HaNaYaMaTa Review

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Naru Sekiya is a terminally average 14 year old, with average intelligence, athleticism and talents. She had hoped everything would change when she started middle school, and her life would start to reflect the fairy tales she had grown to love, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Her average life suddenly changes, however, when she has a chance encounter with a mysterious blonde girl dancing on top of a shrine gate. Naru assumes this girl is a fairy, but it turns out she is Hana, a regular girl and a transfer student from America, who has fallen in love with Yosakoi, a type of dance, and intends to start her own club!

Adapted from the ongoing manga series by Sou Hamayumiba, HaNaYaMaTa is a Slice of Life anime from Madhouse, the studio behind such mega popular hits as No Game No Life and Death Note. Despite its modest popularity, I’d have to say that this show simply has to be one of the finest examples of a Slice of Life show I’ve ever seen.

If I had to describe HaNaYaMaTa in a single word, it would definitely be charming. The show just oozes charm from every facet of its production, from the cast of characters to the music, but where you’ll notice it almost instantly is in its art style and animation. Madhouse is one of my absolute favourite animation studios, not only due to the consistent quality of their output but because of the sheer variety of genres they tackle. Whether it be a gritty crime thriller like Monster, an over-the-top comedy like One Punch Man, or a long-running shounen like Hunter x Hunter, Madhouse is a studio which absolutely refuses to be pigeonholed, and manages to knock it out of the park no matter what kind of show they’re making, a trend which continues with HaNaYaMaTa. From beginning to end, the show looks absolutely gorgeous, and demands to be seen in high definition. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention the fairly unique but still cute character designs by Atsuko Watanabe, which help HaNaYaMaTa stand out from its peers.

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Whilst it looks brilliant, the animation is far from the only fantastic thing about HaNaYaMaTa, with it having one of the best cast of characters I have seen in a Slice of Life show for a very long time. With the majority of school club shows, the characters can come off as rather one-note, and can be lacking the depth found in more plot-driven shows. For the most part, I don’t really have a problem with this, seeing as the focus of a lot of these shows is often the comedy and the chemistry of the characters. Despite this, however, writer Reiko Yoshida, the scriptwriter behind several episodes of one of my all-time favourite series, K-On, as well as K-On The Movie, Girls Und Panzer and Non Non Biyori, does away with Slice of Life norms, devoting a hefty chunk of the running time to fleshing out the rather small cast of characters and giving them all personal conflicts that they work through over the course of series. Whilst the central conflict is about Naru trying to find a sense of self-worth, the show devotes episodes to developing the other characters too, and covers a variety of issues such as parental relationship issues and jealousy, and it makes the characters feel so much more real, relatable and ultimately more likable. It’s also through these developed characters that the friendship between everyone in the Yosakoi club also feels much more natural, with everyone relying on each other in their times of need. If I did have one complaint, it’s that Machi, the last girl to join the club, joins a little bit later than I’d have liked. By the time she appears, there are only a handful of episodes left, and it didn’t feel like she spent enough time with the group.

Despite the fact that it does deal with some fairly serious issues with its characters, that doesn’t stop HaNaYaMaTa from being an incredibly cheerful and happy show, that never failed to make me smile. Whilst this is due in part to some very well done comedy moments that got a good amount of laughs out of me throughout, mostly because of Hana and her boundless energy, it also has this unfathomable quality to it, that just made me feel overwhelmingly happy. I know it sounds silly, but I couldn’t help but sit there with a huge grin on my face throughout the majority of the show, and that’s something truly special.189

Manga’s release of HaNaYaMaTa includes both an English dub as well as the original Japanese audio. Whilst I think the cast do a serviceable job, I found the dub to be a little bit subpar. There are some good performances to be found here such as Luci Christian as Hana (Azumanga Daioh, Is This a Zombie?, Clannad) and Molly Searcy as Sari (Fate/Kaleid liner Prisma Illya, Girls Und Panzer, Brynhildr in the Darkness) but it is let down by some occasionally wooden voice acting. Whilst I don’t think it’s awful, and should be enough to please people who prefer dubs, I think I’d recommend the Japanese voice track. The original soundtrack is composed by monaca, who has also provided music for shows such as Wake Up Girls and My Teen Romantic Comedy Snafu,  and who has created a superb score that complements the show well. The opening is “Hanaha Odori Reya Iroha ni Ho” by Team HaNaYaMaTa, a group consisting of the seiyuus of the main cast, and is honestly one of the best openings that I’ve heard in a long time, being relentlessly catchy and will be lodged in my head for weeks to come.

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In terms of special features, this release is pretty standard, including a clean OP and ED as well as trailers for other Sentai Filmworks releases.

In Summary

HaNaYaMaTa is wonderful in every meaning of the word, having an excellent cast and beautiful animation, which makes it an absolute must for any Slice of Life fan, and, even if you’re not, is still well worth checking out.

Score: 9/10

Anime Quick Information

  • Title: HaNaYaMaTa Complete Collection
  • UK Publisher: Manga Entertainment
  • Genre: Slice of Life, Drama
  • Studio: Madhouse
  • Type: TV series
  • Year: 2014
  • Running time: 300 minutes

Retro Anime: Genki interviews Roberto Bottazzi about his Kickstarter project

Retro Anime Interview 

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Anime has become a global phenomenon over the last decade thanks in part to the internet and the way it has made things increasingly available but many fans consuming the latest titles on Crunchyroll are only watching the latest series airing in Japan and remain unaware of the long history of the industry and the many titles that built it. There are still huge gaps in terms of our knowledge about titles from the 1960s and earlier but one man, Roberto Bottazi, an Italian living in the UK, wants to uncover every animated feature and short made in Japan from the early 20th Century to the mid-1960s. He has written a book and is finalising a Kickstarter project which will be launched in September. This project will allow backers the chance to own a book that he hopes will provide the most comprehensive list of pre-1960s anime available in the English language. Here, he answers a number of questions:

Genki: Tell us a little about your background?

Roberto: I’m Italian, originally from the region known for Parma ham, Parmigiano reggiano, tortelli, Lambrusco, balsamic vinegar. I ran a forum back in 1994 about Japanese films/OAVs available in Italian language. The aim was to discover everything not commercially available for nostalgic purposes.

Genki: What is the first anime you watched?

Roberto: This is a difficult question. Like most of the Italian people I watched many because when I was young there were dozen of Japanese series on TV. I remember having watched hours of those series every single day! It was possibly Heidi, one of the first anime broadcast in Italy in 1978.

Genki: Your book is about retro anime but how do you define retro anime and what was the first retro anime you watched?

Roberto: I think it depends on who you’re asking this. What can be really considered “retro”?
Let’s talk about Cat’s Eye (1983-1985). For some people this could be definitely considered “retro”, but not for me. So then, if you consider 1983 as a “retro” year, how would you describe something from 1960 or before? Let’s say my first “old” anime was the first Kimba series (made in 1965), but at the time of watching it was the year 1977, so I don’t know if this reply to your question!
To me “retro” is definitely everything before my birth, so this book is really in topic!

Genki: What inspired you to make this book? Was there a particular incident or film or creator that made you think you had to document the history of anime?

Roberto: To be honest, I started this book as a personal list, because I found interesting to have a proper list of all those mostly unknown shorts. The problem was, the list was getting bigger and bigger, I didn’t expect to find so many titles, especially before the Second World War, so it was a real surprise and, at the same time it was a real challenge. I think that everything in the book had to be documented.

Genki: You have a preview page on your website, is this going to be the format and page layout used on every page or will there be other styles?

Roberto: The list layout will be basically the same, but I’m planning on adding some colour to the page’s background.

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Genki: What makes your book unique?

Roberto: I could be wrong, but I believe that this book is possibly the first chronological list available in the world (well, at least in the western world) covering Japanese production from the beginning.

Genki: How long did it take you to make the book?

Roberto: I started it four years ago and I’m still working on it every moment I can but it’s mainly for some small fixes here and there rather than big changes. It was a very big challenge!

Genki: How comprehensive is the list of films and what are the time periods you cover?

Roberto: The first official title was made in 1917 and I planned to cover everything until 1969. I think this is the most comprehensive list you’ll ever find about the roots of Japanese animation!

Genki: What sources did you use to research the book? Did you need the help of native Japanese speakers?

Roberto: Several sources. Well, of course the internet helped me a lot. Or maybe not because information is scarce in some cases and it was really a pain to figure everything out and put all the pieces together. Then DVDs, contacts around the world, I also bought some Japanese books, but unfortunately I don’t know Japanese, so I needed the help of a friend of mine who runs the Kotatsu Japanese Animation Festival in Cardiff. I cannot thank her enough.

Genki: How widely available is retro anime in Japan and the West and has the internet made a difference?

Roberto: Everything made in black and white to me represents history and I think it’s very important to have a proper list of all the titles that built the Japanese animation industry which has become so important in the world. The National Film Center in Tokyo is still recovering and restoring shorts, but if you don’t live there it is unlikely you will have the chance to see them unless you travel. Fortunately, there are some DVDs printed, so it’s possible to track down something to buy on Japanese shops or auctions.

Genki: How much retro anime has yet to be discovered?

Roberto: Most of the titles are still in a reference list, with no evidence of an existing copy, sometimes even without evidence of the director’s name. It may be impossible to know exactly what and how much is missing.

Genki: What was the most rewarding anime to research?

Roberto: After a rough draft of the list (more or less 600 titles) every single title added later was a reward, because I knew I found another piece of information to improve the list and make it more comprehensive!

Genki: Are there any foreign influences you explore such as Disney?

Roberto: We cannot talk about animation without Disney. It isn’t be a secret that even Osamu Tezuka was deeply influenced by Disney. To me Walt Disney was the master, the man that influenced the entire world, not only Tezuka. He changed a lot the way that animation should be made but I didn’t put any detail about him in the book as I preferred to be more focused about Japanese animators.

Genki: What do you think is the general perception of classic anime in the west and in Japan?

Roberto: I think it depends heavily on the culture of the country. For example, in Italy we had the boom of Japanese animation in the eighties but there isn’t really a reason for this. I mean the first anime in Italy were screened like a test, to see if people liked a particular kind of product. In 1978, we had Heidi and Ufo Robot Grendizer. These appeal to different audiences but were both massive hits especially if you consider that they had their theme songs made exclusively for Italy so they also sold a lot of 7 inch vinyls for the Italian market. After that, it seems like every channel wanted to compete with the others, so try to imagine after a couple of years we had something like 20/25 different series to choose from. Every anime had its own Italian song which meant more vinyls, LPs toys, every kind of merchandise. Young people went crazy for Japanese cartoons. It was more or less the same in Europe, France, Spain and Germany.

We cannot say the same for Britain. Of course they had their own cartoons, so I think that at the time TV and sponsors were pushing for British animation, perhaps because they didn’t need to dub them! However, television channels in the USA were more keen than those in the UK to broadcast Japanese animation during eighties with anime like Macross, Gatchaman, Starblazer on television screens…

Genki: You plan to take this book to Kickstarter to raise money. Why do you think this is an ideal platform to get this book published and will you accept money from other sources such as Paypal?

Roberto: I really hope so! Of course I can accept money from other sources, as long as this could help me to reach my goal and see finally my project finished!

Genki: What sort of audience do you envision buying this book?

Roberto: Apart from researchers, this book would be more interesting for forty and fifty years old, as I think the nature of the subject is related to the period you’re born. But I really hope there are some young guys and gals out there interested in this Japanese phenomenon that want to dig into this mysterious and rather obscure past!

Genki: What is your target for Kickstarter?

Roberto: I’m in contact with some printers and I’m still thinking about different merchandise that can be given to backers as rewards but I would like to focus mainly on the book itself, that’s the important thing.  It will probably be a “no frills” campaign, but we’ll see.

Genki: What people should expect to find inside the book?

Roberto: Well, the chronological list is the main part of the book and it is spread over 170 pages. To make tracking down anime easier, information is compiled alphabetically and there is a directors’ index as well as a glossary for technical words. There are small chapters about origins of animation, how the animation is made, the main directors and a chapter about the availability of the anime on DVD. There will also be supplementary analysis and there is plenty of colour! Everything you need to know about the roots of Japanese animation in over 300 pages!

Genki: Anything else you’d like to say to people to encourage them to support the book?

Roberto: Don’t be fooled about the black and white animation, there’s plenty of good anime that needs to be watched. This book could be your one and only chance to have the most complete list made. It is useful for keeping track of those old films or series that you were wondering about and you won’t find this book in any shops, so grab this opportunity, because when it’s gone, it’s gone!

You can find out more about the project on Roberto’s website.

Fairy Tail Zero Review

Fairy Tail Zero mangaThe Fairy Tail manga has long been one of my favourite shonen series. Like with all long running manga though, I always get left feeling that there are more stories to be told in the universe than just the ‘main’ story we read week to week. Thankfully the Fairy Tail Zero manga is here to help fill one such gap.

A certain story that I’d always longed to be told from the Fairy Tail universe was the origin of the Fairy Tail guild itself. We already knew that the first guild master was Mavis Vermillion, but just how did the creation of Fairy Tail come about? With this volume of manga we’re given all of the answers we could hope for and a few pleasant surprises.

Our story begins on Sirius Island (translated as Tenrou Island in the anime) where Mavis, as a child, lived with her parents. After her parents passed away she ended up working for the Red Lizard wizards guild and it’s during this time period that we’re dropped into Mavis’s life. One day the town is attacked by a rival guild known as Blue Skull and Mavis and Red Lizard’s guild master’s daughter, Zera, are the only survivors.

Flash forward seven years and we’re reacquainted with Mavis and Zera as some treasure hunters come to the island. The group of treasure hunters is made up of Yuri Dreyar (father of Makarov Dreyar), Precht Gaebolg, and Warrod Sequen (one of the ten wizard saints in the future) and to any avid readers of Fairy Tail will be familiar faces. The three have come to take the mysterious Sirius Orb, which is said to be worth a great deal of money. However, after meeting Mavis and striking a deal with her for the orb, they discover that it has actually already been stolen! Mavis determines that it was likely taken by Blue Skull during the attack seven years ago and thus the treasure hunters, along with Mavis and Zera, set out to find the guild in question and take back what belonged to Sirius Island.

As this is a single volume I won’t say too much more regarding how the story comes together because I don’t want to spoil anything, but I do want to mention that Zeref has some level of involvement within the plot. Not only does Fairy Tail Zero tell the Fairy Tail guild’s origin tale, it  also shares the story of how Mavis and Zeref became friends. In fact this manga strives to wrap up a few different storylines in one volume and I’m happy to say that it does what it sets out to accomplish rather well.

While we’ve seen a decent amount of Precht and Warrod in the main Fairy Tail manga it’s nice to see a bit more of them when they were younger. The same can be said for Mavis, too, because while we’re fairly familiar with her now, it’s nice to see her humble beginnings and experience the adventure that left her wanting to create a guild: a place to come home to. As far as new characters go, Zera and Yuri are both great additions to the Fairy Tail cast and it’s easy to see that Yuri and grandson Laxus have a lot in common – including their usage of electric magic! Zera is mysterious and very quiet but she’s also much more grounded and down to earth than Mavis, so the two make for a good team.

Fairy Tail Zero has been handled by mangaka Hiro Mashima, who many will already be familiar with as he’s also the mangaka behind Fairy Tail itself. Due to being created by the original mangaka, it leaves Fairy Tail Zero with the ability to slot into the canon perfectly while also working as a standalone story. Mashima penned the 13 chapter story around the same time as the end of the main series’ Tartaros arc (the arc spans chapters 356 to 417 of the manga, which is roughly volumes 42 until 49) and in the back of this volume Mashima notes how more of Mavis’s story is told in volume 53 of the series.

Despite the fact that this story can stand on its own fairly well for readers without a deep knowledge of Fairy Tail, I think you’ll get more enjoyment out of Fairy Tail Zero if you can read it within the timeline that I’ve listed above. As it is the origin story of the guild, it obviously delivers a greater impact the more you know about the series, but I also feel that it’s quite emotional and enjoyable all on its own.

As far as artwork is concerned, I think that Fairy Tail Zero is a really good example of Mashima at his best. The action scenes aren’t quite as impressive as in the main series but the battles still flow very well. What stands out the most though is the emotion that all of our cast display and how this shines through in every panel. Mashima is a strong artist and pays a lot of attention to the small details, even in the smaller panels that are home to a single character. It’s that attention to detail that brings his world to life and makes even a somewhat barren scene looking over a small lake seem pretty special. In the back of this volume there is also an interview with the mangaka, which really shows us just how much thought and effort goes into making Fairy Tail what it is. For a big fan like me it was brilliant fun to read through!

Overall Fairy Tail Zero is a great addition to the Fairy Tail universe. Not only does it expand on some much loved characters’ stories, how the guild came to be and so on, it also gives us time away from our usual cast of heroes and leaves us with something I can proudly recommend to shonen fans. Existing fans of the series will get more out of it but I think there’s a story here for everyone and as a single volume it’s well worth your time.

Score: 9/10

Manga Quick Information

Title: Fairy Tail Zero
Original vintage: 2014
Author: Hiro Mashima
Published by: Kodansha Comics
Genre: Shonen
Age rating: 13 +
Material length: 270 Pages

Log Horizon Season 2 Part 1 Review

Log Horizon Season 2 Part 1When I think of anime that play with the idea of humans becoming trapped in the world of a video game it’s usually Sword Art Online that springs to mind. However, there is another series I’m fond of that plays with a similar idea and that’s Log Horizon. After warming to the successful first season of the anime, I’ve been given the chance to review Part 1 of Season 2. Here’s hoping it’s just as good as I remember…

This season of Log Horizon opens with a major money crisis plaguing the city of Akihabara. Shiroe and the members of the round table have established that running the town of Akihabara is costing them far more money than they have and can gather, so Shiroe begins to concoct a plan to get his hands on more gold. This plan will see him and Naotsugu leave Akihabara to explore a dungeon that is said to have an endless supply of riches at the bottom.

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With Shiroe and Naotsugu out of town, it’s left to Akatsuki and the other members of the Log Horizon guild to keep an eye on things in the city. With Christmas approaching, Akihabara seems peaceful, but suddenly a serial killer appears who somehow manages to get past the system’s rules of no fighting in a town/city. With the system failing to stop the killer, Akatsuki must team up with the West Wind Brigade (led by Soujirou Seta) in an attempt to bring an end to this threat.

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The first half of Log Horizon Part 1 is heavily focused on Akatsuki and the serial killer, who seems to have a hatred for adventurers. It’s a solid storyline and explores the concept of what happens when something or someone can bypass those rules and cause havoc in somewhere that is considered a safe zone. Of course, this is without mentioning that we already know from Season 1 that if someone dies the revival cost is the loss of some memories, and no one wants that to happen! I won’t go into great detail about how the rules are being broken, or about the killer, but trust me when I say that the reveal is satisfying to the viewer.

If the serial killer arc isn’t your cup of tea, then have no fear! We also get to spend some time with Shiroe and Naotsugu as they recruit the Silver Sword guild and a new character (and self-proclaimed idol) named Tetra for their expedition into the dungeon. This arc gets more attention toward the end of Part 1 but the glimpses we receive of their journey, between the chaos in Akihabara, are fairly interesting. Involving the Silver Sword guild also brings Demikas back to the front of our attention. You may remember him from nearer the beginning of Season 1, where he was causing trouble for Serara and was defeated by Shiroe and Nyanata. This expedition works for a more traditional showcase of what makes Log Horizon special too, and that’s Shiroe ordering people around while battling loads of enemies.

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There isn’t a great deal to say about the other characters because, really, Akatsuki is the one who gets the most meaningful development. It’s nice to spend an arc with Akatsuki on her own without support from Shiroe. She has never been a bad character and the first season does give her a suitable amount of attention, but away from Shiroe, she begins to question herself and her abilities – which is interesting to watch for a character who appears so strong on the surface. If you’re not an Akatsuki fan though, not all is lost because watching Soujirou Seta – perhaps one of the strongest fighters in the show – become ever more vengeful as his guild members are struck down by the killer is also extremely satisfying.

The biggest change in Log Horizon Season 2 is a shift in animation studios. Although all of the staff moved from the previous studio, Satelight, to the project’s new studio, Studio Deen, the animation has taken a noticeable hit in certain regards. Character designs have changed drastically in some cases, the best examples being Nyanata and Crusty, but everyone has been changed slightly in one way or another. This appears to have been in an effort to make them closer to the original light novel designs (which I certainly don’t object to!), which I’m sure some fans may appreciate if they also read the novels. However, it is one of the biggest drawbacks of watching Season 2 off the back of the first. I haven’t gone back to the first season yet but if you’re coming into this straight from Season 1, and maybe haven’t seen the light novel designs, then you’ll definitely be thrown off for a few episodes while you adjust.
Log Horizon Season 2Away from character designs, though, Studio Deen have done a good job with the animation. The quality is consistent and very colourful, leaving a warm and cosy feeling when watching scenes involving Akihabara but also suitably striking for the battle scenes. I’m not sure I could say that this is the studio at their best but it’s certainly a better standard of quality than KonoSuba and overall works fine for what Log Horizon demands from it.

Where music is concerned, composer Yasuharu Takanashi, who worked on Season 1, provides a pleasing soundtrack for this season. Takanashi is the mind behind the music for Fairy Tail, the Naruto Shippuden movies, and this season’s The Morose Mononokean. Working on a hit shonen series like Fairy Tail has obviously made Takanashi extremely skilled at composing music for a series like this and that comes through in the scores. They’re never overpowering but always there to back up a scene as is required, and some of the more moving moments in the first part have some wonderful pieces to accompany them. Fans of the first season’s opening “Database” by Man with a Mission will be pleased to hear that it returns as the opening for this season. We do have a new ending however in the form of “Wonderful Wonder World”, performed once again by Yun*chi. Overall good stuff to be heard here!

Log Horizon Sceen 3As far as voice actors go, there is some really solid work here. The cast is too large to point out any examples of who’s done the best work, but I at least want to give a nod to Akatsuki’s voice actor, Emiri Kato (Yayoi Endo in Seraph of the End: Battle in Nagoya, Kyubey in Puella Magi Madoka Magica), who plays the character really well. There is an English dub on offer here but not having watched the first season dubbed (I watched it in Japanese as it aired), I don’t feel right saying a great deal about it. I personally prefer the original Japanese but what I watched of the dubbed version certainly doesn’t seem to be of a bad quality.

This release from MVM is on both Blu-ray (two disc set) and DVD (three disc set). Our review discs are on DVD and the overall video quality seems pretty good considering the format. Splitting the 13 episodes across so many discs has probably helped a lot in the case of the DVD release. The only extras on offer are clean opening and ending animations.

Overall Part 1 of Log Horizon Season 2 is a great watch. It retains the Log Horizon charm I know and love while also introducing new characters and enveloping us in some solid storylines. New character designs will definitely throw you off for a while but once you adjust to them, there aren’t any other problems present. I’m looking forward to revisiting Part 2 as the story begins wandering into some interesting territory. As far as I’m concerned, Log Horizon remains a pleasant and entertaining watch that’s certainly worth your time.

Score: 8 / 10

Anime Quick Information

  • Title: Log Horizon Season 2 Part 1
  • UK Publisher: MVM Films
  • Genre: Adventure, Fantasy, Sci-Fi
  • Studio: Studio Deen
  • Type: TV series
  • Year: 2014
  • Running time: 325 minutes

Re:Zero #1Review

Re-Zero Light novel 1If you asked me which anime was being talked about the most from the Spring/Summer 2016 season then I’d answer without a doubt with Re:Zero. For better or worse the series has captured viewers and held them on the edge of their seats. Today I’m here to review the first volume in the original light novel series and find out if it holds my attention the same way as the anime does.

Re:Zero tells the story of a fairly average teenager, Subaru Natsuki. One day Subaru is magically transported from his local convenience store to a fantasy world. There’s no one in sight to inform him why he’s been brought there.  Surrounded by unfamiliar sights and sounds, just what has Subaru gotten himself into? Filled with determination to work out why he’s been summoned to this place (and to live his life like you would in a video game), Subaru sets out to explore this brave new world.

Okay, I know this all sounds very generic but stick with me. I promise by the end of this review it won’t feel quite as familiar as those fantasy stories you’re used to.

It’s not long before Subaru gets himself into a spot of bother with three thugs. Just when things begin to look their worst, he’s saved by a silver-haired girl, who introduces herself as Satella. Satella uses ice magic and has a spirit familiar named Puck, who introduces himself as Satella’s father and is quick to mention that he works from 9 am till 5 pm. It turns out that Satella has had something very important stolen from her and was in the process of searching for it when she encountered Subaru. As thanks for saving his life, Subaru agrees to help her find the thief and reclaim the item.

It’s not long before Subaru and Satella work out where the thief intends to sell off the stolen item, but when the two arrive at the tavern/storehouse they find that everyone inside has been murdered. Stumbling upon this gruesome scene ultimately leads to the deaths of Subaru and Stella as well by the hand of the killer (who was still lurking in the darkened tavern). In his dying moments Subaru wishes that he could have protected Satella and spent just a little longer in this world.

Unsurprisingly the story doesn’t end with the deaths of our protagonists. It turns out that Subaru has some kind of special ability that allows him to return from death, which he’s dubbed “Return by Death” as upon dying it sends him back to a designated point in time. Perhaps with this ability he can prevent the deaths of himself and Satella, while also helping her retrieve her stolen item.

Return by Death is an interesting ability and author Tappei Nagatsuki handles it rather well. You would think that reliving the same day multiple times over would become boring, especially in book form where there isn’t much to distract you from the fact you’re rereading the same situations over and over, but that’s simply not true here. The first time Subaru experiences the day over again, some things are very similar but they’re also different just enough to keep it interesting. However, as the plot progresses we get the chance to see a new plot line where instead of travelling with Satella, Subaru ends up becoming close to Felt (the thief) and comes face-to-face with the one who killed everyone at the end of his first ‘life’.

Nagatsuki has written Re:Zero from a third person perspective, which works very well for the drama and character interactions. I’d say it’s a shame that we’re not inside Subaru’s head but as he has a tendency to voice all of his thoughts aloud there wouldn’t be a notable benefit to writing the story from his perspective. I found this to be an interesting style of writing because it’s not one that I’ve personally stumbled across in my light novel collection (although when a good portion of my collection has been written by Reki Kawahara perhaps that explains some of it).

Re:Zero started life like a lot of popular light novels, in that it was originally a web novel that was later edited and published as a series. Some of the exchanges between characters go on too long and there is a bit of awkward wording here and there, which has no doubt resulted from the original web novel being rough around the edges compared to a professionally published book. That said, I think Nagatsuki has a good handle on how to write this story and future volumes will likely solve all of the problems in Volume 1.

Illustrations for the series have been provided by Shinichirou Otsuka, who currently doesn’t appear to have worked on anything beyond Re:Zero (at the very least I couldn’t find mention of anything online). Either this is the first (now major) work Otsuka’s produced art for, or the internet just cannot provide me with answers! Regardless, what we have on show for the first volume of Re:Zero looks very nice and character designs are suitably detailed. Volume 1 opens with various colour pages that showcase the characters which, I have to say, look a lot better than the fan-service- laden images we’d usually have for other series. It’s sad that none of the action scenes have been drawn in favour of a picture of each of the main characters, but hopefully future volumes can deliver. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing more of Otsuka’s work.

I’ve spent a lot of time talking about the writing and the story, so let’s talk about the characters now. It’s worth saying that Subaru is not going to win any awards for being a likable member of the cast. He’s annoying, doesn’t know when to stop talking, and more often than not I wanted to punch him. Having said that, Subaru has a good heart and his determination to do his best (despite really not having any redeeming qualities) is perhaps what keeps him from being a total waste of space. In a way it’s actually refreshing that Subaru wasn’t made to be a likable character. There are far too many series that try their hardest to make a lead that you’ll be rooting for from the start and I appreciate the fact Re:Zero hasn’t fallen into that cliché.

Satella, Puck, and Felt are all interesting characters whom I grew immensely fond of. Satella has a cold manner but inside she has a good heart. There is obviously more to her than what we see in this volume, and having watched the anime I know just where her story is going. Puck and Felt don’t get quite as much time in the spotlight as Satella but when they are present they, too, shine and leave me wanting to know more about them. It’s a good cast which is only going to grow to become even better as the story progresses.

For those of you who are watching the anime (as I am) it’s worth noting that the light novel handles itself better than the anime adaptation does in certain ways. To begin with, the light novel doesn’t spend as much time on how Subaru was in Japan one minute and then the fantasy world the next. Rather than dealing with his shock and surprise we’re dumped into the scene about 20 minutes after, where things have calmed down and Subaru calmly explains what happened to him. I found this a much better way of starting the story because it’s refreshing to not have the protagonist overreacting to every little thing in a fantasy world. Overall the light novel also has a much better handle on the flow of the plot due to the anime studio creating certain inconsistencies in the story. For example, in one anime scene Puck knows Subaru’s name despite not yet having met him in that life. Subaru is also a lot more tolerable in the light novel than I found him in the anime, which has got to count for something.

Overall Re:Zero Volume 1 makes for a good read and handles the ‘transported to a fantasy world’ idea in an interesting way that, hopefully, won’t become stale anytime soon. Subaru might not be the most likable character but his future in this world seems like it’ll make for an interesting story. I’m a huge fan of the anime and reliving the story through the light novels is something I’m very much enjoying.

Score: 7/10

Light Novel Quick Information
Title: Re:Zero
Original vintage: 2014
Author: Tappei Nagatsuki
Illustrator: Shinichirou Otsuka
Published by: Yen On
Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy
Age rating: 13 +
Material length: 231 Pages

Akira returns to UK Cinema for Manga UK’s 25th Anniversary this September

Earlier this month we reported that Akira would be given another release that included the Blu-ray, DVD, a digital copy and tons more content. And just recently Manga Entertainment have announced plans to bring Akira back to the UK cinemas to celebrate the company’s 25th anniversary.

Akira Movie Poster 2016

Katsuhiro Otomo’s landmark cyberpunk classic obliterated the boundaries of Japanese animation and forced the world to look into the future. Akira’s arrival shattered traditional thinking, creating space for movies like The Matrix to be dreamed into brutal reality. Neo-Tokyo, 2019. The city is being rebuilt post World War III when two high school drop outs, Kaneda and Tetsuo stumble across a secret government project to develop a new weapon – telekinetic humans. After Tetsuo is captured by the military and experimented on, he gains psychic abilities and learns about the existence of the project’s most powerful subject, Akira. Both dangerous and destructive, Kaneda must take it upon himself to stop both Tetsuo and Akira before things get out of control and the city is destroyed once again.

The film will be screened nationwide with over 70 screens selected for a limited run on 21st September 2016. Manga notes this is the widest UK theatrical release of the film since its original run many years ago.

Andrew Hewson, Marketing Manager
“Iconic and game-changing, Akira is the definitive anime classic which even after decades since its initial release still holds up as one of the most thrilling and visceral films you will ever see! In celebration of Manga’s 25th anniversary we will be re-releasing Akira in cinemas this September on over 70 screens across the UK. Not only that, in November we will be releasing a collector’s edition triple play – DVD, Blu-ray and digital copy housed in a rigid box, containing both English dubs as well as brand new artwork. This is an absolute must for any Akira fan!”

Here’s a list of all the cinemas taking part. You can also view a map on the Akira UK website to find your nearest cinema that will be showing the film:

Aberdeen Union Square Cineworld
Basingstoke Festival Place Vue
Bath PictureHouse
Belfast Odyssey Independent
Birmingham Broad Street Cineworld
Birmingham Electric Independent
Birmingham, Star City Vue
Bluewater Showcase CDL
Brighton Komedia PictureHouse
Bristol Showcase
Bristol Showcase CDL
Cambridge PictureHouse
Cambridge Vue
Cardiff Showcase
Cheshire Oaks Vue
Coventry Showcase
Crawley Cineworld
Derby Showcase CDL
Dublin Cineworld
Dudley Showcase
Dundee DCA Independent
Edinburgh Cineworld
Edinburgh Cameo PictureHouse
Enfield Cineworld
Exeter PictureHouse
Exeter Vue
Gateshead Vue
Glasgow East (Out of Town) Showcase
Glasgow Renfrew Street (Central) Cineworld
Hull Vue
Inverness Vue
Lancaster Dukes Independent
Leeds Showcase CDL
Leeds Hyde Park Independent
Leicester Showcase CDL
Liverpool Showcase
Liverpool, FACT PictureHouse
London Central, Central PictureHouse
London Central, Prince Charles Independent
London East, Hackney PictureHouse
London East, Newham Showcase
London East, Stratford East PictureHouse
London East, West India Quay Cineworld
London East, Westfield Stratford Vue
London North, Crouch End PictureHouse
London North, Finchley Road Vue
London North, Islington Vue
London North, Wood Green Vue
London South, Croydon Grants Vue
London South, Ritzy PictureHouse
London South, Wandsworth Cineworld
London West, Westfield Vue
Manchester Showcase
Manchester Red Vue
Milton Keynes Cineworld
Northampton Vue
Norwich PictureHouse
Norwich Vue
Nottingham Showcase CDL
Oxford PictureHouse
Oxford Vue
Paisley Showcase
Peterborough Showcase
Plymouth Vue
Portsmouth Vue
Portsmouth No. 6 Independent
Reading Showcase CDL
Sheffield Cineworld
Sheffield Vue
Southampton PictureHouse
Stirling Vue
Swansea Vue
Teeside Showcase
Walsall Showcase
Watford Vue
York PictureHouse
York Vue

If you can’t visit these locations, the film is also available on Blu-ray and DVD. The new collector’s edition release will be available on the 28th of November.

Karneval Volumes 4 & 5 Review

Karneval 4

Circus has rescued young Nai’s friend and protector Karoku from the clutches of the sinister organization Kafka at the Smokey Mansion – but to Nai’s distress, Karoku doesn’t recognize him. It seems that Kafka have been tampering with Karoku’s mind and memories, although no one at Circus is sure how to restore him. Gareki begins his new life as a student at Chronome Academy, sponsored by Captain Hirato. When Nai and Karoku manage to activate the old Circus ID bracelet, Gareki hears Nai crying out for help. Forbidden to leave the academy on pain of expulsion, Gareki finds himself suddenly transported far away. Has he been summoned by Nai – and, if so, can he find him in time before something terrible occurs? Whatever happens, his future prospects at the academy look bleak. Meanwhile, Kafka are planning revenge for Circus’s attack. Uro’s replacement, Ryuu, is determined to show utter ruthlessness to prove his worth to Kafka and orders his forces to kill everyone they encounter. A vicious battle ensues – and it’s far from certain who will emerge unscathed from this latest Varuga attack.

Karneval 5 cvr

Touya Mikanagi really gets into her stride here by seriously upping the ante in these volumes. The Circus combat specialists are forced to fight for their lives as they are ambushed by Varuga, leading to the summoning of ‘Silver’ Yogi, the sweet-natured combatant’s ‘other’ personality. And all the while, the hints increase as to the possible links between the biotechnology that has created the monstrous Varuga also being used in the creation of Nai.

In what begins as a typically frivolous, fun research trip to the Ancient Ocean Mermerai – where, for research purposes, the crew members are required to bathe naked in the warm waters to attract the Peranoa, native marine creatures – Yogi’s underwear goes missing. (Yes, it’s a wonderful excuse for fan service, but…) The thief turns out to be a cat. And the cat turns out to be connected to something – or someone – both sinister and sad. There’s the hint of a parallel with the underwear thief and Nai’s origins; although it’s not ever spelled out in so obvious a way, it gives the reader plenty to think about. And what begins as a farcical hunt for missing panties (no one blushes better than Yogi) turns into something far more dangerous.

As Karneval reaches its fifth volume in Yen Press’s English edition (Volumes 9-10 in the original Japanese) it raises an issue that has been intriguing and annoying me in equal measure. Some manga series which are serialized weekly/monthly manage to maintain a sense of onward momentum, pulling the reader along with the promise that the overarching plot issues set out at the beginning will be resolved and all the mysteries solved. But others dilly-dally along the way, going off down what turn out to be blind alleys and losing the narrative drive that is so important for sustaining reader involvement. I realize that this is often not just the fault of the mangaka; we see in series about the way manga is written and delivered from Monthly Girl’s Nozaki-Kun to The World’s Greatest First Love (okay, these are often emphasizing the crazy/humorous side of the process but nevertheless…) the very significant role played by editors in the final product we get to read.

karneval cvr fr 10

Karneval is published in Zero Sum, the magazine that has also brought us Loveless, Devils and Realist and 07-Ghost. All of these popular series have been made into anime before the manga was anyway near a conclusion – and this also seems to put the mangaka off their stride in terms of plot development (because why would you, when someone else – the anime script writer – has already finished it off for you or taken it in a different direction from the one you were intending?) Karneval’s strengths lie in its artwork and the character interactions, as young fugitives Nai and Gareki are rescued and then sheltered and educated by the eccentric and colourful crews of both ships of Circus. But the underlying mysteries are developing painfully slowly: who – or what – is Nai? Why was Gareki shipwrecked as a child from what seemed to be a sinister slave ship? Who was responsible for developing the terrifying genetically altered monsters called Varuga? Are Circus really the Good Guys? And how are all these issues related (as they most assuredly are)?

Karneval cvr fr 8

(This cover image is taken from the French Ki-oon edition but is also used on the reverse of Volume 4 from Yen Press.)

It seems that mangaka are very much at the mercy of the popularity of their series (the magazines carry out frequent reader polls). If the series is popular, they’re encouraged to eke out the material as far as it will go. If its popularity starts to wane, editorial pressure is imposed to bring things to a swift (sometimes brutally swift) conclusion. This wreaks havoc for the mangaka in sustaining anything resembling a coherent, satisfying plot. So how well has Touka Miyanagi coped in what is (after all) her first major series (it’s been running for nine years now)? The good news is that she’s really developed as a storyteller. Karneval was full of good ideas at the start but the delivery was rather random at best. A shame, because this may have deterred some readers. But by now the story’s well underway and she’s much better at pacing the action and directing the reader to what’s really important without distracting them with fun but irrelevant stuff (like the charming rabbit and sheep crews on the two Circus ships). Well, most of the time, anyway.

The artwork is just as attractive as before and these trade paperback Yen Press editions are very handsome indeed, with the original colour splash pages and all the delightful extras (including, if you’re a seiyuu fan, the mangaka’s drawings of the cast of the drama CDs and the anime).

In Summary

If you’re looking for a fantasy steampunk manga with a likable cast of characters and an underlying mystery that needs to be solved, then Karneval is well worth your time – as long as you don’t mind the occasional meander down a plot side-street.

Score 8/10

Touya Mikanagi Yen Press 2016, translated by Su Mon Ha  OT c. 400 pages

MVM to release Berserk 1997, Chobits and Ergo Proxy on Blu-ray to the UK this Q4 2016!

MVM Entertainment have gone to social media to announce their latest updates on their release slates. Their Q4 line-up has been rather quiet until now so it’s time for them to unveil what they have in store!

Back at MCM Comic Con London in May, MVM Entertainment already revealed they had plans to release Chobits on Blu-ray along with a couple others (Serial Experiments Lain, Tenchi Muyo! OVA Collection) but now they have two more titles joining the Blu-ray upgrade as well as release dates!

Chobits 1

Starting off with Chobits, the 26 episode TV series will be released as a complete series collection set for SRP £39.99 on 10th October 2016 with English & Japanese audio (with English subs). You can also stream the series on Funimation Now if you like.

Chobits Plot Synposis
A country boy from Hokkaido, Hideki arrives in the big city (Tokyo) to go to college. Instantly, he is shocked and amazed by the variety and prevalence of Persocoms: personal computers designed to look and act like animals or even people! Too poor to afford one of his own, Hideki is overjoyed to discover a discarded Persocom in a trash heap. However, this gift of fate turns into a mystery as his Persocom, Chi, appears to be able to operate without her OS… How real is real?

Berserk

Next up we have the classic 1997 anime adaptation of Berserk. The 25 episode TV series will be released as a complete series collection set for SRP £49.99 on November 21st 2016 with English & Japanese audio (with English subs). The franchise has already received numerous anime adaptations including a 2012-2013 movie trilogy (already released by Kaze UK) and the recent 2016 adaptation that’s available on Crunchyroll (with a future UK home release planned by Universal Pictures).

Berserk Plot Synposis
In the castle of Midland, a new king has come to power through treachery and violence. His demonic agents terrorize the citizens relentlessly, until the night when a battle weary soldier known as the Black Swordsman come to destroy them. However, his true motives and unrelenting grudge against the king are buried in the past – when a young mercenary named Guts joined the charismatic, graceful, and deadly Griffith and the Band of the Hawk.

Ergo Proxy

And finally we have the cult classic Ergo Proxy. The 23 episode TV series will be released as a complete series collection set for SRP £49.99 on December 12th 2016 with English & Japanese audio (with English subs).

Ergo Proxy Plot Synposis
The domed city of Romd is an impenetrable would-be utopia where humans and robots coexist, and everything is under complete government control – or so it appears. While working on a mysterious murder case, Re-l Mayer, a female detective from the Civilian Intelligence Office, receives a foreboding message that something is going to “awaken.” That night, she’s attacked by a deformed super-being.

All three TV shows MVM are putting out have already been released on DVD. Berserk and Ergo Proxy have been given HD Native remasters in Japan whereas Chobits is an upscale from Funimation. Images above for Chobits and Ergo Proxy are cover arts of the Japanese Blu-ray Disc Boxes and not the final MVM covers.

 

Bleach – Volume 67

Bleach 67

 “Black”

As the announcement of Bleach’s final chapter still rings across the manga and anime-related internet, Volume 67 is released here in the UK, still several volumes away from the announced end.

The battle between the Shinigami (or Soul Reapers) and the Quincy Wandenreich continues on, though now the focus is entirely on the fight between the Elite Sternritter group, the Quincy leader Yhwach and the Royal Guard, a.k.a. Squad Zero. After a brief battle between Sternritter D: “The Deathdealing” Askin Nakk Le Vaar (wouldn’t be one of these reviews without a weird name!) and Squad Zero member Oetsu Nimaiya. It’s your classic Kubo-written fight, Nakk Le Vaar describes his convenient and long-winded power to his stricken foe before the tables are turned via an equally convenient but not as hard to describe power. This is actually one of my favourite things about Bleach, most of the powers wielded by the characters aren’t just your plain fire and ice powers.

In the previous chapter I talked about characters who have been hyped up being defeated off-panel; well, in order to revitalise his Elite guard, Yhwach kills a bunch of them, without us finding out their powers or anything. Again, very annoying. The revived Elite cause major trouble for Squad Zero, leading to Yhwach confronting the cover man of this Volume and Captain of Squad Zero: Ichibe Hyosube.

Of the ten chapters in this volume, the fight between Ichibe and Yhwach takes up a good seven of them, which is good as I was beginning to worry for the pace of this story arc. Squad Zero may have, for the most part, failed to live up to all their hype, but I’m happy to confirm that Ichibe, the strongest of them, more than lives up to it. He’s playful and nice, and also terrifying at times, and has a very unique skill set based around the power names have on things. I mentioned enjoying the battles in Bleach where there is a back-and-forth of crazy powers out-trumping each other; they’re unique and fun, and this fight supplies that in spades. I’ll leave it at that and let you find out and enjoy the craziness.

The final chapter ends on a big cliffhanger, leaving you with hope that the story will enter a new phase now that some of the lesser characters have been cut (as annoying at the way that was achieved is…)

I’ve had reservations about how this final arc has shaped up, with some questionable and rushed actions, and although there are some traces of that within this volume, the majority of it is just one large, over-the-top and crazy fight between two fresh and powerful characters. The art is once again great, both the characters and the depiction of movement during the fight scenes.

This arc may well be the weakest of an admittedly great set of storylines in the manga, but this volume on its own merits is one of the strongest volumes in the series, and certainly worthy of your attention.

Score 9/10

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: VIZ Media LLC

 

Haikyu!! Volume 2 Review

Haikyu!! Volume 2I’ve recently had the chance to catch up with the second season of the Haikyu!! anime on Crunchyroll and due to this I’ve been in the mood to sample even more of the series. Enter Volume 2 of the manga. It’s time to find out if this volume continues the excitement I felt reading Volume 1 or if it drops the ball.

The second volume of Haikyu!! continues the volleyball game from the end of the previous book, with Hinata and Kageyama playing a 3-on-3 match with the other first years new to Karasuno’s volleyball club. The match is to determine if the Hinata and Kageyama should be allowed to join the club. After displaying some impressive teamwork and winning the match they gain the approval of captain Daichi. The worry of acceptance to the club may be over but now Karasuno have a practice match with the powerful team Aoba Jousai! While rough around the edges, will Hinata and Kageyama’s newfound ability to work together allow them to prevail against their opponents?

The majority of this volume is taken up with the first years’ volleyball game and the match against Aoba Jousai. It’s great reading about Karasuno playing in their first official game and it’s just the right length to prevent the match from becoming boring. That said, I’m relieved to find that it also leaves plenty of time for some character development.

This volume doesn’t introduce any new characters to the Karasuno team until the end of the book (except for the club adviser, but more on him in a moment), so instead the focus has been split neatly between the rest of the team. A lot of time is still spent with Hinata and Kageyama, which is great but not as necessary considering that Volume 1 did nothing but develop the two. Thankfully Tsukishima and Yamaguchi also had a good deal of the spotlight, so I got to know the two fairly well. It made me feel satisfied that we won’t just be getting volume after volume of Hinata and Kageyama scenes. I love them both dearly, but I think we’d have a fairly uninteresting manga on our hands if the series ignored everyone else on the team!

As mentioned earlier, this volume introduces the club adviser to the scene: Ittetsu Takeda, who proclaims to know nothing about volleyball but obviously has a real passion for watching over the team. We don’t see as much of him as in the anime, where he acts as the audience surrogate for having information explained to him about how the game works, but there is still plenty to establish him as a likable member of the cast.

My only complaints regarding characters is that we still haven’t seen much of the third year members, Daichi and Sugawara, which is a real shame as I’m fond of both of them in the anime. Sugawara does turn up to offer words of comfort to Hinata, who is in a tizzy ahead of their game against Aoba Jousai, but we don’t get to see him partake in the match due to Kageyama taking his position as setter. Daichi on the other hand is around but more often than not is seen but not heard. Having watched the anime I’m sure that later volumes of the manga should solve my problems here.

Overall the layout and artwork for Haikyu!! continues to be well put together by mangaka Haruichi Furudate. Panels flow nicely and it’s always easy to see where the cast are on the court (helped along by some useful charts displaying starting positions and how the rotation works throughout the game), and there are some gorgeous two/full-page spreads presented to really grab your attention. The artwork is generally a little rougher and not as well done for the comedy moments or the panels of less importance, but this actually adds to the charm of the whole thing. You can always count on Furudate to supply some extremely detailed scenes when required and, for what runs as a weekly series in Japan, the most important panels really stand out and tend to be memorable.

Due to this volume including the first official match for Karasuno there are many volleyball terms and team positions discussed that might go over your head if you don’t know much about the sport. Thanks to the anime I’m now well versed in how the game works, but I wanted to quickly point out for newcomers how well Haikyu!!’s manga manages to explain information. Usually there are small notes below panels to explain simple terms, while more complex information is drawn out on a chart. It’s presented in a way that is easy to grasp but also equally painless to skim over if you already understand the game. I wish more mangaka understood how to easily present information like this rather than giving large scale information dumps that will never stick in my mind.

I’ve come away from Volume 2 of Haikyu!! just as eager to read the next volume as I was when I finished the first volume. Haikyu!! continues to be a well presented, thought out, and overall just a great example of the shonen genre. I’m having so much fun that I’m just bouncing up and down on my chair awaiting the next edition!

Score: 8/10

Manga Quick Information
Title: Haikyu!!
Original vintage: 2012
Mangaka: Haruichi Furudate
Published by: Viz Media
Genre: Comedy, Drama, School, Shonen
Age rating: Teen
Material length: 200