Serial Experiments Lain – The Complete Series Review

With a lot of series, I would point to the writers or directors and put in brackets their most famous work, but Serial Experiments Lain IS the most famous work of writer Chiaki J. Konaka, character designer Yoshitoshi ABe and, arguably, director Ryutaro Nakamura. This is one of those rare “perfect storm” projects that made a name for all involved that they weren’t ever really able to top, at least not in the eyes of the majority. With that said, does Serial Experiments Lain, an unusual anime made in 1998 based around the idea of what a future where the internet is easily accessible would be like, still work in 2017?

It has to be first noted that Lain is written in a rather abstract and sometimes non-linear way, and in general it’s hard to talk about an overall plot when it has so many turns. The bare bones is that school girl Lain Iwakura, normally disinterested in “The Wire” (an advanced form of the internet… well, of the internet as it was in ’98) and other technology, suddenly receives an e-mail from a fellow schoolgirl after they had committed suicide, telling her that now she’s left her body behind and became part of The Wire, and everything is great. The mystery surrounding this leads Lain to get a new and more powerful computer, and slowly she begins to lose herself in the virtual reality, losing touch with what is real and what isn’t, and even who she really is and what it means to be alive.

That’s about the best synopsis for the series I could come up with, because be warned, it does get hard to follow sometimes. I watch a lot of sci-fi, both anime and the kind with the real people in it (*gasp!*), and even I scratched my head a few times. That being said, due to how beautifully shot, animated and scored the whole show is, I never got annoyed, and was certainly never tempted to turn off. The voices are low key (in both languages, for the record), the shading switches from overemphasized black to swirling colours and shapes, written messages appear on screen like an old silent movie, and more often than not, no music plays in the background, instead often replaced with an eerie hum from power lines, almost hinting at The Wire being a living thing. When some background music does kick in, it’s often tense or has that synth-filled cyber-punk feel to it, though, like I said, these moments are few and far between.

I think the most interesting thing about watching Serial Experiments Lain in 2017 is how close we are to living in the cyber-punk-esque world presented in the show. People have what closely resemble smart phones and some of the what-if horrors of the “increasing internet craze” include shadowy groups of people joining up without having ever met each other, and the idea of having personal information stolen and released to other people’s amusement. The whole idea of losing yourself in a virtual world while sitting in front of a monitor was even ahead of its time, really. Throw in some very nostalgic late-90s UFO conspiracy stuff on top, and you have a fun setting very much written in the past, but unsettlingly bang-on in terms of a potential future, which makes for an odd, but enjoyable, viewing experience.

All that being said I personally couldn’t give Lain the perfect score because I do feel that there were a few points in the show where it might have gone a bit too abstract or confusing, and rather than being brilliant and paying off, it was clearly there just to be a bit weird or odd. These moments are very rare though; it just sometimes feels they were being artsy for the sake of keeping up the offbeat tempo, rather than it serving a purpose.

The opening is “Duvet” by Jasmine Rodgers and Boa (the whole song is in English, which is odd, but it fits the weird imagery that accompanies it), while the ending is “Distant Scream” by Reichi Nakaido. The extras are the original adverts for the show, along with the standard clean opening, ending and some trailers. The shot of back of the box shown on the website and official MVM website itself currently list the show as 16:9, but it is very much 4:3, which should be obvious given the time it was created.

Do I recommend Serial Experiments Lain? Yes, I do, though if you watch it and say, ‘I didn’t get it and I turned it off’ I wouldn’t blame you, though I think if you stick with it to the end you’ll either find yourself satisfied or going over the series in your head for a few days before watching it over again to “make sure” of things. It is very much an anime that you could point to as a “classic” or a “work of art” within its genre, one that someone could watch and write a whole essay on. At 13 episodes, I say give yourself a couple of nights, possibly watch it alongside a friend or family member so you can discuss it for a long, long time.

Title: Serial Experiments Lain - The Complete Collection
Publisher: MVM Films
Genre: Cyberpunk, psychological horror, science fiction.
Studio: Triangle Staff
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 1998
Format: Blu-Ray and DVD (DVD version reviewed)
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 12
Running time: 325 minutes

Score: 9/10

Review of Clockwork Planet, Volume 1

“How many steampunks does it take to change a light bulb? Two: one to change it and a second to glue unnecessary clock parts to it.” – James Burnett

A long time ago, the Earth died.

Then, a man known as Y was able to use his skills with clock parts to rebuild the entire world using nothing but gears. Cities were built inside gigantic cogs, each city having a large spoke sticking out called a “Central Tower” which controlled the climate. The Earth itself went around a gigantic spring that ran around the equator to generate power. A thousand years later, this is the society that humanity lives in, with the Earth now known as “Clockwork Planet”.

Naoto Miara is a student living in the Giro Kyoto. He is also a machine otaku, with his only passion in life being technology, which as a result sees him being bullied by everyone else at school. On returning to his flat, suddenly a crate drops out of a plane and crashes through his roof. He opens the crate to find a coffin, inside of which is a female automaton. Naoto decides to repair the automaton before his flat collapses, which he does just by hearing which gear in the automaton is wrong.

The automaton awakes, having been malfunctioning for over two centuries, and gets Naoto out of the flat before it collapses. The automaton also requests that Naoto should be her master, and he agrees. Her name is RyuZU “The One Who Follows” YourSlave, and she promises to serve Naoto with absolute submission and loyalty. RyuZU becomes a pupil at Naoto’s school and arranges things so that Naoto can carry on living comfortably, even if she is not aware of certain legal issues. For example, she is unaware that is inappropriate for someone as young as Naoto to stay in a love hotel. They later move into the city’s best hotel.

However, there are bigger problems to deal with. Giro Kyoto appears to be suffering from a “gravity glitch”. Those within the top of society know that in 42 hours the gear upon which the city lies will collapse, killing everyone living on it, and no order has been given to evacuate the area. The job of solving the problem has been given to Dr. Marie Bell Breguet, the youngest person ever to be made a “meister”, part of a non-profit guild dedicated to keeping the clockwork going. She is also a member of one of the five great corporate families of the world, is accompanied by a bodyguard and mechanical soldier named Vainney Halter, and is willing to go to extreme lengths to solve problems – like threatening people with syringes full of mercury.

Breguet and Halter are also on the lookout for an automaton created by Y, who it turns out is RyuZU, and they later meet each other at the hotel RyuZU and Naoto are staying at. This encounter results in an event described at the end of the book’s first chapter. Namely, that in one month’s time, all four will be together in Akihabara – having now become history’s most infamous terrorists.

Clockwork Planet already has plenty of things that make it worthy of reading. For starters there are the people behind it, with the most recognisable name being Japanese-Brazilian co-author Yuu Kamiya, who is also the creator of popular gaming fantasy series No Game No Life. It is certainly a fun series and there is plenty of excitement to be had in this work as well.

Another part of this manga that makes it engaging is the setting. At first it feels like steampunk because of all the gears and the use of old technology to power the world. But on the other hand, there is no steam technology used, it’s set way into the future, and the society looks very much like our modern day one with the exception that just about every building has cogs sticking out of it. Fortunately, there is already something out there that fits this mold better than steampunk, which is the subgenre of “clockpunk”. This is akin to steampunk, but rather than being based on Victorian technology it’s based on even earlier technology like that of the Renaissance and the Baroque periods.

The setting in turn results in the next element that makes this manga entertaining, which is the art. It is fun to see a world that is run by clockwork. All the cogs and gears look cool. That is why things like steampunk took off; because it looks good. For example, when Naoto is repairing RyuZU, he opens her up and you see all the delicate workings inside her. There is something beautiful about seeing all of the machinery exposed, and in the story the entire workings of the planet are out in the open, for all to see. A planet made out of this stuff looks great. While writing this review up I ended up thinking of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and the planet Magrathea, which was home to a luxury business that made custom-built planets. I’m starting to fall in love with the idea of ordering a planet made out of clockwork.

The way the plot is structured is also intriguing. At the end of the opening chapter it is already revealed that the main characters are going to become terrorists. We already know where the plot is going, even though Breguet and Halter haven’t even been properly introduced yet, with only their names being mentioned. However, it keeps the reader engaged. Often with a new manga you might read the first volume, but it is not enough to sustain your interest and you don’t bother to progress with the next. In Clockwork Planet the author has already fed you with what is going to come, and it sounds exciting.

One final interesting bit about it is that this series is being adapted as an anime, and it begins next month. Now, we all know that Clockwork Planet, and indeed just about every other anime series, is going to be in the shadow of the second series of Attack on Titan which begins at the same time. We all know that it is going to win every popular vote going – unless all of a sudden we learn that Yuri!!! on Ice will begin a new series at the end of the year. However, given all the elements I have discussed, it may well be that Clockwork Planet might have a decent chance of getting noticed too. It could be one of the many surprises that have occurred this year. After all, who would have thought that Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid would be the hit series for this season? (Well actually, at least four of the people who write for AUKN, and we are smug about it.)

Anyway, Clockwork Planet is certainly a series I plan to continue reading and one I plan to stream if it is possible.

Title: Clockwork Planet, Volume 1
Publisher: Kodansha Comics
Genre: Action, Clockpunk, Fantasy
Author(s): Yuu Kamiya (story), Tsubaki Himana (story), Kuro (art) and Sino (character design)
Type: Manga
Original vintage: 2014
Format: Book (digital edition available)
Age rating: 16+
Length: 216 pages

Score: 9/10

Heavy Object Part 1 Review

In the distant future, the nature of combat has changed. Wars are no longer fought with human combatants but instead with Objects, massive spherical tanks, impermeable to standard weaponry and armed to the teeth with the very latest in destructive firepower. However, all of that stands to change when Qwenthur Barbotage, a student studying Object design, and Havia Winchell, a radar analyst, are suddenly plunged into a battle of unwinnable odds when a plan goes awry. With nothing but basic equipment and their wits, the duo scramble to save themselves as well as the lives of their fellow soldiers from certain doom at the hands of an Object, changing the world’s perception of the behemoths forever in the process.

Normally, when you think about the mecha genre in anime, your mind generally jumps to shows like Mobile Suit Gundam, with giant humanoid robots tussling it out with each other with giant laser swords and the like. Honestly, it’s really quite disappointing just how rare it is to find a show that doesn’t fit into those preconceived expectations of what a mecha anime is. Enter Heavy Object, an adaptation based on the novel series from author Kazuma Kamachi, creator of A Certain Magical Index and A Certain Scientific Railgun, which might be the first entry into the mecha genre I’ve seen that I can call fresh in quite a long time.

Although the two series are very, very different in most regards, when it comes to the general premise of each episode, the most obvious comparison that comes to mind is Metal Gear Solid, to the point where I’m certain the first three episodes being set in Alaska had to have been some sort of reference to the first entry in the illustrious game franchise. Each short arc tends to centre around Qwenthur and Havia sneaking around a variety of locations, on stealth missions attempting to take out these nigh indestructible Objects on their own. It’s this general premise that made me really like Heavy Object, because whilst it is still a show all about mecha, the majority of the running time isn’t spent on watching the protagonists’ mecha dispatching Grunt mecha in increasingly similar and trite scenarios, but instead has the two lead characters having to think on their feet in order to save the day. Nothing against the likes of Gundam of course, but it is just really refreshing to see a mecha show that differentiates itself a bit from what everyone else is doing. The whole series also is just generally a lot of fun to watch, which is mostly due to two very likable and energetic leads, as well as a light tone and a genuine sense of adventure that is conjured up via the globetrotting nature of the series, as our protagonists go from the icy tundras of the Antarctic to tropical locales such as the Oceania or even naval battles in the Mediterranean.

One of the only real downsides to Heavy Object is whenever it tries to squeeze in attempts at ecchi comedy because it doesn’t work, as it rarely does. Any and all attempts at jokes of this nature fall flat, offering nothing really new or funny, and just being quite cringe inducing. There’s also this off-putting recurring gag (?) where Qwenthur and Havia’s superior, Frolaytia, seems to reward the duo’s efforts with a peek up her skirt, or the promise to stomp on one of them for sexual gratification. It didn’t really affect me too much, but I could certainly see it making some people uncomfortable.

The only other lacklustre element comes from the characters in general. Although they are fun and likable, as I mentioned, they are painfully lacking in any sort of depth. You can call Qwenthur the ‘Heroic One’ and Havia the ‘Pervy One’ and not be oversimplifying their characters at all. Havia does become a bit less of a coward later on in the series, and he does get one nice moment of character at the tail-end of one of the episodes, but neither of the pair ever receives anything really substantial. The only character who does receive anything of the sort is the Frolaytia, who gets a backstory at the end of this first half, that is surprisingly dark considering the tone of the rest of the series, but does work in fleshing out her character. I can only hope that the other main characters receive the same kind of treatment in the show’s second half.

There is also something of an attempt at a romance between Qwenthur and Milinda, the pilot of an Object in possession of the nation that Qwenthur and Havia fight for, but it’s incredibly half-hearted and barely even worth mentioning. Qwenthur and Milinda rarely have any screen time together, and when they do, the chemistry between the two is incredibly sparse. Again, perhaps this element will gain more focus during the show’s second half, but I’m not holding my breath.

Animation for Heavy Object is a joint effort between JC Staff (A Certain Scientific Railgun, Toradora, Azumanga Daioh) who handle all the 2D animation and SANZIGEN (The Heroic Legend of Arslan, Black Rock Shooter, BBK/BRNK) who focus on the 3D elements. Working together, the pair manage to create a fairly good-looking show, with some very impressive looking CGI that doesn’t look out of place like the majority of CGI in anime tends to.

Funimation UK’s release of Heavy Object contains both the Japanese audio as well as an English dub track, and, overall, I was very impressed with the quality of the dub. Led by Justin Briner (My Hero Academia, The Heroic Legend of Arslan, Drifters) and Micah Solusod (Brother’s Conflict, Blood Blockade Battlefront, Soul Eater) as Qwenthur and Havia respectively, I think the two have a lot to do with how instantly likably the characters come across, which helps carry the whole show. The supporting cast also includes some good performances from the likes of Morgan Garrett, Alexis Tipton and John Michael Tatum.  

Keiji Inai and Maiko Iuchi both provide music for the series, which seems to alternate between a traditional orchestral score, electronic, almost dubstep-like music, and heavy rock, which make for a pretty great and varied soundtrack. The opening for Heavy Object is “One More Chance!!” by ALL OFF, which I was a huge fan of. It manages to combine heavy metal and J-Pop, which you wouldn’t really think would work well, yet it manages to be infectiously catchy. The ending is a softer sounding track, but is still really enjoyable, although I’m not sure exactly how well it fits with such an action heavy show.

Extras included on this release include a clean OP, a clean ED, trailers and commentary tracks.

In Summary

As long as you can put up with a bit of less-than-stellar comedy, the first half of Heavy Object delivers a large dose of unique and incredibly fun mecha action.

Title: Heavy Object Part 1
Publisher: Funimation (via Anime Limited)
Genre: Mech, Action, Military, Sci-fi
Studio: J.C. Staff, SANZIGEN
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2015
Format: Blu-Ray
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 15
Running time: 300 minutes

Score: 8/10

KonoSuba: God’s Blessing on this Wonderful World Season 2 Review

This time last year I sat down to review the first season of KonoSuba (a review you can read here) and at the end of the article I mentioned how excited I was for the second season. Fast forward a year and I’ve just finished watching Season 2. Has it held up to my original love of this fantasy anime?

The short answer to my question is yes: I am still deeply in love with this whacky comedy. This season kicks off with Kazuma and his party of idiots (Aqua, Darkness and Megumin) in deep trouble. It turns out that during the heated battle that took place at the end of Season 1, the team managed to destroy a nobleman’s mansion. Kazuma is quickly arrested and put on trial (a trial that cheerfully parodies the Ace Attorney series). Nothing could go wrong, right?

When Kazuma is put on the stand, many crimes seemingly come to light (although most have been committed by his party members!) and with only Aqua and Megumin to defend him (who quickly give up on the idea)  things can only go from bad to worse. It’s only when Darkness uses her own name as a noble that Kazuma is saved from certain death and lumped with a massive debt to repay instead. He might now owe millions and has had all of his belongings seized as partial repayment, but at least he’s alive and we’ve been welcomed back to this world with a bang.

This season follows the trend of last season with mostly self-contained stories early on and then one final big arc to finish the series. KonoSuba has always been at its best when the tales are short because it means the odd episode that you might not enjoy doesn’t spread into the following week – although unenjoyable episodes are overall less of a problem than last season. On the whole, the stories are a lot more fun (and sometimes even genuinely moving), offer ample character development and, most importantly, continue to show just how useless our team of adventurers are.

Although our cast are still pretty useless, between this season and last they have made some progress as a team. Kazuma and Aqua have both learnt new skills since we last saw them and Megumin, although still limited to a single explosion a day, has also powered up. It’s not just their skills that are improving, as it’s quickly apparent that their teamwork is also getting better and Kazuma better fits the leader role he fills.

This season offers an arc dedicated to Darkness and explains some more of her backstory, something I was very happy to see as until now we’ve not known much about her life. Meanwhile, the final arc of the season spends quite a lot of time with Aqua and Wiz, who again we’re glad to see more of. This is especially true for Wiz, whose introduction story last season was told in flashbacks in an effort to save time in the anime.

My only major complaint is down to Megumin, who is given a story arc involving a childhood friend. Once the episode involving their story is finished, Megumin’s friend, Yunyun, is mostly pushed aside and not seen again for any great length of time. Perhaps because of Megumin’s inability to produce anything but one explosion a day, she is also shelved for the majority of the season and only used for a few comedic scenes despite the fact that she’s usually always present. At least they gave her a new companion in the form of a cat, Chomusuke, to keep her busy, who is presumably the adorable mascot of the series now. It’s not that Megumin’s character feels undeveloped or lacking, it’s simply that she is my favourite among Kazuma’s team and I’m just disappointed that we didn’t see more of her.

It has to be said that overall the second season is very satisfying and the conclusion delivers one of the best anime endings I’ve seen in quite some time. It doesn’t finish off the overall KonoSuba story (the novels are still on-going in Japan), but it finishes off the tale it set out to tell very well while leaving the door open to return to this world someday.  The final episode is full of the silly humour I’ve come to love the series for, but most importantly it also shows just how much the characters have progressed as a team. Above all else, it’s just good fun.


The series has once again been handled by Studio DEEN and where animation is concerned the show does seem to have been given more budget (and it has to be said that the final episode looks much better than anything else the series has ever put out). Despite this newfound budget however, the animation is still terrible. The first episode is all over the place and even once things become more stable, it’s clear that DEEN have made a stylistic choice to lean into the idea of KonoSuba never being the prettiest show in the world. Character designs on the whole are smoother and I think the world has more varied colors and looks sharper, but overall things haven’t changed much at all.  I commented in my review of the first season that the poor animation adds something to the charm of KonoSuba and I still firmly believe this because fixing up the animation might have ruined the fun a bit.


When it comes to the music, composed again by Masato Kouda, things haven’t changed much since the first season. The soundtrack isn’t something I’d listen to away from the show itself, but within context it does wonders to ramp up the action scenes and play into the silliness of everything. The opening theme “Tomorrow” has been provided by Machico, who also worked on the Season 1 opening, and I have to say it’s a brilliant track that really captures what KonoSuba is to me. The animation for the song sees our heroes embark on a quest and throughout we’re shown the various trials and tribulations they face before they return home, bruised but successful. I love it. It’s fun and really sets up well for the show. The ending theme is “Ouchi ni Kaeritai”, sang by the voice actors for Aqua, Megumin and Darkness much like with the first season ending. The song is a slow and more somber affair than the opening but it works in contrast to the fast pace of the anime. It also wins points in my favour for featuring the flying cabbages in the animation (that I adored in the first season).

All of the voice actors do a wonderful job in their roles but my personal highlights this season are Jun Fukushima (Shoukichi Naruko in Yowamushi Pedal, Shinsuke Chazawa in Shirobako) as Kazuma, who manages to go from a very deadpan tone of voice to utter hysterics in seconds, and Sora Amamiya (Touka Kirishima in Tokyo Ghoul, Elise in Bungo Stray Dogs), who plays Aqua and manages some pretty impressive screaming for the goddess.

KonoSuba Season 2 certainly hasn’t left me disappointed and I highly recommend it to fans of the previous season. With many tales still left to tell in this Wonderful World (the anime series has only adapted four of the ten light novel volumes released in Japan), I hope that we get a season three sometime in the future. Even if the show doesn’t return, I think this wouldn’t be a bad way of ending it because the conclusion is so strong. My only hope now is that someone finally licenses the series for a release on Blu-ray and DVD in the UK (preferably with plush cabbages). Whatever happens, KonoSuba remains a firm favourite in this reviewer’s heart.

Title: KonoSuba - God's Blessing on this Wonderful World! Season 2
Publisher: Crunchyroll (streaming)
Genre: Comedy, Fantasy
Studio: Studio Deen
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2017
Format: Legal stream
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles
Running time: 250 minutes

Score: 9/10

The Girl from the Other Side: Siúil, a Rún Volume 1 Review

“If you ever meet with an Outsider, you mustn’t touch them…because their touch will curse you.”

An ash-blonde little girl in a white smock has fallen asleep gathering flowers in a dark forest. A male creature of darkness – horned, beaked head, tall and garbed in black  – looms over her. The little girl wakes and…

In most stories, this encounter would not end well. But when the sinister creature speaks, his words are filled with gentle chiding and we see that he has come to protect the little girl Shiva, not attack her. A walk to the nearby town – utterly deserted – enables the unlikely pair to gather food and water before they return to their house. We see their domestic routine and learn that the little girl, Shiva, is waiting eagerly for her auntie to come and collect her. Her companion, whom she calls Teacher, is courteous and caring and reads to her (she’s too young to know how) from a book which tells about the God of Light banishing the God of Darkness who came to be known as the Outsider. He reminds her gently that he cannot – must not – touch her, or she will become an Outsider too. And then the story shifts to reveal knights searching the forest for a little girl. Their orders are blunt: “Kill it.”

This is the first manga by Nagabe to be translated into English and it makes for a very strong debut. Like The Ancient Magus’ Bride (also published in Mag Garden) it exudes a powerful and seductive feeling of Otherness; even though the subtitle is Irish the atmosphere evoked by the wonderful dark, grainily-textured art and the fairytale setting is more Northern European Grimm than Celtic (the knights’ armour) and the tall, slender tree trunks bring to mind the illustrations of Danish fairy tale artist Kay Nielsen. Nagabe is especially gifted at story-telling without words, making the most of the contrasts of black and white in some striking and genuinely disturbing sequences.

Nagabe delivers a believable and unsentimental portrait of a young child and Shiva’s relationship with Teacher is touchingly portrayed. We do not know who – or what – he is, except that is obviously one of the feared Outsiders. What we do see is his fatherly concern for his young charge – faced with trying to protect her not just from the Others but from the humans who have abandoned her as well.

And what of the subtitle: Siúil, a Rún? It’s an Irish folksong, sung by a woman lamenting the departure of her lover who’s gone to the wars. Wikipedia tells us that it can be translated as, ‘Go, my love!’  Will it be significant? It’s too early to say…

The edition from Seven Seas is attractively presented with two colour plates at the start and includes two 4-koma extras. Adrienne Beck ‘s sympathetic translation captures the archetypal fairy tale tone of voice perfectly.

At the end, we are promised that Volume 2 of  ‘A tranquil fairy tale about those human and inhuman’ is coming soon. But this volume ends on a nail-biting cliffhanger which is far from tranquil. The Girl from the Other Side is an unsettling yet strangely beautiful manga that will haunt you long after you’ve finished reading.

© nagabe / MAG Garden

Title: The Girl from the Other Side: Siúil, a Rún Vol. 1
Publisher: Seven Seas
Genre: Supernatural
Author(s): Nagabe
Type: Manga
Original vintage: 2016
Format: Book
Age rating: All Ages
Length: 180 pages

Score: 9/10

Film Review: A Silent Voice

Shoya Ishida is a typical delinquent elementary school boy with a large group of friends and not a care in the world, that is until a new student– Shoko Nishimiya, who happens to be deaf – joins his class. Despite her shy and friendly nature, her presence stirs Shoya’s small world and he begins to bully her, with encouragement from his friends. When the bullying reaches its peak, and he is punished severely for it, his friends disown him and he becomes an outcast himself. Several years later, now in High School, Shoya crosses paths with Nishimiya once again and he slowly begins to reconnect with her, as well as make amends for his past actions.

The role of ‘the school bully’ is normally reserved for antagonists or side characters where they, for the most part, remain one-dimensional (mean for the sake of being mean). If they do have an arc, it’s almost always them getting called out on their behaviour usually by the protagonists, then they quickly reform from their bullying ways and the world is set to rights. However, A Silent Voice makes a bold move in making the bully the protagonist, and there’s no doubt that he is a bully; it starts off with childish lashing out at something (or in this case, someone) that he does not understand but escalates into outright horrible behaviour that makes it incredibly hard to watch. But then his world comes crashing down; he gets told off by the teachers, his friends and the rest of the school completely turn on him AND his mother has to pay a huge fine for Nishimiya’s damaged hearing aids. In a lesser movie, or a movie not set around Shoya, that would be the end of his arc, the audience would assume that he has learned his lesson and that the balance is now restored. But A Silent Voice dares to explore his character further: what happens after he’s punished for his actions? What becomes of his home life and mental state? The answer is that over the years of being exiled and living with the crushing guilt of his actions, he has become incredibly depressed, suffering from anxiety, and is suicidal. It would be easy to brush off Shoya’s plight and emotional state as ‘karma’: he deserved what he got. But A Silent Voice does not set out to do that, or attempt to take the easy route; it instead lays the groundwork and then sets off on a journey for an incredibly involving and significant film.

A Silent Voice talks about a lot of issues that many films either gloss over, sensationalise or wouldn’t touch with a 10-foot pole. This list includes but is not limited to depression, anxiety, loneliness, suicide, self-hatred and learning to forgive yourself. A person suffering from any of these things in media such as television would typically have it communicated to audience via actively saying what they feel or suffer from, looking miserable all the time, or having a cut-away of them taking pills (shorthand for medicating whatever they’re suffering from). A Silent Voice doesn’t do any of this, but takes a more realistic and natural approach; Shoya’s depression and self-deprecation is not limited to being expressed via dialogue but also in his body language and animation techniques. Whether he’s speaking or not, we see him constantly having his head down, struggling to make eye contact with other students, being apprehensive of taking actions if it involves other people and in one scene he even slaps himself as self-punishment for saying something embarrassing. Over the course of the film we discover that it’s not just Shoya who has problems but also other members of the student body, especially Shoko Nishimiya, whom we learn deals with her life-long struggle of deafness and the stigma that comes with it by putting on a friendly but aloof front, and in turn speaks very little about how she actually feels, which is just as damaging as the way Shoya goes about it. Then there are the other side characters who have reacted or thought differently about what happened in elementary school, whether it’s via denial or choosing to move on, and so forth. The side characters don’t get the same amount of attention as Shoya or Nishimiya but how they all interact with each other, and discuss or choose to ignore the issues hovering over them all adds layers to the important themes shown in the movie. There’s no one way to cope or live with these issues, and as the movie shows different sides of them, and uncovers what creates them – or how they remain if not treated – the results are both heart-warming and heart-breaking.

In turn, the animation allows the audience to see exclusively through Shoya’s point of view by having all the students’ faces covered up with a cross; a reflection of how he sees them all as people he cannot communicate with or reach out to. It’s over the course of the film, as he begins to work through his problems, that the crosses start to come off, but like a reflection of real life where we have setback days, the crosses are sometimes slapped back on as Shoya retreats once more into his shell. There’s also a variety of other techniques: blurry images, flares, water ripples/reflections and, right at the beginning of the movie, we see a long dark tunnel with an incoherent image at the end which comes full circle in the final scenes of the film. Although a lot of these images are eventually explained and make sense over the course of the story, when they are first introduced, they’re hastily thrown in back-to-back and therefore it feels a bit of a mess. Imagery and symbolism is important and should absolutely be used but for the first half of this movie they play out more like ‘ideas the director thought up and wanted to throw in there’ rather than strategically placed elements. Even the ‘cross over the faces’ trick, which is the strongest and most frequently used animation metaphor, only comes into play about 20 minutes into the film.

If you only looked at the trailers and did minimal research before seeing the movie, you could have easily been fooled into thinking that it’s a high school romance story with the unique selling point being that it involves a deaf girl. Whilst the ‘deaf girl’ angle is definitely interesting and a hook into the movie by itself, Shoko Nishimiya’s condition is more than just a gimmick. She expresses a lot of her personality in the way she moves, smiling at others despite what they are saying about her and in the way she tries to communicate with everyone despite her limitations. What’s also charming is that she’s not portrayed as a martyr, someone that everyone needs to love and she doesn’t have (for instance) super awesome intellect or heightened senses that have come about as a result of being deaf; she’s a normal high school girl with flaws like everyone else and a lot of emotional baggage, that in a way mirrors Shoya’s struggles but she chooses to bury it as her way of coping. The time-skip also serves as an important point in her character arc as well; her being deaf and a victim of said bullying absolutely would warrant such intricate dejected feelings, but having the bullying issues resolved by the time she enters high school doesn’t mean that the mental trauma suddenly no longer exists, or that they make up solely who she is as a person. Also, having a boyfriend or your bully coming back as a better person, wanting to make it all better doesn’t make the world suddenly a better place. Real life is more complicated than that; just like having Shoya being punished for his actions doesn’t make it OK that he grows up into a suicidal wreck of a boy, or Nishimiya choosing to forgive and befriend him makes her accountable for any emotional turmoil that happens to her later on in the movie. Nothing is black and white, there are all shades of grey, especially when it comes to the issues this movie chooses to talk about.

The pacing of the film is an odd one, especially since it plays out like a romance/coming-of-age story for the majority of its run time, so when it comes to the big emotional moment between Shoya and Nishimiya you expect the film to wrap up quickly afterwards. However, it continues on for a while but not because it has to resolve multiple plot points like, say, in Your Name. It’s important to note that it’s Shoya Ishida story, it’s his emotional arc, and the problems he has don’t automatically fix themselves in a single moment. Problems such as his, as many of those who have or are suffering from depression will know, are a constant battle and sometimes there are good and bad days. So even though the final scene of the movie feels (as a movie watcher) as if it takes ages to come after the big high, it’s an important moment for the character and wraps up the core themes very nicely.

Kyoto Animation, who produced the visuals for A Silent Voice, have a ton of experience with romance-themed and especially high-school-based stories with series such as Clannad, Air and K-ON! under their belts (the K-ON! series and movie being the series that director Naoko Yamada is best known for). As mentioned earlier, they use a lot of little techniques to get Shoya’s world across to the audience but outside of that, there’s much to admire, from the bright colours and the fluid animation, to the way the school environment is drawn to look familiar, yet different. It avoids the usual pitfalls of the main cast’s desks being on the window side of the classroom, or each room in the school looking exactly the same as the previous one. It’s a well thought out and drawn environment that the story is set in with beautiful imagery for the passing seasons.

Kensuke Ushio, the score composer, doesn’t have many credits aside from Space Dandy but his minimal yet emotional score complements the tender and sensitive nature of the film’s themes. Aiko provides the ending theme ‘Koi wo Shita no wa’ which is sadly rather standard fare but musically it flows from Ushio’s work nicely. However, the movie’s opening is edited to The Who’s ‘My Generation’, which sticks out like a sore thumb against the rest of the score. Lyrically, however, it adds a whole new level of negative connotations to the song, considering that it plays over a montage of young and naive Shoyo hanging out with his friends before the events of the movie properly kick off.

A Silent Voice is an emotionally important coming-of-age tale, it tackles a lot of themes that will resonate with audiences on numerous levels with its deep, delicate examination of uncomfortable but significant feelings without falling back on familiar tropes to gain an easy ending. It’s a beautiful, thought-provoking film that shouldn’t be missed.

Title: A Silent Voice
Publisher: All the Anime/Anime Limited
Genre: Drama, Coming of Age, Romance,
Studio: Kyoto Animation
Type: Movie
Original vintage: 2016
Format: Cinema screening
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles
Age rating: 12 A
Running time: 129 minutes

Score: 9/10

Erased Volume 1 Review

Last March I started watching Erased, a mystery story that was being adapted by A-1 Pictures. Over the course of its airing many anime fans took notice of the series and by the end of its run we were all very engrossed in the story and how it would turn out. Fast forward a year and the manga is now being brought to English thanks to Yen Press, and I’m here to give my thoughts on it.

For those of you who don’t know, Erased tells the story of Satoru Fujinuma, who is a fairly ordinary guy to the average eye. He’s a published mangaka but struggling to pen his next hit, so he’s also working part-time as a pizza deliverer guy. However, Satoru has a special ability that randomly triggers when someone around him is in danger. This ability sends Satoru back in time to a key moment before a fatal incident occurs – how far back depending on the situation. Once in the past, he must focus on what is going around him in order to solve the incident at hand before time will move forward normally again. If he misses the obvious fix then time loops round again and places Satoru back at the beginning to relive the scene over and over again.

Usually this ability never sends Satoru back more than a few minutes, but after someone close to our hero is brutally murdered, he’s sent back eighteen years to when he was a child in elementary school. At the time many children in the neighborhood were being kidnapped and murdered, including a classmate of his: Kayo Hinazuki. Remembering the incident, Satoru vows to protect Kayo and discover the connection between the murder in the present day and the disappearance of the children so many years ago. With so much on the line, can he figure it out or will be forced to relive these days forever?

Now I’m someone who likes a good mystery story, so when Erased came along I was more than happy to give it a shot. Apart from the fact that the series doesn’t outright explain Satoru’s abilities very well, or even why he has them, the story at hand is a good one. Even for someone like me, who has watched the anime through to the end, it’s not obvious who the kidnapper is, which so far has made revisiting the story enjoyable. There are just enough hints and revelations to keep readers on their toes and it’s easy to find yourself considering the numerous possibilities as the story unfolds. It’s a series that really makes you think and that’s the real charm it has going for it.

This volume might be labelled as Volume 1 but actually it’s an omnibus that includes the first two volumes that were released in Japan. This is a good way of releasing the series in the west as the first volume doesn’t really drag you into the mystery as well as it could. It’s not until the end of the first volume that Satoru is sent to the far past, and as the real meat of the series takes place during this period, I’m glad that we had a second volume included to read through.

A problem that I do have with the manga though is sadly quite a big one. My complaint lies with the artwork itself, which spends the majority of its time looking very disjointed. Characters’ heads are drawn at too sharp an angle, so they look much more pointed than they should. There are a few scenes where a character’s hair is blowing in the wind and not once does it look natural. Instead the hair looks very flat and, as with the faces, far too rigid in design. The artwork completely ruins any attempts the series makes in conveying emotion as the expressions never feel like they fit, and throughout the two volumes the eyes of our cast look completely empty – almost dead to me. Sure, pupils are drawn okay but they’re just black circles with almost no highlights to speak of. The other problem with the eyes is that, on the whole, they’re not circular enough and often drawn to a point (I think you can see where I’m going with this). It all makes for a very jarring experience.

Initially I wondered if the issues with the artwork came about because the manga was older (not that there is anything wrong with old manga!). I honestly didn’t know. However, it turned out that Erased was first published in 2012 in Japan, so it’s not actually old at all. After that I wondered if maybe mangaka Kei Sanbe was just inexperienced, but with numerous titles to their name that appears to not be the case either. Erased ran in Japan from 2012 until 2016 and a part of me hopes that the artwork will improve in time, but I’m not willing to bet on it. It’ll be disappointing if the art doesn’t improve, because the anime of Erased was very emotional, and to lose that depth due to the artwork would be a crying shame.

Overall I liked Erased enough as an anime to continue the manga for now, but I do think the manga is a hard sell for others who perhaps weren’t big fans of the anime or haven’t seen the series at all before. If you like the sound of the story then I recommend checking out the anime, but if you can overlook the artwork then the manga isn’t a bad starting point. The Erased manga is by no means bad, it just isn’t quite as good as I was hoping it would be.

Title: Erased Volume 1
Publisher: Yen Press
Genre: Fantasy, Mystery
Author(s): Kei Sanbe
Type: Manga
Original vintage: 2013
Format: Book (digital edition available)
Age rating: Teen
Length: 384 pages

Score: 6/10

Review of Re-Kan!

“I see dead people – behind my girlfriend’s back.” – Matt Kirshen

Hibiki Amami is a very friendly girl who is about start her first year at Hanazuka Public High School. On the way to her first day at school another student, tsundere Narumi Inoue, spots her walking across the road – or rather, trying to cross the road as some sort of invisible force is dragging her back. Inoue helps Amami, and when she looks down at Amami’s leg she sees it has hand prints on it. A reflection in a nearby mirror reveals some sort of ghostly figure crouching down by the leg.

The answer to what is going on is this: Amami has a sixth sense (in Japanese, “re-kan”) and is able to see dead people, ghosts and all kinds of spirits. She has been able to since birth and inherited the ability from her mother Yuuhi, who died when Hibiki was born. Hibiki was thus raised just by her father Asahi, a man so easily frightened that his hair turned white with fear shortly after he met Yuuhi.

Hibiki Amami, on the other hand, has become incredibly friendly with all the ghosts she has met, helping those spirits in need, providing them with offerings when needed. These spirits range from Hanako, a girl who haunts the girls’ toilets at the school; the Roll Call Samurai who died of hunger and begins protecting Amami as soon as she fed him; a perverted cat who is constantly trying to look at girls’ panties; the Earthbound Spirit who is bound to a sign in the town’s park; and the trendy (for the 1990s) Kogal Spirit who gets friendly with Amami after possessing her in an attempt to making peace with her mother.

While Amami is perfectly friendly to these ghosts, Inoue is utterly petrified of them or anything supernatural. Despite this, Inoue ends up being placed behind Amami in class and thus comes into close contact with spirits that at first only Amami can deal with – the spirits also including that of Inoue’s grandmother who is constantly following her.

Soon however, Amami and Inoue make friends with other people in their class who become involved with Amami’s supernatural escapades: there’s Kana Uehara, who runs a supernatural blog and is able to see the ghosts whenever she photographs them on her mobile phone; Uehara’s childhood pal Kyoko Esumi, an ex-delinquent who used to beat up troublemakers near to where she lived; Makoto Ogawa, a seemingly normal girl apart from her huge collection of scary zombie dolls; and Kenta Yamada, an overly-cheerful boy who is often on the rough end of Esumi’s anger – a fact not helped by the fact that his older brother is a cop who once had a “thing” for her.

The most noteworthy thing about Re-Kan! is that, although it is a comedy, it is possibly one of the saddest comedies around. Because all the stories involve ghosts, many of whom are recently departed, often the stories are about helping the ghost get into heaven. This often means interacting with their still-alive family and friends before the ghosts bid them a final farewell. These are pretty dark subjects for a comedy show.

Most of the actual comedy comes from Inoue’s over-the-top reactions to anything ghostly, or Yamada’s general idiocy which normally sees him get clobbered. However, the comedy often ends up coming second to the tragedy. Nowhere seems to refer to Re-Kan! as being tragicomic, but to me that is the best description for it.

Most of the action is focused on the characters and it is the ghosts who make for the more interesting viewing, especially in the later episodes as a rivalry appears to develop between the Roll Call Samurai and the Kogal Spirit for Amami’s affections, but all the way through there is good stuff from the duo, especially the way they relate to Amami. One of the best sequences is Amami making some knitted gifts for her ghost friends, the oddest of which is a knitted lavatory seat cover for Hanako.

The artwork, however, is slightly peculiar, and you can tell it is just by the cover of the DVD/Blu-ray. The odd thing is that although Uehara and Esumi’s hair covers one of their eyes, you can still see the eye that covers it. I don’t know if there is a technical name for it (if there is let me know), but this seems to be a thing that is happening pretty frequently in anime: namely, that if something blocks a character’s face, the face will still be visible and thing that is blocking it either disappears or has no affect. For example, in Haikyu!! the net will suddenly have a huge hole in it if the character is directly behind it, or in Free! if Rei Ryugazaki’s in profile, the bit of his glasses frame that would normally cover his eyes suddenly vanishes. For now, I’m referring to this as “face space”, but as I said, if there is a proper term for it, let me know.

The contents of collection are limited. There is no English dub, and the only extras are textless opening and closing, but neither of them, “Colourful Story” and “Kesaran Pasaran”, both performed by the voice actors who play Amami and Inoue, are that memorable.

Re-Kan! is a decent enough series, but remember that it is not a laugh-a-minute show. But it will vary from viewer-to-viewer. What do you re-kan? (Sorry, couldn’t resist making the pun)

Title: Review of Re-Kan!
Publisher: MVM Films
Genre: Comedy, Supernatural
Studio: Pierrot+
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2015
Format: Blu-Ray and DVD (DVD version reviewed)
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles
Age rating: 15
Running time: 325 minutes

Score: 6/10

Review of The Ghost in the Shell: Deluxe Edition

“Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts… A graphic representation of data abstracted from banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding…” – William Gibson

The new Ghost in the Shell film, made in America and to be released at the end of March, has already attracted plenty of comments. Most of this commentary is along the lines of: “How come they cast Scarlett Johansson as Major Motoko Kusanagi? This is whitewashing and racist!” or “*sigh* Oh no, not another attempt by the Yanks to make an anime adaptation.”

What is it with Hollywood and their seeming inability to adapt anything that isn’t American properly, especially when it comes to anime? Personally speaking, I have no problem with us in the west adapting stuff from Japan for our own audiences. Take The Seven Samurai – that was turned into a film set in the Wild West, and became The Magnificent Seven, a perfectly good film. The difference, however, is that they clearly changed the location and thus casting American actors in the roles was perfectly fine. The new Ghost in the Shell film fails to do this, at least from what we currently gather. It would be fine if they had set the film in the USA and changed the entire cast, but they haven’t. They still got Japanese actors to play other parts, including major roles, like Takeshi Kitano playing Chief Aramaki. If they can cast a Japanese actor as Aramaki, why not cast one for the Major? I don’t think I’m qualified to say if this is racist or not (excuse my cowardice), but I do feel that it is wrong.

If there is at least one good thing about the new film, it is that it gives everyone a chance to re-evaluate the original work. Manga Entertainment is re-releasing the films [[and the Stand Alone Complex TV series]] on both DVD and Blu-Ray on 20th March, and now Kodansha Comics have released “Deluxe Editions” of the original manga, in hardback and, for the first time, printed in the correct right-to-left unflipped format.

For those who are unfamiliar with the story, it takes place in the fictional floating Newport City in Shinhama Prefecture, and begins on 5th March, 2029. By this point in time, technology has become so advanced that people are able to possess “cyberbrains” that allow their bodies to interact with various networks. People can also gain various forms of prosthetics and even complete prosthetic bodies. The problem with all this technology is that you can be hacked and made to do things by whoever controls you.

The action follows Public Security Section 9, group of ex-military officers and members of the police who investigate crimes that normally involve the hacking of cyberbrains. They are led by Chief Daisuke Aramaki, who everyone always comments looks a bit like a monkey, while most of the main work is done by Major Motoko Kusanagi, who has undergone full-body prostheses.

There are some individual cases in this manga, but there is also the overriding case involving “The Puppeteer”, a criminal who is hacking into humans to commit a wide range of crimes. Major Kusanagi and Chief Aramaki attempt to get the bottom of these cases along with the other members of the team, including Batou, who is recognisable by his cylindrical cybernetic eyes; and Togusa, one of the few members of the team not to have any cybernetic enhancements. All the time, Kusanagi believes she able to solve the cases because of what her “ghost” is telling her, but what is her ghost? Is it a soul? Can someone so mechanical have a soul?

If you are confused by the plot, don’t worry: everyone seems to get confused by the plot of Ghost in the Shell. It and Akira are two of the most cyberpunk manga/anime around, and two of the hardest to get your head around. It is made even harder by the inclusion of loads of notes in the margins of the pages. If you turn to the back of the book, it even gives you a note of caution saying: “This book contains a great number of margin notes and commentary. If read alongside the narrative, this may cause confusion and interrupt the flow of the story, so it is recommended that they be enjoyed separately.” You know when some people tell you to read a book twice because you might miss all the hidden references and jokes in it? With Ghost in the Shell you have to read it twice to make sense of everything.

Also, because it was written in 1989, it has dated badly in some places. This is a story with all kinds of futuristic technology, but also one in which the Soviet Union still exists. There also appear to have been some problems with translation. At one point, a Tachikoma (an intelligent tank) says to Kusanagi: “We demand the use of use of natural oil!” It is odd that this error has occurred, especially when you compare it to Dark Horse’s release of the manga in 2004, which has the line correctly written as: “We demand the use of natural oil!”

Where Ghost in the Shell really stands out, however, is the artwork. Now, it should be mentioned that the quality of the art does vary. For example, sometimes it looks like Batou’s eyes are a bit out of place. But on the other side, especially when you get to the colour pictures, the artwork looks brilliant. The shading and the details all look wonderful, and the characters are also great in colour, especially Kusanagi. This does lead to one of the issue that some readers might have, which is that creator Shirow Masamune is someone who is also known for doing erotic art, and thus a few of the outfits worn by the female characters may be a bit too revealing for some tastes. Put it this way: it appears that in Masamune’s vision of the future, nurses are more than willing to wear uniforms that show off their sexy knickers.

However, arguably the fact that you are not seeing something even sexier is worse. A quick bit of research is enough to show you that Kodansha have made some changes. At the beginning of the third chapter, we see a swimsuit-clad Kusanagi on holiday on a boat. We see her jumping into it with two women already on board, also in swimsuits, waiting for her. At least that is what you see in the Kodansha version. If you read the 2004 Dark Horse version, you see that Kusanagi and the other two women are in fact naked. Not only are they naked, the two women already on the boat are having sex, and Kusanagi is about to join in, which she does in the Dark Horse version. What then follows are two pages of a raunchy, lesbian threesome, in colour – at least in Dark Horse’s copy.

In Kodansha’s “Deluxe Edition”, a title which should at least imply that it includes all of the manga, they not only put clothes on the women and moved the characters so they sit separately rather than making love, they removed two entire pages of the book. Now, if they were doing this because they were trying to make the manga more accessible to the public by getting it down to a 16+ rating for example I can at least understand the reasoning even though I would disapprove. Yet Kodansha’s version still has a 18+ “Mature” rating. If the manga is still being aimed only at adults, why censor anything? It serves no purpose.

When I was writing up the conclusion to this review I was going to argue that while there are many reasons to not buy Ghost in the Shell – including the varying quality of the art, some errors made in translation, the difficulty in understanding the plot, the fact that it is not the most feminist story out there in the way some women are depicted, and also the issue of it dating badly in certain places – it was still worth investing in. After all, it is a rare release of a hardback manga, it is now finally in the correct right-to-left format, the wonderful quality of the colour pages outweighs some of the dodgier segments, the chance to see the earliest origins of one of the most famous characters in all of manga, and then there is the biggest reason of all – it gives you a chance to enjoy the Major as she should be enjoyed, before Scarlett Johansson has any chance to potentially spoil things.

However, the censorship tipped me over the edge. Not only are there all the other issues, but Kodansha made this stupid decision to cut out a bit of the story. Yes, it doesn’t add anything to the plot, but the fact they felt the need to do this is just wrong, especially when it serves no purpose at all. This has made me so angry as to change my view, to get rid of my defence of this new book. I originally want to say “read it before the Yanks ruin it”. Kodansha have already ruined it for me.

The worst manga I have ever reviewed is Cardfight!! Vanguard, which I principally hated because it was too commercial among other reasons. Only the artwork prevented me from giving it a 1 out of 10. I think The Ghost in the Shell: Deluxe Edition may well tie with it. The only things saving it are the colour artwork, and that it’s in hardback, it’s unflipped and the Major is so iconic as a character. However, publishing a book in hardback is not a difficult thing to do; the unflipped nature of the manga is just something we now expect, unlike back in 2004 when flipping was more commonplace; and removal of the sex scene also removes another major aspect of Kusanagi as a character, in that this scene clearly proves she is also an LGBT character.

In conclusion, you can cope with it being flipped. Save your money and get the older, paperback Dark Horse version instead.

Title: The Ghost in the Shell: Deluxe Edition
Publisher: Kodansha Comics
Genre: Crime, Cyberpunk, Sci-fi
Author(s): Shirow Masamune
Type: Manga
Original vintage: 1989
Format: Book (digital edition available)
Age rating: 18
Length: 352 pages

Score: 2/10

Mikagura School Suite – The Complete Series Review

So, see if you can follow me on this one. Mikagura School Suite is an anime based on a light novel series by the band Last Note. that was itself based on their own Vocaloid-assisted songs. Now not being full acquainted with the music scene in my own country, let alone Japan, I wasn’t actually sure what that meant, apparently it just means Last Note. (who have a full stop at the end of their name just to annoy people who use auto correct grammar) wrote the songs via a computer program, including the vocals being done by said program, and released them. They then wrote a light novel series “based on the songs” (which is odd because songs are short and don’t really open themselves up well for novelisation) then these light novels were adapted into this 12 episode anime series. Got that? Good.

The series at its heart is a light-hearted slice of life-style comedy, but with weird and super-powered things happening around the place. Slice of weird life? Anyway, our lead character is Eruna Ichinomiya, a hyper-active young girl who seemingly falls in love with pretty much any woman she sees, whether it be on her portable gaming system (that is clearly just a PSP, but you know, rights issues etc), in her head, or in real life. It’s nice that the fact the lead is a lesbian is not pointed out as weird or perverse, nor is it played up to give horny real-life teens some … imagery, it’s just… she’s your classic over-the-top horny teen who happens to like girls. It’s a rare act of maturity, in a series that’s anything but mature! Anyway, she has trouble picking a high school to attend until her cousin shows her a pamphlet of Mikagura Academy, featuring attractive student Seisa Mikagura in it, so that immediately “inspires her” to sign up for it. After a surreal test which includes a floating, talking cat (which doesn’t seem to phase her much) she is accepted.

What Eruna doesn’t realise, however, is that the school has a strange set- up: every student has to join a club and each club battles the others in over-the-top shonen-style battles with powers based on whatever club they’re a part of. Accommodation, food and other things are based on what club you’re a part of and where that club stands in the school rankings. During the battles each participant has three hearts appear above their head; once all three are destroyed, they lose. It’s like a weird Dragon Ball-esque version of Mario Kart’s battle mode. As amusing and occasionally really well animated as these fights are, they aren’t the focus of the show, and for a while in the middle they just don’t feature at all.

The focus of the show is seeing Eruna going from someone only interested in the fantasy girl on her not-PSP dating sim to slowly gathering a large group of friends that she loves hanging out with. That’s really the main story. There is a storyline about Eruna’s ancestors and hidden powers locked away and so on, but it isn’t given any real importance. Some of the friends she gathers have backstory, even tragic backstory, that adds a little to them, but once again it’s never really necessary, often being created so they can have a quick fight before going on to the next comedic adventure. Her group includes: previously mentioned stoic shut-in Seisa who slowly comes out of her shell; Otone Fujishiro who is similarly anti-social but quickly comes around; smiley and bubbly Himi Yasaka of the Calligraphy Club; Eruna’s perverted cousin Shigure Ninomiya and Kyoma Kuzuryu of the Art Club, who is blunt and intimidating, but nice when you get to know him. There are a few more, mostly from the Drama Club, but I’d be here all day.

The Opening is “After School Revolution” in which the music and lyrics were done by Last Note. themselves, but the performance comes from a trio known as Hōkago Rakuen-bu. There are three Endings, either done by all three Hokago Rakuen-bu or just one member of the trio, which are After School Stride for Episodes 1, 9, 10, 11 and 12, Paradise Fanfare for Episodes 2-7, and Naked Candy for Episode 8. Why a 12 episode series needed three endings I can’t tell you, but I guess given the origin of the series can be traced back to a band writing songs on a computer, it makes a sort of sense. The English dub is as accurate as you can get, the FUNimation cast do their best to match the over-the-top shouty rants that somehow don’t sound as bad when they’re done in Japanese, but in English… it tends to get old – and loud – fast. Still, several of the voice actors, some of whom also acted as directors or in script adaptation, appear in a set of episode commentary tracks for Episodes 9 and 10, which is a nice change from the usual clean Opening, Ending and trailers you normally just get (which are present here as well, for the record).

In summary, Mikagura School Suite is a perfectly fine distraction. For 12 episodes you get plenty of humour and crazy over-the-top reactions, plus you occasionally get a good super-powered fight thrown in. However, there are obviously many better examples of this kind of school-based slice-of-life comedy out there, so maybe this is for diehard fans of the genre who love to watch and collect them all, rather than someone dipping their toes into this part of the anime world for the first time. If you’re in it for the action you’ll be disappointed, but one look at the title and box art should have told you what you were getting! To sum it up, the show is fun in parts, slow in others, making it a solid show to watch; just don’t buy it expecting it to blow you away, instead buy it to have something to relax to for a few days.

Title: Mikagura School Suite - The Complete Series
Publisher: Funimation (via Anime Limited)
Genre: comedy, slice of life, action
Studio: Doga Kobo
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2015
Format: Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack (Blu-Ray version reviewed)
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 12
Running time: 300 minutes

Score: 7/10