place Promised in Our Early Days / Voices of a Distant Star
Publisher: Anime Limited
Genre: Sci-fi, Mecha, Drama,
Studio: CoMix Wave Studios
Type: Movie
Original vintage: 2002
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: 116 minutes

Score: 7/10

Nobunaga the Fool Part 2 Review

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Episodes 14-24  

The warriors of the Western and Eastern Star battle on to determine who will be the Saviour King to rule them all and to bring about the coming of the Holy Grail. Jeanne Kaguya d’Arc, cursed on the Western Star for hearing voices and being a witch, has fled to the Eastern Star with Leonardo da Vinci and allied herself with Oda Nobunaga. But after Jeanne is captured by her onetime Western Star compatriots, Nobunaga sets out to win her back. King Arthur sends the mighty Alexander and his forces to attack the Eastern Star and Nobunaga finds himself on the losing side. Jeanne begins to doubt whether he really can be her Saviour King after all…could he be the King of Destruction instead?

Another (not entirely dissimilar in concept) anime Drifters has just begun streaming, also featuring Oda Nobunaga among other famous warriors taken from history but adopting a more Berserk-influenced, grimdark tone – and playing with its illustrious cast with much more imagination than in this anime.

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The character designs are attractive and the concept of pitting heroes from Western and Eastern history and mythology against each other is, if not very original, intriguing. So why doesn’t Nobunaga the Fool work? The glaring problem is the writing. The characters may look attractive but they are one-note and impossible to relate to (except, possibly, the conflicted Mitsuhide). They spout wooden dialogue. And the US dub is much, much worse than the subtitles; Clint Bickham usually turns in a better script than this. I hoped, as the action shifted to the Western Star, that with the introduction of new characters, such as Alexander, Cesare (Borgia, not to be confused with Caesar) and Machiavelli (female), matters might improve, but they are just Villains. They are Bad.

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The writers also seem to have it in for Jeanne d’Arc who is subjected to some unnecessarily gratuitous torture scenes (hence, I guess the 15 rating). Jeanne could have been an interesting, multi-layered, proactive warrior, but here she’s just the voluptuous poor victim girl, whose main role seems to be needing to be rescued. (The project that this was a part of also spawned a play and – apparently – an online novel in Japan. You have to hope that more care was lavished on the writing, especially the dialogue, for these than on the anime.)

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So, if the characters are mostly unlikable cyphers, what about the famous mecha? Again, the CGI (used for the mecha battles) combines uneasily with the 2D backgrounds and character designs. And it’s hard to care about the outcomes of the mecha duels when the characters inside the machines come across as little better than machines themselves. If only as much care had been lavished on the script as on the colourful artwork for stills and landscapes.

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New Opening Theme “Breakthrough” by JAM Project sounds too bland for a series about warriors battling inside giant mecha with a deeply inappropriate tinkly intro which also features on the menu and sounds more suited to a romantic comedy. (Check out the brilliant OP for Drifters “Gospel of the Throttle (Kyouhon REMIX ver.)” by Minutes Til Midnight to see how it should be done.) New Ending Theme: “RAN” (蘭; Orchid) by ASUKA is quite inoffensive but, again, just not right.

Extras comprise textless Opening and Closing songs and four trailers.

In Summary

I had hopes – given the involvement of Original Creator Shoji Kawamori (Vision of Escaflowne, Aquarion) – that this series might improve in the later episodes, but this is not the case. Perhaps if I had been unaware of his involvement, the expectations might not have been so high and the resulting disappointment less great.

Title: Nobunaga the Fool Part 2
Publisher: MVM Films
Genre: Action, Drama, Mecha
Studio: Satelight
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2014
Format: Blu-Ray and DVD (DVD version reviewed)
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 15
Running time: 300 minutes

Score: 4/10

Outlaw Star – The Complete Series (Blu-ray)

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Outlaw Star is a beloved classic, though is often lost in the haze of better known series of similar genre (like Cowboy Bebop, most commonly), but now the series has been cleaned and beautifully restored onto Blu-ray, is it worth revisiting?

Before we get to that, a little history. Outlaw Star started off life as a manga series published in Ultra Jump from 1996-1999, where as the anime was made and broadcast in Japan in 1998. Here in the UK it debuted on short-lived TV channel CNX, where it was sadly paired and aired directly after the afore-mentioned Cowboy Bebop in an hour block, thus causing a lot of people to view it far more harshly than it warranted at the time. It has been released a few times on DVD, but it goes without saying that its never looked this good before!

The story is pretty standard fare, with a lot of familiar character types, set in the old space frontier setting. Cool, laid-back gunslinger Gene Starwind and his smart and sarcastic child sidekick, Jim Hawking, run a small business taking odd jobs for people, and end up doing a job for notorious space pirate “Hot Ice” Hilda. After a fight with some local pirates they end up in possession of not only a new experimental starship (which they dub “the Outlaw Star”), but shy and awkward bio-android Melfina, who integrates with the ship and controls its navigation directly. They find out that the ship’s true purpose is to find the “Galactic Leyline”, a place that is said to hold immense treasure, or power, or knowledge… or all three!

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Gene, Jim and Melfina begin to travel the stars and soon add silent kimono-wearing assassin “Twilight” Suzuka and dumb and obnoxious but strong catgirl Aisha Clanclan of the alien race known as the Ctarl-Ctarl to their travelling roster. In their travels they come up against several recurring foes, including suave bounty hunter and killer Ronald MacDougall and his narcissist younger brother Harry, a group of assassins known as the Anten Seven which is lead by Darth Vader wannabe Lord Hazanko, and bold and obsessed scientist Nguyen Khan. Not to spoil too much, but all these plotlines and characters converge in the last few episodes, and it really pays off to see all these individual elements get together in search for the prize.

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The episodes themselves are often really good, self-contained stories, and at only 26 episodes long, it doesn’t overstay its welcome; even a comedy side-step episode revolving around a hot spring planet is actually funny, especially in the English dub (I’ll get to that in the bit). As I alluded to in the above paragraphs, a valid criticism would be that the characters remain vague cookie-cutter character types and never really develop any personalities or backstory. Thankfully, the episodes are often well written enough that you don’t mind the rather predictable personalities because you’re enjoying the story unfolding, or just the general interaction between such … straightforward and contrasting personalities.

Something that is unique on the other hand is the space battles. Now they do contain your normal missiles and lasers, but the ships, including the Outlaw Star itself, have grappler arms on them and often get into weird tests of strength with each other, or rip bits off with them. Now, I don’t know why this became a thing in this universe, but it makes for exciting and interesting space battles at least!

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Now there have been a few allusions to Cowboy Bebop, but I’m happy to say they share another thing in common and that’s a great English dub. Not many shows would have this in their review, but each member of the show’s roster is really well cast, the acting is great and the script is sharp. As someone who often (though not always) ends up watching anime in Japanese and subtitled, I think the English voice cast add a lot to the feel and atmosphere and I would recommend it to be viewed this way, though obviously the set includes the Japanese dub with subtitles, should you disagree.

The opening is an exciting tune named “Through the Night” by Masahiko Arimachi, while the first 13 episodes have “Hiru no Tsuki” by Arai Akino as their ending, whereas the second half have “Tsuki no Ie”, also by Ms. Akino. The actual background music is very memorable and catchy, and was composed by Kow Otani, a man who has worked on such properties as Godzilla, Gundam and the classic game Shadow of the Colossus.

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Getting to the set itself, it’s a lovely looking box filled with a nice-looking 100-page artbook. The on-disc extras range from the normal clean openings and closings, some design galleries, TV ads and, most interestingly, the “pilot film”, which is actually a two minute promo with footage that never ended up being used when the series went into production proper (including Jim seemingly having a weird pink rabbit hanging around with him, which I guess was dropped entirely!) The picture quality is outstanding, clearly restored carefully with the original film print. With some anime you can’t really see the difference between the formats (apart from blocky subtitle text!) but this is a proper HD makeover.

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So, now it’s free of the shadow of Bebop (he says after referencing it a dozen times…), does Outlaw Star stand on its own feet in 2016? Yes and no; a lot of the characters are very shallow and beyond Gene, most don’t get any development at all, just staying within their character archetype, but the actual story-telling is top-notch, as is the animation and the soundtrack, plus it has a top-class English dub, along with the by-no-means-poor Japanese original. It won’t take you on an emotional journey of self discovery, but it will keep you entertained and keep a smile on your face for 26 episodes straight. That’s a feat a lot of shows have failed to pull off, regardless of what decade they come from.

The box looks good on a shelf, and the show looks great on your TV. If you’re a fan of the show already, then this is the best available version of it. If you’re looking for a fun ride that doesn’t outstay its welcome, then I recommend you put your money down and enjoy Outlaw Star.

Title: Outlaw Star - Complete Blu-Ray Box
Publisher: Anime Limited
Genre: Space Western, space opera, science fantasy
Studio: Sunrise
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 1998
Format: Blu-Ray
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 12
Running time: 650 minutes

Score: 9/10