Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin III – Dawn of Rebellion Review

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Ian Wolf’s Review

The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.” – Albert Camus

The third episode in the OVA series detailing the events prior to the original Mobile Suit Gundam series begins to show how one of anime’s greatest antagonists began to develop a more ruthless streak to his nature.

This instalment begins with a short summary of the events of the past two episodes. When the second episode ended Casval and Artesia Deikun, now living under the names Edouard and Sayla Mass, had learned of the death of their mother. The two have gone their separate ways, with Sayla remaining at her home and Edouard leaving Texas Colony in the company of Char Aznable, a man who looks almost identical to him. The only difference is the colour of their eyes.

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The duo are leaving Texas Colony to begin military training in Loum. On the way to the spaceship taking them there Edouard spots that people are spying on him, while Char is stopped at customs for carrying an antique gun. Edouard convinces Char to swap clothes with him to avoid his problem, meaning that it would be Edouard who misses the flight while Char can board. However, Edouard correctly predicts that Zabi allies are up to something: the spaceship explodes, killing Char, who the allies of Zabi believe wrongly to be Edouard. Edouard meanwhile takes up his friend’s identity, dons a pair of shades to disguise his eyes – claiming that his sight has been affected by cosmic rays – and begins his new life as “Char Aznable”.

Edouard, or Char as we should probably now call him, excels in his class to the annoyance of one classmate, Garma Zabi, heir to the Zabi throne and whose importance is clear to all; he clearly stands out in the class because of his purple hair which he keeps messing around with. However, the two do eventually become close after Char helps Garma during an exercise. Later on, an Earth Federation ship crashes into Zeon, sparking more riots and demands of independence from Earth. Char uses this as a chance to increase his power by getting Garma and their fellow cadets to launch an attack on a Federation Barracks.

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Among the positives of this episode are that we get to grips with the Char Aznable that most Gundam fans will now recognise. We see him wearing his trademark visor with the overhead strap for the first time. We also see some of the events which lead to the increasing tensions between Zeon and Earth. The end of the episode even features a segment concerning Amuro. In terms of negative points, we see very little of Sayla and some of the animation is of dubious quality. For example, when Char flicks away a flunky of Garma’s, the character seems to not move at all, and instead the other man is just shrunk to indicate how far backwards he has travelled.

However, as with the previous collections distributed by Anime Limited, the most impressive thing about this set is the amount of bonus material you get (although most of it is in Japanese). On the discs there is an audio commentary, trailers and video of the debut screening of the second episode. Elsewhere you also get the wonderfully illustrated presentation case, a book covering the storyboards, another book covering the cel art, a third booklet covering the episode, and one thing that was not mentioned when the OVA was released: a clipping of the actual film reel, containing four cels of footage from the episode (in my case it depicted Dozle). It is wonderful that we are able to get such impressive collector’s editions these days.

Score: 8 / 10

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Anime Quick Information

  • Title: Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin III – Dawn of Rebellion
  • UK Publisher: Bandai Visual Japan via Anime Limited
  • Genre: Action, Drama, Mecha, Military, Sci-fi
  • Studio: Sunrise
  • Type: OVA
  • Year: 2015
  • Running time: 68 minutes

Aldnoah.Zero – Season 1 Review

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Aldnoah.Zero is an original anime (as in not based on a manga, light novel or game, a rare thing really!) that was created by Gen Urobuchi of Madoka Magica, Fate/Zero and Psycho-Pass fame.

In 1969 explorers on the moon found an ancient hyper-gate that connected to Mars, leading to eventual colonisation of the planet and the official creation of the Vers empire. On Mars the discovery of more ancient technology, specifically a perfect energy source named Aldnoah, led to the Vers empire leaping ahead of Earth technologically. In 1999 war on Earth was declared by Vers, a war that resulted in the hype-gate exploding and taking a large chunk of the moon with it. The resulting damage to Earth, referred to as “heaven’s fall”, resulted in a ceasefire where Earth began to gather itself together and the Vers Imperial Army, now unable to get back to Mars, stood by in large orbital space stations referred to as “Sky Castles”, surrounded by debris from the moon.

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That is how this story starts. It is a little overwhelming at first, though you soon catch on to everything. The Princess of Vers decides to head to Earth in the name of peace but she is assassinated, causing war to break out between Earth and the Imperial Vers army, who soon descend to the planet and begin attacking, easily wiping out Earth’s lesser evolved mech suits with their far superior (and Aldnoah-powered) suits (note that in this world, mechs are referred to as “Kataphracts”). This leads to Gundam 101, as a bunch of students end up piloting suits and bettering their opponent, surprising the experienced soldiers whom they end up travelling with around the world as they head to a base. The lead characters on the good side are Inaho Kaizuka, an emotionless genius student, and the Princess of Vers, Asseylum Vers Allusia, who, as it turns out, isn’t dead. She soon finds out that her own people engineered her attempted assassination and so joins the Earth soldiers in order to contact the higher-ups at Vers to cause a ceasefire. Sorry if that seems spoilery, but this all happens with the first episode or two… The two leads begin to have feelings for each other, being pretty much the only two who just see a fellow human staring back at them, rather than a member of the enemy race.

As for the “Orbital Knights”, they are mostly your classic aristocratic snobs who look down on the filthy Terrans and have no problem taking territory by force. The only real exception, and undoubtedly the most interesting character in the series, is Slaine Troyard. He is from Earth, but after crashing onto Vers he was rescued by the Princess and taken in as a lowly servant, fiercely loyal to the Princess that saved him. Throughout the series he teases going to each side of the war, unsure of his loyalty to anything other than the Princess, but even when he finds out she’s alive, he is caught between the members of Vers also loyal to her, the Vers who tried to kill her and the Earthlings; he is technically one of them, but one who has spent so long in the company of the Vers empire that he has a hard time trusting the others. The very last scene of this season is a cracker, with Slaine in the middle of an impossible situation, and seeing what he does was great TV. Thumbs up for the cliffhanger.

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Both voice casts do a fine job, so no matter your language preference, you’ll be happy. The opening theme is “heavenly blue” by Kalafina, and the ending themes (it has two, and switches between them rather randomly) are “A/Z” and “aLIEz”, both by SawanoHiroyuki[nZk]:mizuki (which is a mouthful!). I also feel that I have to mention the background music by Hiroyuki Sawano, which is great. It really sets a lot of the action scenes up well. The animation is good. Although I’m not a fan of mixing CGI with traditional animation, Aldnoah does do it with a good bit of flair, and blends the scenes well enough that I didn’t even notice after a few episodes.

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One of my few complaints is that the 12 episodes are spread across four discs, with three episodes per Blu-ray. Given four episodes per DVD, let alone Blu-ray, is pretty old hat nowadays, this seemed really odd. So odd that I have no doubt it was something out of Anime Limited’s hands, so I won’t harp on about it too much. Also of note is that Japanese with English subs is the default when the discs start and you have to select the English language track through the set up menu. Extras are the usual clean opening and endings, plus “Count to A/Z”, a behind the scenes look at the production and promotion of the anime, only available in Japanese with subtitles.

Overall this is a satisfying mech anime, the start of which won’t take anyone by surprise. It takes a few different turns and leads to a great ending that will leave you wanting more.

Score 8/10

Anime Quick Information

Title: Aldnoah.Zero
UK Publisher: Anime Limited
Genre: Action, Sci-fi
Studio: A-1 Pictures
Type: TV series
Year: 2014
Age Rating: 15
Running Time: 275 minutes

Sword Art Online II – Part 4 Review

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Ian Wolf’s Review

Warning: may contain spoilers.

“One must have a heart of stone not to read the death of Little Nell without laughing.” – Oscar Wilde

The end of the second TV series of Sword Art Online is one that certainly tries to get your tears flowing. Whether it does all depends on how sentimental you are.

With Asuna the main character in the “Mother’s Rosario” arc, the first episode of this arc sees her new friend Yukki introducing her to the Sleeping Knights guild. The guild is planning to disband in a few months, but before they depart they want to get their name on the Monument of Swordsmen, a black stone which back in the bad days of SAO listed the players and which ones had died. Now it lists the names of the first people to defeat the bosses on each level.

The problem is that they want to get the names of all six guild members on the monument, and the only way they can do it is to defeat the monster without the help of any other guilds. Asuna decides to assist them. After they leave for the night, Asuna finds herself forcefully disconnected by her mother, who is still annoyed by the amount of time she is playing her games and wants her to change schools. Asuna’s deadline for dealing with all her issues is coming up fast.

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Back in SAO, Asuna and the Sleeping Knights begin their mission and on the way there she spots members of another guild devoted to beating boss monsters. The Sleeping Knights fail at their first attempt, but Asuna correctly deduces that the other guild was spying on them and preparing to defeat the monster before them. They quickly return to the battle site, only to discover more guild members waiting for them. Yukki begins attacking them when the other guild’s reinforcments arrive. Luckily for Asuna, help arrives in the shape of Kirito and Yui who block their path, while Klein attacks from the rear. This gives Asuna time for her and friends to enter the boss room and complete their mission, but during the battle something odd happens: Yukki refers to Asuna as her “Big Sister”. Yukki does this again at the Monument of Swordsmen, and when Asuna points this out to her, Yukki logs off and runs away.

With Kirito’s help, Asuna finds out where Yukki is in real life: she is in hospital, attached to a “Medicuboid”, a medical full-dive machine. When Asuna sees Yukki in the real world, she comes to understand why the guild is disbanding: the guild members all met in a virtual hospice and Yukki herself is estimated to have three months to live as she is dying from AIDS. With this revelation Asuna tries to give Yukki the best time possible before she passes away, and Yukki in turn provides Asuna with the motivation she needs to confront her mother.

This main feature of this collection is the character of Yukki and the revelation that she has AIDS. It is a big shock to see an anime dealing with such a heavy subject – possibly the most frightening disease in the world. Not surprisingly, Yukki does die of her illness in the last episode, leading to a particularly notable final scene. Back in the virtual world Yukki gives Asuna her Original Sword Skill, the “Mother’s Rosario” in the arc title, and as she dies the rest of the Sleeping Knights, then Kirito and his friends, and then all the other players in the game turn up to pay their respects as Yukki passes away.

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Now, there are two ways you can look at this scene. You can be saddened and moved to tears as Yukki dies, leaving behind both her old and her new friends, and marvel at the huge and noble crowd that pays their respects to her, including other players she had defeated in the game; or, you can think that this is incredibly melodramatic and oversentimental.

Reki Kawahara, the original author of the books, is frequently criticised for being a poor writer. For example, if there is a baddie in Sword Art Online, they tend to always be the vilest person imaginable with no redeeming features, and often come across as borderline rapists. In the case of a dying character Kawahara not only gives the character an incurable illness, but the scariest illness in the world. In the UK, you cannot think of AIDS without thinking of John Hurt voicing an advert in which the word “AIDS” is carved into what looks like a gravestone.

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Plus, while it is arguably commendable that Kawahara is highlighting AIDS, the massive crowd near the end somewhat ruins it. When she is dying with Asuna it is sad; when her guild mate arrives it is sadder; when Kirito and his friends turn up you reach your emotional breaking point; when just about every other player in the game turns up you think: “Oh my God, it’s amazing to see so many people pay their respe… hang on… this is way too much!” This is the equivalent of Little Nell’s death scene being attended by every single customer The Old Curiosity Shop ever had. If Little Nell’s death made Oscar Wilde laugh, Yukki’s death would have had him rolling on the floor, wetting himself in hysterics.

In terms of extras, you have the guide book, textless opening and closing, web previews, and two Sword Art Offline previews.

Overall, the first half of this series has been good, but the endings of both the first arc and this final arc were frustrating. The good bits are balanced out by the bad. This is not the end of the series however. There is still one game written about in the novels that has yet to be adapted: UnderWorld, an AI simulation where time flows differently to that of the real world. Plus there is a fifth game that doesn’t appear in the books. This is Ordinal Scale, the subject of the forthcoming Sword Art Online movie to be released next year.

Score: 6 / 10

Anime Quick Information

  • Title: Sword Art Online II – Part 4
  • UK Publisher: Anime Ltd.
  • Genre: Action, Death Game, Drama, Fantasy, Sci-fi
  • Studio: A-1 Pictures
  • Type: TV series
  • Year: 2014
  • Running time: 120 minutes

Orange: The Complete Collection #2 Review

Orange Collection 2Back in May I was busy singing the praises of Orange as the manga series had just seen the release of Orange: The Complete Collection Volume 1. I’m here again to review the second volume and tell everyone about this wonderful series. This second complete collection of Orange contains the final two and a half volumes of the original Japanese releases collected into a massive 384 page omnibus.

As a general note this review contains spoilers for the first complete collection, so if you haven’t already read it then stop reading now!

When we left Naho in Volume 1 she was struggling with how to best help Kakeru. Despite following the advice of the letters from the future, Naho couldn’t always prevent Kakeru from being hurt or feeling lonely. However, at the start of the second volume our young protagonist has discovered that the rest of her close friends have also received letters from the future and are doing their best to support Naho in helping Kakeru. By working together can the group encourage Kakeru to open up to them and prevent him from committing suicide?

The first major story arc kicks off by covering the school sport festival. In the original timeline this was a notable event for Kakeru as he began feeling even more depressed due to the fact none of his family (especially his deceased mother) could be at the sport’s festival, while other students had their families present. Coupled with the fact that he lost the relay race for his class, it’s easy to see how this festival was a defining moment in Kakeru’s mental health and potential future. In the current timeline, Suwa helps out Naho by making sure that Kakeru’s grandmother can attend the event, which lifts Kakeru’s spirits a great deal. To try and avoid losing the relay, the friends also work hard training together and pass along an inspiring message to Kakeru when they finally run together.

For a moment it appears that things are actually starting to look up. However, it’s soon revealed that life for Kakeru truly isn’t improving. Despite their best efforts, and him and Naho beginning to grow closer romantically, Kakeru still starts to distance himself from his friends.

This is the point where I’ll no longer discuss the plot because knowing more would definitely impact your pleasure when reading the series for yourself. Instead I’d rather talk about how impressed I am with mangaka Ichigo Takano’s work with the story and characters. I said this in my previous review and it rings true here, too: that how the characters deal with Kakeru and their own feelings is very realistic and down-to-earth. Naho is tangled up in her feelings for Kakeru and her fear of not being able to save him – so much so that she doesn’t always make the right choices or say what she truly wants to say. Likewise, we have Suwa, who has feelings for Naho but knows he should push her together with Kakeru despite this.

Hagita, Azusa, and Chino, who were somewhat glossed over in the previous volume, finally come into their own in this collection. As the series starts to draw to a close and Naho learns that everyone in the group has been getting letters from the future, which gives Hagita and co. the chance to really shine. Now that they have more reason to be involved, and aren’t just helping on the sidelines, their personalities really come through to the reader. They’re still not quite ‘main characters’, yet I feel as though I know all of their feelings perfectly. It’s further proof of how well written our cast is.

Let’s take a moment to talk about the artwork. Takano has continued to do a brilliant job by creating very moving scenes through what appears to be quite basic art. Apart from the faces of the characters, panels are often fairly empty, but since Takano draws people so well, this doesn’t matter. If anything, the artistic focus on the cast compared to the backgrounds just heightens the emotions that Takano is trying to convey. Naho and friends look cute and a little rough around the edges at a distance but this also makes them feel more alive. All along, apart from the time travel aspect, Takano has worked hard to build a realistic story and the artwork further illustrates this point.

Generally speaking, I am also impressed by the work publisher Seven Seas have put into the release. The book opens with some wonderful colour pages which showcase the cast in the future and past. Not only that, this release also homes another of Takano’s work – Haruiro Astronaut. Rather than being a brief one-shot, Haruiro Astronaut is about a volume’s worth of content. It’s a love story about a pair of twins and a rather handsome boy. The plot is a simple affair when compared to Orange but still nice to see brought out in English. My only criticism is that perhaps Seven Seas should have published Haruiro Astronaut as a separate release instead of including it with Orange: The Complete Collection Volume 2. Doing such means that the book is so big I left a crease in the spine (right where Haruiro Astronaut begins) and fear it could be a potential weak point for tearing on future reads. It’s not a major complaint but I am a little disappointed when this is an otherwise flawless release and, being one of my favourite series now, I hope that the book will stand up to future wear and tear.

Even on this second read-through, Orange has continued to tug at the heartstrings and be a wonderful experience. The story is simply splendid and I’m sure that I’ll continue recommending it to friends and family for years to come. With an anime in the works, I’m hoping that Orange continues to be popular. Perhaps the anime can even be a gateway for newcomers to manga, who are looking for an insightful view into the minds of those with depression and the friends around said person. One thing is for sure, I’ll certainly be reading Orange again and again as, for me, it’s a true masterpiece.

Score: 10/10

Manga Quick Information

Title: Orange
Original vintage: 2012
Mangaka: Ichigo Takano
Published by: Seven Seas
Genre: Drama, Romance, School, Shoujo, Sci-fi
Age rating: Teen
Material length: 384

Seraph Of The End – Collector’s Edition #1 Review

Following the international acclaim lavished on their pop culture smash hit Attack On Titan, the newly-formed Wit Studio have brought their stylish and slick animation to a brand new fight for humanity’s salvation with Seraph Of The End.

When ninety percent of humanity falls victim to a deadly plague, the remainder are herded together by vampires for their “protection” when actually, they’re treated as little more than livestock, regularly being milked for their blood like cattle. Yūichirō “Yu” Hyakuya, one of the oldest in a makeshift family of orphans, does little to hide his dissatisfaction with their current situation and often optimistically talks of a day where they will break free of their oppressor. When fellow family member Mikaela obtains a map of the vampire’s city, they hatch an escape plan and unwittingly play into the palms of a bored noble, whose performance while murdering the children would put figure-skaters to shame. Reluctantly following the pleas of a dying Mikaela, Yu makes a break for the outside world, swearing revenge on the vampires who tore his family apart.

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Four years later, Yu is trying to keep his promise as a member of the Japanese Imperial Demon Army’s renowned vampire extermination unit, the Moon Demon Company. However, a familiar face is now standing behind enemy lines – Mikaela Hyakuya.

Being an adaptation of a manga serialised in Weekly Shonen Jump’s sister magazine Jump SQ, perhaps it comes as no surprise that the story can sometimes leave the viewer with a sense of déjà vu as certain plot threads and relationship dynamics feel oddly familiar to anyone already invested in the medium, with fate pitting childhood friends on opposing sides of a conflict being a common theme seen in the likes of Mobile Suit Gundam SEED, as well as the dynamic between Yu and his superior Lieutenant Colonel Guren being similar to that of Fullmetal Alchemist‘s Edward Elric and Roy Mustang, with the two superiors curiously even sharing the same military rank.

The few similarities are only a small part of a larger narrative though; one that successfully brings fear back to the vampire race with its positioning of the oppressors. As the vast majority are depicted as adults in comparison to the human children they rule over and terrorise, this adds an additional sting to scenes of their brutality. This comes to a head with the Battle of Shinjuku, the season’s dramatic climax, which throws the young heroes head-first into a conflict that perfectly encapsulates the dread, anticipation and futility you might expect from the front lines. My only real complaint with the narrative is that the duality of Yu and Mikaela being on different sides comes across as forced, as I’m not convinced Mikaela would side with the vampires or believe that Yu is the one being misled, as the vampires don’t exactly have a solid track record of honesty and he didn’t choose to be turned in the first place.

When I think about Seraph Of The End though, the first image that pops into my head isn’t one of Yu cutting down a vampire or an emotionally-charged plot twist, but rather, a smug grin plastered across Sergeant Shinoa Hiragi’s face. Her snide and sarcastic remarks bounce wonderfully off Yu, a typical hot-headed protagonist, leading to a number of charmingly comedic interactions. This is true with most of the cast, with most of them being set up to cleverly compliment particular aspects of each other, helping to prop up the Moon Demon Company as a shining beacon of the “family” theme at the core of the series. For example, Yu’s encouragement of the timid Yoichi serves as an important early sign that there is a caring person behind the reckless bravado, while Shinoa’s thorny relationship with Mitsuba helps bring her down to a level-playing field with the rest of her squad.

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I can’t help but admire this series from a design perspective, with the Moon Demon Company’s uniform featuring a wonderful mix of green and black that, when combined with hair colours such as Shinoa’s purple, creates some beautifully striking imagery. Being from the studio behind Attack On Titan, it should come as a surprise to no one that the series has a high standard of animation, with action sequences being a notable stand-out alongside the incredibly detailed backdrops that breath eerie life into the post-apocalyptic Japan.

While the soundtrack is unremarkable for the most part, praise has to be given to the original Japanese voice cast, with Aoi Yūki‘s performance of vampire leader Krul Tepes being especially worthy of praise. Hearing a voice more commonly associated with cute and innocent roles taking on a more sinister tone works remarkably well with Krul’s slimmer frame, despite vampire rulers having the appearance of prepubescent girls being nothing new in the world of anime (Dance in the Vampire Bund for example). Out of the three other language options in this release (English, French and German), Monica Rial’s performance in Funimation’s English version comes closest in recreating Krul’s cute yet creepy charm. The rest of Funimation’s dub falls below expectations however, with frequent awkward pronunciations of Japanese names and many characters coming across as being miscast, with Dave Trosko (Guren) and Ian Sinclair (Kimizaki) being particularly notable examples, as they both sound better suited for the other’s roles. In contrast, the two European dubs have firmer handles on the Japanese pronunciation and stronger casting, with the German dub being a particular favourite of mine (although Ferid saying “Ooo-la-la!” in French cannot be missed!). The five subtitle languages using the same tracks regardless of audio option may be irksome to some, but I think we can forgive the lack of 20 different subtitle sets.

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The real magic of this release however, lies in its presentation. Being the first anime release from Universal UK, there was a lot of anticipation and apprehension around this title, but I’m happy to confirm that not only is the Collector’s Edition set exceptionally high quality, but it currently offers the best value for money in the UK industry. The presentation box is solid, sturdy and to the delight of some – completely free of logos, with the blurb and rating information being kept to an outer paper insert. The soft touch finish on the art book feels wonderful on my fingers; like a smooth rubber despite being paper!

The sheer amount of content within the Visual Guide is astounding: concept art, extensive interviews and character biographies spread across a whopping 129 pages, meaning there’s a lot of material to read through! I thought the inclusion of four Top Trumps-style cards was a really cute idea; I hope enough of these are produced to make an entire deck some day! The other physical extras, the poster and art cards, are really well made too.

There have been concerns about the box being top-loading, meaning contents is pulled out from the top of the box as opposed to the side, but I personally have no issue with this – in fact, the landscape orientation of the Visual Guide and the digi-book justifies it in my opinion. I wouldn’t mind if the box was a tiny bit taller though, as I do worry about the digi-book’s cardboard spine potentially being crushed.

Very few distributors within the anime industry have had as good a start as Universal, offering a fun action series in a package rivalling even premium releases for a fraction of the price (£39.99 on Amazon at time of writing). I really hope this series performs well for them, as I definitely would like to see more releases like this in the future!

8/10

Director: Daisuke Tokudo
Language: Japanese
Subtitles: English
Dubbed: English
Number of discs: 2
Classification: 15
Studio: Universal Pictures UK
DVD Release Date: 23 May 2016
Run Time: 264 minutes

Attack on Titan: The Movie Part 1 Review


Attack on Titan movie part 1
It goes without saying that
Attack on Titan has exploded in popularity since the original manga received its anime adaptation in early 2013. Since then the series received countless manga spin-offs, two recap anime movies and OVAs, and a two-part live action movie. I’m here to review the first part of the Attack on Titan live action movie, which adapts the source in a rather interesting manner.

The live action take of Attack on Titan changes up the setting from Germany to Japan due to director Shinji Higuchi choosing to film the movie on Battleship Island (Gunkanjima), which is located off the coast of Nagasaki. It’s worth noting up-front for the Levi fans that this change resulted in Levi being written out of the movie completely. Due to Levi not being Japanese in origin, and his name including the katakana character ‘vu’ (which no Japanese name normally includes), the director felt that it would be wrong to to change his name or have a Japanese actor play a Caucasian role. However, to make up for this removal a Levi-like character was created to fill the gap.

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The first part of the movie is focused around the very early stages of the main Attack on Titan story – with numerous differences. The colossal Titan comes along and smashes a hole in the wall, just like in the original, allowing numerous titans to invade the area behind the outer wall and cause chaos for the residents. After waging a futile battle against the Titan onslaught, the humans take shelter and later evacuate to an area behind one of the inner walls. However, the torment isn’t over yet. With the farmlands now inhabited by titans and a food shortage taking hold, it’s clear that humanity is going to have to fight back to reclaim their home and plug the hole in the wall.

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There are some key differences between this adaption of Attack on Titan and the original story. First off, there is no Survey Corps to begin with, so no one knew if the Titans still existed beyond the walls as no human had seen them for a 100 years. The story explains that nobody had been outside the outer walls for a century because of a big bomb, which meant only Titans could survive the outside world. We never learn more about this bomb but we do discover that this world was once much more technologically driven than the original Attack on Titan. It’s stated that technology only bred war, lack of resources, and other such things. While we never learn more than this, it’s clear that this world is (currently) vastly different to the one presented in the manga. It’ll be interesting to see if the second part of the movie expands on this concept further.

In this story the relationship between Eren and Mikasa has also been changed, including what happens to them earlier on in the story. In the original series they’re brother and sister (although not by blood as Mikasa is adopted), but for this tale it’s never mentioned that the two are family. What’s more, Eren doesn’t even know his family because they died while he was a young child. Instead Mikasa acts as a love interest for Eren and is often jokingly referred to as his girlfriend. During the first half of this live action adventure Eren and Mikasa are separated, with Mikasa stranded in the part of town now overrun by titans. When Eren returns to the outer walls two years later, now part of the Survey Corps force, he reunites with Mikasa, who has changed drastically after being trained by a mysterious fighter known as Shikishima (our Levi substitute).

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While the core story of humanity versus the Titans is unchanged, it’s clear that the live action take is its own universe and should be treated as such. There isn’t a great deal of focus on the story once the Survey Corps are established and the troops head out to seal the hole in the wall. Instead the movie supplies endless amounts of gore to entertain the viewers. You definitely don’t want to be watching this while eating. Because of the lack of story later on, I’m not sure if the movie makes for a great rewatch, but it’s certainly fun to just sit back, turn your brain off, and enjoy the ride the first time around.

There is some good acting on show for the Attack on Titan core characters. Haruma Miura makes a fitting Eren, delivering his more threatening dialog with great emotion. Kiko Mizuhara, who plays Mikasa, and Hiroki Hasegawa, who plays Shikishima, are also highlights on an acting level and both do a tremendous job with their roles. So far I’ve neglected to mention Armin, who is a core member of the team in the original manga, but that’s because the live action movie sidelines him a great deal of the time. This makes it difficult to get a read on how good Kanata Hongo actually is at playing the role. It’s likely we’ll be seeing more of Armin in the second film, so hopefully that will give Kanata the chance to truly shine.

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Overall the music isn’t anything to write home about but it does a decent job of compelling the movie along. It’s not bad, it just doesn’t really stand out on its own either.

For what it is, Attack on Titan has been approached in an interesting manner. The story might be different but the action scenes are incredibly fun to watch (if the titans don’t scare you to death, that is!) and it works as an interesting take on a well established story. I don’t believe that this is a good entry point for someone who has never watched and/or read Attack on Titan before, but if you already know the story then it’ll make sense. Based on the re-working of the original manga, I can’t recommend this very highly but as a whole it certainly makes a fun movie to watch with friends. I’m certainly looking forward to the second half of the adventure.

Score: 5/10

Quick Information

  • Title: Attack on Titan: The Movie
  • UK Publisher: Animatsu
  • Genre: Horror, Drama, Action.
  • Director: Shinji Higuchi
  • Year: 2015
  • DVD/Bluray Release Date: June 27th 2016
  • Run Time: 94 minutes
  • Classification: 15

Platinum End Chapter 8 Review

Review of Platinum End, Chapter 8

 Platinum End

Ian Wolf’s review

 “One murder makes a villain; millions, a hero. Numbers sanctify, my good fellow!” – Charlie Chaplin.

 The latest chapter of Platinum End begins in an unexpected way, with a dead schoolgirl’s body being found at the top of a tower. Things take an even more disturbing turn in the following scene, where we see two schoolgirls making out. Nothing is fully exposed, but there are unbuttoned shirts and breast fondling. One of the girls is a friend of Metropoliman, and from him we learn that this girl is “Serial Killer Girl A”. Real name Mimimi Yamada, also known as Misurin (Mi3); she was arrested when she was 14, murdering girls in middle school.

Thanks to Metropoliman using his red arrows to control her, Metropoliman is now using Misurin as an ally in his attempt to destroy the other God Candidates. Mirai, Saki, and their new ally Nanato, learn from the news that Metropoliman allowed her to escape from jail, continue her murders, and allow Misurin to use both red arrows and wings. Nanato’s plan is to get Mirai to use his white arrows to kill Metropoliman while he and Saki will try to approach Misurin. Mirai does not want to go ahead with this plan, not wishing to use his arrows to kill, saying that he has lived by a creed that he would rather be the victim than the perpetrator: “I’d rather be murdered… than a murderer.”

Nanato however puts his belief to the test, saying that if Metropoliman was about to kill Saki, would he use his white arrows or red arrows. This leads to a nightmarish sequence as Mirai plays out the horrible scenario in his head: could he kill someone if it meant saving the one he loved most? It is a scene that brings him out in a terrible sweaty panic as he tries to figure out the answer.

This chapter has to be the most shocking of the lot so far, for its use of violence, sexualised scenes, and psychological horror. It results in you making some mistakes when you read it first time around. For example, there is a scene where Misurin is about get kinkier with her next victim, by tying her up with rope and blindfolding her, before taking out a knife hidden in a cuddly toy rabbit. When I first looked at the page, I didn’t notice the whole rabbit at first, just one ear, which Misurin is holding in a position so it is placed near her groin while in profile. However, because I only noticed the ear, which was all one colour, and didn’t spot the rest of the rabbit, somehow I thought: “Is she wearing a strap-on dildo?” The best sequence in the chapter however is when Mirai is contemplating the question of whether to use the white arrow on Metropoliman if Saki was threatened. The terrified facial expressions of both Mirai and Saki as they contemplate their doom are engrossing, and Mirai’s reaction to the question makes you answers questions about your own morality.

This is probably the best chapter of the story so far, although no doubt it will also be the most controversial due to the sexualised scenes involving Misurin and her underage victim.

Score: 9 / 10

 

Title: Platinum End
Original vintage: 2015
Mangaka: Tsugumi Ohba (story) Takeshi Obata (art)
Published by: Viz Media
Genre: Action, Death Game, Drama, Fantasy, Supernatural
Age rating: 18+
Material length: 69

 

 

Platinum End © 2015 by Tsugumi Ohba, Takeshi Obata. SHUEISHA Inc.

 

Love Live! School Idol Project Season 2 Review

Love Live! School Idol Project Season 2 Review

love-live-season-2-bluray

Honoka Kousaka and the members of µ’s have successfully saved their school, Otonokizaka High! The girls try to go back to their normal school lives but their peace doesn’t last long when a second Love Live! is announced. Given a chance at redemption, all the members of µ’s must pull together, give it their all and sing their hearts out to claim their victory. However, with the graduation of the third years drawing close, the future of µ’s grows increasingly uncertain, a fact that weighs heavy on the hearts and minds of all the girls.

Love Live! School Idol Project is a franchise that continues to take the world by storm, and after watching the first season of the anime, it wasn’t hard to see why. The first season was not without its issues though, however minor they may be. So, with that, I am overjoyed to report that the second season improves on the the first in almost every way and is a spectacular experience that I won’t be forgetting any time soon.

4

As much as I loved the first season of Love Live, I did have one criticism and that was the story. It wasn’t completely lacking, there was an attempt to have a plot, but it was very underwhelming. At best, the story of the school’s closure felt like a reason to get all the members of µ’s together, rather than a story you actually cared about, and often disappeared into the background. This was highlighted by the fact that the announcement the school was saved didn’t even feel like a big deal. Granted, this was very understandable; after all, it had to introduce and establish nine different characters and their relationships. Since the first season got all the character introductions out the way, the story in Love Live! Season 2 is given the spotlight and easily outdoes its predecessor, having a plot that is almost as great as the already fantastic characters.

This time, the story is centered on the Love Live! event, a school idol competition, and the show remains focused on this throughout. Not that the show doesn’t spend time on other things, but the story is very much at the forefront here, with every episode at least being partly dedicated to moving the plot forward in some way. However, what really makes it truly special is just how emotional it can get. The first season did attempt to be emotional at times, and granted it worked quite well, but Season 2 is on a completely different level. I found there were multiple episodes where I was fighting back the tears, with the biggest tearjerker being a particular episode set on a beach. I won’t spoil anything, but needless to say, if that gut punch of an episode doesn’t make you at least well up, I’m not sure what will! I think a show making me feel so emotional is quite a rarity; I could name all the shows that have done on one hand, so that speaks volumes about just how effective both the story and characters of Love Live are. 

2

Despite the fact the story has been put front and center this time around, that doesn’t mean that the characters have suffered because of it. The characters were definitely the best thing about the first season and they are equally excellent here. A small complaint about the first season was that, due to the short length of the show, not all of the characters really got a time to shine, and this is an issue that the writers took no time to fix here. Almost all of the characters that I felt got lost in the shuffle last time get their moment to shine here, including some fantastic episodes focused on Nico and Nozomi. However, the best character-focused episode, and one of the best episodes from both seasons, is the Rin-centred Episode 5. Of all the characters from the first season, Rin was the one I felt got short-changed the most, so having an episode all about her was wonderful, and it naturally follows on from a small scene from Season 1 and greatly expands upon it. The chemistry between the colourful cast of characters is back here in full force and ultimately remains the most powerful draw of the series as it creates some wonderful comedic moments and is generally a ton of fun, making Love Live an absolute joy to watch.

1

As with their re-release of Love Live! Season 1, Love Live! Season 2 contains both the English and Japanese audio tracks and both casts do an absolutely superb job once more. All of the English and Japanese voice actors return from the first season and it’s honestly hard to pick standouts from either cast as they all do so well. Despite how good the voice acting was before, it is topped here by an emotional couple of episodes towards the end which sees all the voice actors on the absolute top of their games. Of course, it goes without saying that the music is also just as fantastic as in the first season. Again, I think that the amount of enjoyment you’ll get out of Love Live! will likely depend on how much you do like the music, but, if you do like J-Pop, you’ll find a lot to love here. The OP, “Sore wa Bokutachi no Kiseki”, is just as great as the opening from the first series, and the ED, “Donna Toki mo Zutto”, is also enjoyable, once again being sung by different arrangements of µ’s based on the episode.

5

Animation is once again handled by Sunrise, of Gundam and Gintama fame, and they continue to do a really spectacular job, with the show continuing to be incredibly colourful and energetic. The exaggerated facial expressions that I loved from last time also return in spades, giving us such gems as Umi’s now infamous poker face. The slightly awkward CG animation during the performance scenes is still ever-present, however, and isn’t really an improvement over the last season, which is a little disappointing to see. However, CGI aside, Love Live! continues to look great.

3

In Summary

Love Live! School Idol Project Season 2 is the ideal sequel series. Not only does it take the weakest part of the first season and turn it into one of its biggest strengths, it also includes everything that made the original so fantastic to begin with. It will make you laugh, it will make you cry, but, most of all, it will make you fall in love with Love Live! all over again.

9/10

Directors: Takahiko Kyogoku
Format: PAL
Number of discs: 2
Classification: U
Studio: MVM
DVD Release Date: 20 Jun. 2016
Run Time: 325 minutes

To the Abandoned Sacred Beasts #1 Review

To the Abandoned Sacred Beasts vol 1 coverThe mangaka team Maybe first came to my attention thanks to Dusk Maiden of Amnesia. Crunchyroll streamed the anime adaptation back in 2012, and since watching Dusk Maiden, I’ve kept an eye on the team behind the manga. They’ve since been working on two currently running series called Tales of Wedding Rings (a manga that Crunchyroll simulpub) and To the Abandoned Sacred Beasts, which is being published by Vertical Comics. I’m here to review the latter.

Sacred Beasts follows the story of Nancy Schaal Bancroft, who is on a mission to kill the man who murdered her father. During a civil war between the South and the North, the northerners were outnumbered and started experimenting on humans with forbidden arts. Eventually they created Incarnates, humans that have been transformed into beasts with godlike powers but with an inability to turn back into what they once were (except for a few exceptions). With the power of the Incarnates, the war was swiftly put to an end but afterwards the beasts were met with a life of uncertainty and hatred. Due to the Incarnates being so powerful, the government wanted to bring an end to their lives, and thus a Beast Hunter came into existence.

This Beast Hunter, known as Hank, is an Incarnate who has the ability to transform between human and beast. Hank, who struck down Nancy’s father as the Beast Hunter, was previously the captain of a platoon of Incarnates during the war. At the beginning of our story Nancy seeks him out in a faraway town and asks why he had to kill her father, but their conversation is interrupted by the return of the Incarnate that Hank is currently on a mission to kill.

Nancy ends up tagging along with Hank, looking for answers as to why the Incarnate must be put down, and while the two adventure she realises that the beasts quite often have no sense of humanity left in them. It’s a sad situation because some of the beasts still show signs of who they were as humans, yet others do nothing but harm to those they’re living amongst. The story is written in such a way that we’re never lingering on the life of one Incarnate too long, and you’ll often find yourself pondering what could have been had they been left alive.

Throughout the story it’s slowly revealed that Hank has a past with each of the Incarnates he’s currently hunting down as they were all members of his platoon. It becomes clear to see that he’s not necessarily a bad guy and instead just completing a job that he believes has to be done. He’s a likeable character but perhaps a bit too aloof from Nancy and the world, yet certainly well written and easy to understand.

Nancy is a strong-spirited character. She’s not built for fighting, and prone to slowing Hank down when he’s battling an Incarnate, but she has the intelligence to make up for her lack of physical ability. For every time she might stumble in a battle, Nancy’s able to offer an interesting insight on a given situation, which redeems her character a great deal. Being the daughter of an Incarnate also puts her in a position to share opinions and perspectives that contrast with Hank’s and pave the way for some interesting conversations.

This is the first of Maybe’s work to be published physically in English and (while I’m disappointed it wasn’t Dusk Maiden of Amnesia) Vertical Comics have made a good choice. The story, as I’ve hopefully explained, is very well written, the artwork is gorgeous, and the character designs are striking. Maybe have always had a good eye for designing characters and Hank and Nancy are both well done. They’re simple designs but are brought alive by the little details, most notably the realism of their eyes and facial expressions. Backgrounds are also very detailed and remarkable. There is always a lot to see and I found that the shading was really well done to show the distinction between night and day scenes.

Action scenes are striking and packed with detail but this was never enough to confuse me as a reader. It’s always easy to work out where any character is at a given time. To the Abandoned Sacred Beasts is only the second series the team have done that is so heavily focused around action and Maybe definitely deserve some recognition for handling their battle scenes so well. It’s pleasing to see and leaves me feeling satisfied that this series has a good future ahead of it in this regard.

Overall the first volume of To the Abandoned Sacred Beasts offers a satisfying read and ends on just enough of a cliffhanger to leave you wanting to know more. Maybe have crafted an interesting story with a – so far – small but likable cast and I’m really excited to see where things go from here.

Score: 8/10

Manga Quick Information

UK Publisher: Vertical Comics
Genre: Fantasy, Shounen
Mangaka: Maybe
Number of Pages: 200

Blood-C Demonic Moonlight #1 Review

Blood C demonic moonlight volume 1

  • I’ve never watched Blood-C before. Long have I wanted to see the anime series but I’ve never quite got around to doing so. Thankfully, a handy introduction to the series finally made its way to me in the form of the first volume of Blood-C Demonic Moonlight, published by Dark Horse. This two-volume manga acts a prequel to the Blood-C anime and so far I’ve found it a good introduction to CLAMP/Production I.G’s mysterious world.

    The story is set in the year 1946 and centers around a second lieutenant of the American military, David, who’s job is to investigate “strange” incidents. These bizarre cases can range from murders that couldn’t possibly have been committed by a human, to reports of children being ‘spirited away’. During his investigations, David runs into a mysterious man known as Kagekiri, who seems to have an understanding of these supernatural occurrences. All of these incidents tie back to the Ancients: creatures that take advantage of humans as a means of feeding on them. Unfortunately, this volume doesn’t clearly explain the intents of the Ancients, simply that they’re the cause of these incidents in order to find food.

    What David lacks in knowledge is made up for with his good fighting reflexes and investigator’s intuition. While he and Kagekiri are polar opposites in terms of personality, the two make a fairly good team whenever fate puts them together. David is a caring man and shoulders the burden of being an American stationed in Japan after the war, so he, like many other Americans, isn’t treated all that well by most Japanese citizens. Despite this, however, he always does his best for the people in the towns that he travels through.

    Kagekiri is a respected priest that travels from shrine to shrine investigating any mysterious cases that the locals have been discussing. Although he’s known as a priest, he doesn’t do any of the duties that a priest would normally perform. Instead Kagekiri comes off like a bit of a carefree freeloader to others but when faced with an Ancient his personality changes drastically to a much more serious tone. Kagekiri wields a mysterious sword, which is actually just the hilt of a sword that can create a full blade through spiritual power, and hints are dropped throughout the book that perhaps he isn’t even human!

    Whatever the case may be with Kagekiri, our story overall is an interesting one. This first volume includes three different stories (one of them being split across two chapters) and it’s nice to see that David’s whole life doesn’t revolve around his being stuck with Kagekiri. The two only encounter another every few months going by the timeline of these stories. These periodic interactions keep their relationship fresh and prevents either of them getting on the other’s nerves (or ours).

    This type of episodic storytelling also leaves room for plenty of intrigue surrounding Kagekiri and offers more than enough secrets to leave you wanting more. I could see this approach to the story begin to feel stale if this were aiming to be a long running series but for a two-volume plot it works rather well. How this story links up to Blood-C is not yet all that apparent (apart from Kagekiri’s sword) but artist Ryo Haduki teases that the connection will become clear in the next volume.

    Blood-C Demonic Moonlight has been put together by CLAMP, Production I.G, and handled by Ryo Haduki. Haduki doesn’t yet have any other manga tied to his name so there isn’t anything to draw comparisons to, but regardless I’m fond of the work that he’s done here. Backgrounds and characters are drawn well and the panel layouts always fit nicely for the action scenes. The Ancients too are nicely drawn and suitably intimidating for the role they’re meant to fill.

    My only complaint in regards to the artwork is that I feel as though the action scenes were too smooth. The images are detailed and work for this type of series, but the problem is that they work too well. The characters react too precisely and methodically and the environments unrealistically favour their success, and as a result I’d frequently start to lose my connection with what was happening. The battles didn’t draw me into the world enough, nor did I ever truly believe that the cast were in real danger. It’s a difficult feeling to explain but I think saying that some scenes, even for a fantasy series like this, just didn’t feel believable enough for these characters.

    Overall I had a good time with the first volume of Blood-C Demonic Moonlight. Putting my complaints about the art aside, I’ve been drawn in by the cast and I’m hooked enough to be interested in volume two. I think that this works rather well as an introduction to the Blood-C universe, and now I really do need to actually watch Blood-C itself…
  • Score: 6/10
  • Manga Quick Information
    UK Publisher: Dark Horse
    Genre: Mystery, Horror, Supernatural
    Mangaka: Ryo Haduki
    Number of pages: 184