Review of Nerima Daikon Brothers

Look at the darkest hit musicals – Cabaret, West Side Story, Carousel – they are exuberant experiences. They send you out of the theatre filled with music.”
– John Lithgow

While anime has covered many genres, one of the genres it has not delved into that much is the musical. Yes, there have been plenty of anime about music and bands such as K-On! and Love Live!, but in terms of a traditional musical, in which the characters often randomly burst into song, this is much rarer. One of the few examples is the comedy musical Nerima Daikon Brothers.

Set in the Nerima ward of Tokyo, the story focuses on a musical threesome. The central figure is Hideki, who owns his own field growing daikon (if you are not familiar with them, imagine a turnip that’s exactly the same shape as a thingy). His ambition in life is to build his own concert dome where he and the rest of his band, the Nerima Daikon Brothers, can perform to the locals. However, he is too poor to do so.

The other members of the band are Ichiro, the band’s straight-man who works in a host club. He is able to make just about anyone fall in love with him by giving them a slap across the face, but his main love is for small furry animals. The other brother is actually a female cousin. This is Mako, a former idol from Okayama (she still has the accent) who Hideki is in love with. Mako constantly points out to him that they cannot marry because they are cousins – although Ichiro frequently points out that under Japanese law, marriage between cousins is legal. Mako is actually in love with Ichiro thanks to his slapping. There is also arguably a fourth member of the band; Pandaikon, a small panda that is constantly eating Hideki’s daikon, but is spared by Ichiro thanks to his love of animals – a love that almost borders on the bestial.

In each episode, the trio are constantly trying to find a way to raise the money to build their concert dome. This normally leads them into conflict with several villains who are trying to make a quick buck (or rather yen) for themselves, so the Brothers are constantly in need of things to fight back and take the bad guys’ money. The person they go to is the owner of a rental shop – who is actually the show’s director Shinichi Watanabe reprising a role he previously played in surreal comedy Excel Saga. He offers the band useful tools in exchange for a song (actually it is always the same tune, but with the words tweaked every time to suit the situation).

The band’s schemes normally cause more damage than they’re worth, and their schemes later fall under the suspicious eye of local cop Detective Yukika Karakuri, a woman armed with all sorts of crazy gadgets. At first she suspects the band of being up to no good, but as the series goes on she ends up admiring the group, and Pandaikon especially, going crazy for him every time he touches her. Ultimately, the roots of all these plans find their way to the very top of Japanese society, including the Prime Minister – by which I mean a direct parody of then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, looking like a lion.

Obviously the music is the main appeal to the show. The music is great, full of funny numbers. These include not just the songs towards the rental shop owner, but Hideki expressing his love for Mako, Mako expressing her love for Dom Perignon champagne, and Ichiro expressing his disturbing love for Pandaikon. Some viewers may get tired of the fact that some of the tunes are used over and over again, but at least the dialogue is changed to suit the situation. The opening title song, “Ma·Ji·Ya·Ba” is wonderful, and one of the extras is the live-action music video performed by the actors. However, on the DVD menu this is seemingly hidden away, accessed by scrolling down the bottom of the menu on Disc 1, and the icon selecting your choice is not over any text. I slightly unsure as to whether this is an Easter Egg or just shoddy menu design. You also get the textless opening and closing, as well as episode commentaries on both discs.

The other main draw is the comedy, which differs from most comedy in anime in that quite a lot of it is satirical. For example, the character based on Prime Minister Koizumi looks like a lion because in real life his hair was described as looking like a lion’s mane and he embraced it. The character’s plans are to privatise the whole of Nerima, a reference to his then-real plans to privatise Japan’s postal service. All these topical references will fly by the average British viewer unless you look everything up, but on the surface there are still loads of laughs.

One example occurs in the very first episode. Ichiro is harassed in his host club by a gay customer who is a band manager, where all of the subtext indicates that he is giving Ichiro a hand job (cue lots of cutaways to sausages as Ichiro groans). Later on, the whole band meet the same manager, where Hideki tries to impress the manager similarly, with his thingy being represented by a daikon. This routine is based on an actual boy band manager, Johnny Kitagawa, who was once subject to claims that he had sexually abused the boys he managed. Thus you can either laugh at the satirical comments made against Kitagawa, or at some gags about wanking someone off.

I would definitely recommend giving Nerima Daikon Brothers a watch, partly because it differs to most anime in several ways: there are very few musical anime, very few satirical anime, and very few anime that can make you laugh as much while also providing you with rather catchy tunes.

Sakura Trick Review

I have a confession to make: I love yuri. Whilst it isn’t my intention to make myself sound perverse, I think it’s incredibly important to acknowledge my fondness for all things yuri, or Girl’s Love as it’s sometimes called, when reviewing Sakura Trick, just so you know I’m coming at this from a place of huge bias. Sakura Trick is based upon the 4-koma manga series by Tachi, and is probably the most well known and popular yuri series to come out in recent years, and has accumulated a sizable fan base since it first aired in 2014. Is there more to this series than just girl-on-girl action though? In short; yes.

In case you’re not aware, Sakura Trick is about best friends Yuu and Haruka who have just started their freshman year in High School. Although they’re in the same class, they’re given seats at opposite ends of the classroom and Haruka quickly gets jealous of Yuu making new friends. To remedy this, the pair decide to do something in order to deepen their bond that they wouldn’t do with anyone else and they end up sharing a kiss in a vacant classroom full of sakura petals. After that one kiss leads to many, they quickly realise that their friendship will never be the same again.

Despite the fact that my overall opinion of Sakura Trick is generally positive, the biggest issue I do take with it stems from the relationship between the two leads. It’s certainly not bad, in fact I’d say it’s downright adorable, however the problem is that it doesn’t feel as if there’s any kind of growth or arc for their relationship. Right at the beginning of the series, the two girls are already very close friends, and even after they share the first kiss, I can’t help but feel nothing really changes in the grand scheme, other than the fact that they sneak off to kiss now and again. There’s no real build-up to the two becoming a couple, in fact they share their first kiss about 10 minutes into the first episode, and after that, there isn’t really any turbulence or struggle in the relationship either, at least, not until right near the end, but by then, it’s too little, too late. I’m not trying to say there has to be some sort of drama for a relationship to be good, but there definitely could have been more done in this  department to make it a little more interesting. Only compounding this matter is the fact that there is an interesting relationship in the show, it’s just not between the two main characters. Yes, two other girls, Shizuku and Kotone, also have a secret relationship, albeit one with a bit more going on in it, as it’s revealed that one of the girls’ parents has already arranged for her to get married. Honestly, I think that alone has enough potential to carry a show, but it’s largely in the background and is rarely mentioned. It’s really frustrating because I genuinely think that this is a brilliant idea, yet it’s just squandered. If this idea had been applied to Yuu and Haruka’s relationship, it would have made the series infinitely better, in my opinion.

Now, despite the fact that I just spent a whole paragraph complaining about it, I actually did end up liking Sakura Trick quite a bit. This is mostly because of the characters who are a likable bunch and have some great chemistry together which produces a lot of great comedic moments. It’s not exactly laugh-a-minute, but there’s a decent amount of jokes that managed to make me laugh a surprising amount. Then of course, there’s the inclusion of all the yuri scenes, which is probably going to be the most divisive element of the whole show, and could make or break this anime for some people. I’ll be totally honest, the yuri elements are my favourite part of the whole thing, and are very well executed. If people have read any of my reviews before, they’ll know I’m generally not huge on fan service, and whilst all the yuri here is very much fan service, it feels a lot less exploitative than a general ecchi anime, as well as appealing directly to my interests, so I really liked it. If you’re not into the whole yuri thing, I still think that there’s enjoyment to be had here, but it certainly wouldn’t be the first romantic comedy I’d recommend, and there are better examples out there, such as Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-Kun, that deliver more laughs.

Sakura Trick is animated by Studio DEEN (Fate/stay night (2006), Is This a Zombie?, When They Cry) although you might not think so at first glance. The studio is very much going out of their way here to do their best impression of Shaft (Madoka Magica, Nisekoi, Monogatari) and the general art style and direction is heavily reminiscent of Hidamari Sketch, although I’d be hesitant to call the style a rip-off, considering the fact that the director of Sakura Trick, Kenichi Ishikura, directed several episodes of Hidamari Sketch, as well as the entirety of the third series. Still, even if the style isn’t wholly original, that doesn’t make it any less of a good-looking show. I’m a huge fan of Shaft’s general style, so it’s no surprise that I absolutely love the look of this series too, with its bright colours and use of textures to really make scenes pop. I haven’t seen much of Studio DEEN’s work, admittedly, but this is probably the best-looking show of theirs I’ve watched.

MVM’s release of Sakura Trick is Japanese audio only, with English subtitles. The Japanese cast all do great, providing the group of cute girls with suitably cute voices, with the cast including voice actors such as Yuka Iguchi (Monogatari, Fairy Tail, Girls und Panzer), Haruka Tomatsu (Coppelion, Gintama, Punchline) and Hiromi Igarashi (Hellsing Ultimate, Brave Witches, High School Fleet). Music is provided by Ryosuke Nakanishi, and is a pretty decent soundtrack, but nothing too memorable. The same can be said for the OP and ED too, which, whilst serviceable, are generally nothing spectacular.

In Summary

If you like yuri, then this is absolutely a must-see, in fact, if you like yuri, you’ve probably already seen this show. Even if you’re nonplussed by yuri, I could still somewhat recommend Sakura Trick, as it’s largely enjoyable, although don’t expect anything groundbreaking or new.

Streaming review of Yuri!!! On Ice, Episodes 9-12 (Crunchyroll)

WARNING: Contains spoilers

Link to review of Episodes 1-8.

“Love is a snowmobile racing across the tundra and then suddenly it flips over, pinning you underneath. At night, the ice weasels come.” – Matt Groening.

Having finally reached the end of the series, waiting to see what would be the outcome of Yuri Katsuki’s progress through the Grand Prix, and the nature of his relationship with coach Victor Nikiforov, my overall reaction is one of… well, I don’t really know to be honest. I’m not ecstatic, nor am I as disappointed as I thought I was going to be. However, by the time I had finished writing this piece, I think I finally cracked it.

The eighth episode ended with Victor flying from Moscow back to Japan after Yuri K. learns that Victor’s beloved poodle Makkachin has been rushed to the vets when it was found choking. Thus Victor’s old coach, Yakov, who is also Yurio’s current coach, agrees to serve as Yuri K.’s temporary coach while Victor is away. In the end, Yuri K. gets third place in Moscow with Yurio coming second, and first going to the rather overbearing Canadian J.J. Leroy. Yuri K. then returns home, with Makkachin perfectly well.

The scores for both Yuris are enough to take them to the grand final in Barcelona, with the tenth episode being told from Victor’s viewpoint rather than Yuri K’s. This episode, mainly serving as a run-up to the main competition, has what I think is the best scene in the series. While much has been made of the kiss scene in episode seven – a scene which Crunchyroll has nominated for a prize in their first ever “Anime Awards”, for me the single best scene in the whole of Yuri!!! On Ice occurs when Yuri K. decides to get a good luck charm for the final. This charm is a pair of gold rings for both himself and Victor, which they both wear. As a result, it is seen as deeply symbolic in terms of their relationship. When they meet the other skaters people think they are married, but Victor just says they are engaged.

The final two episodes cover the grand final itself, with the competitors being the two Yuris, J.J., Yuri K’s friend from Thailand Phichit Chulanot, Victor’s friendly Swiss rival Christophe Giacometti, and Kazakhstan’s Otabek Altin who becomes friends with Yurio. In the first half of the competition, the highlight is when J.J. cracks under the pressure, which for me is a good scene because you can finally start to sympathise with him. At the end of the episode, however, Yuri K. says to Victor: “After the Final, let’s end this.”

This remark clearly upsets Victor, and the final episode is partly about whether or not Yuri K. and Victor will continue working together. As to what happens in the final round, well, I don’t want to give away the critical details, but I think it is safe to mention the things that occur after the contest is over. One is is a gala exhibition in which Yuri K. and Victor are skating together – something fans of the show are saying is a big deal because two men skating together in a competition is something that never happens. The other thing is a message to the viewer: “See you NEXT LEVEL”, indicating the possibility of a second series.

As I said, I was expecting to react to the ending in one of two ways: anger or joy. In fact, anger was my reaction when I logged onto Crunchyroll to watch the last episode. For starters, I needed to update my Adobe Flash Player, so I thought, “Oh God, I’m now going to be behind everyone else watching it.” What I didn’t notice while I was updating the software was that everyone else was angry because Crunchyroll hadn’t put the episode up at all. They were nearly 20 minutes late putting up the most anticipated finale of the season and people were understandably furious. I admit it is a bit of a ‘first world problem’, but as the main anime streaming website for most people, you expect Crunchyroll not to have these issues.

In terms of watching the finale itself, I think I have finally reached my conclusion as to the proof of whether Yuri and Victor are a gay couple. I think there actually is conclusive proof – but again, not the sort of proof I was expecting. It comes at the top of the episode, following on from Yuri K. saying he wants to end it all. As he explains, I think I see the true indication that Victor loves Yuri – Victor cries. For all this time, I was hoping to see something happy to indicate their love, but in the end, it was something that was sad. The idea that your relationship might end, the possible heartbreak, is for me the final indicator. If the kiss is the initial spark, and the rings the visible sign of love, then the tears are proof that you don’t want it to end. I have been saying all the time that what I wanted was text rather than subtext – but in end, I think the subtext did actually pay off. If there is a second series we might get text then, but for now, I think everything’s OK.

That crying scene overall speaks volumes to me. All the time it has been the kissing and the verbal indications, yet what love really is, when you get down to it, is emotional. As I said in my previous review, I’ve been in a long distance relationship with a genderfluid American for six years. The one thing we have never been able to do is meet in real life. If and when we do, it will be a glorious, passionate moment, but when he no doubt gets on the plane back home and returns to his everyday life, I know I will cry bitter tears. As I write this passage out, I am even on the verge of tears knowing that this moment might never even happen, because we still might never get to physically encounter each other.

This show has put me through so many emotions: love, frustration, joy, bewilderment, and finally anger – not at the show, but the way people are debating it. Yes, there will still be people arguing about whether Yuri K. and Victor are gay, battles between zealous fans and haters, but for me the most annoying and tedious have been the rows on the AUKN forums between Rui and IncendiaryLemon, which even on the day of the finale have still raged on, because of the show being nominated for awards. I did end up posting on the forums a message that included the phrase: “Won’t you two get a room.”

If there is a second series, I really do hope we get to see the relationship between Yuri and Victor flourish, and I do think that if we see that fully uncensored kiss I would put it up to 10, but I would also really hope that Rui and IncendiaryLemon bicker less.

The Japan Foundation presents Anisong – The Musical World of Anime

The Japan Foundation have announced a special event that will be held in London this January!

Continue reading “The Japan Foundation presents Anisong – The Musical World of Anime”

Anime UK News Review of 2016 – Part 2

Welcome to Part 2 of the Anime UK News 2016 Review of 2016 in which the staff recommend manga and light novels they’ve enjoyed this year. And then we look in our crystal balls to see what’s coming up in 2017..

Manga

punpun

IncendiaryLemon:

I’ll fully admit that I don’t read a lot of manga. Shameful, I know, and it is something I’m looking to remedy as we enter the new year. However I did read a handful of manga this year, and one in particular really stood out to me: Goodnight Punpun.

I only stumbled across this series by pure chance when I saw a screengrab of one of the pages on some website, and it made me chuckle, so I looked into reading it and, boy, was I not prepared for this series. Don’t get me wrong, this manga is amazing: it has a whole host of complex characters that you can really get invested in and you’ll find at least one, most likely the titular Punpun, depressingly relatable in a lot of scenarios. However, this is also a dark series. It’s strangely refreshing and unlike anything I’ve ever seen or read before, as it just absolutely wallows in the misery of the characters. It is peppered with some black comedy, but this is no means a fun ride, and each volume just gets progressively darker and you just can’t predict where it’s going next; it’s incredibly engrossing. This will not be a series for everyone, but if this sounds remotely appealing to you, I’d highly recommend checking out Goodnight Punpun.

Demelza:

This year I haven’t found myself starting too many new manga series, but those I did start are definitely series I want to share with others. To start with there are the two-volume omnibus editions of Orange, which I reviewed for the site earlier this year here and here. It’s a short series and already completed in English, so I think everyone should give it a shot.

Complex Age volume 1

Another series that I started this year is Complex Age; I reviewed the first volume here. The artwork and the plot are what drew me in to start with but I stayed for the cast of characters and their everyday adventures that are well written and put together. It’s not a series for everyone and I can definitely see why it might be cast aside at a glance, but it quickly became a favourite of mine and I can’t wait to continue it through to its end.

Sarah:

liselotte-1It’s been another good year for manga. One of my favourites is Liselotte & Witch’s Forest by Fruits Basket’s Natsuki Takaya (her slice-of-life Twinkle Stars has just begun its Yen Press 2-in-1 release). It’s frustrating to know that Liselotte is currently on hiatus as this series shows all of Takaya’s strengths: a resilient and determined heroine, dry humour as well as some heart-breaking moments combined with her attractively distinctive art style. Here we have the bonus of a fantasy story set in a Brothers Grimm-style mittel-European country but it’s her character interactions that impress and involve the reader. Recommended.

battle-rabbits-1

Battle Rabbits (Seven Seas) is by ‘Ameichi’ – Yuki Amemiya and Yukino Ichihara – the mangaka who created one of my favourite series 07-Ghost. This is a shounen story with a shoujo vibe: Kaguya, living in present-day Japan, discovers that he is a Battle Rabbit, destined to fight against a group of powerful ogres hell-bent on destroying the Earth. In spite of the attractive art, this gets off to a rough start – but matters improve in Volume 2 as hints of a crossover with 07-Ghost appear.

10-count

Ten Count  (2 volumes released so far in English by SuBLime) a sensitive yet distinctly disturbing series by Rihito Takarai depicting the relationship between a young man with mysophobia (fear of germs) and the psychotherapist who offers to treat him. Exquisitely drawn and rated ‘M’ for Mature readers for a reason.

 

 

Ian Wolf:

rg-veda-cover

For me, the stand-out manga of the year, and the only one I gave full marks to in my manga reviews at MyM, was Dark Horse’s release of RG Veda, the very first manga series created by Clamp. Firstly, because Clamp like to mix up their characters so much, it was good to see their original work be re-released (having been previously been made available by the defunct TokyoPop label) allowing new fans to start from scratch, but also because the sheer quality of the artwork makes it a joy to read. It is admittedly a long read, as each book contains over 3 volumes’ worth of material, but it is worth the devotion.

love-stage-5

Also worth mentioning is a series that has been going for a while, but I feel deserves highlighting. Namely, Volume 5 of the yaoi manga Love Stage!! from SuBLime, for having the four funniest pages that I have read in a manga for a long time. To give some context, the story reaches a point in which Izumi, the otaku uke in the relationship with seme actor Ryoma, decides to become the seme in the relationship. Following this we get a sequence in which Izumi is a hunky seme, which then cuts to Izumi sleep-talking in the car, while his terrified manager Rei is sitting behind the wheel thinking to himself: “Somebody is having a dream I’d really rather not know about.”

Digital Manga

Sarah:

vanitas

Pandora Hearts mangaka Jun Mochizuki has begun a promising new series set in a steampunk alternate Paris; the first printed volume is out this month from Yen Press but I’ve been following this through their monthly chapter downloads. It has all the twisted and dark motivation that made Pandora Hearts so addictive – as well as her own unique take on the vampire mythos. And gorgeous art.

 

Ian Wolf:

Sorry to bring it back to sports series again, but there is a bit of a change in that at my two choices are both motorsports. Also, while one is brand new, the other is an old series that got an English-language release this year.

The new series was the motorbike manga Toppu GP by Kosuke Fujishima, with monthly chapters released by Kodansha, which has been entertaining so far, and also seems to highlight that even if you have just started a sports manga, the chances of fans turning it into something gay quickly are high. For those who don’t believe me, I just have one word: “leathers”.

The other, older series is F, a manga about Formula 1 that began in 1985, way before this Odagiri Effect trend. Just to prove it, the lead character Gunma has sex – with a woman! Can you imagine such a thing? It is a fun series – can you think of a manga that features a tractor fitted with a super-charged Porsche engine? Credit goes to Japanese company Creek & River for releasing it in English.

Light Novels

Demelza:
danmachu-volume-1When asked about my favourite light novel there is only one clear winner and that’s Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls In A Dungeon?. This year the series finally surpassed the content of the anime adaptation and set out on adventures brand new, which are shaping up to be quite exciting indeed! I’d also like to drop a mention to both Sword Art Online: Progressive and The Devil is a Part-Timer! as they have also continued to be really good reads.

If I have to talk about new light novels though I think my pick would be Re:Zero because the story is finely crafted and after watching the anime it’s clear that there is a lot it’s trying to accomplish. It’s going to be a long time until the English translations surpass the anime, but that’s okay. I’m enjoying experiencing the story from the perspective that the novels give us and by the time we do get to new content I’ll be thankfully for having been able to recap all that has happened up until that point.

I can’t finish off this section without dropping a mention to J Novel Club who launched this year and have brought 8 new light novels to the English market (at the time of writing). While they might not have titles to break into the mass market with (how many of you see the name Mixed Bathing in Another Dimension and want to run for the hills?), but what they do have of note is Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash. I mentioned back in the anime section that the series was one of my favourites of 2016 and that rings true for the novels as well. So far the first volume of the series has been released in English and it leaves me eager to read more. Fantasy fans definitely need to check it out.

Ian Wolf:

legend-galactic3

At the back end of last year AUKN ran the Anime UK News Awards to find out what were the people’s choices for their favourite shows. In the category of “Anime we most want to see released in UK”, one of the shows that came out on top was the space opera Legend of the Galactic Heroes. While we don’t have the anime yet (although a new adaptation comes out next year), the original novels were released this year released by Viz Media under their Haikasoru label, and have been a great read.

Based on the European wars of the 19th century, the story of the conflicts between Reinhard von Lohengramm of the Germanic (or rather Prussian)-like Galactic Empire, who dreams of becoming Emperor himself, and of master tactician and historian Yang Wen-li of the Free Planets Alliance, have made for thrilling reading so far. Or indeed fun listening, as it is one of the few such books to be released on audiobook as well.

Things to Come in 2017…

attack-on-titan-2

Demelza:

When I think of 2017 what instantly springs to mind for anime is the Sword Art Online movie as well as the second season of Blood Blockade Battlefront. I’m also keen to watch the next season of KonoSuba and Attack on Titan, but what I really can’t watch to watch is the adaptation of Fuuka which is due next season.

For light novels I’m eagerly awaiting the release of KonoSuba, but I’m just as excited for the continuation of some of my favourites (mentioned earlier in the article). I also can’t wait to see what J-Novel Club bring to the table and hopefully by the end of 2017 there will be a whole bunch of light novels to talk about!

Finally, with manga I’ll be happily buying up the release of Erased, more Haikyu!! and finishing off series like Your Lie in April and Say I Love You. It will be a year of goodbyes as series like Tokyo Ghoul also come to an end, but hopefully there will be a lot of new series to pick up in order to fill the hole left behind.

Rui:

I’m not looking forward to any series in particular yet, though in the continued absence of the promised Legend of the Galactic Heroes release from Sentai in the US I’m quite looking forward to the new adaptation next year.

For me, the most exciting developments are in the industry itself. I can’t believe that at this point in time almost every new anime show is streaming in the UK day-and-date with other English-speaking regions, and almost all of them are on the same site (Crunchyroll). It’s never been cheaper to have access to more anime than anyone can realistically ever watch. Funimation has entered the UK to share its simuldubs, and I’m very interested to see how their DVD/BD releases here turn out over the next few months as they seem to be experimenting to find a release model which works for our tiny market. Digital manga has improved a lot too; I can’t believe I can subscribe to a simultaneous release of Shounen Jump for almost nothing and read the latest chapters of some of my favourite ongoing manga so soon after they’re first published. The increased push for anime movies has also been wonderful; we’ve already been promised some gems in that department for next year.

My main wish is for more access to content for people outside the US so that I can indulge in as much anime as I can next year, good or bad. Oh, and for Toei Europe and Animatsu/Manga to start embracing legal simulcasts the way their counterparts in other regions have, so I can stop moaning about not being able to see any of their respective titles even when a simulcast would normally exist.

Darkstorm:

yugioh-film

I’m a big kid at heart, so count me in the ‘excited for Yu-Gi-Oh!: The Dark Side of Dimensions‘ club when it comes to cinemas in February. For 2017 I hope we finally get some information on the last Rebuild of Evangelion film, and perhaps a sneaky screening of Fate/Stay Night: Heaven’s Feel movie in the UK? Unlikely but one girl can dream!

In 2016 we’ve had several older, nostalgic series make a come back on DVD/Blu-ray from Pokemon to Transformers to Cowboy Bebop. The UK is also getting the Tenchi Muyo GXP series (finally) in 2017 so would it be a stretch to hope for a Cardcaptor Sakura or Sailor Moon to make a come back? In terms of things that might ACTUALLY happen we’ve got Attack on Titan finally coming back for Season 2 in April 2017, so we’ll see if it can live up to the hype!

IncendiaryLemon:

As with most years, there isn’t much that I’m actually looking forward to in the next year just yet, at least, not in terms of simulcasts. There are some shows which I’m sure just about everyone is looking forward to, such as Attack on Titan Season 2, as well as the return of some classic series such as Cardcaptor Sakura and Full Metal Panic, but most of the series I end up loving by the end of the year I haven’t even heard of before I watch the first episode, so what I’m most excited about in 2017 is being surprised by something totally out of left field that I’ve never heard of, and it blowing my socks off.

When it comes to home releases in the UK, one of my personal favourite shows, Kiniro Mosaic, is finally getting a release thanks to Manga UK, as well as my AOTY from last year, School Live!, from Animatsu. 2017 will also (hopefully) see the release of the long belated Mobile Suit Gundam: Zeta from Anime Limited, which I’m looking forward to, as well as some of my favourites from this year such as Re:Zero and Love Live! Sunshine!!. Although nothing is official yet, Funimation has licensed beloved comedy series Nichijou in the US, and seeing as Anime Limited has close ties with Funimation, I’m crossing my fingers we might see that in the UK too.

In terms of both manga and light novels in the coming year, Viz Media will continue putting out my Manga of the Year, Goodnight Punpun, as well as the gorgeous hardcover editions of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. After about a year’s wait, we’ll also see Vertical bring out the first volume of the Bakemonogatari light novel in December of 2016, and continue putting them out into the new year, with Nisemonogatari following it.

Ian Wolf:

The thing I am most looking forward to is Your Name being nominated for an Academy Award; partly because I’m positive it will happen; and partly because deep down you know it is as far as it will get. We all know the Oscar judges have no imagination and will just go with whatever Disney/Pixar release has come out this year, so it is probably best to go in with low expectations.

There is some returning anime series that of interest including Attack on TitanBlue Exorcist and FLCL, as well as shows like Atom: The Beginning, a prequel to Osamu Tezuka’s Astro Boy. Meanwhile in manga Viz are releasing omnibuses of Rurouni Kenshin and the finale of Bleach, Dark Horse has an omnibus of Blade of the Immortal, and Yen Press have hardback copies of ERASED and the return of Durarara!!

Kodansha is also bringing out hardback versions of Ghost in the Shell, which reminds me of the one thing I’m not looking forward: Hollywood adaptations of anime. Will the Americans do justice to GitS or Death Note? Well, like I said, it is probably best to go in with low expectations.

Sarah: 

shouwa-manga-1On the manga front, I’m delighted that Kodansha have licensed Descending StoriesShowa Genroku Rakugo Shinju, the original manga by Haruko Kumota with Volume 1 due out in the spring! Seven Seas bring us Volume 1 of Seven Princes of the Thousand Year Labyrinth by Yu Aikawa, another Comic Zero-Sum josei fantasy adventure series that looks intriguing.

 

I’ve already mentioned the hotly anticipated Season 2 of Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinju but I’m also looking forward to the return of Blue Exorcist with the new Kyoto Saga; I’m hoping that both these series will be simulcast in the UK and not region-blocked (unlike others I could mention this year).

Also recently announced are the anime adaptation of The Royal Tutor, the charming comedy of manners set in an alternate 19thc Vienna and ACCA 13-ku Kansatsu-ka, a very tempting-looking anime version of Natsume Ono’s espionage thriller manga, if the promotional material is anything to go by!

acca

 

 

 

Anime UK News Review of 2016 – Part 1

Anime UK News Review of 2016 – Part 1

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2016 has been a turbulent year – and at Anime UK News we’ve had our fair share of ups and downs too. But overall, it’s been a good year for anime, light novels and manga, with some significant improvements in what we get to see in the UK, even in cinemas! So it’s time for the AUKN staff to look back at what they’ve enjoyed the most in the past twelve months and to pass on their recommendations.

What have been your favourite shows and reads this year? Why not share you views with us here!

Anime Streaming

 IncendiaryLemon:

Whilst I can’t say it’s been good in all respects this year, when it comes to anime, I really can’t complain, as I’ve seen an absolute ton of fantastic shows in 2016. Last year, when I picked School Live as my Anime of the Year, it was an incredibly easy choice, but I’ve had to think far harder this year than last.

Way back in the Winter we had the heartfelt and emotional mystery series Erased, which, whilst shaky towards the end, was still excellent on the whole. Spring saw the return of a personal favourite franchise of mine: JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, which adapted the fourth part of the manga, Diamond is Unbreakable; as well as the thrilling fantasy adventure Re:Zero: Starting Life in Another World.  In the Summer, we finally got a continuation of Gut’s story after almost 20 years in the form of Berserk (2016), as well as being introduced to the next generation of school idols in Love Live! Sunshine!!. Finally, the Autumn season is shaping up to be possibly the best season out of the whole year, with visually mesmerising and surprisingly heartfelt Flip Flappers and hilariously over the top and self aware sports series Keijo!.

So what was my favourite show?  Well, it’s something that, at time of writing, has actually yet to wrap up, but I can still say with utmost confidence that it’s the best anime of the year, hands down. That show, is Sound Euphonium Season 2. 

The first season of Sound! Euphonium was one that took me a little while to sound-euphoniumwarm to, and it was only when revisiting it before the second season for a refresher that I actually fell in love with the show, but this second season takes an already fantastic series and just continues pushing the quality up. It’s already better than the season that came before it, and it hasn’t even finished yet! The characters are the true core of what makes Sound! brilliant, and this second season continues to expand upon the cast introduced in the initial season and to develop both the characters and their relationships, as well as introducing new characters into the mix too, with spectacular results. There are also some excellent story beats in this season too, and I’m very much excited to see how they play out in the end. Kyoto Animation’s animation is also just beautiful and and is definitely the pinnacle of the studio’s work from an artistic standpoint, which is saying a lot considering some of the gorgeous shows they’ve put out in the past.

I’m really hoping that calling Sound! Euphonium Season 2 my Anime of the Year doesn’t come back to bite me if the ending is poor, but I have every confidence that it will be just as amazing as the rest of the season has been.

Demelza:

When it comes to anime that has been streaming in the UK this year I don’t think we’ve had the best year. There have been some good shows, but truly memorable works have been few and far between for me. If I have to pick shows that stood out then I think my picks would be Erased, Re:Zero, My Hero Academia and Orange. Each of these series stood out in different ways but now we’re into the last of the Autumn season and looking toward Winter 2017, I honestly can’t say they’re favourites of mine.

When it comes to my favourites, I have three. To start with I have Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash which took the very generic idea of being trapped in a fantasy world and filled it with realism. After the first two or three episodes, it was clear to see that this world holds no punches and so if our heroes wanted to get anywhere they’d have to be extremely careful or risk certain death. Coupled with some wonderful animation from A-1 Pictures and a soundtrack from R.O.N it was an instant hit with me and definitely the one series I think of when looking back at 2016.

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My second favourite is undoubtedly KonoSuba. The series aired right at the beginning of 2016 and it won’t be the most memorable for everyone but for me it stuck around in my mind simply because, like Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash, it took the idea of being trapped in a fantasy world and did something memorable with it. It’s not serious by any means (and the animation was several grades of downright terrible), but it made fun of the tropes of the genre and a lot of fantasy video games so it won a lot of respect in my book. With Yen Press gearing up to release the original light novels early next year and a second season due to air in the Winter, it’s definitely an anime that’ll be sticking around in my memory.

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My third and final pick is the wonderful Bungo Stray Dogs from Studio BONES. If you’ve read any of my reviews of a BONES series before, then you’ll know they’re probably one of my favourite studios and so their latest offering quickly became a favourite of mine. While I’m not sure the series hits the heights of Blood Blockade Battlefront or Noragami, it’s still home to a lot of really likeable characters and the story is interesting enough to keep me wanting to see more.

Sarah:

morose-mononokeanThis has been a fascinatingly varied year. Personal favourites include: superhero with a difference Mob Psycho 100; gentle slice-of-life with youkai The Morose Mononokean; slice-of-life with a tanuki Poco’s Udon World, and the dry humour of sadly overlooked ‘vampires with a difference’ Servamp (only on Funimation). Yuri!!! On ICE has been my stand-out series of 2016, closely followed by the first part of Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinju, a fascinating and insightful picture of the practitioners of the ancient performance art of rakugo (story-telling) trying to keep it alive as the distractions of the twentieth century take away their audience. It’s also a compelling and moving drama about the performers and their lives. Subtle and understated, yet vivid and dramatic when it needs to be, I can’t wait for Season 2 in the Winter Anime 2017 Season.

The launch of Funimation UK has brought an even greater range of choice to viewers in the UK and the decision to concentrate on dubs this autumn is an interesting one (some dubs proving more convincing than others as many new VAs are brought in, some less skilled than others). It’s a little early to tell how well this is working with series as varied as Drifters, All Out!!  and Nanbaka receiving the full Funi treatment (remember when they used to call it reversioning?).

Cold Cobra:

jojoAs is often the case when you’re one of the last to add your thoughts, I don’t have anything new to recommend! Still, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure Part IV: Diamond is Unbreakable probably gets my highest recommendation. Since Capcom’s 2D fighting game in the late 90s I’ve been aware of the JoJo series, but obviously pretty much only Part III (the part the game was based on). So when that part ended I wondered what the rest was like, as I enjoyed Part II a lot due to not knowing what on Earth was going on, and I’m happy to say that’s held true for Part IV this year. Top marks goes to the series’ lead villain Kira, who has been superbly built up as someone you want to see get their comeuppance and has been responsible for some real edge-of-your-seat cliffhangers in the last few weeks. Diamond is Unbreakable may well be my favourite part so far, despite not having a 2D Capcom fighter based on it!

Other series I’ve really enjoyed are Bungo Stray Dogs, Mob Psycho 100 and yes, Re:Zero. I’d also like to mention how nice it is that I can now mention Dragon Ball Super as a series that is officially streaming here in the UK. The new Future Trunks arc that aired throughout the year may have taken the Dragon Ball lore book and thrown it out the window, but it did have some really well animated fights, so that’s always a plus!

 

 

Rui: 

I’ve been relying on streaming for my anime consumption for most of the year as it’s the most economical way to get my fix of new content, and fortunately there have been quite a few titles which leapt in to fill the void after the wonderful Osomatsu-san came to an end. A list of my highlights would definitely include Erased, Joker Game and Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu, all of which I knew I’d like from the very first episode. Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash managed to be a rare modern LN-based fantasy show I actually enjoyed thanks to its realistic tone and human cast. Then there was the latest part of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure and the second season of The Heroic Legend of Arslan, both of which were thoroughly satisfying continuations in their own (very different) ways. This season’s Yuri!!! On ICE is shaping up to be a candidate for the best show of the year, too; its focus on the leads’ feel-good romance demonstrates that turning everything into a tragic melodrama isn’t the only way to tell a dramatic love story.

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The series I remember most fondly, though, is something of a guilty pleasure: Cute High Earth Defense Club LOVE! LOVE! made me laugh harder than anything else all year! It’s the sequel to an equally irreverent parody of magical girl anime starring a bunch of eccentric, mostly-unenthusiastic guys which somehow managed to be even more entertaining than its predecessor through the addition of a pair of vengeful twin pop singers from outer space who serve as the new main villains. I don’t expect it to make many other lists for the year, but I laughed so hard I cried during some of the later episodes. Truly ridiculous stuff.

Ian Wolf:

This is a difficult one for me, because the series I most want to nominate has not ended yet, and I don’t think I can really confirm it is my personal favourite series of 2016 until it has finished.

This series is Yuri!!! On ICE, which I previously reviewed for AUKN. I have been enjoying this series, because I’m both a fan of sports anime in general and I’m pansexual. However, I’ve had my fill of gay subtext – what I want now is actual gay text. I just want more than anything else, for the gay relationship between Yuri and Victor to be beyond any doubt. I could go on about the kiss scene and further developments with the duo getting themselves rings which indicates some form of engagement, but what I really want is for them just to say: “I love you”, or “Will you marry me”, or to see a kiss without Victor’s arm getting in the way. If they do I’ll be ecstatic; if they don’t, it’ll be a massive disappointment and a missed opportunity; at the moment, it’s the single biggest cock tease I can think of.

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Speaking of sports anime, there are other series that spring to mind. The comedian Ross Noble once said: “You can have sex with a man, and that’s still less gay than rollerblading.” This year we found out something even gayer than that: an all-male cheerleading team. Cheer Boys!! on Funimation definitely tops the list of the most unintentionally camp anime ever. It was a series that made me laugh – for the wrong reasons. The problem was that it seemed to be taking itself too seriously. It claimed to be overturning prejudices – it certainly didn’t in my opinion.

A show that didn’t take itself so seriously, the return of Cute High Earth Defense Club LOVE! LOVE! was much more enjoyable in comparison: because it’s funny, you embrace the more flamboyant elements. Other returning series that were good include series two of Food Wars! and the third series of Haikyu!! In terms of brand new anime, ERASED was certainly a highlight, even if the ending was predictable, and it might be my favourite of the year if Yuri!!! On Ice fails to develop the way I hope it does.

Anime Film 

Theatrical Screening

Demelza:

your-name-pr-4When it comes to theatrical anime screenings, I haven’t had the chance to see many this year. I was gutted when Anthem of the Heart was being shown in Manchester and I was too unwell to attend, and Boruto was screened just a little too far away for me to justify the trip. However, that said, I have been able to see both A Silent Voice and Your Name this year and both are truly remarkable works of animation.

When it comes to the mass media and most anime fans, I think Your Name is the movie that stands out. It’s emotionally moving, absolutely beautifully animated and telling a story that only Makoto Shinkai could tell. Meanwhile A Silent Voice has so far only been shown at the Leeds International Film Festival and Scotland Loves Anime, so the chances that many of you have seen it are, sadly, quite slim. With a wider theatrical release planned for early next year I highly recommend checking it out as, although I am a big fan of Your Name, I think that A Silent Voice has a story that is perhaps more easily relatable than that of Your Name. Either way both stood out to me this year and are the best of the theatrical screenings we’ve been given.

Rui:

I’ve been spoilt this year and been able to watch quite a few anime titles on the big screen, with Your Name being a particular highlight due to its relatively high profile release; who would have thought I’d see posters for non-Ghibli anime screenings all over the London Underground! It helps that the film itself is very good. I haven’t yet had the opportunity to check out A Silent Voice – it’s on my list for next year – but choosing a favourite is tricky. Being forced to sit and watch a film quietly in a cinema is a different experience to watching at home, and the lack of distractions means they’ve all left a strong impression on me as a viewer.

Surprisingly, the most fun film screening experience I’ve had this year was probably the first two Kizumonogatari films, which I saw at last month’s Leeds International Film Festival. It’s surprising because I was quite excited about them several years ago when they were originally announced, then over time my interest in the ongoing Monogatari series began to fade as my favourite characters stepped aside to let (mostly) less interesting ones have their time in the limelight. I knew that one character I wasn’t all that interested in at all was likely to have a major role in Kizumonogatari, too, and went in expecting little more than kinky fan service and stunning animation. Suffice it to say that my expectations were surpassed. If you’ve ever liked any part of the Monogatari series at all there’s probably something to enjoy in Kizumonogatari.

Darkstorm:

I was very fortunate to see a preview screening of Your Name back in October, and as per my review I highly recommend it if you haven’t seen it already. It’s fantastic that more anime films are getting recognised and screened in the UK; but one must not forget that earlier in the year we FINALLY got a screening of Studio Ghibli’s last movie (for now): When Marnie Was There. I saw this with friends and we all walked out of the cinema with smiles and tears in our eyes, it’s a delightful little movie that is now out on DVD and Blu-ray; it doesn’t have Miyazaki’s name on it but it’s certainly worth your attention.

Anime DVD/Blu-ray

IncendiaryLemon:

Much like the brand new anime that came out in 2016, the releases that hit home video in the UK this year were also of incredibly high quality, being just as hard to narrow down to a single title. In fact, it was so difficult for me, I decided to pick a handful of titles rather than just one, because honestly, I think I love all of these shows in equal amounts, and they’re so wildly different to each other, I don’t think I could really pick just one.

HaNaYaMaTa (Manga Entertainment, DVD and BD)-Full Review

Along with When Supernatural Battles Become Commonplace (which is also excellent), HaNaYaMaTa is probably one of the most overlooked titles this year. It’s certainly not going to be for everyone, but the brilliant visuals from Madhouse and the charming cast was enough to win me over, making it one of the best Slice of Life series I’ve seen.

Love Live: School Idol Project Season 2 (MVM Films, DVD and BD)Full Review

Whilst the first season of Love Live was great, it was its follow-up that really cemented the franchise as a favourite of mine. Its more focused story led to some incredible emotional moments that put me on the brink of tears multiple times throughout and further developed its memorable and lovable characters, as well as having a brilliant J-Pop soundtrack.

No Game No Life (MVM Films, DVD and BD)-Full Review

Switching things up a bit from the other two recommendations, No Game No Life is a thoroughly enjoyable series, mostly due to its wonderful premise, about a world where all matters of conflict are settled through games rather than violence. This makes for a very unique anime as the protagonists Sora and Shiro try to conquer the world through a plethora of different and varied games. Add in a healthy dose of comedy, some very striking visuals from Madhouse, and a nice but affordable Collector’s Edition from MVM, and it’s a series I can’t recommend enough.

Assassination Classroom (Anime Limited, DVD and BD)-Full Review (P1, P2)

Another series high on the fun factor is Assassination Classroom, in which a classroom full of high school students attempt to kill their teacher, Korosensei, who threatens to destroy the planet if he’s not dead by the time the class graduates. Much like No Game No Life, this is another series that works almost entirely due to the fantastic premise, which provides a lot of mileage as we see the kid’s increasingly elaborate attempt killing the nigh invincible Korosensei. I was also quite a big fan of the relationship between Korosensei and the students, which is probably the most interesting element, as, despite being a strange tentacled creature with near godlike powers, he’s actually still a great teacher too.

The Tatami Galaxy (Anime Limited, BD)-Full Review

This was without a doubt the most unique anime I’ve seen all year, perhaps the most unique anime I’ve seen ever. The distinct visuals are like nothing I’ve ever seen in a show before and are just gorgeous, however the show is more than just a pretty face, having a very intriguing plot that will certainly make you think, and a good amount of sheer bizarre and surreal humour that was right up my alley.

Cold Cobra:

This year has seen several high-quality special edition releases that certainly deserve pointing out, mostly from Anime Limited. Although it was a bit out of my price range, “most amazing looking release of the year” award has to go to their Fullmetal Alchemist Ultimate Edition release, which came in a large resin model of the “The Gate” from the series, plus had a large artbook as well.

transformersMy personal favourite releases of the year are two restored versions of two classics from my late teens and childhood, respectively. They are Outlaw Star (from Anime Limited again!) which was a great restoration of the old footage and came in a lovely looking box with plenty of extras. The second is The Transformers: The Movie – 30th Anniversary Edition (from Manga), which not only was amazingly restored, but came with a nice complement of extras and two viewing ratios on two separate Blu-rays. There have been many more releases I’ve brought and/or reviewed over the year, but they stick out in my mind the most.

Rui: 

Universal Pictures UK are my unexpected heroes of the anime industry for 2016, mainly due to their special edition Heroic Legend of Arslan releases which are absolutely stunning. That’s not to say that their Seraph of the End releases aren’t as good; it’s just that Arslan is one of my favourite shows of the last few years and I still can’t believe my luck that it got such a lavish local release. The Tatami Galaxy from Anime Limited is also one of the crown jewels of my UK DVD/BD collection; at last the series has been given a release without the (minor, but annoying) glitches of the DVD edition. I can’t believe that there’s still no DVD/BD at all in the US!

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Darkstorm:

Despite reviewing some high profile series (Fate/Stay Night Unlimited Blade Works, Tokyo Ghoul and Future Diary) and finding much to enjoy from them, it’s the movie releases that have stood out the most to me this year. First we have A Letter to Momo, a sweet little kids’ film with unique goblin designs, the aforementioned When Marnie Was There came out few months after the cinema release, and the Project Itoh movies, although not completely flawless films, have certainly brought a lot of creatively to table. I know it’s a giant hot mess, but I can’t deny that The Empire of Corpses won my heart when I first saw it cinemas during BFI anime film season and was delighted I was able to review it for the site.

Sarah:

escaflowneThis has been the year of the Collector’s Edition re-release with most of the honours going to Anime Limited for Vision of Escaflowne (with the new dub!) and the original Fullmetal Alchemist. However, I’m all about getting to see stuff I’ve never seen before, so other welcome releases from AL have been series gaining their first R2 outing, notably the superb  Gankutsuou and immensely likable fan favourite  Free! – Eternal Summer.

Surprise hit for me was Punch Line from Manga Animatsu: an intriguingly plotted science fiction time paradox story masquerading as a harem panties show.

Ian Wolf:

Not surprisingly, nearly all the series I’ve listed here are from All the Anime, who have continued to produce box sets of a high quality. The only problem I have is that, thanks to their deal with Funimation, many of their releases promote series that are released by Funi in the USA, but are released by other companies in the UK.

I’ve not given any of the box sets I’ve reviewed this year a 10 out of 10, but ones that came close include Assassination Classroom, with its fun characters and bizarre premise; Ping Pong, for its distinctive animation style and for the fact that it is a sports anime for those who think that some of the characters might be straight; and for All the Anime’s continuing imports of Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin from Japan, released in high quality box sets. Outside of All the Anime, the only other 9 out of 10 I found was Manga Entertainment’s release of Death Note, releasing all the episodes along with the OVA, providing a high quality rendering of one of anime’s most intriguing characters.

There are of course the box sets which I’ve purchased myself (i.e. the ones I couldn’t get for free to review). Ouran High School Host Club is certainly one that springs to mind, as it has always been one of my favourite anime anyway thanks to the comedy, but on Blu-ray we get to enjoy the artwork even more.

And thus concludes Part 1 of our survey of 2016. Join us in Part 2 where we share our thoughts on manga, light novels and look at what we’re excited about coming up in 2017!

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Review of Death Note: Blu-Ray Collection

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“You must believe in God, despite what the clergy tell you.” – Benjamin Jowlett

If Death Note succeeds in at least one thing, it is that it has possibly created the most interesting and intriguing character of all anime. This is a big claim to make, but there are so many ways that you could describe lead character Light Yagami: genius, ruthless, draconian, misguided, charismatic, megalomaniacal, psychopathic, influencer, passionate, deadly and godly. It is hard to think of another anime character so complex that they can be described in so many different ways.

It is also hard to think of a modern anime or manga that has attracted so much controversy. While there are some series that have attracted people’s anger because they contain sexual or violent scenes, Death Note has had been through several attempts to ban it in various countries including China and Russia, has been the cause of several school expulsions in America, and was even linked to a real-life murder in Belgium.

The story follows the highly intelligent 17-year-old student Light Yagami, who one day spots a black book falling past his classroom window. After class he finds the book, the “Death Note”, and takes it home with him, reading a set of instructions that say:

  • The human whose name is written in this note shall die.
  • This note will not take effect unless the writer has the person’s face in their mind when writing his/her name. Therefore, people sharing the same name will not be affected.
  • If the cause of death is written within the next 40 seconds of writing the person’s name, it will happen.
  • If the cause of death is not specified, the person will simply die of a heart attack.
  • After writing the cause of death, details of the death should be written in the next 6 minutes and 40 seconds.

Light tries the book out and discovers it actually works. After this, he encounters the book’s original owner, a Shinigami (death god) called Ryuk, who was bored and thought things would become more interesting if he dropped it in the human world. Light decides what to do with the book: he opts to use it to make the world a better place, by killing wrong-doers. He wants to make the world free of criminals, where only the good can survive in peace. Thus, Light starts to kill as many criminals as he can, and soon ends up being nicknamed “Kira”, a Japanese corruption of the English word “Killer”.

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When so many criminals start dying all other the world, Interpol gets into contact with the world’s greatest detective, a man simply known as “L”. Using a fake video, L is able to track down Kira’s location to Kanto, and soon Light ends up in a battle of wits with L, as well as the Japanese police, of which his father happens to be a member.

As the story continues, the battle between Light and L intensifies as the viewer tries to figure out what will happen: will Light be caught, or will he be able to discover L’s real name and put in the Death Note? Also, we witness how much Light changes. He starts off a vigilante, and soon ends up becoming almost godlike in his desire and power. Light wants to become the god of this new world, and he is not going to let anyone stop him.

As stated, the main reason for watching Death Note is Light. This is a character that you can look at in so many different ways, and can develop so many different opinions on. One the one hand, he is an egotistical, draconian serial killer with a messiah complex who is responsible for the deaths of millions over his lifetime, and is so ruthless he will stop at nothing to achieve his goals. On the other hand, you could argue that because he is trying to kill bad people the ends justify the means. Over the course of the story, Light’s activities cause crime worldwide to drop by 70% and he even manages to bring about world peace. Also, as far as gods go, his abilities seem to be more on show than God’s. Then again, you can argue that while Light is in a way well-intentioned, he is corrupted by his powers and misguided by his own ideas.

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This is also why I think that Light is charismatic. Draco, the ancient Greek lawgiver from whom we get the word “draconian”, was incredibly harsh, executing people for the smallest of offences (e.g., stealing a cabbage), but during his lifetime he was incredibly popular. People threw their coats at him in appreciation – which actually was a mistake because so many people threw their coats that according to legend he suffocated under a massive pile of them.

Similarly, Light gains many followers as Kira, and these are followers that he is able to manipulate to his advantage. In this modern age of “post-truth” politics, it seems as if it is those with charisma rather than political know-how who get into power.

This leads us to the storytelling. Original writer Tsugumi Ohba, along with artist Takeshi Obata, are able to do something remarkable: they are able to take Light Yagami, who is the biggest murderer in possibly all anime, and make him likeable. You sympathise with his cause, because his cause is ultimately to make the world a better place by getting rid of people who are awful, even though the thing he is doing is awful too. Ultimately, there is that bit of us that is a bit like Light, in that at some point just about everyone, whether as a child or an adult, has thought of someone particularly bad and hoped they would die. We all know of sci-fi stories about wanting to travel back in time and kill Hitler; we all wanted to get our own back on people who have committed atrocities around the globe; even during the US election, I bet you there were millions of people who looked at Trump and Clinton and thought to themselves: “Wouldn’t be brilliant if one or even both of these people just dropped down dead, so that the US can have a leader who is actually good”.

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If you were to ask me which character in western fiction Light is most similar too, oddly I would go for a sitcom character: Rik Mayall’s right-wing MP Alan B’Stard in the satirical sitcom The New Statesmen from the late 1980s and early 1990s. B’Stard, like Light, is horrid in so many ways: corrupt, greedy, power-hungry and bigoted. However, B’Stard is also rather likeable, mainly due to what is seen as a lack of hypocrisy. B’Stard was honest about his views. The character is honest when says things like: “I hate queers almost as much as I hate poor people”, or when he once suggested the way to cut NHS waiting lists was to shut down the health service, and he is the only character in all fiction to be proud of the fact he has an incredibly tiny penis and it takes him less than a minute to orgasm.

Again, similarly Light lacks hypocrisy. He obviously has to lie to hide his identity from the police, but as Kira there are no double standards with his brand of justice. If you are suspected of having done something wrong, regardless of your race, gender, sexuality, class or whatever, you are down for the chop. There are those he does keep alive for his own purposes; those people will be due to die later. The main differences between the two characters is that Light is not comedic, but serious in his goals. Also, if B’Stard did exist, his name would no doubt go in Light’s book.

Ultimately, it is up to you the viewer as to whether Light is good or not. Is he a brilliant vigilante righting wrongs, or just a murderer? Personally speaking, I would classify him as an antihero. His goal is basically to improve the world by letting the good survive, it’s just that his way of achieving his goal is so unforgiving in its scope. As to whether I want him to succeed, shockingly for myself there is a big part of me that says: “yes”.

Regarding the rest of this collection, the only extras are two OVA collections which retell the entire series. The quality of the animation is good, there appears to be nothing wrong with the subtitling, and the soundtrack mainly provided by metal acts Nightmare and Maximum the Hormones is great. On the downside, the second half of the series is not as good as the first due to some characters not appearing in it, and depending on whether you are for or against Light, the ending might disappoint you.

If there is any problem with it, it is there could be another Death Note related murder: in the form of a Hollywood adaptation of the series next year, with Nat Wolff playing the role of a character named “Light Turner”. Now, I personally don’t mind them changing the name of the character and setting the story in the USA. That is no different to taking The Seven Samurai, setting it in the Wild West, and turning it into The Magnificent Seven. Yes, there are always going to be people upset that the cast is not made up of Japanese actors and that there isn’t a Japanese actor in the lead, possibly even calling it racist, but by the sound of things, it’s at least a bit better than other manga adaptations I can think of. What I’m bothered about is the fact that L is being played by American actor Keith Stanfield when in the story it is made clear that he spent much of his childhood in England, while his assistant Watari is still being played by an Asian actor, Paul Nakauchi. This seems inconsistent. Surely you should change all the characters or none of them.

The big problem however, is that I cannot think of a decent American adaptation of an anime. If this is the first then that would be great, but I doubt it will, and what I suspect will happen is that more American parents will panic about their kids being corrupted.

In the end, the best thing to do is watch this series and decide for yourself, because it is a brilliant story with so much going on around it.

Fullmetal Alchemist Collector’s Edition Part 2

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When I was given the chance to review the first Collector’s Edition of 
Fullmetal Alchemist I was overjoyed (you can find my first review here). I really love this series and so it’ll come as no surprise to anyone that I am also reviewing the second Collector’s Edition. Has the second half lived up to my memories of this beloved anime?

Fullmetal Alchemist Collector’s Edition Part 2 starts off with Episode 28 of the 51 episode series and sees Ed and Al reunited with their old alchemy teacher, Izumi. Having discovered the sin that the two committed as children in trying to bring a human back to life, she decides to place them on Yock Island where the two once learned an important lesson while training under her. A scary teacher and being left on a deserted island for a month is the least of the boys’ worries, however, as they’re also being hunted by a group of Homunculi…

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This half of the series is also where things become more complicated with the military and we finally get an idea of what has been going on. When Colonel Roy Mustang and his group of followers are relocated from their remote station to the main central branch of the state headquarters, Mustang starts investigating the odd goings-on that have been taking place. While these story developments are important for Ed and Al as well, I truly believe that what I enjoyed most of the first 15 episodes of this set was the focus on the military.

It has to be said that Roy Mustang has always been one of my favourite characters in the Fullmetal Alchemist universe. He’s not quite my top favourite (that position belongs to Edward) but there is something special about him, and as the story progresses, he starts to become more human. And as his character develops, he becomes infinitely more likeable.

fma-set-2-3The same can be said for those that work under Mustang, especially Hawkeye, as they become a lot more important than just side characters. They’re not quite “main cast” but they do get a lot of focus, and that really helped me engage with the military storyline where I otherwise might not have done. In fact, the only one who lacks in development during these episodes is Major Armstrong. However, Armstrong was given a lot of development during the first half of the series and remains an awesome character, so I’m not sure that lacking some development here really matters.

Military cast aside, it’s nice to see that Ed and Al are still learning and growing throughout the course of their adventures. At this point we’ve already seen them go through many a hardship, and this set of episodes certainly has a lot more in store, but despite this, they continue to stand up and keep moving on. It’s a quality that I admire in the two brothers. I also enjoy their relationship and how it isn’t perfect. The two don’t always get along despite how much they love one another. They fight, run away, but eventually come back and are all the stronger for it.

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The animation for this final stretch of episodes continued to be handled by Studio BONES, and towards the end of the series they truly began to outdo themselves for the time period the anime was produced in. Although the series isn’t in widescreen, because it was produced before the transition to HD, it’s still very well animated and could even stand against some of today’s series quite well. BONES have a good sense of how to animate action scenes smoothly, and considering how many there are in Fullmetal Alchemist that was definitely an important quality for the studio to have! As you may expect, this means that the action generally flows well throughout the show and the final episode is simply terrific to watch from an animation point of view.

Fullmetal Alchemist’s music continued to be handled by Michiru Oshima and overall the soundtrack makes a greater impact in this second half of the series. The score never once overpowers the action on-screen, instead amplifying it to a height that it might not have otherwise reached. It’s easy to see why she’s regarded as such a legendary composer, judging by the work on offer here. Across this portion of the series there are three different opening and ending themes, although one set of OP/ED themes kicked in during Part 1’s set of episodes. While I won’t mention them all, my favourites are the final opening, “Rewrite” by Asian Kung-Fu Generation (whom you’ll probably have heard of before because they have provided numerous anime openings, including many themes for Naruto as well as the opening for Tatami Galaxy), and last ending, “I Will” by Sowelu.

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The English voice actors continue to offer simply outstanding work for the series and the English dub remains my favourite. I spoke a great deal about the voice actors for Ed and Al in my previous review, so I thought I’d take the time to sing the praises of Travis Willingham (Free in
Soul Eater, Takashi Morinozuka in Ouran High School Host Club), who plays Mustang. It probably goes without saying that Mustang is a character who is not good at showing his emotions and Willingham voices that type of personality very well, but when Mustang begins to crack, Willingham makes the explosive transition remarkably well.

This second set once again comes to the UK thanks to Anime Limited and includes Episodes 28 through to 51 in both English and Japanese across three Blu-ray discs. Extras include clean opening and ending videos and a scattering of trailers. There are seven art cards included as well, depicting some of the key characters featured in this set of episodes.

Overall, after rewatching the whole series, I can safely say that Fullmetal Alchemist is still my all-time favourite anime. I also think that, without a doubt, it’s one of the best anime with mass market appeal to come out of Japan in the last decade. Hopefully with this release many more people will be introduced to Fullmetal Alchemist and become anime fans through it, but even if they don’t, I’ll still be just as in love with this series as I was the day I first started on this journey through Japanese media.

Review: Southwark Playhouse presents Kiki’s Delivery Service

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Studio Ghibli has been a household name in Japan for many decades now but its movies have touched many hearts across the world, especially in the UK, where several playwrights have taken the magic of Studio Ghibli and transformed them onto the stage for the young and old to enjoy. Back in 2013 Whole Hog Theatre did a sold-out performance of Princess Mononoke, then Howl’s Moving Castle was the Christmas show of 2011 for Southwark Playhouse, and now in 2016 they’ve gone back to Miyazaki’s creative well for Kiki’s Delivery Service.

The play follows the main plot points of the film for the most part. Kiki is a 13-year-old witch; by tradition this means she must leave home to start her training away from the family. She packs up her broom and cat Jiji, then flies away until she stumbles upon a great city and quickly loses herself in its busy nature. She meets Osono, a pregnant baker who gives Kiki an opportunity to start her own business: a delivery service using her flying skills to get any item to where it needs to go. As the year passes Kiki’s personal and magical skills are put to the test and her relationship with Jiji is changed forever.

The play is 1 hour and 15 minutes, without any break in between. As it’s aimed for ages 7 and up, the short running time works in favour of little children who will no doubt enjoy the energetic performances and sweet story. However, considering that the play is 27 minutes shorter than the original Ghibli movie, the plot moves at a breakneck pace (weeks passing by in mere seconds) and cuts a lot of corners. The most noticeable is where characters are cut out entirely; there’s no Ursula or Fukuno, no female white cat to distract Jiji, and a lot of the customers are one-offs that never return or are merged into the dance number midway to show the passage of time when Kiki’s business takes off. Despite the cast having only six actors in total, the city still bursts with life and Kiki’s story never feels empty on stage. Admittedly it’s distracting at first having all but one actress (Alice Hewkin, who plays a delightfully animated Kiki) playing multiple parts and often one after another; for example, the actor who plays Kiki’s father is also the mayor of the city as soon as Kiki flies away from home. Some male actors even play female roles (which got a few chuckles out of the audience). But it’s a triumph for the actors that they can change into an entirely different costume in such a short space of time, sometimes helping moving props/set pieces in between, and act a completely different age range from the previous scene; the actress who plays Kiki’s mum is also an 8-year-old boy in the very next scene, then jumps into the role of a teenage girl character just after that.

The small time frame of the performance also affects the plot; although the main emotional points in Kiki’s coming-of-age tale stay true to the movie, the deliveries themselves and some of the dramatic scenes have changed completely. This is understandable considering that in the original film the climax involves a large blimp, and the way Kiki loses confidence in herself no longer ties into being unable to attend parties that Tombo invites her to, which would require another set change and more characters to cast. This sadly has the trade-off of losing a lot of the quiet moments and emotional cues between Kiki and other members of the cast, but instead we’re treated to many creative ways that the team can make Kiki fly and bring the magic of being a witch to life. In the beginning, she’s lifted by the stage handlers and/or Jiji’s puppeteer with sound effects to back it up, but later on we’re treated to wires lifting Kiki up high for a more magical trip, then we have miniature puppets for the newly-constructed and cleverly portrayed moving train sequence, and the play’s unique climax uses a projection onto the clock tower and audio recordings (sadly this did not work as intended during my viewing of the performance due to a technical fault, but you could see what they were going for). All the different tricks they used to make Kiki fly made the act itself never get boring and it was always a joy to see what the team came up with next.

The original movie is a simple story with an easily understandable emotional core, based upon a book series that was also made for children, so the stage version keeps to that, despite its changes and fast pace. Nevertheless, there are a couple of somewhat controversial changes that may have hardcore Studio Ghibli fans debating after the final scene. First of all, the stage makes use of several pop songs, all instrumental. They go hand-in-hand with the dance numbers but are still a tad jarring when compared to the score of the original movie. Also, there’s Jiji; he’s handled by the very talented Matthew Forbes who hands-down stole the show for me, making the movement of the puppet as graceful and agile as a typical cat would be and it’s always fun to see him doing little fun things on stage as the other characters continue the story. It’s also very clever how the puppeteer was dressed in an outfit that reflected the cat’s personality, rather than just in plain clothing. What’s controversial about him, however, is that Jiji seems to be a mixture of the Japanese and English versions of the character; he has a lot of the faithful and supportive nature of the Japanese Jiji whilst also having quick tongue and tone of the late Phil Hartman when he performed in the role. Then there’s the ending of his arc which combines the original and dub changes; that it ‘tries to have its cake and eat it too’ is the least spoiler-ish way I can describe it. However, it’s nicely handled and closes both his and Kiki’s emotional arcs in a way that’s true to the original. Considering that it’s a touchy subject for film fans, it may be debatable among those who see the play as well.

Kiki’s Delivery Service is a delightful story which translates onto the stage in a magically creative way, and although some of the musical cues and story choices may not be everyone’s cup of tea, it’s a fantastic performance from the whole cast and truly a lovely experience to have this Christmas. If you only have the budget for one play this holiday, or don’t normally go to the theatre, treat yourself to this. Don’t miss it!

See Kiki’s Delivery Service at the Southwark Playhouse from 8th December 2016 to 8th January 2017, including matinees. Purchase your tickets here.

The Transformers – The Movie 30th Anniversary Edition

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The classic, and often controversial, theatrical special of the original Transformers cartoon is now 30 years old and Manga have released the restored version on Blu-ray, but does the film still have the touch? Does it still have the poweeerrrrrr? (Sorry, couldn’t help it…)

Before anyone wonders why it’s being reviewed here on Anime UK News, it’s simple: it was written by the American cartoon team, but it was animated by Toei Animation in Japan, which includes the cinematography. Rule of thumb is if it’s animated in Japan, it’s an anime, if it’s animated in the US, it’s a cartoon, but let’s not go down the route, that way lies madness…

So the plot is quite… odd. It’s set a full 20 years after the end of Season 2 of the TV series, and the war on Cybertron isn’t going well for the Autobots. In fact the Decepticons have conquered the planet, leaving Optimus and co. hiding out on the planet’s two moons, as well as their old Earth base. The obnoxious little boy Spike Witwicky is now an adult and working with the Autobots on one of the afore-mentioned moons, but … ahem… luckily, his son is about the same age as he was back in the day and is on Earth, so… thank goodness for that, nearly didn’t have an obnoxious kid in an 80s animated property for a second there!

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Here is where things get unexpectedly dark. Megatron, leader of the Decepticons, after over 20 years of constant war (and never-ending retreats where nothing gets accomplished) finally realises that a good way to win a war is to kill your enemy. I’m talking Megatron and co. arriving on an Autobot shuttle, Megatron declaring he’s going to kill them, and then transforming into his gun form followed by four friendly Autobots being gunned down and killed. That’s only the beginning! The Decepticons soon arrive on the Earth base and so begins a would-be-bloody-if-they-weren’t-robots war where several characters on all sides either die or are near death, including a fated showdown between Optimus Prime and Megatron, where instead of one standing while one falls, it ends in pretty much a draw, with Optimus dying (spoiler! … for a 30-year-old film…) and Megatron being all but dead. This is all pretty shocking coming off of a “nobody is killed, let’s not even mention the words kill or die” cartoon.

Newly introduced Autobot Hotrod is to blame for Optimus Prime’s death, getting involved with the fated duel and getting Optimus shot several times in his bungled attempt at help. It’s actually quite amazing that beyond having a “cool” flame paintjob, Hotrod is a pretty bad attempt at creating a new lead character, which is what it was all about. Anyway, as if things couldn’t get any worse, a giant sentient transforming planet named Unicron arrives and is disturbed by the “Matrix of Leadership” that Optimus once held, that was then passed to the dull-as-dishwater Ultra Magnus. He sees the object as the one thing that could defeat him, and so regenerates Megatron and a few other near-dead Decepticons that had been thrown into space by their new “brave” leader Starscream, and uses his immense power to force them to hunt down and destroy the Matrix.

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This sets up the rest of the film, where the remaining Autobots are chased around several newly introduced planets by Galvatron (the new Megatron) and eventually have to rally to defeat Unicron before he destroys Cybertron. I could go on for many more paragraphs about some of these characters, planets and a certain universal greeting, but I’ll leave it there on the off-chance you haven’t actually seen the film already (and for the sake of review length!)

On to some other points. Firstly, the soundtrack. If you like 80s power ballads and rock, it’s great. Hell, even if you don’t I’d like to see you not get a little more excited and invested into the film when “The Touch” or “Dare” comes on in the background. Even the moody (and synth-filled!) music that plays when Unicron is introduced is great, top marks to composer Vince DiCola on that front. There isn’t a mention of whether the audio mix was upgraded along with the picture, but everything was definitely loud and clear on my end. The voicecast is also worth mentioning, the classic cartoon actors return, but are joined by the likes of Leonard Nimoy and… Orson Welles! In his last ever performance… always a weird fact. The animation is often fluid and the art switches between really detailed drawings come to life (particularly the scenes with Unicron devouring planets, so many little lines and bits everywhere) and more simple drawing that’s closer to the TV series. The (4K, although it’s still a standard Blu-ray) restoration is great too, everything is really bright and clear, yet still featuring some film grain for that touch of authenticity.

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It’s worth saying that this is the full, unedited version of the film. That means Spike Witwicky exclaims “Oh shit! Whadda we do now?!” when Unicron eats the second moon of Cybertron unaffected by their attempts to blow it up, and there is no “Optimus Prime will return” message at the end that was quickly added after the supremely negative feedback from their decision to kill the character off. I don’t know if this is the first time the unedited version has been released in this country, but the swear word wasn’t on the VHS or DVD version I’ve seen in the past, though I know there have been a few different DVDs, so I can’t say for sure.

It should be noted that this comes in two discs, one labelled “Full Frame” and the other “Widescreen”. Much like most of the films by Toei at this point, it was created using 4:3 animation with the intention of it being zoomed in to fit the cinema’s widescreen. This also meant that the film could be released on VHS and fill up the 4:3 TV screens without the need for black bars. The “Full Frame” version is the full 4:3 version, meaning it’s not zoomed or stretched, but it is a 4:3 box in the middle of your now standard 16:9 screen, and the “Widescreen” version is the cinematic version and therefore fills your screen, but you lose some of the top and bottom, but that was always taken into account when it was created anyway and is therefore the more authentic way to view it. What’s nice is that the full compliment of extras is on both discs, meaning whichever way you choose to watch you won’t have to switch discs to watch the extras.

As for the extras, they include a well-made and interesting Making Of Documentary titled “Til’ All Are One”, Audio Commentary on the film with Director Nelson Shin, story consultant Flint Dille and star Susan Blu, a few featurettes, storyboards and trailers (both cinematic and TV). It’s a good chunk of extras, that’s for sure, and again they’re all on both discs.

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So should you buy this? Well… yeah. I mean, if you grew up with the film like myself, or you’ve come to like it, or even if you want to try it out, there is no better version of it out there, picture, audio and extras-wise. Hell, the steelbook box is nice as well, by the looks of it. If you have no intention of watching an 85 minute 80s-fest based on a cartoon that’s being more and more lost due to never-ending Michael Bay-created films, then that’s a shame, because to answer my question from earlier, this film does indeed still have the touch… and the poweeeerrrr