MCM London Comic Con October 2016 Anime Licenses Round-Up – Day 3

MCM London Comic Con has now concluded and Anime Limited have continued their last batch of new announcements as well as a second panel. Here’s a round-up of all of the titles revealed for the third day of the weekend.

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Psycho-Pass The Movie Review

psycho-pass-the-movie-collectors3dDue to the huge success of the Sibyl System, a surveillance and biological monitoring system that gauges the likelihood that individuals will commit a crime before they do so, Japan has begun the process of exporting the technology in the hope that one day Sibyl will be in use all around the world. The first country to receive the system as a test bed is the war-torn state of the South East Asian Union (SEAUn) in the hope of restoring peace and stability to the town of Shambala Float. However, when a group of anti-Sibyl rebels arrive in Japan, the Ministry of Welfare’s Public Defence Bureau discovers evidence that former enforcer Shinya Kougami is working with guerillas. Inspector Akane Tsunemori is sent to SEAUn to bring him back.

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After the somewhat disappointing follow up to the original series in Psycho-Pass 2, original series creator and writer Gen Urobuchi (Madoka Magica, Fate/Zero) reteams with Production IG (Ghost in the Shell, FLCL, Eden of the East) to deliver a worthy successor to the first season.

Whilst I don’t think season two of Psycho-Pass is awful, probably the most disappointing thing about it was how it didn’t follow up on the cliffhanger ending of the original series. Given that the first season definitely teased a follow-up with the after credits scene of Kougami on a boat of some kind, you couldn’t help but feel that season two was jogging in place a little, a fact that certainly wasn’t helped by the fact it was lacking both the original studio and the original writer. However, with all the talent back on board this movie finally delivers on the promise of that cliffhanger, as this movie it completely centered on what happened to Kougami after the events of season 1. Psycho-Pass 2 isn’t completely ignored, with characters from the sequel making brief appearances at the beginning and end. However, this does feel like it was written as a direct follow up to the original, and I think you could probably go straight from season one to this film without missing anything, which only makes season two feel a little bit more illegitimate than it already did.

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The biggest difference between both previous series of Psycho-Pass and the movie is that the movie is no longer really a detective show. You won’t find any grand mystery to unravel here or any kind of serial killer terrorists; instead it feels more like a traditional sci-fi action anime, with a whole lot more action sequences than either of its predecessors, and honestly, I think this was a change for the best. Given that the original show was 22 episodes long it had a lot of time to set up and execute its mystery, and the 11-episode follow-up felt really rushed in its second half, if they did try and pull off a similar mystery story it would have felt even more rushed than even the second season, and more than likely would have turned out messy. With that in mind, I actually really quite like the plot, despite its more simplistic approach. The idea of Sibyl expanding globally to gain more control feels like a natural progression of the story from previous seasons and seeing how other countries would react to such a system being implemented is interesting.

psychopassmovie_1With the film having a more simplistic story you’d think this would allow for a bigger focus on the characters, so I can’t help but feel a little bit underwhelmed by that aspect. I’m not entirely sure what I was expecting, but the reunion between Akane and Kougami felt very underplayed, and somewhat disappointing considering that it was one of the biggest selling points of this movie, at least to me. In general, I felt that characters were lacking in growth or development, although given it’s a film and limited on time, I was kind of expecting that anyway, and I don’t think it really harmed my enjoyment. Something I would have liked to have seen, however, is more of the supporting cast. Given that Akane is shipped off to another country about 15 minutes in, the recurring cast of the other seasons are reduced down to cameo appearances, with only about 20 odd minutes of screentime between them. With Kougami back in the picture, it would have been nice to see how both the old cast from season 1 and the new cast from season 2 react to him.

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Along with the return of Urobuchi, it’s also great to see Production IG back at the helm of Psycho-Pass The Movie. Not that Tatsunoko did a bad job with season 2, but the quality of IG’s animation is undeniable, and whilst Tatsunoko replicated the visual identity of the first series, this film has a unique look of its own. Since the story takes place outside of Japan for the first time, we get to see the what a country not under the control of Sibyl looks like. This allows IG to mix the slick sci-fi visuals from previous entries with the more run down environment of a war-torn country, including a lot of scenes taking place in abandoned capital city, which is in stark contrast to Season 1.

Including both a 5.1 English audio track and a 5.1 Japanese audio track with English subtitles, both the English and Japanese cast return to reprise their roles from earlier seasons. As per usual for Funimation, the quality of the dub is excellent with not a bad voice actor among the bunch. Everyone delivers fantastic performances, with Kate Oxley (Darker Than Black, My Hero Academia, Fullmetal Alchemist) and Robert McCollum (Barakamon, Dragon Ball Z, Attack on Titan) taking center stage as Akane and Kougami respectively. The band Ling Tosite Sigure contribute their third opening song for the franchise, “Who What Who What”; probably the least memorable OP they’ve done out of the three but isn’t bad, and the first ending theme from Psycho Pass, “A Best Without a Name” comes back as the film’s credits song, which is a nice call back.

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As for extras, the limited edition release by Anime Limited includes a rigid box, digipak and artbook, as well as both a Blu-ray and DVD copy of the film. On-disc extras include trailers, ad spots and a commentary track from the dub cast.

In Summary

It isn’t quite as good as the original Psycho Pass, but it’s still a brilliantly entertaining film and a great return to form for the franchise, finally resolving the cliffhanger ending of season 1 and expanding the world in an interesting way.

MCM London Comic Con October 2016 Anime Licenses Round-Up – Day 2

The second day of MCM London Comic Con has ended and both Manga Animatsu and MVM Entertainment have stepped in to reveal more new additions to their catalogue alongside Anime Limited. Here’s a round-up of all of the titles revealed for the second day of the weekend.

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Manga review: Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid, Volume 1

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Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid Vol. 1 © coolkyousinnjya 2013

Everyone who has ever gotten drunk has probably done something they have come to regret, whether it’s making drunk texts to ex-loved ones, or accidentally buying a load of stuff online while inebriated. But these pale somewhat in comparison to inviting a dragon to come and live with you.

Miss Kobayashi is a low level systems engineer and closet otaku who, one drunken night, went up a mountain and met a dragon called Tohru, who had been attacked with a sword. Kobayashi helped the dragon and the two got talking. During the conversation, Kobayashi suggested that Tohru should stay in her flat, an offer which Tohru accepted. Now Kobayashi has to put up with co-habiting with a legendary monster in her home, but to make things easier for her Tohru adopts a human guise and decides to work for Kobayashi as her maid, although she can’t hide her dragon horns.

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Tohru has some talents. She is able to get Kobayashi to work incredibly quickly, although her hard skin makes the ride uncomfortable. If the laundry is taking too long to dry because it is overcast, a quick burst of flame towards the clouds will make a hole big enough to let the sun shine through. Tohru also has some problems though. She distrusts other humans such as Kobayashi’s work college and fellow otaku Makoto Takiya, and her cooking is terrible.

There is also the problem that soon other dragons start visiting Kobayashi. There is Kanna Kamui, ejected from the dragon realm for playing a prank; Fafnir, whose attitude to humans appears to be summed up with the word “kill”; and the oddly dressed and buxom Quetzalcoatl.

miss-kobayashis-dragon-maid-2While this title comes from the same publisher as How to Build a Dungeon, this manga is much more family-orientated. However, you still get the feeling that perhaps the “all ages” rating is not quite true. There is a brief scene where Tohru is naked, and at the beginning of the volume Tohru claims she likes Kobayashi “sexually”. Apart from those instances however, Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is pretty much suitable for all. Perhaps it is best to think of it as “PG” rather than “U”.

The main characters are what make the series work. Kobayashi has to put up with the stress of keeping Tohru and later Kanna in check, but is also free to loosen up and suddenly start debating with Makoto about the differences between Lolita fashion and maid outfits. Tohru meanwhile has so many different comic elements: trying to adjust to the human world, her love of Kobayashi, her jealous feelings toward Makoto, and then there is just her doing what to her is normal, but what Kobayashi and for that matter any human would think is bizarre – like play-fighting with Kanna, which involves a potentially massively destructive battle.

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It is certainly a jolly title and it already has built a fan base. There is currently an anime adaptation of the series in the works, so watch out for more.

MCM London Comic Con October 2016 Anime Licenses Round-Up – Day 1

It’s that time again. MCM London Comic Con has now begun and many new pieces of announcements have been unveiled bit by bit. Anime Limited have already started revealing six titles for their catalogue with many more to be announced, while Manga Animatsu have shown off one new title prior to the weekend. Here’s a round-up of all of the titles revealed for the first day of the weekend.

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Blood Blockade Battlefront Review

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Blood Blockade Battlefront (sometimes called by its untranslated name of Kekkai Sensen, probably because despite being in a different language it still flows better than “Blood Blockade Battlefront”) is based on the manga of the same name by Trigun creator Yasuhiro Nightow. Animated by the ever popular studio Bones and scored by Taisei Iwasaki (who hasn’t done anything else, but is really good!) it all adds up to one dream project that’s hard to ignore.

The story, and more specifically the setting, is often heavy on the humour along with the action, and is unique enough that I feel the need to spell it out before talking about the characters themselves. The action takes place in the former New York, now called “Hellsalem’s Lot”, which was turned into a melting pot of other-dimensional species when a giant portal to “the Beyond” opened up and connected the two plains of reality. This then leads the members of what was formerly mostly an anti-vampire organisation called Libra to do their best to deal with unruly visitors and to stop them from spreading to other parts of the world through use of “Blood Battle” styles; well, at least some of them do, anyway. Having said that, a lot of these strange beings just live and work in the city, rubbing shoulders with regular humans on TV, in the subway, etc. The art style is often on-the-nose and comical, with the other-dimensional beings ranging from small mushroom people to creatures that look like humans from the neck down but have a fly’s head or something similar.

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The story’s main protagonist is Leonardo Watch, a young photographer who, along with his disabled sister and parents, visited Hellsalem’s Lot as tourists but ended up being confronted by a large demonic being who demanded to give one of them the “All Seeing Eyes of the Gods” in exchange for one person’s eyesight (safe to say we’ve all had holidays like that!). Leo was too afraid to say anything so his sister agreed to lose her eyesight, giving the former both the All Seeing Eyes of the Gods and a hell of a guilt trip. The story starts with him returning to Hellsalem’s Lot alone in order to find more information on his eyes, and presumably a way to get his sister her eyesight back.

Through a series of coincidences Leo ends up joining Libra, which is lead by Klaus Von Reinherz, a noble and powerful man whose only fault is being far too honest. Other members include Zapp Renfro, the classic hotblooded, juvenile, womanising ‘cool’ character, Chain Sumeragi, a seemingly emotionless sniper who also does general reconnaissance work, Steven A. Starphase, a laid back guy with ice powers, and K.K., a more ‘fun’ and teasing female character with electric gun… things. Over several episodes we meet other members of the cast, like Zed O’Brien, a rather humourless bug-like humanoid who trained with the same blood battle master as Zapp, and Blitz “Lucky” Abrams, a legendary vampire hunter who causes bad luck to anyone around him (but not himself).

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Now, I haven’t read the manga, but from what I know it’s very episodic. Each chapter is self-contained and there is no overarching plotline (I guess, apart from Leo wanting to fix the whole eyes thing), so when this anime adaptation was created the writers decided that it needed a story arc. Episodes 1 through 10 adapt manga storylines (though not all of them) but have two unique-to-the-anime characters who only interact with Leo here and there, a pair of boy-girl twins who nicknamed themselves Black and White. The latter female twin becomes friends with Leo, and the former, male twin hides a sinister secret that comes to a head in the anime-exclusive final two episodes (really three, as episode 12 is double-length).

So often when manga material is expanded or brought to an anime-exclusive end it feels out of place and gives an unsatisfying ending, but I’m happy to report that isn’t the case here. In fact it gives the anime a big conclusion while also ending in a way where they can do a second series adapting more of the manga without it affecting anything.

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As I alluded to above, both the animation and music score is top notch, and if you like English dubs then you’ll be happy to know that FUNimation have done a good job with the voice cast, none of them sounds out of place. You can add a great opening in “Hello, World!” by Bump of Chicken (yes, Bump of Chicken; I’m sure it made sense to them at the time…) and a really fun ending in Unison Square Garden’s “Sugar Song to Bitter Step” to the overall package. Speaking of the package, the limited Collector’s Edition comes with a glossy 120-page art book and a lovely looking rigid box to keep it and the series inside. The on-disc extras range from a recap episode titled “Episode 10.5: Even These are the Best and the Worst Days Ever”, two “FUNimation Shorts” which, rather than coming with two pairs of short trousers, actually features voice actors and staff talking about the series, and the usual mix of textless opening, textless ending and trailers for both the show itself and for other upcoming releases.

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Overall Blood Blockade Battlefront mixes comedy, action and a little bit of drama extremely well. It’s full of likeable characters no matter which language you watch it in, while simultaneously being well animated and scored, with a great opening and ending to boot. A rare feat to get more than one of those things right, let alone all of them. If you want to kick back and have some fun watching a fluidly-animated and great-sounding anime on your TV, you can do no better than Blood Blockade Battlefront. One of the top releases this year.

My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU TOO! Review

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In the anime community, as a critic especially, one of the most frustrating experiences is when a show comes along that has a ton of hype behind it and gets critically praised by everyone, yet somehow, it doesn’t click with you. For one reason or another, you just cannot see what people see in a show. I think that everyone probably has at least one anime like that, and for me, the biggest one that comes to mind is My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU Season 1. I was incredibly excited to watch it, given how highly everyone rated it, but was ultimately very let down by what I thought was a pretty mediocre, run-of-the-mill, slice of life anime. Even watching it a second time to prepare for the second season, I remained thoroughly nonplussed by the whole thing.

So, when I heard that the second season was supposed to be even better than the first supposedly was, I thought that maybe this time I’d get it, this time everything would click into place and I’d finally fall in love with this franchise like seemingly everyone else has. Well, after actually watching My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU TOO!, I’m starting to think maybe I was a little bit too harsh on that initial season…

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Yes, despite popular consensus about this sequel being superior to the original, I genuinely thought it was far, far worse than what came before, and it made for one of the most painful anime viewings I’ve had in my entire life. I’m not sure what confuses me more about this, the fact that anyone in the production of this thought what they were doing was actually good or the fact that I’m apparently the odd one out for thinking this is awful. Carrying on from where the first season left off, My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU TOO! shows the continued efforts of the Volunteer Service Club, including the cynical Hikigaya, the cheerful Yui and the ice queen Yukino.

One of the biggest changes between the first season and second season that is almost instantly noticeable, and is one of my biggest gripes with this series, is the huge shift in tone. Whilst I didn’t get many laughs out of it myself, Season 1 was, at its heart, a comedy, and was a fairly light- hearted affair most of the time, with little bits of drama here and there that kept things interesting between the characters. However, when it comes to Season 2, the majority of the comedy seems to have been totally thrown out the window in favour of cranking the melodrama up to 11. If you are looking to this for a laugh, look elsewhere, because you will find nothing of the sort here. Perhaps if you have some sort of investment in the characters from the first season, you’ll be able to invest yourself into the drama at play here, but as someone who didn’t even care in the first season, I can’t help but feel just utterly bored through each episode. I’m not even kidding, it felt like a chore to watch this, it felt like work.

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Compounding the issue of the unending tedious drama is the dialogue. My God, the dialogue in this show is unbearable. This was an occasional issue in the first season, but here it rears its ugly head once again and it’s a million times worse than it was before. It is just layered so thick with pretension that it occasionally borders on unintelligible and half the time the characters open their mouths, I tune out because everything they say just washes over me. All the dialogue is written to sound deep and meaningful but really it does nothing but turn me off the show and make me instantly want to stop watching. I’m not sure if this is more of a personal issue, or I just don’t get it, but it genuinely ruined the characters for me. Nothing that anyone in this show says sounds like something an actual human being would, and as such, every single character loses any and all relatability. One of the few things I actually did like about SNAFU in its initial outing is that I could relate to Hachiman in some way, with his antisocial attitude, but here I just can’t anymore. The only real saving grace here is Yui, who is pretty much the only person who doesn’t just spout a bunch of overly complex nonsense and is probably the only vaguely relatable character left on this show.

Full disclosure here, I have not seen the entirety of SNAFU TOO!. I genuinely couldn’t stomach more than four episodes. To some people, this might invalidate the review, but after some of the shows I’ve sat through and reviewed, this should tell you more about the quality than any words I could muster.

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If there is a single thing about this that is better than Season 1, it’s in the animation. Switching studios from Brain’s Base (Baccano!, Durarara!!, Spice and Wolf Season 2) to feel. (Mayo Chiki, Dagashi Kashi, Outbreak Company), SNAFU TOO! has a much cleaner, rounder aesthetic than the rather angular designs of the original, which honestly looks a lot better and more polished as a result.  

The voice acting in SNAFU TOO! is also pretty strong, with the great talent returning from the first season. Takuya Eguchi (My Love Story, Re:Zero, Gosick), Nao Touyama (Gate: Thus the JSDF Fought There!, Kiniro Mosaic, The Devil is a Part Timer!) and Saori Hayama all return to reprise their roles and newcomer Ayane Sakura (My Hero Academia, Charlotte, Is The Order a Rabbit?) joins the cast too, although I can’t help but feel all of their talent is wasted given the quality of the material. Also returning is monaca to provide the music, which is pretty good, although it does feature a fair amount of recycled tracks from the first season. Given that the music was good in Season 1 too, I didn’t mind too much.

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Animatsu’s release of My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU TOO! is Japanese audio only with English subtitles and features a Clean Opening, Clean Closing and trailers.

In Summary

If you liked the first season of My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU, you’ll probably love this, but personally, I got far more enjoyment out of watching the seconds on my Blu-ray player tick by, so I knew how much more of the pretentiousness I’d have to suffer through before I could move on to something else that is less mind numbingly dull than this utter waste of resources.

Do you like this show? Please, let me know why in the comments. I am genuinely interested why people love this series so much.

Soul Eater NOT! Complete Series Collection

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With the majority of anime being sorted into either “action” or “slice-of-life” boxes, it’s almost expected for fans to prefer one over the other. However, the clash of steel and tender heart-throbs need not be enemies, for they can share a profound resonance – an idea at the core of Soul Eater NOT.

Rather than being a continuation of Maka Albarn’s quest to transform her partner into the ultimate witch-hunting weapon, our return to the distinctive Death City turns back the clock a bit and heralds the start of a new, more personal journey that is enjoyable to franchise veterans and newcomers alike.

Tsugumi Harudori was an ordinary fourteen year old girl in love with love until her body started changing in ways not covered by the normal remit of puberty, prompting enrolment at a special school some may find familiar – after all, I doubt many girls have to worry about their limbs transforming into blades!

Unlike the more well-known students of Atsushi Ohkubo’s main series, our protagonist’s enrolment at the DWMA isn’t as part of the action-orientated EAT (Especially Advanced Talent) class, but rather, she learns from a curriculum dedicated to controlling her powers for day-to-day living known as NOT (Normally Overcome Target). There, she quickly becomes friends with the upper class Anya Hepburn and the incredibly forgetful Meme Tatane; two meisters who land the girl in love with love in an entirely different triangle to the one she was expecting!

The relationship between weapons and the meisters who wield them has always been an important backbone of the Soul Eater franchise, but is brought to the centre stage as of this spin-off, with partnerships often treated as outright romantic unions. Tsugumi’s struggle with choosing Anya or Meme as her meister consistently feels like a genuine love triangle – with Anya’s adorable jealous pouts being icing on the cake. My favourite example of this mingling of relationships, however, is the budding partnership of Jacqueline O’Lantern Dupre and Kim Diehl.

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Introduced as recurring characters in the original series, the unconventional pair are elevated to the supporting cast of Soul Eater NOT, which delves into the origins of their partnership. The two couldn’t be more mismatched; Jacqueline is a strait-laced, rule-abiding girl who finds herself drawn to Kim, a troublemaking tomboy referred to as “The Witch of the Girls’ Dorm”. Jacqueline’s attempts to get closer to Kim and form a partnership are treated exactly the same as romantic approaches, with strategies like cooking Kim’s favourite food – which of course, has hilarious results. Unlike other anime that simply tease their audiences with subtle winks and nods, Soul Eater NOT doesn’t hide from Jacqueline’s desire for closeness being more than professional (I mean, she does dream about kissing her) and handles it in a way that is, honestly, a delightful breath of fresh air. No one questions it or runs off screaming “girls can’t love girls!” – the others don’t hesitate to jump in and help without treating Jacqueline’s feelings any differently to other orientations.

It’s not difficult to see how Jacqueline fell for Kim though; after all, she quickly outshone the main cast to become my favourite character! Perhaps the quintessential application of the “tsundere” archetype, we are introduced to her as a feared bully, but through watching the actions of those closest to her and sharing a secret with Kim and Jacqueline, it became clear that there was more to the antisocial extortionist. Before I knew it, I was charmed by both her rough thorns and the sweet flower hidden amongst them.

Soul Eater NOT isn’t all about the budding relationships though and staying true to the franchise, there is a magical threat lurking in the shadows. This side of the story is slowly drip-fed away from our principle cast in the earlier episodes, before the floodgates are blown open, leading to a shocking mid-season twist.

Unfortunately, the later episodes fail to even match that dramatic high point, with the choreography of the final fight possibly being the worst I’ve ever seen in anime. The series effortlessly made the human element of Tsugumi’s shared partnership with Anya and Meme feel natural, but the same can’t be said of the practical side. I don’t think I need to explain how a villain standing still as two people figure out how to share a halberd isn’t exactly an energetic climax.

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Potential viewers accustomed to Soul Eater‘s unique, quirky visual style may be in for a surprise with the more pedestrian, cutesy styling of NOT – an aesthetic shift with both pros and cons for the returning cast. Losing her kinetic, cartoony designs and expressions robs Patty of her identifiable charm, but the extra care and attention given to Kim and Jacqueline’s more detailed designs help breathe new life into the characters. Some characters sit somewhere in the middle though, like Maka, who is largely unchanged aside from a cuter face.

In regards to the special features, Soul Eater NOT has the usual extras you would expect from a title Funimation released state-side: textless songs, audio commentaries of two episodes and trailers intended for other markets (the curse of shared masters). The lack of a Blu-ray release was lamented when Manga Entertainment first announced the license, but having both Japanese and U.S. on-disc trailers advertise high definition releases does feel like adding insult to injury at times! Another extra is the “Soul Eater Whoops!” blooper reel compilation that failed to get even a mild chuckle out of me. Is there actually anything funny about an actor tripping over their tongue or saying obviously staged “random” lines? Bloopers work in live-action properties because there are other people there to witness and react to screw ups, but when we know that western voice-over work is usually done in isolation, that illusion is shattered.

In a way, Soul Eater NOT is a lot like a visit to the series’ Deathbucks Café; you may be served by a cute waitress and see a couple of familiar faces during your stay, but you’ll need an acquired taste to stomach the bitter coffee. While still set in the city Tim Burton no doubt aspires to vacation in, the love affair with madness being replaced with togetherness may alienate some existing fans, but “different” doesn’t always have to mean “awful”, nor does it have to mean “amazing”. If you can tolerate moe or are new to the franchise, Soul Eater NOT is a fun and sweet series, even if it won’t make the same waves as the main show.

Nobunaga the Fool Part 1 (Episodes 1-13)

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“Will you find your own way or will you be pulled by the winds of the Dragon Vein Vortexes?” Leonardo da Vinci to Jeanne Kaguya d’Arc

Jeanne Kaguya d’Arc (the one who hears voices) is whisked away on a space ship by Leonardo da Vinci and Admiral Magellan from their home, the Western Star, to the Star of the East. There she sees in the carefree young warlord Oda Nobunaga (nicknamed ‘the Fool’) the potential to be her long dreamed-of Saviour King, the one who has haunted her dreams. But as if Nobunaga doesn’t have enough troubles dealing with the other warlords vying to take control, back on the Star of the West (ruled over by King Arthur) one Julius Caesar has also set out to conquer the Eastern Star and to gather the Sacred Treasures that will enable King Arthur to find the Holy Grail. Or something.

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‘Samurai warriors battle giant robots in a war of epic proportions.’

So proclaims the poster for this release – and that’s exactly what it is. No more, no less. Famous Japanese warriors (mostly) from the Warring States Era line up against famous historical figures from a far wider time period representing the West: King Arthur, Leonardo da Vinci (who plays a leading but ambiguously manipulative role) Julius Caesar, Brutus, Magellan, Hannibal… and Jeanne Kaguya d’Arc (Kaguya, one assumes, after Princess Kaguya who travelled from the moon to earth in the Japanese legend). Leonardo da Vinci crosses to the Eastern Star, bringing Jeanne, technological wizardry and a set of Tarot cards which he makes Jeanne draw from time to time and which seem to influence the events (and the episode titles as well): ‘The Fool’, ‘The Lovers’, ‘The Wands’ etc.) rather as, in Vision of Escaflowne, a ‘fate alteration machine’ and heroine Hitomi’s pendant influence what happens to the protagonists. Although forced to dress as a young male retainer, Ranmaru, Jeanne shows little of the feisty warrior nature you’d expect from ‘the Maid of Orleans’, blushing like a love-smitten schoolgirl around her crush, Nobunaga. Eventually, Nobunaga finds himself facing a formidable rival: Julius Caesar, who has allied himself with some of Nobunaga’s enemies and also has designs on Nobunaga’s sweet-natured sister: Princess Ichi. 

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Original Creator Shoji Kawamori has a truly formidable and amazing CV: having created The Vision of Escaflowne and Aquarion, not to mention many of the Macross outings and designed mecha for innumerable other anime series, including Transformers and the Nirvash for Eureka Seven. It was difficult, therefore, given his impressive creative background, not to expect great things from Nobunaga the Fool – and he certainly delivers mecha in plenty. But in spite of all the energetic battles, with and without mecha, something is missing. The whole premise (famous historical figures from East and West battle for supremacy) must have seemed a blast at the time but somehow the people fail to come to life, remaining two-dimensional in the least complimentary sense of the word. A whole bundle of ingredients are thrown into the mix: fan service; mecha; attempts at humour that misfire; magical jewels; prophecies… And the ghost of Escaflowne haunts proceedings but without the musical genius of Yoko Kanno and Hajime Mizoguchi to enhance the drama, not to mention the flaccid pacing and some tired, predictable plotting, it’s a lacklustre affair. The characters are not endearing; Nobunaga often comes across as an arrogant, petulant adolescent with a big mecha, and Jeanne Kaguya d’Arc mopes around, sighing (inexplicably) over him.

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The Sentai US dub is one to avoid. The dub script is awkward and even unintentionally funny in places. And the performances!? Scott Gibbs is, to be fair, not really any worse than most of his fellow actors in the dub but I expected better from the voice of Mikorin in Nozaki-kun! Of the original cast, Mamoru Miyano seems, at least, to be having fun in his swashbuckling portrayal of Nobunaga.

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The music, by experienced composer Masayu Yokoyama, is perfectly adequate (although I wonder if he was required to work with a temp track taken from Escaflowne for the battle sequences?)  He’s done far better with Arakawa under the Bridge, Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans and many more. The best music/image moments come with the stirring OP#1: “FOOL THE WORLD” by Minori Chihara  and the beautiful concept artwork (harking back to Aquarion) for the ED which hints at an early vision of what the story might have been rather than the pedestrian version they ended up with.

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In Summary

It’s a little sad when the best one can find to say about an anime series is that the artwork in the ED is truly gorgeous! But Nobunaga the Fool is disappointing, especially given the talents of the team working on it.

Photo Kano Review

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Kazuya Maeda is a second year high school student who receives a hand- me-down camera from his father. Determined to pursue his new hobby and turn his social life around, Maeda joins the school’s Photography Club. However, new friends aren’t the only thing developing as he finds himself in a tangle of emotions with his female classmates.

One of the inherent issues when it comes to making visual novels into anime series is knowing how to go about adapting the multiple routes. In romance VNs especially, where each route has an entirely different romance, it can be tricky, since you can’t adapt them all. Or can you? Photo Kano is an anime adaptation of a 2012 dating sim developed by Dingo Inc, that attempts to solve this conundrum by simply adapting all of the routes. Whilst it isn’t the first show to attempt the omnibus format, it’s certainly a pretty rare approach, and the first anime I’ve personally seen to tackle it. Even though this method of adaptations definitely has its positives, I really don’t think it works too well.

1

When it comes down to it, Photo Kano is just far too short to really pull it off. At only thirteen episodes long, including four episodes of initial set-up, it leaves each girl with only one episode each, with the exception of Niimi who gets two. This means that the entirety of a VN story route, which I assume took hours in the game, is crammed into just a single 22 minute episode. Whilst all possible romances are explored, they’re done in a very rushed manner. I can’t help but feel if the show had stuck to just adapting a single route really well, whilst also exploring some parts of the other routes, namely the character development, it might have worked a bit better. With that in mind, the episodes themselves are about as good as you could expect a romance could be in such a short amount of time, although it’s still nothing special.

Another issue I took with Photo Kano, was with the titular photography element. I’ll admit, this is probably more of a personal issue than an objective one, but I thought the use of photography throughout the series was downright creepy. Maeda almost exclusively takes pictures of his female friends in states of undress and provocative poses, and the show has multiple sequences sprinkled throughout where it’s literally just sexy posing. The whole photography thing largely just feels like an excuse for Maeda, and by proxy the audience, to ogle these girls and it’s just inherently made me feel a little uneasy. I imagine all the provocative posing and such might be a selling point for some, but it’s not really what I look for when I’m watching an anime, and it comes across as more of a distraction than anything else.

2

Paired with the amount of general ecchi content in Photo Kano is a fair bit of ecchi comedy, and, for me at least, it just fell flat. It’s the same trite and overdone comedy you instantly imagine when you think of ecchi comedies, with people accidentally grabbing boobs or having a girl’s crotch land on the protagonist’s face. I’ll admit, I don’t really like that kind of humour, but even if you do, there’s nothing original here that you haven’t seen a million times before.

Character-wise, Photo Kano is right in the middle of the road. Characters do receive depth and development in their respective episodes, and whilst I think that this development would have worked far better if spread across a few episodes as opposed to one, they’re all reasonably fleshed out. Where I take issue with this series, is the fact that they’re generally quite forgettable. Even after watching it just hours ago, I genuinely struggle to recall all the girls and their stories. A large reason for this is that, after the episode where they’re the focus, the characters just disappear, being relegated to the background, with some not even appearing any more at all. Maybe if they showed up more often outside of their dedicated episode, they’d make more of an impression. As for the protagonist, Maeda, he’s also very bland, erring on the side of unlikable, especially after he uses his photographs to blackmail one of the girls he’s trying to court.

3

Perhaps the most disappointing element to me has to be in the animation. Not because it’s bad (I’ve seen worse before) but because of the pedigree of the studio behind it. As I’ve mentioned in other reviews, I’m a huge fan of Madhouse, and they always seem to deliver anime with distinct looks, but Photo Kano might be their worst show in terms of animation. It’s just generally quite bland-looking, as if almost any other studio could have made it. As I say, not bad, but Madhouse is capable of so much more than what’s on display here.

In all areas of sound, Photo Kano is also just kind of bland. MVM’s release only contains Japanese voices, and all across the board everyone is about average, with no standout or lacklustre performances. Mina Kubota’s soundtrack is probably about what you’d expect for a romance anime, and complements the confession scenes nicely, even if it’s nothing amazing. The OP and ED are probably the biggest offenders when it comes to blandness, so much so, in fact, you’ll probably forget them the instant after you’ve heard them.

4

Bonus features are the usual; a clean opening, a clean closing and some trailers.

In Summary

Photo Kano, aside from its out-of-the-ordinary approach to adaptation, is just really quite forgettable. It has the odd good moment, but anything positive is dragged down by the frantic pacing, bland characters and pandering fanservice.