Winter Season 2017 – First Thoughts and Impressions

Suddenly it’s 2017! As we sweep up the pine needles and polish off the last crumbs of Christmas cake, the first episodes of the new and continuing Winter 2017 series are appearing. Is this going to be as good a season as Autumn 2016? Which series are worth your time? (Especially if you made a New Year’s resolution to waste less time watching duds ‘in case they get better next episode’. We’re all been there!)

So, never fear; our writers at AUKN are here to share their thoughts and make recommendations. Agree? Disagree? We’d love to hear what you think too.

Demelza:

The Winter season always tends to be quite hit and miss for me. I try a bunch of shows, drop the majority, and then gain a few favourites that are no doubt forgotten about by the end of the year. It’s a harsh time for new anime to be released, but I think maybe this season is different.

This winter marks the return of one of my favourite shows from last year, KonoSuba. If you read my review when the series finished (if not you can find it here), you’ll know that I am a huge fan of the anime and the first episode of Season 2 hasn’t let me down so far! Our quirky band of heroes have gotten themselves into trouble yet again and between their over-the-top reactions and the mock Ace Attorney court session, it’s clear that this season is going to be just as fun as the last.

Away from KonoSuba I’d have to say my favourite new show is Fuuka. It’s a series that tells the story of a young kid, Yu, who spends all his time on Twitter and not really interacting with the world. One day he runs into a girl called Fuuka who changes his life forever! At heart the series sounds like your usual slice of life affair, but I’m a huge fan of the manga and can safely say that it’s not as generic as it sounds. The manga eventually evolves into a heavy focus on music (something I’m sure regular readers will know I love), and between that and the very sweet love story it tells I encourage everyone to give it a chance.

While I’m here I’d also like to give a mention to Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid which is the latest adaption from studio KyoAni. Despite my love for KonoSuba, I actually don’t like comedy all that much and so I was surprised to find that I could stick out a whole episode of this series and like it enough to want to watch more. The animation isn’t quite as good as the usual anime put out by the studio, but the story and heartwarming cast certainly more than make up for that. If there was anything that I could recommend to basically anyone, then I think Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is probably it. The series definitely had the best opening episode of the season, besides KonoSuba of course.

Ian Wolf:

For me, the title to keep an eye on this season is the one that has been the most highly anticipated: the return of Blue Exorcist.

It’s been a while; the last outing was the feature film that premiered back in 2012, so it’s been five years since we last encountered Rin Okumura, the trainee exorcist who is still hoping to kill his father – who just happens to be Satan.

The last series finished with Rin’s family history being exposed to the rest of his classmates at the True Cross Academy, thus meaning that everyone around Rin now distrusts him due to his dad being their sworn enemy. Also, Rin is having trouble keeping his demonic powers under control. In this second series, things are made even worse when one of the members of the Knights of the True Cross turns traitor and steals a valuable artefact that in the wrong hands can spread disease. This means that Rin’s class have to travel to Kyoto to stop things getting worse, staying at an inn run by the parents of aggressive classmate Ryuji Suguro.

It is probably worth looking over the first series again as there has been such a gap between the two, but if you enjoyed the first one then the second series should provide you with plenty of action and intrigue.

The other series I would recommend, like Demelza before me, is Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid. For the uninitiated, the story revolves around Miss Kobayashi, a systems engineer and secret otaku who gets drunk one night and bumps into Tohru, an injured dragon sleeping on a mountain. Kobayashi helps her, and suggests that she should come and stay. To her shock, Tohru appears the next morning, dressed as a maid and in a human body (if you ignore her horns and tail). Now Kobayashi has to try and cope with living with a mythical beast in her flat.

Having previously reviewed the manga I can say that there is plenty going for it in terms of humour. Fans of yuri may like it too, although people might be put off by fan service. For example, the first scene in which Tohru transforms into her human guise features some “boing-boing” sound effects as her boobs move. This might be surprising as the vast majority of the series has little objectionable content. I’ve enjoyed it so far, and I like the rather pastel-like art style they have used.

IncendiaryLemon:

As with the start of the majority of seasons, the Winter 2017 was one in which I was looking forward to very little, by pure virtue of not having heard of any of the upcoming shows before. Despite this, however, the  season is actually looking to be pretty good, at least going off the first few episodes of the series I have picked up thus far.

The only series I was actively anticipating in advance was Gabriel Dropout. I’m a huge sucker for Slice of Life comedies, and as soon as I saw the key art for this show, I knew I had to watch it, and its first episode didn’t disappoint. Gabriel Dropout comes courtesy of Doga Kobo, the studio that also produced the excellent New Game! last year, as well as a bunch of other great comedies such as Monthly Girls Nozaki Kun and Himouto Umaru-chan. The premise is a fairly simple one: a bunch of Angels and Demons are sent to a school on Earth in order to learn about human life, and antics ensue. Whilst the school-based SoL comedy isn’t exactly untrodden ground, the first episode managed to have me laughing throughout and has some pretty great gags, the funniest of which involves teleportation and which I dare not spoil here. Gabriel Dropout comes highly recommended if you liked any of the shows I listed above from Doga Kobo.

Another season highlight for me is Kyoto Animation’s Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid. Kyoto Animation is easily one of my favourite studios, with an astonishing track record of outstanding series such as K-On, Free! Iwatobi Swim Club, Nichijou, and my personal favourite show of last year, Sound! Euphonium. Dragon Maid appears to be a bit of a departure for the studio, which tends to focus on high school-based shows, and it’s a change of pace that’s appreciated. The focus in this show is the titular Miss Kobayashi, an average office worker, who, in a drunken stupor, enlists a dragon to be her personal maid. Much like Gabriel Dropout, this is another comedy that had me laughing along for the entirety of its running time, and the art is brilliant, as you’d probably expect from KyoAni. Add in a smidgen of yuri teasing, and you have an anime that is certainly one of my personal highlights of this season.

Venturing out of the comedy genre, the anime that’s piqued my interest the most so far would have to be ACCA 13. Going by Episode 1 alone, it’s actually very hard to tell in which direction this show is going, as the majority of the episode was world building; however it appears to be quite unlike anything else airing this season, or at least that I have seen. The show is almost entirely dialogue based, not unlike something such as Monogatari, but yet still remains very engrossing. It also has a unique art style that instantly grabbed my attention, and is animated by another personal favourite studio of mine, Madhouse. It’s actually quite hard to talk about, as little has happened just yet, but if you are looking for something that isn’t a light comedy series with a bunch of cute girls in it, this is probably one to watch.

Sarah:

ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Dept.

If you’ve read or watched the anime versions of Natsume Ono’s distinctive manga (Dead Leaves, Ristorante Paradiso) you’ll know that you’ll be in for a very different viewing experience in ACCA. Set in Dowa, a Ruritanian-ish European kingdom (check out those moustaches and uniforms!) it introduces us to Jean Otus, the vice-chairman of the inspections department.  Nearly a century ago when a coup d’etat threatened the peace of the thirteen territories, the syndicate was set up to protect the peace. Nowadays, the members of Jean’s department are more concerned with the cakes they’ll be eating for their morning snack break, so maybe it’s not surprising that there’s talk of disbanding ACCA. But the king is not getting any younger…is this really the right time? Something sinister is probably underway…but what? Directed by Shingo Natsume (One Punch Man) the series has a distinctive, primary-coloured palette (and is faithful to Natsume Ono’s stylish character designs). ACCA is unusual enough to hold the attention – but not, so far, to engage the heart. Jean makes a curiously unengaging central character: enigmatic and cool, smoking expensive cigarettes… However, the next episode promises to introduce another central character, the motorbike-riding reporter Nino, and, as I have faith in Natsume Ono’s works, I’m intrigued enough to return to see what happens next. You’ve gotta love a series where the character profiles tell you each person’s favourite snacks! (Jean’s are white bread and strawberries, btw.)

The best anime drama for many viewers last year was the first season of Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu and the second season Descending Tales has been hotly anticipated (certainly by me). Based on the prize-winning manga series by Haruko Kumota, this twisted and insightful tale of two proponents of the ancient story-telling performance art of rakugo battling the tide of twentieth century popular culture, was notable for its depth of characterization, voice acting and unique blend of music and visual art. We rejoin the story in the 1980s where Yotaro, the reformed yakuza turned professional storyteller, has taken the stage name of Sukeroku, in homage to his master Yakumo’s dead friend and contemporary. He’s also married – in name only – Sukeroku’s daughter Konatsu to protect her and her illegitimate baby son (father unknown, at least to us at this stage). Debts to the dead and a complicated web of feelings among the living overshadow the lives of the three main protagonists – and the dying art of rakugo underscores everything they do. Should it be allowed to die out as a historical irrelevance? Or can it be made meaningful to a more modern age and revived? The new OP, sexily, slinkily sung by Megumi Hayabashi, offers a striking and chilling foreshadowing of what’s to come. Not to be missed!

And it would be remiss of me not to mention the arrival of the third season of Yowamushi Pedal  – the first time any episodes of this iconic sports anime series has been made available in the UK (someone will correct me if I’m wrong…) I’m delighted to be able to watch it at last, even if it means coming in late. Perhaps Crunchyroll will bring us the earlier seasons as well now.

Rui:

I was dreading this season at first when Crunchyroll started off by announcing a selection of similar-looking school comedies. However, it’s turning out better than I thought. The best news of all is that hardly anything is locked away from the UK this time around, with the big villains of the season being Amazon for locking two interesting titles (Scum’s Wish and Onihei) behind their Prime paywall. The possibility that they might soon start charging even more for this service with the rollout of their premium Anime Strike subscription (US-only, for now) is worrying for many of us wanting affordable access to legal simulcasts.

Like the other staff members above, I’m very interested in the continuation of the absolutely sublime Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu and also looking forward to seeing where ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Dept. goes after that very stylish beginning. The biggest surprise of the first episodes I’ve seen so far has been Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid, which was much wittier than I’d expected from the premise and a real gem.

MARGINAL #4 key art

Another surprise for me was how watchable the first episode of this season’s idol title MARGINAL #4: Kiss Kara Tsukuru Big Bang ended up being. We had no fewer than three new seasons of big idol-related titles based on games aimed at the female audience last season, and in my personal opinion neither Dream Festival nor Magic-kyun Renaissance really succeeded in offering anything unique enough to dislodge the massive Uta No Prince-sama anime series from its throne. I was expecting MARGINAL #4 to fall by the wayside too – ever since its original debut as an audio series it’s been a direct attempt to cash in on a popular genre – but it neatly sidestepped direct comparisons to UtaPri by focusing on the boys’ silly school lives and idol careers rather than anything too complicated. It’s like an irreverent parody of K-On! blended with the flash of Love Live!, and the humour is so goofy that I think it’s going to work.

Like Rejet’s previous anime projects (Diabolik Lovers, Dance With Devils), MARGINAL #4 is mostly designed to promote the core series and the constant stream of expensive music/situation CDs which come out month after month, so even if the comedy starts to flag it’s a given that the concert scenes will continue to have great music. I’m a sucker for a good concert, and the hope that the (superior) senior idol group might actually be allowed to sing on-screen in a later episode will no doubt keep me pinned to the series all season long.

So my apologies go out to this season’s anime selection; I was too quick to judge at the start. My top titles this winter are all very different from one another so I can’t wait to see which of them still have my attention in a couple of months from now.

Cold Cobra:

Well, like a lot of people here there isn’t a large amount of options screaming at me, at least not at the moment. The series that I’m most interested in is Chaos;Child, mostly because I really enjoyed Steins;Gate and remember liking the possibly overly-gory but nonetheless interesting murder mystery Chaos;HEAd, the series this is a direct sequel to. The first episode was actually a two-parter… sort of as the first half recapped the cases in Chaos;HEAd. The actual first episode is a good start; the unpleasant murders and the mystery surrounding them barely gets going, but in a good way. The lead character, Takuru Miyashiro, and his merry band of high school newspaper club members are a fun bunch, though maybe not anything groundbreaking in terms of character type. So lots of mystery in the air and things to reveal. It could be a great ride, or it could sort of slowly degrade into confusion and end in an unsatisfactory manor, which happens often when an anime is based on a branching paths visual novel. Fingers crossed for the former rather than the latter!

The return of Blue Exorcist and a second helping of Tales of Zestiria the X should provide some entertainment in the coming weeks, the previous parts showing some promise in their genres, but that’s it so far this season. Very bare, but that does tend to happen in the Winter season.

Yuri!!! On Ice wins all the Crunchyroll Anime Awards it was nominated for (so far…)

In Crunchyroll’s first ever Anime Awards, figure skating series Yuri!!! On Ice is on course to make a clean sweep and win all seven of the categories it was nominated in, winning six with one yet to be revealed.

So far, the series has won “Best Opening”, “Best Ending”, “Best Animation”, “Best Boy” (for central character, Japanese figure skater Yuri Katsuki), “Best Couple” (for Yuri K. and his Russian coach Victor Nikiforov), and “Most Heartwarming Scene”.

The series is also up for “Anime of the Year”, but this is not yet been announced. The winner will be revealed live at the Crunchyroll Anime Awards party on 28th January. However, Yuri!!! On Ice is almost certainly favourite to win if the other results are anything to go by, with the show winning all but one of its prizes with over 50% of the vote. The one that didn’t, “Best Animation”, won with 49% of the vote.

Elsewhere, the only other series to win more than one prize are time-travel murder mystery ERASED for “Best Drama” and “Villain of the Year” (not mentioned here to avoid spoilers, scroll down to results to see name) and supernatural comedy Mob Psycho 100 for “Best Action” and “Best Fight Scene”.

Meanwhile My Hero Academia won “Hero of the Year” (for Izuku “Deku” Midoriya), RE:Zero took “Best Girl” (for Rem), and Haven’t You Heard? I’m Sakamoto! picked up “Best Comedy”.

The nominations for the final award, “Anime of the Year” are (in alphabetical order) ERASED, Joker Game, Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress, Mob Psycho 100, My Hero Academia, RE:Zero, Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju and Yuri!!! On Ice.

Full Results (contains spoilers)

Hero of the Year

  1. Izuku “Deku” Midoriya (My Hero Academia): 32% (38,325 votes)
  2. Satoru Fujinuma (ERASED): 28% (32,869)
  3. Mob (Psycho Mob 100): 24% (29,159)
  4. Mumei (Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress): 7% (8,346)

Other: 9% (10,281)

The number of votes cast: 118,980

Villain of the Year

  1. Gaku Yashiro (ERASED): 33% (35,805)
  2. Yoshikage Kira (JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure): 33% (35,390)
  3. Tomura Shigaraki (My Hero Academia): 18% (19,129)
  4. Biba (Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress): 9% (9,775)

Other: 7% (7,794)

The number of votes cast: 107,893

Best Boy

  1. Yuri Katsuki (Yuri!!! On Ice): 58% (83,485)
  2. Arataka Reigen (Mob Psycho 100): 17% (25,043)
  3. Izuku “Deku” Midoriya (My Hero Academia): 16% (22,563)
  4. Yakumo (Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju): 3% (4,217)

Other: 8,890

The number of votes cast: 123,891

Best Girl

  1. Rem (RE:Zero): 60% (66,441)
  2. Ochako Uraraka (My Hero Academia): 15% (16,282)
  3. Nico Niiyama (Kiznaiver): 10% (11,625)
  4. Mumei (Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress): 8% (8,376)

Other: 8% (8,648)

The number of votes cast: 111,372

Best Fight Scene

  1. Shigeo vs. Koyama from Ep. 8 (Mob Psycho 100): 40% (38,255)
  2. Deku vs. Kacchan from Ep. 7 (My Hero Academia): 25% (23,630)
  3. Mumei vs. Kabane from Ep. 2 (Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress): 18% (16,910)
  4. Altland vs. Moss from Ep. 32 (Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans): 8% (7,475)

Other: 9% (8,844)

The number of votes cast: 95,114

Best Animation

  1. Yuri!!! On Ice: 49% (68,535)
  2. Mob Psycho 100: 28% (39,766)
  3. Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress: 12% (16,764)
  4. Flip Flappers: 6% (8,525)

Other: 4% (6,122)

The number of votes cast: 139,712

Most Heartwarming Scene

  1. The kiss from Ep. 7 (Yuri!!! On Ice): 55% (74,617)
  2. Kayo’s first homecooked meal from Ep. 9 (ERASED): 31% (42,092)
  3. Kakeru and Suwa learn to understand each other from Ep. 4 (Orange): 7% (8,987)
  4. Makoto flies over her new home from Ep. 12 (Flying Witch): 4% (5,319)

Other: 3% (4,750)

The number of votes cast: 135,765

Drama of the Year

  1. ERASED: 51% (46,528)
  2. Kiznaiver: 22% (19,597)
  3. Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju: 17% (15,698)
  4. Joker Game: 5% (4,413)

Other: 5% (4,637)

The number of votes cast: 90,873

Best Couple

  1. Yuri and Victor (Yuri!!! On Ice): 69% (99,194)
  2. Saturo and Kayo (ERASED): 14% (19,377)
  3. Katsuhira and Sonozaki (Kiznaiver): 8% (11,133)
  4. Luluco and Nova (Space Patrol Luluco): 5% (7,347)

Other: 4% (6,082)

The number of votes cast: 143,133

Best Comedy

  1. Haven’t You Heard? I’m Sakamoto!: 36% (33,102)
  2. KONOSUBA-God’s blessing on this beautiful world!: 33% (30,174)
  3. Keijo!!!!!!!!: 16% (14,692)
  4. Space Patrol Luluco: 9% (8,567)

Other: 6% (5,472)

The number of votes cast: 63,850

Best Action

  1. Mob Psycho 100: 36% (33,460)
  2. My Hero Academia: 25% (23,402)
  3. Drifters: 21% (19,362)
  4. Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress: 13% (11,848)

Other: 6% (5,769)

The number of votes cast: 93,841

Best Opening

  1. Yuri!!! On Ice: 57% (80,882)
  2. Mob Psycho 100: 23% (32,225)
  3. Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress: 7% (9,863)
  4. Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju: 3% (3,663)

Other: 10% (14,115)

The number of votes cast: 140,748

Best Closing

  1. Yuri!!! On Ice: 56% (71,144)
  2. Mob Psycho 100: 19% (24,754)
  3. Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress: 9% (11,208)
  4. Space Patrol Luluco: 6% (8,048)

Other: 10% (12,221)

The number of votes cast: 127,375

Grand total of votes cast: 1,492,547

One Piece, Collection 14 Review

Episodes 325-348, may contain spoilers.

On the day I was born, the nurses all gathered ’round;
And they gazed in wide wonder at the joy they had found;
The head nurse spoke up and she said leave this one alone;
She could tell right away that I was bad to the bone.”
– George Thorogood

A quick look at the DVD cover will reveal that this collection of One Piece is very special, as at last we see the debut of the final (at the time of writing) member of the Straw Hat Pirates.

However, we don’t see him right away. Following the conclusion of the “Water Seven” arc, the collection begins not with Monkey D. Luffy and his crew, but with his older brother Portgas D. Ace, who has tracked down Marshall D. Teach, aka Blackbeard. Blackbeard, a former member of the Whitebeard pirates of which Ace is also a member, is now wanted for murdering another Whitebeard pirate and stealing a Devil Fruit: the Dark-Dark Fruit that allows him to control gravity. Thus a battle between his crushing powers and Ace’s control of fire begins.

But this is just one episode. After this, and perhaps not surprisingly following the massive “Water Seven” arc that preceded it, there is a “filler” arc. Here, the Straw Hats find what appear to be an abandoned group of fishermen who were attacked by a group of pirates. They go to help, with Chopper tending to one member of the ship’s crew who is on the verge of death. It is discovered that this is not a crew of fishermen, but the “Phoenix Pirates” who have suffered the greatest of humiliations: having their Jolly Roger flag stolen. The man being tended to by Chopper happens to be their despondent captain, Puzzle the Phoenix. The Phoenix crew try to poison the Straw Hats, but they easily spot the trick and the Phoenix pirates tell them all that has happened.

Then, what appears to be a group of marines arrives. Fortunately, new crewmate Franky is able to use the modifications on the Thousand Sunny to help both crews escape, such as turning the ship into a super-fast cola-powered paddle boat. Unfortunately, it turns out that the marines are fake, and the pirates find themselves in an arctic region governed by a family of bounty hunters, the Accino family. The head of the family, Don Accino, likes to collect pirate flags and is responsible for the theft of Puzzle’s flag. The family then steals the Straw Hat’s flag, meaning that the rest of the crew have to try and get it back before Luffy finds out.

After this escapade (and a one-episode filler of spoof superhero “Chopperman”), the Straw Hats find themselves on the move again, and spot a barrel that is supposedly offering food and drink to the god of the sea. Luffy opens it to reveal the barrel is empty, except for a flare that is fired. The crew then find themselves blown into the dangerous and perpetually-dark Florian Triangle. Here they encounter an old, wrecked ship, which has only one resident on it: a rather pervy skeleton with a huge afro, singing to himself. Luffy, Sanji and Nami climb on board to investigate, and Luffy is so impressed by him he instantly offers the skeleton the chance to join his crew, which the skeleton, named Brook, appears to accept.

Brook tells his story, about how the crew for whom he was a musician were attacked by a much stronger force, but he survived by eating the Revive-Revive Fruit, which allowed his soul to return to the living world. But as the Florian Triangle is so dark, it took a year for his soul to find his body, by which time all that survived were his bones and hairdo. Brook also reveals that actually, he cannot join the crew, because someone has stolen his shadow. He can only live in the dark Florian Triangle, because if he is touched by sunlight he will be destroyed. Luffy decides to help Brook find his shadow again.

However, the Straw Hats find that the boat has somehow arrived on an island, which Brook knows to be the ghost island Thriller Bark. Brook leaves the rest to try and find his shadow on his own, while Nami, Usopp and Chopper venture out first, onto an island that is full of ghosts and zombies. There Chopper learns to that the island is reportedly the home of Dr. Hogback, the greatest doctor in the world, but they eventually learn that his experiments have a dark purpose.

Concerning the first arc in this collection, it is not that bad as far as filler stories go. The main entertainment comes from the rest of the crew desperately trying to prevent Luffy from realising that their flag has been nicked because of all the problems that would follow caused by him. Thus you end up with action and fight scenes being mixed in with some rather farcical comedy.

On the downside, neither the Phoenix Pirates or the Accino Family are really that remarkable. Out of the Phoenix Pirates, the best one that comes across is the cabin boy Jiro, the only member of the crew that seemingly hasn’t given up on finding the flag again. Meanwhile, in the Accino Family, Don Accino has a Devil Fruit power, but his Hot-Hot Fruit which allows him to raise his body temperature to up to 10,000 degrees feels too similar to Ace’s Flame-Flame Fruit.

In the Thriller Bark arc, the main point of interest is Brook. With him now in the show, it feels as if we have made a big development. The whole unit is finally here. Although, it has to be said he doesn’t appear that much in the first part of the arc. It mainly features the regular Straw Hats venturing onto Thriller Bark and battling the evil monsters on the island. These range from a zombie that Luffy attacks by simply pushing it back into his grave; ghosts that cause anyone they pass through to feel instantly depressed; and a gigantic bridezilla boar-zombie who tries to attack Nami whom she sees as a rival for the zombie she loves – but Nami gets out of it by claiming to be a crossdressing man.

One other detail of note is of cultural differences. The main fights the Straw Hats have on Thriller Bark are with these zombie creatures, but rather than in the west where they are killed by going for the head, they are instead frightened by fire. Thus all the really successful attacks are coming from cowardly Usopp using his “Exploding Stars”.

In this collection there are extras including episode commentaries, interviews with Luci Christian (English voice for Nami) and Stephanie Young (English voice for Nico Robin), and the really long textless openings – as there are no endings except for a “To Be Continued” caption and details of the next episode. Among these openings include a new one, “Jungle P” by 5050.

Feature: A Guide to the Odagiri Effect

AUKN Banner (Ian Wolf's Feature)

“If men knew all that women think, they would be twenty times more audacious.” – Alphonse Karr.

It is a question that many anime fans have asked themselves: what is it about high school male sports teams that make them so sexy? This is also probably going to be the first question put to me, if I should ever end up in court about why so many sports anime have a “special” following, in which most people think the characters are gay, and why there is so much fan fiction about these youthful characters.

The answer is something called the “Odagiri effect”, which has been around for a while, however little has been written about it in-depth. This is something that is worth looking into as it deals with many of the most popular anime series around, and it is something that has begun to influence British media as well, but no-one has talked about because so many mainstream TV critics have never heard of the term. But first…

What is the Odagiri effect?

The Odagiri effect is a phenomenon first seen on TV where a show gets a surprisingly higher-than-normal number of female viewers, because they find the male actors or characters in a show attractive.

According to The Dorama Encyclopedia by Jonathan Clements and Motoko Tamamuro, the term is named after Japanese actor Joe Odagiri, who starred in the 2000 children’s superhero show Kamen Rider Kuuga, about a masked motorbike-riding superhero. The producers noticed that the series was attracting two main audience groups. One was children, which isn’t surprising as that was the target audience. The other group was surprising: women around the age of 30. The producers discovered that these women, most of whom were mothers, were tuning in to see the rather sexy Odagiri in action.

Thanks to his performance, Odagiri went on to have a successful acting career, while the producers of the show repeated the success in the next series, Kamen Rider Agito, which had three male actors as the leads. It did attract the women, although many men disapproved of the way the show was being changed. [p. 182]

Does the Odagiri effect happen in British TV?

Yes, but because so few people have heard of the effect, most are unaware of it. There is one British TV show where a sexy male actor has boosted the viewing figures considerably: Poldark, starring Aidan Turner.

When the series began, most of the papers at the time were reporting about how many women were tuning in to see musclebound Turner and his topless scything. It was so popular, that in a 2015 poll by the Radio Times, this topless scything scene was voted the top TV moment of that year. This year, another topless Poldark scene, in which Turner is seen in a tin bath, came top of the Radio Times’s poll for the top TV moment of 2016.

Interestingly, coming third in the same poll was a scene in The Night Manager in which Tom Hiddleston’s bare backside was briefly on show, so we can see the Odagiri effect here too. Even more interestingly was what came fourth in the poll, which was Poldark again, but for something that caused a lot of anger among female viewers, as the moment was where the character of Poldark appears to commit rape. I’ll be returning to this later, but as we are an anime website, let’s turn to the animated art form.

Where can you see the Odagiri effect occurring in anime?

In my personal experience, when I first began getting into anime properly in the early-to-mid 2000s, I came across a show with a surprisingly large female audience: Hetalia: Axis Powers.

The wartime comedy manga which began in 2006 has a considerable female following, which is odd for a series featuring moe anthropomorphic stereotyped personifications of the nations of the world fighting in World War II. Presumably the women were attracted to the use of pretty boys – “bishonen” – as the main characters.

It seems that any anime with bishonen is likely to experience the Odagiri effect. According to Lauren Orsini, these tend to fall into two particular groups of anime shows: sports series, where you have athletic characters who obviously need to keep fit and look in shape in order to perform well; and musical idol series, concerning the interactions between the male characters in each group.

However, it isn’t just limited to these kinds of anime. You can arguably see the Odagiri effect in other kinds of anime too. For example, take Cute High Earth Defense Club LOVE!, the series that parodies magical girl shows by featuring magical boys. Like the traditional magical girls, the boys are obviously made cute to appeal to audiences, but you also have the added bonus of the rather too-cute outfits that give the characters both extra appeal and comic value.

How do fans change the way the series is seen?

This is where things seem to get really interesting.

Let’s create a hypothetical example. As the main type of anime involved in the Odagiri effect tends to be sport, we will make a fake sports anime. I’m going with cricket as there not that many anime that cover it (it appears in Black Butler which is set in Britain, and baseball anime Star of the Giants has been adapted to cover cricket for the Indian market, but that’s about it).

Now, let’s imagine that this cricket anime follows a boys’ school cricket team, and you have all the students who make the team there, training, playing etc. You have all these fit guys in the show, so the Odagiri effect takes place and women start tuning in. However, because this is an anime, it is a fair bet to say that some of these women watching are fujoshi: yaoi fans, interested in male homoerotic anime. There might even be some fan service design to appeal directly to them.

Because of this, you then get the fujoshi tuning in because not only do they find the characters sexy, but they are also thinking that behind the scenes something else is happening, and that the characters might be “getting it on”. This leads me to reveal why I’ve chosen cricket as my hypothetical choice, because let’s be honest, in terms of cricket and double entendres, you have a lot to play with. We can all enjoy the sight of leather on willow, while the balls knock into those massive stumps. You would certainly need to have a long leg then, but things might be too kinky in cow corner.

Anyway, getting back to the main point. We have the large collection of women fans, and some of those are fujoshi who are of the opinion that the characters may be gay. Some of them may even be making yaoi fan works like dojinshi and selling them on. Because you have this possible homosexual element, you also attract male yaoi fans – fudanshi. Then on top of that, you may also attract men who are gay, but are not anime fans.

How has the Odagiri effect changed anime?

The main change is that now many anime are now exploiting the effect. As sports anime are my own particular area of interest I will stick to examples from here.

While my first personal experience of the Odagiri effect was in Hetalia, arguably the first sports anime to have been influenced by it was The Prince of Tennis; the manga began in 1999 and the anime in 2001. Although it started soon after the effect was noticed, it ran for so long that there was going to be some influence.

It seems that Kuroko’s Basketball was the first sports anime where the effect began to be seen, and then the swimming series Free! really began to push things with the Lycra-clad main characters, all of whom had girly names. Even coach Gou doesn’t make any attempt to hide her muscle fetish. You get even more body-tight Lycra in cycling series Yowamushi Pedal, but if leather is more your thing, you always have motorcycling manga Toppu GP.

Even making up an entirely new sport doesn’t stop the effect from taking place. Take Prince of Stride, for example, which covers a sport that is a kind of relay parkour. The fact that you happen to have the main female character giving out information in a position that is officially called the “Relationer” certainly sparks a few thoughts along the lines of, “Yeah, and we know what sort of relations too.”

However, there is a big issue when it comes to these shows: because these are mostly school sports teams and most of the characters are under 18, there is the whole question of legality. It is fine under Japanese law because there are few laws covering this kind of thing, but in the US and UK it is obviously more of an issue. There are obviously older characters in these series too, so it all depends on who is depicted. In terms of adults in sports anime, there are still some examples such as the Breakers, the all-male cheer leading team in Cheer Boys!!, which on the downside is one of the most unintentionally camp anime ever made – but on the upside, it is set in a university rather than a school, so at least all the main characters are adults and thus there are no legal issues in terms of any yaoi activity.

In the last anime season, there have been four different male sports anime series on the go: the long-running volleyball series Haikyu!!; football-based series DAYS; rugby anime All Out!! which attracted plenty of comment before it began due to the promotional poster featuring a particularly handsome backside; and the series that got everyone talking…

The Odagiri effect and Yuri!!! On Ice

Come on, if we are talking about homosexuality, sports anime and a large female following, we had to get to here sooner or later.

Any anime fan that has been following the events of recent months will be more than aware that this season we got a sports anime where the gay stuff was no longer just in the minds of the viewers. OK, it might have stopped short of actually showing a kiss fully uncensored, and Yuri and Victor may not actually say “I love you”, but even I, with my Asperger’s syndrome and thus my difficulties in understanding relationships and people’s reactions at face value, can tell that Yuri and Victor are gay. Whether it was the original kiss scene, the exchange of rings, Victor crying at the thought of the relationship ending or something else, Yuri!!! On Ice gave us the closest depiction of a same-sex relationship in a sports anime yet seen. There are also a relatively mature couple, as both characters are in their 20s.

However, there are still plenty of people out there who say that the whole relationship thing is speculation, and still refuse to believe Yuri and Victor are a couple until they actually admit it. Why? All the evidence clearly shows they are gay. Whenever someone has suggested that they are not, they can’t provide any evidence to support themselves other than the fact that Yuri and Victor never actually do “it” on screen.

Let me put it this way: all the evidence points to the fact that Yuri and Victor are gay and in a relationship, although the characters themselves have not admitted it – in the same way that all the evidence points to the fact that Monkey D. Luffy from One Piece will probably get a heart attack or bowel cancer from his almost exclusive meat-only diet before he ever becomes King of the Pirates. How much more proof do you need in order to be totally convinced? It couldn’t be more gay unless there is a second series and end up calling it something like Yuri!!! Again On Ice, for the sole purpose for giving the series the acronym “YAOI”.

There is one other thing that makes Yuri!!! On Ice stand out in comparison to most of the other series mentioned. One of the reasons why this series appeals to women is that it is actually made by women: namely director Sayo Yamamoto and writer Mitsurō Kubo. The reason so many women like this series is because the people making it know what women want because they themselves are women.

Overall, the series has sparked up debate about the depiction of homosexuality in anime and the media in general. Many were pleased to see the relationship, but some were critical of the fact that the relationship was not realistic enough, which leads me to the next point.

Is the Odagiri effect good or bad?

Well, the effect is certainly good at pulling in viewers. Some series have increased debate among the depiction of sexuality in anime. But the Odagiri effect has its downsides too.

The main one of these is that anime such as these, and yaoi in general, do not depict homosexuality realistically. For example, yaoi manga often feature rape. While a more mainstream show like Poldark that features male/female rape scenes will usually result in complaints from angry viewers, a yaoi that depicts male/male rape is often more accepted. A study back in 2008 by Dru Pagliassotti, Better Than Romance? Japanese BL Manga and the Subgenre of Male/Male Romantic Fiction, published in Boys’ Love Manga: Essays on the Sexual Ambiguity and Cross-Cultural Fandom of the Genre, which she co-edited with Antonia Levi and Mark McHarry, found that out of 391 people responding to a survey on Boys’ Love (BL) / yaoi manga: “fifty percent thought that rape, explicit sex, sad endings, physical torture, ordinariness, bed-hopping, cruel heroes, and weak heroes were all acceptable in BL manga. Of the remainder, twelve percent said that rape should never be included in BL” [p. 67-68].

Another issue is the fact that there is a difference between how different audiences react to a show. To reference another section in Boys’ Love Manga, Alexis Hall in his study Gay or Gei? Reading “Realness” in Japanese Yaoi Manga, looks at the ways that we western audiences read yaoi in comparison to how it is read in Japan. He talks about one gay man, who thinks his views on yaoi are more valid than most yaoi fans because he is the sort of person depicted in the works. However, this man is American and not Japanese, so does that mean that in the context of reading a yaoi manga or anime that sexuality is the most important thing rather than ethnicity? [p. 217] It is safe to say, that I have been guilty of doing this myself.

We may think that we are more forward thinking than the Japanese in terms of gay rights because we have things like gay marriage, but for most of history it has been Japan that was more forward thinking because for most of the time they were no laws prohibiting it. [p. 218] In the 1960s, the Japanese weren’t imprisoning gay people like we British were doing at the same time. It’s just that at present we are currently being more progressive.

There is also the one other, big, glaring factor relating to whether the Odagiri effect has a bad effect or not which is this: the fact that we are talking about it in the first place. If this was the other way around, and that we had noticed there was an observable effect in which men were more likely to watch a TV show if there women actors or characters were sexy, we would probably be saying that this was sexist, or for that matter that this is something that actually goes on all the time anyway. We can probably come up with a massive list of TV shows, films, adverts, books etc. which have used sexy women to try and make men watch or read them. Reversing that and naming things that use attractive men to get women to engage with them is harder.

You also got the fact that because these shows are relying on a male cast to get women to watch them that these shows are perhaps not going to be the most feminist programmes around. It is hard to imagine any of them passing the Bechdel test.

What does the Odagiri effect say about ourselves?

What we are actually kind-of saying to ourselves when we observe the Odagiri effect is: “Wow! It turns out that women have some kind of sexual desire! I never realised that before. Turns out that women quite like men who are sexy.”

If you can get a positive out of this you could say the effect has pointed out that there is actually a lack of cultural material, across all media, that is aimed at women. The fact that this effect occurs points out that we need to do better, because whenever something using the Odagiri effect does gain the public’s attention, it shows that there is a gap in the cultural market that is now being filled.

For instance, let’s take another example of a work that became surprisingly popular with women: Fifty Shades of Grey. This is something that we have been repeatedly told that we are not meant to like: it’s sexist, poorly written, an inaccurate portrayal of a BDSM relationship etc. But let’s examine it more closely. For starters, Fifty Shades is fan-fiction. It began as Twilight fan-fiction, so it has connections with yaoi fan works based on sports anime. Like Yuri!!! On Ice, it is made by a woman for women.

Also, as is common with the Odagiri effect, the media were reporting on the surprising number of women who were buying it, even though it was supposedly a bad book. I would argue that women were going out to buy the book because there was so little else like this that was aimed at them, even though everyone else thought it was terrible. See also the Muslim community and Citizen Khan.

The point is this: it doesn’t matter if you are getting a thrill from Yuri Katsuki, Ross Poldark or Christian Grey. What matters is that people can get some enjoyment out of what they like.

What can we conclude from this?

Personally speaking, my main hope is that the Odagiri effects will be discussed wider afield, especially in the more mainstream media as it is something that seems worthy of discussion, on the grounds that it is of interest to those who work in TV, to feminists and to the LGBTQ+ community.

Also, while acknowledging the whole problem of being a western observer wishing to impose his views on a Japanese art form, it would be nice to see anime cover homosexuality more realistically. We may not get to see that in Yuri!!! On Ice, but perhaps the next generation of anime shows might cover it more in-depth.

Yuri!!! On Ice is thus more of a stepping stone to something that is perhaps going to be greater. I do suspect that there will be a second series, possibly to tie in with the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, which may explore Yuri and Victor’s relationship more fully.

One other thing to conclude is that there needs to be debate on the relationship between TV and women in general. We can conclude that little TV caters for women, and women appear to be on TV less than men, especially in formats such as comedy – a recent study shows that there has never been an all-female comic line-up on a panel game on British TV since 1967, and only once on radio during that time.

This gets to something that has annoyed me in recent weeks concerning Yuri!!! On Ice. I know there are plenty of people who are sick of the show being discussed so much, at least in our anime bubble. The big problem however is that I don’t think Yuri!!! On Ice is being discussed enough by mainstream media. If you look up any list of “The Best TV Shows of 2016”, the lists are totally dominated by shows that are in English. I’m not saying Yuri!!! On Ice should be in these best show lists, I’m saying that they need to come out of their bubble and we need to come out of ours. It feels as if mainstream TV critics can’t be bothered to watch shows “in foreign”, and the only way they would be interested is if there is some sort of British connection, like a guest appearance from some British skaters. Mind you that’s no bad idea: I for one would love to see Torvill and Dean skating just before Yuri and Victor.

Really though, we need to make more of an effort to cater culturally to women, across all forms of media.

We should also keep eye out on some anime coming out later this year in terms of the Odagiri effect striking. Two series that spring to mind are another pair of sports series, Welcome to the Ballroom and DIVE!! – both of which are being turned into anime in the summer, and both of which cover activities that already have LGBT stars: thank you Bruno Tonioli and Tom Daley.

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.

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.

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:

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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…

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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.

konosuba-1
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.

Fairy Tail, Collection 10 (Ep. 109-120) Review

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“As the poet said, ‘Only God can make a tree’ – probably because it’s so hard to figure out how to get the bark on.” – Woody Allen.

It has been nearly two years since the last Fairy Tail collection was released on DVD in the UK, previously brought out by Manga Entertainment. Now All The Anime (Anime Limited) has brought the series back, which is a relief – particularly as we were partway through a storyline, so either people have been waiting over 18 months to see the end of it, or have had to import the US release and are thus perhaps not tempted to get this. Thus, not only is it a brave move for All The Anime to bring it back, but there is a need to recap where we have left off.

At the Fairy Tail guild, eight of the wizards are taking on the “S-Class Wizard Promotion Trail”, each assisted by another wizard in the guild. This is on Tenrou Island, an island with a gigantic tree with another island on top of it. The island is home to the grave of Mavis Vermillion, the founder of the guild, and the current task is to be the first to reach the grave. However, as the task has unfolded a dark guild named Grimoire Heart has attacked the island, using a group of seven powerful wizards including Zeref, the wizard who caused massive destruction around the world 400 years ago. The last collection ended with various wizards fighting their own battles, the current head of Fairy Tail Makarov being knocked out, and Celestial wizard Lucy being put to sleep by the wizard she is meant to be helping, the chronic alcoholic tarot user Cana.

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Moving on to the actual episodes in this collection, Lucy awakens from her sleep only to be attacked by a dark wizard who controls people using a voodoo doll, while fiery Natsu and his feline friend Happy are in the battle with another wizard who can manipulate time, and sword-and-armour-changing Erza and water manipulator Juvia deal with someone who makes blades seemingly out of light. Meanwhile, Cana attempts to find Mavis’s grave, where in the flashback we learn that one of the reasons she is so keen on obtaining an S-Class rank is because when she does she will reveal her identity to her father, who happens to be another one of Fairy Tail’s wizards. As the episodes roll on, Lucy, Natsu, Erza, ice-maker Gray, young Wendy and others attempt to battle against the Grimoire Heart wizards, and upon meeting the head of the guild discover that he happens to have a connection to Fairy Tail as well.

The first thought concerning this collection is simply the fact that it is good to see it released in the UK again. Being away for so long you’d suspect that no-one would touch it, as British distributors would assume that most British anime fans would just go for the American release. However, we should praise All the Anime for at least giving it a go.

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It is also good just to see the episodes again. If you haven’t watched it since the last British release it is probably worth dipping into at least the last collection again, but it is worth it as the things that make Fairy Tail good are still there, such as the great action sequences and the fun characters.

The last collection was notable for having a few errors. This time around there are fewer things to complain about. Scene selection doesn’t seem to be a problem anymore and the subtitles appear to be fine. You still have some annoying things, like the ads that pop up when you load the DVD that you cannot skip through, promoting Funimation’s shows that are released by other companies in the UK (namely Karneval and Dragon Ball Z, both of which are Manga Entertainment releases).

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Funimation do, however, provide a nice selection of bonus features in this collection. There is the textless opening and closing, including the new themes: “Hajimari no Sora” by +Plus, and “Glitter (Starving Trancer Remix)” by Another Infinity (both of which are good). There are also two episode commentaries, a selection of trailers, and documentary “Marketing a Fairy Tail”.

This collection of Fairy Tail has been fun, thrilling and exciting. It’s good to see it back.