Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? Volume 6 Review

is-it-wrong-to-try-to-pick-up-girls-in-a-dungeon-volume-6The first five volumes of Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in A Dungeon? (or Japanese abbreviation DanMachi as I’ll be referring to it now) have proved to be a fascinating read full of wonderful adventures. That said, I’ve been eager for a brand new adventure; something uncharted and full of surprises – in other words, something the anime didn’t adapt. Thankfully that’s what Volume 6 of the light novel series is here to do and I couldn’t be happier with the result.

This volume is set just a few days after the end of Volume 5, with Bell taking a few days off from exploring the dungeon to recover from the battle with the 18th floor boss. As tales of his adventure spread throughout Orario, it’s not long before our hero is the centre of attention, but not every adventurer is happy with the ‘Little Rookie’. As Bell, Lilly and Welf celebrate their safe return from the 18th floor battle, Bell has a run-in with members of Apollo Familia, which leads to all kinds of trouble! Conflicts between Familia are never a good thing but this time Bell’s rash judgement could cost him everything he holds dear.

What started out as a simple bar-fight quickly escalates as god Apollo, who has taken an interest in Bell, declares that he won’t forgive Hestia Familia for the harm caused to one of his own. He informs Hestia that the only way to gain forgiveness is for Bell to join his Familia instead! After a swift refusal from Bell and Hestia, Apollo sets a plan into motion to force Bell to join him – including the kidnapping of Lilly and the destruction of Bell’s home!

After Bell and Hestia are chased through the streets of Orario and reach the realisation that Apollo will stop at nothing to obtain Bell, Hestia agrees for the two Familia to face one another in a war game to settle things once and for all. Outnumbered and with their back to a wall, can Hestia Familia really make it through this crisis or will Bell soon be the newest recruit of Apollo Familia?

For a volume that never once sees Bell set foot inside the dungeon, it’s certainly full of action and excitement. The first couple of chapters set up the overall arc while also tying up loose ends from the previous volume (including confirmation that Bell, thankfully, hasn’t levelled up again) but also offers the chance for some fine character development. Apollo decides to host a meeting of the gods but bends the rules so that every god can bring one member of their Familia to the party. It’s entertainment for the gods and an excuse for them to show off, but for mere humans like Bell it’s perhaps the most nervous he’s ever been! Fortunately he’s not alone in his awkwardness and it’s not long before he stumbles across Aiz, who is also feeling out of place. With some interference from Hermes, the two get the chance to dance together (as depicted on the front cover) and it is the most adorable scene I have had the chance to witness from this series.

This is a volume that focuses on Bell and Lilly more than anyone else, so I’m glad that author Fujino Omori still found some time to fit in development between Bell and Aiz. Their relationship hasn’t really progressed since previous installments but I think it’s safe to call them friends now –  and reading through their interactions is always satisfying. Bell is still terribly shy and awkward around her, while Aiz is as quiet and clueless as ever, but that actually works remarkably well for the two. If anything, I haven’t found myself wishing that they’d get over their shyness as I usually would be with other characters at this point.

I won’t say too much concerning the war game as we’re fairly far through the book when it takes place but I do want to mention how well written all of the action scenes are. It’s not the first time Bell has fought against other adventurers – as there is always someone looking to pick on our hero – but it is the first time that the battle has been notably significant to the plot. I was surprised that the action held up as well as it did, given that there are no monsters to fight, but Omori has done wonders to capture the readers’ imaginations.  

It wouldn’t be wrong to say that Omori’s writing has improved a great deal from where he first started with Volume 1. I blasted through this volume in a couple of sittings, which is unusual for me with anything that isn’t a manga, and that’s purely because of how easy it was to become completely engrossed in the story. I’ve commented in the past that DanMachi is likely my favourite light novel series and I think I finally understand why it is. DanMachi always feels like I’m right in the middle of the action with Bell. Even while he was dancing with Aiz I could feel just how embarrassed the poor kid was! None of the other fantasy genre light novels I’ve read or am currently reading draw me in quite this much and the fact that DanMachi does is purely down to Omori’s abilities to create these scenes and characters.

The illustrations for this volume were also handled very well by Suzuhito Yasuda, as they usually are, but were more interesting to look over than the previous volume. My favourite image on offer is definitely that of the front cover, but there were also some nicely drawn shots of Welf that I’m fond of. Overall it seems as though Yasuda’s art is improving volume by  volume and he’s starting to have a good handle on the scenes that really deserve depicting.

It’s amazing that, for a series set around exploring a dungeon, a volume in which we never once set foot in the dungeon could be so engrossing! It’s also refreshing to read a story that the anime didn’t cover (hopefully in a Season 2 though?). Considering that we were offered some solid character development for all of Hestia Familia I can definitely say that I’m satisfied with what I’ve read. My excitement for the next volume is already building and if you’re someone like me who has loved Bell’s adventure up until now, then Volume 6 is definitely both worth your time and a fine example of the series at its best.

Title: Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?
Publisher: Yen Press
Genre: Fantasy, Romance, Action, Comedy
Author(s): Fujino Omori (Author), Suzuhito Yasuda (Illustrator)
Type: Light Novel
Original vintage: 2014
Format: Book (digital edition available)
Length: 272 pages

Score: 9/10

11Eyes – Complete Collection

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11Eyes started off life as a visual novel, released on the PC in 2008, before eventually becoming a manga, then shortly after that, this 12 episode anime series. Originally airing in 2009, is this worth tracking down after seven years? … Not really, no.

The story starts off simply enough. Two school kids get randomly sucked into a parallel version of Earth that has a permanent Red Moon that they soon dub the “Red Night”, a hellish landscape filled with monsters. They are Kakeru Satsuki, a quiet shut-in type who had a pretty bad childhood and who only really opens up to the other student: Yuka Minase, whom he met at the orphanage they grew up in. During their trips to the Red Night they eventually meet up with several other students from the same school who have special powers, including Misuzu Kusakabe, an “Onmyoji” (someone who is trained to defeat supernatural beings) who can spawn swords to use, Yukiko Hirohana, a overly friendly girl who turns into a cold-blooded killer when she takes her glasses off, and pyrokinetic Takahisa Tajima, who is the old brooding anti-hero type who slowly becomes a member of the group. Oh and Kukuri Tachibana, who looks exactly like Kakeru’s dead sister…

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Throw in some “black knights” as antagonists and you have a pretty standard set-up for a Persona-style school life crossed with an other-dimensional fighting story here. The first few episodes, including the awakening of Kakeru and Yuka’s powers, are interesting enough, and the mysteries associated with the knights: the fact that they refer to the lead characters as “fragments” and a mysterious girl encased in crystal that they guard – are enough to sustain the series, for the most part. Sadly it all goes a bit downhill towards the latter half. So much so that I’m going to be uncharacteristically spoilery here, so…

SPOILER WARNING

Right, so the black knights are apparently the good guys who have sealed an evil witch in the crystal, and the lead characters have fragments of her power inside them that will free her if they make contact with the crystal. That’s why the knights have been attacking them as soon as they enter the dimension, which for the record is the witch trying to re-connect with her power. This is an interesting twist, if it weren’t for the fact that the lead characters kept asking them why they are there and why they attacked them. If they just said “we’re trying to stop the end of the world by preventing you coming into contact with an evil witch we have over here” that might at least give them pause for thought, rather than repeating “it doesn’t matter why we call you fragments” and then complaining that their numbers have dwindled and the end of the world is nearer due to the invaders killing them off. The knights keep it a secret to the very end as well; it’s a mage girl called Shiori Momono who actually explains it all to them.

Then it just gets worse. Yuka becomes a jealous mess for very little reason, lead characters are killed off left and right, and then some of them only happen in a future vision given to Kakeru through his special eye powers. Seriously, as Episode 12 starts it’s revealed that the entirety of Episode 11 was just a vision and didn’t actually happen… and then several characters are killed off anyway! At a guess, given that it’s based on a visual novel, Episode 11 was probably a bad ending you could end up getting in the game, so they animated it alongside the “good” one, but it wasn’t a good decision in terms of telling a good story. Oh, and as for Kakeru’s sister, that explanation is so confusing that Misuzu actually picks up a piece of chalk and tries to explain it to everyone with a diagram… in the show! It still only JUST makes sense, and I’ve watched a lot of twisty-turny sci-fi in my time…

SPOILERS END HERE

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So, there you go. Summing it up for people avoiding spoilers, the show falls off a ledge towards the end. It comes with an OVA that… is just bad. It takes the characters and transports them to a “Pink Night” instead of a red one, and in the Pink Night all their powers have turned perverted. Kakeru can see through clothes, when Yukiko takes off her glasses she becomes super sexually charged (towards other women!) and instead of swords Misuzu pulls out different… well… *sigh*, never mind, but it’s not very funny. It’s like what a 14-year-old would think is “adult” but when they reach adulthood they realise how wrong they were.

The series is split across two DVDs and there is only Japanese with English subtitles, so no dub. Intro “Arrival of Tears” by Ayane is a catchy tune, and “Sequentia” by Asriel is a good ending. In fact, the OST is actually one of the highlights of the series.

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So, should you buy 11Eyes? Well, it has some good fight scenes, not too much fanservice (apart from the OVA…) and a good soundtrack, but you’ll still be left with a rather muddled and sudden end, one that erases what was an admittedly basic first half. It’s okay. If you end up getting the series it will be something you’ll watch, then a few weeks down the line will forget you ever saw until someone mentions it, then you’ll go “Oh yeah! That one… man that ending… what was that all about?!”

Title: 11Eyes - Complete Collection
Publisher: MVM Films
Genre: Action, Fantasy, Romance, Tragedy
Studio: Dogakobo
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2009
Format: DVD
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles
Age rating: 15
Running time: 325 minutes

Score: 4/10

Haikyu!! Volume 3

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This is the third month in a row that I’ve gotten to review the
Haikyu!! manga for the site and I’m still loving every second! Volume 3 features some notable changes to the Karasuno team but these are for the better. With the third season of the anime due to begin at the start of October this is the perfect time for some volleyball fun and I’m happy to say that the Haikyu!! manga hasn’t disappointed me yet!

Volume 3 kicks things off by introducing a new character, Yu Nishinoya, who is a second year student at Karasuno High. Usually Nishinoya plays the role of libero in the volleyball team but he’s been absent due to being suspended from school for a week (which explains why we haven’t met him yet). Nishinoya is short, which gives him a lot of movability for the role he plays and leads to great joy for Hinata when he discovers he’s an inch taller! Having Nishinoya back surely means great things for the Karasuno team, but the situation isn’t quite that simple. Karasino’s libero declares that he won’t be rejoining the club if the team’s ace won’t return too!

The ace is a position held by Asahi Azumane (another new character being introduced this volume), who left the team after an extremely difficult match that Karasuno faced before Hinata and the other first years joined. The job of the ace is to break through the opposing team’s wall of blockers and score points wherever possible, but during the match in question every move Asahi made was completely shot down. Ultimately Karasuno lost the match, which Asahi feels is all his fault rather than that of the whole team and leads him to believe that the team would be better off without him.

While Nishinoya is stubborn and refuses to officially rejoin the team, he does practise alongside Hinata, who regards him as a ‘senpai’. When Hinata and Kageyama learn about the situation with Asahi they go to introduce themselves and try to convince him to rejoin the team, which eventually leads to a passionate speech from Hinata that triggers something in Asahi’s heart. Will it be enough to bring him back to the team?

This volume also introduces a potential coach for the team in the form of Keishin Ukai, who used to play for the Karasuno team while he attended the school. He’s also the grandson of the previous coach Ukai, who was famous for his brutal practises but produced a brilliant team in his time. At first Keishin isn’t interested in the role and flat-out refuses each time club advisor Takeda asks him to consider the job. However, after hearing that Karasuno will be holding a practise game with the previous coach’s old rivals, Nekoma High, he finally gives in and agrees to take a look at the team.

While this volume is packed full of new character introductions, it still finds time for some volleyball as well as more development for Hinata. After learning about the responsibilities and fame associated with being an ace, Hinata begins wishing he could be an ace as he reckons that his current role, a decoy, is extremely boring. Some harsh yet encouraging words from Kageyama hit home and convince him that, despite not having the flashiest title, he can be the very best (like no one ever was) when paired with Kageyama.

I think it’s safe to say that Haikyu!! is still a very strong shonen series. The characters introduced in this volume are all genuinely likable and have their own story to tell, as well as a reason to be on the Karasuno team. Placing the focus on Nishinoya, Asahi, and Hinata does mean that we don’t see much of the other cast, and Tanaka is notably absent for most of the volume except for the odd panel, but what’s important is that I wasn’t left feeling like it mattered. A story about a sports team is always going to have noticeable absences; it’s just common sense that a weekly series won’t feature the entire cast all of the time. However, the characters in Haikyu!! are all so interesting that even if we lose some of them for a volume, I’m just as happy with those being focused on, and mangaka Haruichi Furudate has a knack for making everything just work.

On the whole this is yet another volume that has been beautifully handled where artwork is concerned. The characters’ eyes especially are very captivating, which is interesting because the way Furudate draws eyes is very simple: they’re just ovals with pupils, highlights, and pencil lines from side to side. Furudate is so skilled at conveying such deep and powerful emotion from these simple designs that it’s breathtaking, and I really admire how much skill this must take to pull off. In the back of the volume there is a four-paged short story that is drawn completely in pencil sketches rather than being inked over, and I have to say that even for a rough extra it looks wonderful.

Character designs for this volume are also very nice because while Nishinoya, with his blond streak and very pointy hair, looks like he belongs in a shonen manga, we also have Asahi, who is more of the gentle giant of the series. While his design doesn’t exactly stand out, he’s still rather unique in appearance. There are a couple of off-model shots when characters are in the background of smaller panels, but considering the fact that this is a weekly series in Japan it’s not too unusual and I certainly wasn’t bothered by it.

Overall Haikyu!! continues to be a fantastic read and with the third season of the anime on the horizon it’s a nice way of keeping my excitement for the series intact. I don’t think I’ll ever fall out of love with Haikyu!!, but these monthly releases are making sure I definitely won’t.

Title: Haikyu!!
Publisher: Viz Media
Genre: Comedy, Drama, School, Shonen
Author(s): Haruichi Furudate
Type: Manga
Original vintage: 2012
Format: Book (digital edition available)
Age rating: Teen
Length: 192 pages

Score: 8/10

Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad Review

beck-dvd Regular readers of my reviews will be familiar with the fact that I am a big music fan. I listen to a lot of different types of music, as well as play the guitar myself. It’s safe to say that music is something deeply ingrained in my life and me as a person, so I’m always really excited when an anime falls into my hands that is focused around music. The latest example of this is Anime Limited’s release of Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad (henceforth known as Beck) which I’m here to review today.

Beck is a series from 2004 based around Yukio Tanaka (better known as Koyuki), a 14-year-old teenager who doesn’t feel like he has a place in the world. After meeting 16-year-old guitarist Ryusuke Minami, thanks to Ryusuke’s dog named Beck, Koyuki is inspired to try his hand at playing the guitar and soon discovers a passion for music. Will this newfound fascination finally give him a place in the world?

As Koyuki gets better at playing the guitar, Ryusuke begins to acknowledge his talent and enthusiasm and gradually integrates him into his band, which he called Beck after his dog. Together with the other band members, Tsunemi Chiba, Yoshiyuki Taira and Yuji Sakurai, the five boys strive to hit it big in the world of music.

beck_3What the show offers is a very realistic look into what it means to learn a musical instrument and also the harsh realities of the industry. It’s something that most music anime wouldn’t normally bother dealing with because they usually have some other driving element to them (comedy, romance, fantastical plots, etc.), but for Beck being real is its bread and butter. For the most part I liked what Beck was trying to do but there are huge flaws here, too.

Connecting with this cast was not possible. I’ve been in Koyuki’s shoes, struggling to learn chords and complex scores while wondering if I’d ever be able to pull them off (“maybe I wasn’t meant to do this”, “maybe it’ll never come to me!”) but equally being overjoyed when I finally accomplished my goals. The problem is that whenever Koyuki finally worked his way past a problem, I never really cared. He’s an extremely bland character that I never grew fond of, so even though I could relate to his situation, I felt nothing. The same can be said for the band as a whole. All of the members face musical challenges throughout the show but not once did I find myself caring because all of them felt uninspired and plain. They struggle so hard and face so many problems together to actually get anywhere in this cut-throat industry but I really couldn’t stay engaged in the show at all and spent the majority of my time outright bored.

beck_7I think part of my problem rests with the fact that I’ve watched Kids on the Slope, which deals with similar issues much better. That series doesn’t involve the main character actively learning an instrument because he already plays piano, nor does the group want to go into the music industry, but there was just so much more depth and chemistry between the characters than what Beck offers. I will admit that Beck’s on-stage performances are very good but that’s the only time this cast meshed well, which is such a waste when we spend so much time with them off-stage.

While I’m making comparisons, there is also the Fuuka manga series (which has been confirmed to be receiving an anime adaptation) that suitably handles a very similar idea to Beck. In Fuuka the main character, like Koyuki, doesn’t really have a place in the world but he meets a girl named Fuuka and is inspired to start playing the bass. Thanks to that, he joins a band with Fuuka and some friends and they try to make it in the music industry. Even without animation and actual music to back it up I find Fuuka much better than Beck. This is largely down to the fact that the characters are simply that much more interesting. I really like them! Whereas with Beck I’m almost certainly not going to be remembering anyone.

beck_6Some blame for my dislike of the anime also stems from the animation. The series is handled by Madhouse and overall doesn’t look too bad for its time. However, characters are often off-model if shown at a distance and the show has a very annoying habit of lingering on shots that are obviously there for symbolism but don’t actually work. That said, the show does make some good usage of CG when instruments are being played, resulting in a realistic effect. It’s definitely convincing to watch and makes me happy to see because I can always understand the chords that Koyuki is going for. Unfortunately the CG combined with the age of the series, as well as the way it was produced for DVD back when originally released in the US, means that there is a recurring visual issue with the opening song. It’s not a massive issue but the opening can look mildly pixelated at times around the characters, making it quite off-putting. Thankfully this problem is limited to the opening as the ending and series itself all seem fine.   

Of course this is a series based around music and in that regard Beck hasn’t done too badly. The series is musically centered around covers of famous songs (especially from English bands like The Beatles) and these do sound rather good. I’m a big fan of bands who heavily indulge in guitar driven tracks, and so the rock music Beck played always felt right to me. There isn’t a great deal of original music on offer but what there is tends to be memorable enough. It has a good groove to it and as the series progresses you can tell it has been built around the idea of displaying how much Koyuki has grown as a guitarist.

The opening for the series is ‘Hit in the USA’ by the band Beat Crusaders, who also provide the the second ending theme titled ‘Moon on the Water’ – a song that Koyuki learns and occasionally plays throughout the show. The tracks are usually sung completely in English and have a proper pop-punk feel to them that has obviously been inspired by western music and fits with the tone of Beck. The ending used for most of the episodes – only changing for the final two or three – is ‘Above The Clouds’ by Meister (currently going by the name The Brilliant Green). It appears that Meister have also been heavily influenced by English music, most notably The Beatles.

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I’d like to say that the voice actors for the series are notable but unfortunately, both in the dub and original Japanese, they really aren’t. In the original Japanese track the majority of the cast are swapped out when the characters are required to sing, which generally isn’t too disruptive but makes it difficult to truly become attached to any of the actors. The English dub certainly isn’t groundbreaking either but it does the job. It also loses a few points purely because so much of Beck revolves around the fact Ryusuke and others can speak the English language, so in scenes where Koyuki (being Japanese) is meant to be feeling a bit lost listening to them it just doesn’t work as well. However, the dub doesn’t change voice actors for the singing, so that’s a point in its favour.

This release comes to the UK thanks to Anime Limited, and it is worth noting that this is the first time the series has been released in a complete form in the UK. The previous release of Beck stopped at episode 18. This release is DVD only due to the fact that the blu-ray master for the series just wasn’t that good and from what I’ve seen of the DVD I’m inclined to agree that Anime Limited made the right idea skipping it. This set contains the full 26 episodes with their dub and original Japanese audio. The only extras to speak of are clean opening and ending themes.

The biggest problem I am left with concerning Beck is that it took real effort to push through it. I genuinely love music and yet I have not been this bored with an anime in a really long time. I don’t usually like saying this kind of thing, but I think Beck was probably a better series back in 2004 than it is today because the likes of Kids on the Slope have aired since. It’s down-to-earth and very realistic which certainly works, but with no chemistry between the cast I just don’t care about what’s going on – especially not for 26 episodes. I really wish I was sitting here writing something else but sadly, as it stands, I am struggling to recommend Beck. Perhaps the best I can do is recommend checking out the series on FunimationNow before purchasing.

Title: Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad - The Complete Collection
Publisher: Anime Limited
Genre: Comedy, Shonen, Music, Slice of Life
Studio: Madhouse
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2004
Format: DVD
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 15
Running time: 625 minutes

Score: 5/10

Review of Hakkenden: Eight Dogs of the East, Series 2

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Ian Wolf’s Review

“There are poisons that blind you, and poisons that open your eyes.” – August Strindberg.

Continuing on from where the previous collection ends, our heroes Shino Inuzuka (trapped in a never-aging 13-year-old body) and Sosuke Inukawa (who can shapeshift into a dog) are still tracking down the holders of the eight beads.

Among these people are Daikaku Inumura, a maker of dolls, who has designed a doll which to Shino looks disturbingly like the woman who in the past tried to murder him; and Shinobu Inue, a boy who at age 12 was spirited away and hasn’t aged in 10 years, making him 22. Shino also continues to battle against Ao, Sosuke’s ‘shadow’ who has taken Sosuke’s bead. This culminates with all eight bead holders finally uniting.

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As well as this, Shino ends up teaching some children and becomes friendly with a blind girl name Kaho, looks after a cat spirit, and has a re-encounter with Dosetsu Inuyama, the man followed constantly by a god-like snow spirit. Dosetsu is looking for his long-lost sister, who could well be a close friend of Shino’s.

Overall, this series has felt a bit lacklustre. There have been some interesting moments, mainly comedic ones such as the relationship between Dosetsu and the snow goddess, but overall there is nothing in the show that sustained enough interest to make it worth watching.

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The main problem is that this anime is an adaption of a manga that is still being written, which in turn is a loose adaptation of an epic 19th-century novel that is over 100 volumes long. The anime does finish slightly open-endedly, indicating that there could be plans to write more. Knowing that is enough to indicate that the story is not going to told in full and that you are going to be sold short in at least one respect.

The series thus feels rather disappointing and not worth the effort. The only real benefit of the Hakkenden anime is that it makes you want to read the original novel it is based on. The only problem is that it hasn’t been released in English, although the are reportedly plans to do so.

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Title: Hakkenden: Eight Dogs of the East, Series 2
Publisher: MVM Films
Genre: Fantasy, Supernatural
Studio: Studio Deen
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2013
Format: Blu-Ray and DVD (DVD version reviewed)
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 15
Running time: 325 minutes

Score: 3/10

Naruto Spin-off: Rock Lee and his Ninja Pals – Collection 1

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When Bleach ended its TV run in March 2012, I was sad. When I found out that a cute chibi spin-off of Naruto was replacing it, I was annoyed and confused. Now several years later, that previously mentioned spin-off has made its way to DVD in the UK via Manga Entertainment. Naruto Spin-off! Rock Lee and his Ninja Pals is basically those silly light-hearted omake segments that are normally at the end of TV anime, stretched to a whole series of 51 episodes, the first 26 of which can be found here.

The main focus of the episodes, as you’d imagine, is lovable ninjitsu-less Rock Lee, plus his close associates Neji, Tenten and master Guy, with plenty of cameos and stories based around other members of the large cast, from Naruto himself to villains like Orochimaru. Each episode is two mini-stories, and so I can’t really give an overview of the series beyond that. There are obvious gags for the age group here, failed love gestures, sneaking a peak at girls in the communal baths, toilet humour and slapstick, plus some pretty standard storylines, like the old body swap hijinks, mishearing that you’re going to die soon and doing silly things before finding out you’re fine, beach-based episode, evil impersonator, school and homework-based worries and many more.

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While a lot of the humour is basic, there are a few gags aimed at Naruto fans only, characters acting out of character for the hell of it, or little asides to the camera. While you could watch the show without prior knowledge of the main Naruto universe, it certainly helps. I was informed that the English dub had been altered in order to make the comedy more approachable, which makes sense, similar shows have done so previously. I watched two episodes in English but with the Japanese subtitle track on, and really it seems to amount to a few pop culture references (which given this is a light-hearted spin-off, I’ll ignore that fact that they’re “breaking the fourth wall” and all that) and a few changing of food or folklore. It’s fine, and actually can be a bit funnier, especially as some English voice actors have got good comic timing, specifically Vic Mignogna’s Orochimaru (bonus points for having him and Kabuto use the old “we’re blasting off again!” Team Rocket line from Pokemon!)

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The soundtrack is all very cartoony and light-hearted, as you’d imagine, and the opening (“”Give Lee Give Lee Rock Lee” by Animetal USA) is cheerful and catchy, while the two endings for this set (“Twinkle Twinkle” by Secret and “Go! Go! Here We Go! Rock Lee” by Shiritsu Ebisu Chugaku) are also obnoxiously catchy. The extras here are just the old trailers and clean opening and endings.

So, Rock Lee and his Ninja Pals… this is a hard one to rate. Firstly it’s not as bad as I remembered, maybe I was just bitter over Bleach’s cancellation, but it’s still not great. Maybe in small doses, like its old weekly slot, it might be easier to take, but watching multiple episodes in a row makes the often immature jokes start to grate. I don’t want to rag on the show for being aimed at an audience younger than me, though, which is what makes this difficult to judge.

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I’d say if you’re a Naruto completionist, then get it, give it a watch through (over a long period of time) and then put it on your shelf. If you’re a younger fan of the show, but don’t have to buy everything, get it cheap and you’ll get a laugh out of it or ignore it completely without worry. I do have to say though that it’s currently retailing at over £30 everywhere, so I’d definitely wait for a price drop, no matter which category you fit in, at the end of the day it’s just a collection of comedy shorts. Anyone else, especially those who have no interest in Naruto, avoid it. That may sound like an obvious thing to say, but seriously, I grew tired of it very quickly and got the in-jokes; I can only imagine what the show would be like when you don’t even have that!

Title: Naruto Spin-off: Rock Lee and his Ninja Pals - Collection 1
Publisher: Manga Entertainment
Genre: Comedy
Studio: Studio Pierrot
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2012
Format: DVD
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 12
Running time: 650 minutes

Score: 5/10

The Empire of Corpses Review

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Project Ito may seem like a studio name but it’s actually a synonym for Satoshi Ito, a Japanese science fiction writer who produced four novels before his passing in 2009. Most of his books have been translated and released in the UK, including his novelisation of Metal Gear Solid 4. In early 2015 it was announced that his three original novels would be made into anime films, each with their own animation studio and directors to bring the stories to life. Two of these films so far have been licensed for UK release: Harmony and The Empire of Corpses – not only was the latter’s original book released posthumously but it has not yet been released in English (however, a small sample can be read here.) Luckily each film is its own entity so they do not need to be watched sequentially.

Set in the late 19th Century; the great Victor Frankenstein’s technology to raise the dead has become common knowledge. Although the ability to bring back one’s soul has been lost, along with the location of his first creation, the ability to reanimate corpses has become the backbone of society the world over; enabling easily-controlled corpses to do work such as waitressing, carrying cargo to boats, and even serving as soldiers in wars. Dr John Watson is a growing expert in this technology and he has been scouted by the British Empire as an agent to locate Victor’s original notes; however, he’s not the only one searching for such information and many other parties are willing to do whatever it takes to get their hands on it.

To make it clear: the main character is John Watson from the Sherlock Holmes books, and besides Victor Frankenstein, there are also cameos from real-life adventurers, presidents and inventors from the same period (for example Fredrick Burnaby). There are characters from classic French and Russian literature such as The Future Eve and The Brothers Karamazov, and a lot more British icons that I won’t spoil. Basically it’s a buffet of characters that join in the worldwide journey to recover Victor’s notes and stop a ‘zombie apocalypse’ (not really, but it’s a similar situation). That premise in itself is crazy enough to be a comic book, or wacky fanfiction, but half the fun is seeing the characters in a new environment outside their norm and having the audience figuring out who’s who – because unless you’ve read the relevant British, American, Russian and French material to know all of the name-drops, you’re only going to get a few. If you have read them all, good on you! You’re in for a treat.

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Outside of the iconic names however, most of the characters are very different to their original counterparts to the point that many would question why they are even named the same at all. Fredrick Burnaby and the Frankenstein mythos are the closest to their originals; the former maintaining his adventuring spirit and battle prowess, the latter drawing the most heavily from its work in terms of story and mythology. The others have little to nothing in common, but for the majority of the time whilst the movie flows from one stunning location to another, and action scenes keep the pace going, it really doesn’t matter because the characters are interesting in their own right regardless of what material (or country, in terms of the real life people) they come from. John Watson, for instance, is still a doctor but not the post-war Veteran kind, and he doesn’t show any physical health issues until close to the end of the film. However, he maintains his astute senses and curiosity about the unknown. It’s also a breath of air for the character that he’s able to shine alone; John Watson and Sherlock Holmes often come as a package deal for several obvious reasons, but it’s a great idea to let the character stand on his own, allowing him to take charge for once rather than just being in Sherlock’s shadow. We don’t need more Sherlock and Watson stories when we’ve got tons already, but we could do with more Watson tales; especially this one.

Adapting a text-heavy source to a visual medium often has lots of complications and issues, and these do not start to become apparent until the second half of the movie. The opening scenes are very engaging and set the tone fantastically, explaining the alternative history that has unfolded. The worldwide journey from England, to India, to Russia, to Tokyo to America not only gives the animators opportunity to really stretch their skills but also creates an epic feel to the whole movie. However, two thirds of the way into the film the characters start to play a cat and mouse game, merely chasing the villain to catch up with him before he does untold damage. That equates to jumping back and forth to locations we’ve already visited, a lot of action scenes with characters breaking into monologues over the top of them, hastily-paced character development and exposition to keep the movie going. It’s clear that there was so much material and world building going on in the original novel that there was simply no room to fit it into a standard movie running time. Enough is explained here and there to grasp the themes, character motivations and understand mostly what’s going on but there are many unanswered questions left at the end. For example, why does Hadaly have the unique powers she exhibits in the second half? What was the full extent of Friday’s and John’s relationship? How did they meet and come to reanimate corpses together? Why did the US president Ulysses Grant want the notes for himself? It’s clear a lot was cut from the source material and some of it was squeezed in to explain plot threads, but a large chunk of it could have been saved if they had dropped the constant travelling back and forth in the latter half. Credit to the production crew for not just having the movie all set in Japan, but the locations for the big finale and the previous fight scenes leading up to it could have been set anywhere so leaving it in one place would have saved a lot of ‘travelling’ animation and unnecessary scenes.

Despite the grand finale battle being weighed down by a lot of exposition and unanswered questions, the heart of the story – Watson’s mission to save Friday – remains strong even after repeated watches. Friday never says a word but you can see how much Watson adored his friend even after he’s long gone; Watson’s constant calling after him, the way he looks at him like he expects his friend to suddenly jump back to life, and the tiniest moments from Friday that give Watson hope to go on are really touching, and make the final scene at the very end all the more potent and heartbreaking.

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Wit Studio (the animators behind Attack on Titan) handled the visuals for this film and it does not disappoint. Aside from the aforementioned welcome changes in locations outside of Japan to set the film, the characters are designed marvellously with the corpses’ dead-eyed look and fractured movements making them appear just human enough to be recognisable but creepy enough to make the viewer wary of them whilst they’re on screen – they’re not just zombies, they’re something more and seeing them moving around with other humans, mostly blending in, is a freaky world to consider living in. Also a big thumbs up to the excellent use of 3D animation for the group corpses that loiter around the film; a common complaint with 3D animation is that it often looks out of place or flat compared to the anime style, but here that works to its advantage. Take the opening scenes, where you have rows and rows of corpse soldiers for example; the 3D-animated corpses look odd to the eye, moving awkwardly and inhumanly, but that’s exactly what they are. It’s a genius move on the studio’s part. There is some use of 3D for the last battle, which goes from high science fiction into fantasy territory, but its implementation makes the finale look as glorious as the story builds it to be.

Yoshihiro Ike provides the music for the film, and, like the animators, he gets to work with elements from the various countries the characters visit to his advantage to create a sweeping score. The theme song ‘Door’ by EGOIST is a jazz-inspired slow number that fits very nicely with the heavy British backdrop and mood of the final scene. Speaking of British; applause goes to Funimation for giving the characters the appropriate accents from English to Russian that make them sound as diverse as they are in the story. Although the accents aren’t completely perfect and some actors struggle more than others (you can practically hear Jason Liebrecht’s mind working in overdrive to say the word ‘corpses’ in the English way) it’s great they’ve gone the extra mile for the film, rather than just having everyone speaking in an American accent.

On disc extras include movie trailers, promos for other anime properties including Tokyo Ghoul √A and Psycho Pass, and there’s also a Funimation short where four members of the English voice cast discuss the movie, its themes, the characters, and so on. It’s an enjoyable little watch but be sure to watch it after you’ve seen the film as it’s full of spoilers! The collector’s edition comes in a very nice steel case, complete with dual formats and an art book.

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To summarise it in more modern wording, The Empire of Corpses can be described as a ‘hot mess’; it’s very fast paced with too much location jumping, leading to abrupt character development and world building that looks amazing but isn’t explained fully in the context of the story. The name-dropping of real and fictional characters is often no more than that. However, that doesn’t mean the film isn’t a blast to watch; a thrilling, wacky ride bursting with passion and imagination with lots of lovely Easter Eggs to get whilst watching or discover afterwards. If the idea of British, French, American, Russian characters coming together in one big corpse-slaying army interests you, then check it out.

One last note; stay through the credits for an added bonus scene that includes many more glorious cameos which will either have you squealing in joy or scratching your head in confusion. But it’s worth the watch either way.

Title: The Empire of Corpses
Publisher: Anime Limited
Genre: Horror, Action, Sci-Fi
Studio: Wit Studio
Type: Movie
Original vintage: 2015
Format: Blu-Ray and DVD (Blu-Ray version reviewed)
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 15
Running time: 120 minutes

Score: 7/10

Gonna Be The Twintail! Review

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Souji is an ordinary highschool student with an extraordinary love: Twintails. At school, he can think of nothing other than twintails, even going so far as to start his own club totally dedicated to the hairstyle. However, one day, a perverted alien force descends upon Earth with the intention of stealing everyone’s attribute, or spirit power, with their most sort-after attribute being twintail Attribute. Desperate to defend the twintails he loves, Souji takes up the offer of a mysterious girl named Twoearle, who gives him the power to transform into Tail Red, a female warrior with a glorious set of twintails. Alongside fellow twin-tailed fighters Aika and Erina, Souji must find a way to repel the invading aliens and make sure the glory of twintails lives on forever!

Of all the shows I’ve reviewed, Gonna Be The Twintail, the 2014 comedy based on the manga series by Ayumu Kasuga and Yume Mizusawa, is potentially the most divisive show I think I’ve seen. Most comedy anime, because of the very nature of comedy itself, are going to be quite polarizing anyway because different people have different senses of humour, but even still, I think Twintail in particular is either going to be something you really enjoy or something you absolutely detest. As you might suspect, twintails are at the very core of this show, and I think that a lot of the comedy comes from just how straight-faced it can be at times despite the insanely silly premise of twintails being this incredibly powerful source of power that are always talked about with incredible reverence by Souji. In the first handful of episodes, I actually thought this was quite hilarious, and it got quite a few laughs out of me in that respect alone, but the further the show went on, the less funny it became, and I could easily see the whole premise being annoying and grating to some people. It’s almost certainly a case of running a joke into the ground, but I think it’s a problem the show couldn’t really avoid, given it’s part of the premise. Thankfully, there’s a bit more to the comedy than just the twintail jokes, with the show leaning into a lot of raunchy and crude humour and some slapstick, that got a chuckle out of me pretty often, but that’s about it. One thing I did appreciate is the fact that, even though there are an awful lot of sex jokes in Twintail, it’s actually surprisingly restrained when it comes to fan service. I think it would have been incredibly easy for the studio to throw in more titillation given the nature of the show, but, despite not being entirely devoid of it, it wasn’t too distracting, which, personally, I was quite glad about.

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Despite the comedy being a little bit hit or miss, Twintail makes up for this with its action sequences, which I found to be very enjoyable. They’re generally well animated and feature a variety of different powers on display from the three twin-tailed heroes as well as the aliens, which kept the fights feeling fresh. As well as being fun to watch, it’s also in these battle scenes where I got the most laughs, with the alien creatures’ dialogue being some of the best in the show, especially their last words, which rarely failed to make me laugh. The story itself in Twintail is quite underwhelming, and a little repetitive. Most episodes have an alien attacking the girls and the girls defeating them. Even if the battles are a lot of fun, the formula did get tiring. I also thought the ending was pretty rushed and unsatisfying, with the resolution to the plot being delivered via a throwaway line of dialogue.

Much like its story, I can’t help but feel the characters of Twintail are also pretty weak. They’re mostly one note, with Souji’s twintail obsession pretty much defining his entire character. There is a plot point where Souji’s twintail love is shaken, but it ultimately doesn’t go anywhere and his character remains unchanged. As for the girls, they’re equally shallow, with Aika and Twoearle being your stock tsundere and pervert characters respectively. The only exception is Erina, whose introductory episodes flesh out her character a little bit, which is more than can be said for the others. There is an attempt at a romance between Souji and both Aika and Erina, but it’s so underwhelming and half-baked that it’s barely even worth mentioning. It would have been nice if they had tried to develop a relationship with Souji and one of the girls, as this would have helped towards alleviating the repetition in the story.

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Animation on Twintail is handled by Production IMS, the studio behind High School Fleet and Date A Live II, and they create a pretty good looking show, with the action sequences in particular being quite well animated and fun to watch. Outside of that, it’s nothing particularly outstanding, but it’s not bad either.

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Funimation’s release of Gonna Be the Twintail includes both Japanese and English audio tracks, with the dub cast giving some great performances all around. To me, the stand-out voice actor has to be Austin Tindle (Tokyo Ghoul, A Certain Magical Index, Prison School) who voices protagonist Souji. Given how very silly the lines he has to deliver are, he does a really great job of sounding legitimately invested in Twintails and really helps in selling Souji’s dedication to them. The music by Yasuharu Takanashi is also high quality, with a fantastic rock soundtrack adding some great intensity to the battles.

In terms of extras, Twintail is about what you’d expect, including a clean opening and closing but also includes episode commentaries, which is a nice bonus.

In Summary

Gonna Be the Twintail! is an incredibly silly show that provides a good amount of fun and a few decent laughs, even if it never really tries to be anything greater than that.

Title: Gonna Be The Twin-Tail!!
Publisher: Funimation (via Anime Limited)
Genre: Action, Comedy, Romance
Studio: Production IMS
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2014
Format: Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack (Blu-Ray version reviewed)
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 15
Running time: 300 minutes

Score: 7/10

Immortal Hounds Volume 1

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In an alternate reality Earth, humans cannot be killed. Even if they are shot in head or stabbed in the heart, they will instantly revive in perfect health. However, a disease is spreading, RDS, or  Resurrection Deficiency Syndrome, that prevents humans from coming back when killed. After his sister dies as a result of RDS, Kenzaki Shinichi is put in charge of the Anti-Vector Task Force, a special group of investigators who hunt Vectors, humans who carry the fatal disease. Opposing the task force is a mysterious organisation who protect the Vectors at all costs, with people known as Escape Artists rescuing and protecting the Vectors. Despite this, Kenzaki is determined to put a stop to RDS once and for all and discover the secrets behind the shadowy organisation that opposes his team.  

If you’re looking for a manga series with buckets of blood and gore, you can’t go wrong with Ryo Yasohachi’s seinen action splatterfest Immortal Hounds. The idea behind Immortal Hounds – that everyone can instantly come back to life in an instant – is genuinely quite genius for a manga all about trying to be as violent and gory as possible, and it takes great advantage of its concept. Kenzaki and his team of investigators are killed and mutilated in a bunch of different and increasingly violent ways throughout the first volume and the sheer amount and intensity of the action here is incredibly over-the-top and very enjoyable, if you can stomach that kind of thing.

Whilst Immortal Hounds’ insane violence is certainly the element of this first volume that I enjoyed the most, the story is more than just an excuse for mindless violence and is an intriguing start to a larger story. The premise alone was engaging enough to keep me invested but these initial chapters set up plenty of plot threads that left me wanting to know what happens next. Despite the story being quite straight-faced and taking itself pretty seriously, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the comedic in-universe public service announcements that pop up in-between some of the chapters. Not only are these shorts darkly hilarious, poking fun at real life PSAs, they also help to flesh out the universe by having the characters explain how RDS works and how people with the disease are treated. This makes the universe feel much more believable whilst also delivering some surprisingly good laughs.

When it comes to the characters, there isn’t really much to talk about, at least in this first volume. We do find out a little bit about Kenzaki and Rin, but there isn’t really a whole lot to them at the moment, although the ending of Volume One certainly leaves them in a good place for future development.  

Considering artist and author Ryo Yasohachi has never done an action manga before, with his only other notable work being the sci-fi/romance Uwagaki, Immortal Hounds is actually quite the impressive looking manga. It’s nothing particularly unique, but the action and gore look great. If I did have one complaint, it’s that I found it occasionally hard to follow in the more hectic scenes, but it was never really a huge issue.

In Summary

With delightful amounts of over-the-top gore and violence and an interesting premise, the first volume of Immortal Hounds provides a promising start to what could be a great splatter series.

Title: Immortal Hounds Volume 1
Publisher: Vertical Comics
Genre: Action, Seinen, Supernatural
Author(s): Ryo Yasohachi
Type: Manga
Original vintage: 2013
Format: Book
Age rating: 16+
Length: 204 pages

Score: 7/10

Queen Emeraldas – Volume 1

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Leiji Matsumoto is one of those names that you hear all the time when you start getting into anime and manga, often in sentences that start with “classic authors like…” His most famous works include Space Battleship Yamato, Galaxy Express 999 and Space Pirate Captain Harlock, and Queen Emeraldas is certainly a lot closer to the latter than the others, though they obviously all share similarities in terms of setting. Emeraldas herself is a Space Pirate (and a Captain, I guess, as she has no crew…) and is in the same universe as Harlock, confirmed by various characters talking about the character.

The stories in this pleasingly hefty and well-crafted book (more on that later!) can be broken down into two categories: stories centred around Hiroshi Umino, a kid who wants nothing more than to travel the stars in a ship he’s built himself, and stories centred around Emeraldas, which is normally her arriving just before or after Umino and gently helping him achieve his goals, as they were goals she had at that age too.

The Umino stories are the heart of the piece, though they are often quite harsh. More often than not, the unpleasant adult types try to kill him for one reason or another, leading to the poor boy having to kill his fair share of people to achieve his goals. It doesn’t seem to bother him too much, and he often justifies these actions by saying he was upholding the “laws of space”. He does meet a few friendly people, though they frequently encounter rather unpleasant fates themselves. Umino is quite hard to like after a while. First you’re happy to see a boy with a presumably unpleasant upbringing chasing his dreams against all odds, but after a while you want him to stop being so cold and stoic and be a bit more… child-like. It probably doesn’t help that Emeraldas is also cold and stoic, so I guess I was expecting a more contrast to the two story types, even if she is following him around because he reminds her of herself.

Having said that, the Emeraldas stories are a bit more varied. Sometimes she just arrives in classic “bad-ass” cloaked fashion, everyone makes fun of her, finds out who she is, regrets their decision and then gets killed in either a fair duel or as they’re running away. There is a story about her background and how she met her faithful ship, the Queen Emeraldas (it has the same name as her, coincidentally… or perhaps not so coincidentally? We don’t know yet) which includes an interesting planet full of huge cities that has been completely abandoned by its natives and is now in the control of a small band of colonists. They refuse to share any of their now ample resources with anyone, despite having literally entire cities that are empty. It’s wandering the deserts of this near-empty world that has her come across the ship and its mysterious owner (who, it seems, gives the ship to Emeraldas as she reminds her of herself…).

The art is an interesting one. Emeraldas and a few soldier types are drawn very realistically, very thin with properly defined features, whereas the kids and some of the more regular people (doctors, mechanics et al) are drawn in a very cartoony style, full of big noses and hair that completely covers characters eyes. It reminded me of the original Gundam series, where the children and a few character looked cartoony, and the rest presented as regular looking people. I assume this isn’t a coincidence and that Gundam was simply using a style that was popular at the time, probably due to Leiji Matsumoto’s earlier work.

The last two stories in the book have never been reprinted before and actually had the original manuscripts lost (they were scanned from the magazine they appeared in), so although they didn’t feel any different to the other stories in this volume, it’s always nice to hear of more material being collected and released rather than being left to fade away. The book itself is of very high quality, hardback with top quality glossy pages. A lot of love and care has gone into this release.

So, overall, do I recommend you pick up Queen Emeraldas Vol. 1? Well, if you’re a fan of sci-fi, particularly more pulpy, 60s sci-fi, then there is a lot to enjoy here, likewise if you’re a fan of vintage manga or Leiji himself (though I imagine if you are, you don’t need to be convinced to buy this!) Otherwise some of the story points do start to wear a bit thin over the 400 odd pages, the amount of times someone dies due to the “harsh laws of space” was starting to grate a bit, and Umino’s custom ship crashing was a bit overused to get the story to a new location. Still though, there are a lot of fun sci-fi ideas, some great art and all collected in a very lovely hardback book. If you’re on the fence, I definitely give this book a high recommendation.

 

Title: Queen Emeraldas - Volume 1
Publisher: Kodansha Comics
Genre: Space Opera
Author(s): Leiji Matsumoto
Type: Manga
Original vintage: 1978
Format: Book
Age rating: 16+
Length: 415 pages

Score: 8/10