No-Rin Review

Idol-obsessed farm boy Kousaku Hata is devastated when his favourite idol and dream girl Yuka Kusakabe unexpectedly announces her immediate retirement at the peak of her career. Taking the news hard, Kousaku spirals into a depression, locking himself in his room, which his fellow students at the Tamo Agriculture school try to bring him out of. On the day that he starts attending classes again, Kousaku gets an unexpected surprise as his beloved idol, under the guise of Ringo Kinoshita, transfers into his class. Taking advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, Kousaku decides to get close to Ringo, and uncover the reason for her early retirement.

No-Rin, a 2014 anime adaptation of the series of novels by author Shirow Shiratori, is a show that I suspect has the potential to be extremely polarizing. This might kind-of go without saying, given that comedy is normally very divisive, but No-Rin’s particular brand of sex-based humour is something that I could almost certainly see people turning their noses up at, or totally dismissing out of hand, and I wouldn’t blame them. Whether it be a character being lovingly nicknamed as ‘Tits McGee’ or a lengthy conversation about the phallic nature of Egg Plants (and that’s just Episode 1!), the comedy present isn’t exactly what you’d call highbrow, but I suspect it is the brazen and unrepentant sex jokes that made me love it a whole lot.

Yes, as much as it might make me sound as mature as a twelve-year-old schoolboy, I had a lot of good laughs whilst watching No-Rin. The gags I mentioned before are just the tip of iceberg when it comes to how far No-Rin seems to push the boundaries, and I was really taken off-guard by how far it goes at times, with some quite raunchy jokes that I dare not spoil here. Needless to say, it’s the biggest draw the series has, and if the humour doesn’t sound like your kind of thing, I’d very much advise you to stay far away. However, if it does sound like something that you might like, I could recommend it on the comedy alone.

However, despite the big focus on comedy, No-Rin actually tries to do a little bit more by throwing in a bit of romance too, which, whilst a good attempt, isn’t really too successful. Although I think that the protagonist Kousaku and Ringo have some good chemistry together and there are some genuinely sweet scenes sprinkled throughout, the way the show itself approaches romance and the less comedic elements in general, needs some work. The biggest fault is the fact that all the jokes seem to dry up whenever there is any kind of character or relationship development. I don’t just mean in the moment itself, which would be fine, but in the slightly more character-focused episodes, the jokes aren’t anywhere near as frequent as in the other episodes. This is especially noticeable in the last two or three episodes, where the comedy almost fades out entirely. Granted, I think that actually giving the characters a little bit of backstory and depth is good and might be worth losing a few jokes for, as it is an area that most comedy anime seem to totally avoid, so I have to give it props for that. However I just wish we could have had the best of both worlds, with a few more serious moments whilst not sacrificing the comedy. Another trap that the series falls into is that the ending is inconclusive and rather unsatisfying, but such is the danger of adapting from ongoing source material.

No-Rin’s animation is handled by Silver Link (Fate/Kalied liner Prisma Illya, Watamote, Yurikuma Arashi), who, as far as I’m concerned, might just be one of the most underrated anime studios currently active. Whilst they may not have the unique and distinct style of Shaft or the insane levels of detail of Kyoto Animation, their work is always high quality, and has a ton of energy behind it, and No-Rin is no exception. I also really love how the animation occasionally switches style giving it a lot of visual diversity. From an old school video game to a manga, even an impromptu tribute to Sailor Moon, Silver Link certainly cram in a whole host visual styles, making No-Rin a visually interesting series to say the least.

Funimation UK’s release of No-Rin comes with both and English and Japanese audio, and I’m quite a big fan of the dub for this series. Austin Tindle (Is This a Zombie?, Gonna Be the Twintail, Attack on Titan) voices the lead Kousaku, and does so with boundless enthusiasm, imbuing the role with the energy needed to make a lot of the gags work. In stark contrast to Tindle’s energy, Jad Saxton (Fairy Tail, High School DxD, Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid) delivers an excellent low key performance as the nigh emotionless Ringo. The supporting cast is also great, including some relative newcomers such as Lynsey Hale (Seraph of the End) and Derick Snow (Prince of Stride: Alternative) as well as some more established voice actors such as Caitlin Glass (Full Metal Alchemist) and Morgan Garrett (Love Live Sunshine).

Music for the series is provided Akiro Matsuda (Sound! Euphonium) and Tomoki Kikuya (Hidamari Sketch), who deliver some pretty great and memorable tracks that do a good job of capturing the general atmosphere of the series. Similarly, the OP, ‘Himitsu no Tobira Kara Ai ni Kite’ by Yukari Tamura and the ED, ‘Mogitate Fruit Girls’, by Yukari Tamura and Kana Hanazawa, who are part of the Japanese cast, also capture the tone of the series, both being full of energy.

Special features on Funimation’s release include commentaries, promo videos, commercials, a textless OP and ED and trailers.

In Summary

No-Rin won’t be for everyone, but I loved its rather unique brand of crass humour and high energy animation. Even if the romance aspect falters a bit, it doesn’t stop it from being a brilliant, side splitting comedy.

Title: No-Rin
Publisher: Funimation (via Anime Limited)
Genre: Comedy, Ecchi, Romance
Studio: Silver Link
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2014
Format: Blu-Ray
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 15
Running time: 300 minutes

Score: 8/10

Yona of the Dawn Part 2 Review

Some spoilers ensue…

Crimson-haired Princess Yona, the only child of murdered King Il of the kingdom of Kouka, is on the run from the forces of her cousin Su-Won, who has killed her father and seized the throne. She is the reincarnation of her ancestor, the heroic Crimson Dragon King, and is searching for his four loyal Dragon Warriors, also reincarnated, to help her take back the throne from her usurping cousin (and unrequited crush). This quest is proving a harsh lesson in reality for the sheltered princess, not least as she comes to hear – incognito, of course – from her impoverished countrymen that her dearly loved father’s pacifist policies have resulted in widespread misery beyond the capital city. But Yona is made of stern stuff and determines to play her part in bringing about reform and righting injustice. She resolutely practices bowmanship and refuses to be treated like a princess by her entourage.

But what of new King Su-Won? In spite of cultivating the outwardly gentle, tea-drinking aesthetic persona that has deceived Yona and the rest of the court, the young king is out to unify his crumbling kingdom. In Episodes 15-16, the focus shifts to Su-Won and we see – through the eyes of bored and dispirited General Lee Guen-Tae of the Earth Clan – that the new king might yet prove to be a force for good and a man worthy of his loyalty.

Yona is helped by the White Dragon Kija to locate the Blue Dragon, whom she names Sinha, then the search for the remaining two dragons continues. But the Green Dragon, Jae-ha, proves frustratingly elusive and as Yona and her friends enter the port city of Awa, they soon learn that the citizens are living in fear of its brutal governor and his men. Encounters with pirates and human traffickers will test Yona to the limits of her endurance – but also help her to grow in self-confidence and maturity. By Episode 24, Yona and her four dragons entourage return to consult Ik-su, the high priest oracle, to seek his advice… and that’s where the anime version ends, leaving us, as the French so aptly say, sur notre faim. Viz Media are now bringing us the original manga by Mizuho Kusanagi in their Shojo Beat list but with only 4 volumes out in English at the time of writing and 23 so far in Japanese, it’ll be quite a while until we even catch up with the end of the TV series (Volume 8) and venture into new territory.

Much of Part 2 of Yona of the Dawn is taken up with the Awa arc, an important development for Yona in that she is shown as determined to conquer her own fears and put right some of the wrongs that have come about through her late father’s policies. Thanks to Kazuhiro Yoneda’s slick direction, the story-telling throughout is traditional but no less exciting for that, and there’s a light but refreshing use of humour as well. The creative team and the voice actors ably engage our sympathy with Yona and her followers, and it’s difficult not to get drawn in and care about what becomes of them. I recommend this series as a great watch for younger anime fans (it’s a 12) for (as with Bodacious Space Pirates) it delivers a sympathetic, relatable but self-confident young heroine. And even though there’s a little light flirting (and a great deal of joshing) the emphasis is very firmly not on ‘who will Yona pair up with?’ but ‘how will Yona get her kingdom back?’ (There’s also a great older woman role-model in pipe-smoking Pirate Captain Gigan.) However, this traditional quest may not appeal to viewers looking for more edgy fantasy fare. And it’s frustrating that the series stops just as it’s getting really interesting, proving especially tantalising with all the plotlines left unresolved. There are three OVA in Japan but these have not been made available to watch so far. Will there be a third season? Or will we just have to go and read the manga (as yet unfinished too!)?

The Funimation US dub makes a good alternative to the original Japanese cast, with a lively script. In my review of Part 1, I mentioned that Monica Rial has a tendency to veer into the shrill at times but here she brings a greater vocal range to the part, ably showing how Yona is growing up and changing. Both Junichi Suwabe and Joel McDonald convince as Jaeha, the charming lady-killer, and it’s a shame we only get to hear Josh Grelle and Hiro Shimono in Episode 24 as Jeno.

The stirring orchestral Opening Theme “Akatsuki no Yona” (Yona of the Dawn) by Kunihiko Ryo (eps 1-14) is replaced by the upbeat electronic J-pop “Akatsuki no Hana”  (Flower of the Dawn) sung by Cyntia. The gentle first Ending Theme “Yoru” (Night) by vistlip is also replaced from Episode 15; “Akatsuki” (Dawn) by Akiko Shikata features a solo on the erhu, the oriental two-stringed violin whose expressive sound has come to be associated with China. (Jae-ha is seen playing the erhu in these episodes.)

This Funimation R2 release of Part 2 comes on Blu-ray and DVD with both the English dub and the original Japanese track with English subtitles. Extras include Episode 16 & 24 Audio Commentaries, Promotional Video & TV Spots, Textless Songs and Funimation Trailers.

In Summary

Yona of the Dawn is a traditional but genuinely likable, watchable fantasy quest series with – a big plus-point, these days – a self-possessed, sympathetic heroine whose adventures should appeal to viewers of all ages.

Title: Yona of the Dawn Part 2
Publisher: Funimation (via Anime Limited)
Genre: Fantasy, Adventure
Studio: Pierrot
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2015
Format: Blu-Ray and DVD (Blu-Ray version reviewed)
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 12
Running time: 300 minutes

Score: 8/10

Review of Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions – Heart Throb

“Paging Mr. Delusional. You’re wanted at the front desk.” – ‘Johnny Delusional’ by F.F.S.

Things are going perfectly normally for Yuta Togashi. Well, as normal as they can be when his delusional girlfriend has now moved into his flat.

Chunibyo Rikka Takanashi is still being her odd self: wearing her eye patch to cover the eye that has a gold contact lens in it, which she believes controls her magic powers; wearing Heelys; fighting with an umbrella; and supposedly being able to open train doors simply by thrusting her arm at them when the train arrives at the station. Rikka parents are away, hence the reason why she is currently living in Yuta’s place. He is looking after the flat while his parents are away working in Jakarta.

Most of the episodes in this second series are stand-alone stories, continuing to focus on the characters in the “Far Eastern Magical Napping Society – summer thereof”, including Rikka’s fellow long-haired chunibyo Sanae Dekomori; ex-chunibyo Shinka Nibutani, who is still desperately trying to escape her past; and the incredibly sleepy Kumin Tsuyuri.

Across the series we see Yuta date Rikka at an aquarium where she has fun with dolphins and makes several references to H. P. Lovecraft; Yuta end up having to dress as a magical girl after getting a lower test score than Rikka; Shinka attempt to run for Student Council President by successfully convincing Sanae that she was her chunibyo idol and Kumin challenge another school to a napping competition.

However, there is also a new addition thrown into the mix. Rikka gets a visit from a chunibyo from another school: someone claiming to be a “magical devil girl” called Sophia Ring SPS Saturn VII, although her real name is Satone Shichimiya. She was a friend of Yuta’s back in middle school. Indeed, it was she who inspired Yuta to become a chunibyo in the first place. After a rough start, Satone becomes friends with the rest of the gang, although Rikka is worried that Satone will take Yuta away from her and becomes jealous. As the story progresses, we realise that Satone does in fact still have some feelings for the boy she still refers to as “Hero”.

The second series still has plenty of the features that made the first one so enjoyable, the main one being comedy. There are plenty of comic moments in the show, mostly visual. These range from Shinka making Sanae gag by making her eat cheese, Yuta managing to pull off his magical girl look, and Kumin trying to get her friends ready for their competitive napping. There are also some funny scenes caused by anticipation. For example, there is the way that Shinka’s chances of becoming Student Council President are horrifically scuppered by Sanae, who thinks she is being helpful. Then there are some odder moments, such as when Yuta discovers that Rikka has spent all of her allowance in a few days meaning she has to survive on almost nothing for a month, which leads to Yuta disciplining her by spanking Rikka.

The artwork is also great, especially in the “battle” scenes in which Rikka and her friends believe they are in a fantasy world and are using gigantic weapons to duel. The visual aspects in these scenes are wonderful, giving it a true fantasy feel while also mocking it.

Satone’s appearance in the series brings a new element to the show, creating a love triangle between her, Rikka and Yuta, although deep down you know that the relationship between Rikka and Yuta is not going to falter. She is still a fun character, nevertheless, but I am saddened by the fact that Makoto Isshiki has seemingly taken a back seat in this series. Most of the series sees him getting new jobs and trying to win over Kumin, but in the end a guy falls in love with him. I must confess that the way that a gay guy is just plonked into the show for comic relief did make me feel uncomfortable – although not as uncomfortable as Isshiki, I admit.

Extras in this collection include an OVA episode, a selection of four-minute anime shorts called Chunibyo Lite!, and textless opening and closing. The Opening, “Voice” by Zaq, and the Closing, “Van!shment Th!s World” sung by the four main female voice actors under the name of Black Raison d’être, are both OK, but nothing truly exciting.

If you enjoyed the first series, then Heart Throb will not disappoint you.

Title: Review of Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions – Heart Throb
Publisher: Animatsu
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance
Studio: Kyoto Animation
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2014
Format: Blu-Ray and DVD (Blu-Ray version reviewed)
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 12
Running time: 325 minutes

Score: 8/10

Show By Rock Review

Cyan Hijirikawa has always regarded herself as nothing more than an ordinary girl in a mediocre world. She has great talent and skill at playing the guitar, but can never muster up the the courage to join her school’s light music club. However, after she decides to play her favourite rhythm game, she is suddenly sucked in and finds herself in a new world called Midi City, where music reigns supreme. Not all music is pure though, and an evil plan is in motion to engulf the whole city in darkness.

Adapted from the iOS and Android rhythm game developed by Geechs in conjunction with Sanrio, Show by Rock is a disappointing effort from the usually great studio Bones, that, whilst far from awful, is underwhelming at best, especially when compared to the studio’s prior work.  

At its heart, Show by Rock is attempting to be a music-based comedy show, and the reason I wasn’t a huge fan of it is because it isn’t particularly great at being either. Comedy, of course, is incredibly subjective, so whilst some may get a kick out of the humour here, it did absolutely nothing for me. I’m not sure I could put a fine point on what made the jokes fall flat, I’m usually quite the fan of physical comedy, which is essentially the show’s bread and butter, but I could count on one hand the amount of times I even so much as smirked, never mind laughed, throughout the 12 episodes, which is a huge sticking point in a comedy anime.

I could probably excuse the lackluster comedy if the series worked well as a pure music series, but even then it’s just plain mediocre. Take away the techno-fantasy setting, and you’ve got a paint-by-numbers plot that seems to lack any real momentum. There’s rarely anything interesting happening story-wise, as a typical episode mostly consists of the bands playing gigs or songwriting, with some melodramatic character stuff thrown in here and there. The whole fantasy element to the plot rears its head on occasion, but mostly stays in the background, as more focus is placed on the whole band thing instead, at least until the last couple of episodes. I feel that some kind of split between band show and action show might have worked better, or at least made it a little bit more interesting and fresh. This is teased a little bit in Episode 1, when we see Cyan defeat a monster with music, but this is something we don’t really see again until over halfway through. The one thing I will say is that I was never really bored at any point, and in a general sense it’s fairly entertaining, but it all just feels rather hollow, the kind of thing you’ll forget almost as soon as you’ve seen it.

As you might expect, the music itself plays a very important role and it’s yet another area that Show by Rock just fails to deliver on. Although it may be a little unfair to compare to other, much more popular shows, the only other music anime I’ve really seen are the KyoAni classic K-On and the global mega-hit Love Live! School Idol Project, which are both series I adore. Of course, there are a multitude of reasons why I love both of those, but the music is definitely part of it, with there being some genuinely great and catchy tracks that have worked their way into my regular music rotation. Even off the top of my head I could hum you some ‘Fuwa Fuwa Time’ or ‘Snow Halation’, but there’s nothing anywhere near that quality in Show by Rock. It’s all just kind of bland and none of it stands out as being something I’d really want to hear again.

One huge misstep in the music department is that Funimation decided to dub over all the music with English voice actors and it doesn’t work at all. Going back to the other shows I mentioned earlier, both of those have really good dubs, and I think part of the reason why they’re good is that they switch to the Japanese voice actors whenever there’s music. It’s fairly obvious that songs written in Japanese are probably going to sound better in the original language, but I guess the folks over at Funimation thought otherwise. Either way, the English lyrics are just plain cringe-inducing, and whilst the voice actresses are pretty good at singing, it just doesn’t sound right. I think a nice option would have been a choice between the English dub with English songs and English dub with Japanese songs, but sadly such an option is lacking.  

The choice to dub over all the songs in English, making it a less than preferable language choice, is made all the more disappointing by the fact that this actually isn’t a bad dub, music aside. Funimation pulled in some pretty great voice actors such as Caitlin Glass (Maki from Love Live!), Monica Rial (Tsubaki from Soul Eater), Alexis Tipton (Musubi from Sekirei) and Vic Mignogna (Edward from Fullmetal Alchemist) to name a few, and they’re all excellent here, with the possible exception of Monica Rial’s occasionally annoyingly high-pitched turn as Moa, so it just makes it all the more sad that the changes to the music hurts what is otherwise a very solid dub.

Despite having some issues with the insert songs performed by the bands, I thought the background soundtrack from composer Yasuharu Yakanashi was actually pretty good, being quite rock-infused, as you might expect from the show’s name. As for the OP, ‘Seishun wa Non-Stop!’,and ED, ‘Have a nice MUSIC!!’, they are both performed by the in-universe band formed by our protagonists, Plasmagica. I have mixed feelings about both because, whilst I generally can’t stand either of them in English, the Japanese versions are actually pretty enjoyable.

As well as music itself, a key element to making a great band anime comes from the band members themselves, but even then, Show by Rock’s cast is really nothing outstanding. Granted, the characters are probably the best thing about this show, perhaps barring the animation, but given I haven’t really had many nice things to say about it up to this point, that isn’t really saying a lot. The band consists of four members, Cyan, Chuchu, Moa and Retoree, and of the four, Chuchu is the only one I’d say is given any kind of depth, which comes in one of the best episodes of the series. The others are pretty fun to watch, but lack any kind of development at all, really. There are small things, such as Retoree wanting to make friends, and doing so via the band, but given she’s part of the band to begin with, and is already friends with the other band members before Cyan joins, it’s kind of moot. Then there’s Moa, who is an alien, a fact that is just about the only thing we learn about her, that genuinely adds nothing to either her character or the plot, and is never mentioned again after around the half-way point. That said, there is still some fun chemistry in the group, but everyone is just kind of forgettable.

If there is one thing I will give the series, it’s that it’s really good looking and well animated. Produced by Bones, who are responsible for hit shows such as Fullmetal Alchemist, Ouran Highschool Host Club and Soul Eater, Show by Rock is really colourful and vibrant, which is the kind of aesthetic that I tend to go for, although it might not be for everyone. An element of the art I instantly fell in love with was with Masaru Oshiro’s character designs, which are pretty unique and incredibly cute. Despite the fact that the animation is probably the strongest part of Show by Rock, even that comes with a caveat, this time being CGI. Now, for once, my complaint isn’t that the CGI looks bad, per se, in fact it’s actually quite high quality, but I don’t think it’s implemented well at all. Instead of blending the CGI with the traditional 2D animation, there are whole sequences rendered entirely in 3D, with a totally different art style to the rest of the series. It’s jarring and gives the show a pretty disjointed feeling, as it often switches back and forth from the CG to the 2D multiple times within an episode. Also, despite the quality of the CG, I actually think the character designs for the 3D sections, which feature anthropomorphic versions of the characters, are just plain ugly. 

Funimation UK’s release of Show by Rock is a no-frills affair, coming with a couple of audio commentaries and nothing more, even missing the usual clean opening and closing.  

In Summary

Whilst it can be fun sometimes, Show by Rock offers about as much depth in its story and characters as a puddle, and is largely just bland, forgettable and, ultimately, disposable.

Title: Show By Rock Season 1
Publisher: Funimation (via Anime Limited)
Genre: Music, Comedy
Studio: Bones
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: 5/10

Review of Fairy Tail, Collection 12

Warning: Review contains episode spoilers.

“Don’t watch the clock; do what it does. Keep going.” – Sam Levenson

In this collection we see the return of some horrific faces from the past and some rather unusual teamwork.

Previously, the Fairy Tail guild were under attack from a group called the Legion Platoon, a group of wizards working under the Zentopia church. The Legion, consisting of the Earth-Land versions of wizards they met in Edolas, managed to take the metal rod that Michelle had given to Lucy, which was actually the hand for a clock.

Lucy, Natsu, Gray, Erza, Happy and Wendy make their way to Lucy’s old family mansion to see if there are any clues as to why the Legion may have taken it, and ultimately find that the clues lie in an old children’s book that Lucy used to love. But while they are trying to figure everything out they are attacked again by another pair from Legion, this time a brainy Exceed named Samuel and a fighter named Dan Straight, who instantly falls in love with Lucy. Samuel gets what he needs from the book and they make their escape.

After this, Lucy concludes that the book is telling them to find the rest of the clock pieces, so the guild decides to send five different teams to find the parts: Levy, Pantherlily, Gajeel, Jet and Droy; Gray, Juvia and Lyon; Natsu, Happy, Lucy, Michelle and Romeo; Erza, Wendy, Charle and Cana; and lastly Elfman, Mira and Lisanna. Each of the teams comes across their own clock piece, but also finds a member of Legion ready to take them on. However, in Natsu’s case, they also make a terrible discovery: both Fairy Tail and Legion Platoon are being targeted by a dark guild. What is worse, it is a reformed dark guild that the Fairy Tail wizards know about all too well.

There is less to write about concerning this collection because it feels like the start/middle of a much larger arc. Most of this collection concerns the fights that each of the teams have against the Legion wizards. Later on, we learn more about what is really going on with the arrival of the dark guild, and at the end, new teams again are formed in order to defeat the dark wizards.

This does however make for at least one positive for this collection, in that we get to see the main characters relating to other characters in the show that they tend not to spend so much time with. For example, in the end one of the teams that appears is Gray and Fried; another is Bixlow and Wendy; a third sees rivals Erza and Evergreen team up. It is building up to be something interesting.

These episodes therefore are probably best seen as a light starter before the main entertainment. We’ve seen the first opening bouts of the fighting between Fairy Tail and Legion Platoon, but when the real baddies are revealed, we know we can expect to see something bigger.

Again, you have pretty much the same extras as last time, with textless opening and closing, episode commentaries and trailers. One difference is that this time there is a video commentary as well as an audio one. New theme tunes appear too, and both the opening theme, “Te no Hira” by Hero, and end theme “Yell – Kagayaku Tame no Mono” by Sa Ta Andagi make for good listening.

Title: Review of Fairy Tail, Collection 12
Publisher: Funimation (via Anime Limited)
Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy, Fantasy, Shonen
Studio: A-1 Pictures, Satelight
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2009
Format: DVD
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 12
Running time: 300 minutes

Score: 7/10

Owarimonogatari Volume One Review

Who is Ougi Oshino? That is a question that has been on the mind of almost every fan of the long running Monogatari franchise, ever since the character’s first appearance back in Monogatari Second Season. There have been a few hints and clues about her (or him?) but the identity of the character remains one of the biggest mysteries that the show has yet to solve. However, that all looks as if it’s about to change. Owarimonogatari is the seventh entry in the monstrously popular series, that starts to shed a little more light on Ougi Oshino as well as delving into the backstory of series protagonist Koyomi Araragi and the events that shaped him.

Owarimonogatari starts off with the two episode arc Ougi Formula, which sees Ougi and Araragi trapped inside a classroom by an apparition. Working together, the pair quickly deduce that the room is an oddity created by a traumatic memory from Araragi’s first year of High School, when the former class president, Sodachi Oikura, trapped him and the rest of his math class in a classroom until they found out who was responsible for leaking answers for an exam. In order to escape from the classroom, Araragi must find out who the culprit is, something he and his class failed to do two years ago.

This opening arc is a brilliant start for the series, and is a fairly unique arc as far as Monogatari is concerned. The episodes are firmly planted in the mystery genre, which is something that the franchise has rarely dabbled in before, and I think it works really well. The mystery element does a great job of reeling you in quickly and keeping you engaged throughout. My only real complaint with how the mystery is handled is that I don’t really think the viewer has a lot of time to try and figure out the mystery for themselves, or is presented with many clues to do so. I often feel part of the appeal of mystery shows is to try and figure it out yourself, however, given the limited number of episodes, I think it can be forgiven. Story aside, these two opening episodes also do a great job of showcasing the fantastic visuals of Monogatari and why they’re so important. The majority of this episode is just Ougi and Araragi talking in a classroom, with some flashbacks thrown in for good measure. In the hands of almost any other studio besides Shaft (Madoka Magica, March Comes in Like a Lion, Nisekoi) this would have been incredibly boring, yet the visuals here are unlike anything you can find outside of the series as whole, and are downright mesmerising. It’s legitimately quite hard to tear your eyes away from the screen.

Following up on Ougi Formula is Sodachi Lost, another two episode arc, which continues on from where Formula left off, with Araragi confronting Oikura, who after being wrongly accused of being the one to leak the test answers and leaving school, returns after a long period of absence. Upon reuniting for the first time since their first year in High School, Sodachi immediately starts to berate Araragi, claiming she despises him for not recognizing the origin of his happiness. After the confrontation, Araragi confides in Ougi and determines that the key to Sodachi’s hatred of him lies in a shoe locker, back in his old middle school.

Whilst the unique, mystery-centric theme that ran through the first arc is still here, it is far more downplayed this time, focusing instead on the characters, as you’d expect from your more standard Monogatari story. Despite the name of the arc being Sodachi Riddle, I think that Araragi himself comes away with the most added depth in this arc, as we see flashbacks into his past. This is something we haven’t been shown before, with pretty much all of the arcs, aside from the currently unreleased (well, in the UK anyway) Kizumonogatari, being focused on the female protagonists, so to finally witness our male protagonist getting fleshed out is fantastic. I think fans who have read the Kizumonogatari book will especially love the connection to the opening inner monologue, where Araragi says friends will ‘lessen his intensity as a human’, as we see the direct cause of that here. As well as adding depth to Araragi, these episodes deliver a better introduction to Oikura too, although she gets far more attention in the following arc.

The third and final story arc on Part 1 of Owarimonogatari is Sodachi Lost. Whilst this arc is probably my least favourite of the arcs, that doesn’t mean it’s bad at all, I just don’t really think it shines as brightly as the preceding arcs. The biggest reason for this is that the first of the three episodes feels a lot like filler. All that happens in the entire twenty minute episode is that Araragi goes to Oikura’s house from school. That’s it. In twenty minutes. This is something that could have easily been accomplished in half the time, causing the episode to drag.

However, once you get past Episode 5, the next two episodes are sublime. This is the final arc in what you could call a loose trilogy that started in Ougi Formula, and it is certainly a satisfying wrap-up. Once again we dabble in mystery territory, in a much bigger way than the previous arc, Sodachi Riddle, and this is far better executed than Ougi Formula. This time around, the main mystery of the arc is presented at the end of Episode 2, giving you time between the episodes to try and figure out the solution yourself, as well as delivers plenty of clues before the solution is ultimately given to the audience. The only real issue I have with the story is the wrap-up, which feels a little too neat. Given that we never see a certain character outside of this arc, and this takes place before a lot of the events in Second Season, it’s kind of a given that said character was going to disappear before the end, or it would have created continuity issues.

Character-wise, it’s in this arc that Oikura gets a ton of depth and development, and she is pretty much the sole focus of the arc. It’s incredibly well executed, and it turns what was initially an unlikable, mean spirited character into one that you genuinely feel for, which is a pretty great accomplishment considering Oikura herself has only been in a handful of episodes (although I’d expect nothing less from Monogatari at this point). The only real disappointment, that goes for all three arcs, is that whilst Ougi appears in all of the stories, we still don’t get too much more information on her, despite her starting to take center stage a little more. I can only assume she will play a bigger role as the franchise goes on.

Although I did touch upon it earlier, I still feel the need to stress how amazing the visuals in Owarimonogatari are. The animation is the best that it’s ever been, and is still so uniquely Shaft, while incorporating other art styles, most notably a short sequence whose designs are clearly inspired by the Powerpuff Girls. This is Ken Naito’s third outing as an art director for the franchise, and he continues to do an amazing job.

As you’d expect if you’ve seen a Monogatari anime before, the Japanese voice acting here is absolutely stellar, and it’s no exaggeration to say it’s a large part of what makes the show work as well as it does. Hiroshi Kamiya and Kaori Mizuhashi, who voice Araragi and Ougi respectively, pretty much carry the entirety of the first arc alone, and then in other arcs we hear other familiar voices such as Yui Horie, Chiwa Saito and Kana Hanazawa. Marina Inoue, who voices Sodachi, is also excellent, and a good addition to the cast. Kei Haneoka returns for the third time to score the series, and creates a pretty great and memorable, soundtrack. Across the seven episodes in Part 1, we are treated to three separate openings, one for each arc, and they are all visual treats, as well as having some pretty good songs behind them. My favourite was probably ‘mathmagics’, performed by Oikura’s voice actor, but they’re all good in their own ways. As for the ED, Sayonara no Yuke, I found it largely forgettable, and the series has seen far better EDs.

MVM’s subtitle only release is, as as usual, fairly lacking in the extras department, featuring a clean version of all the openings and the ending.

In Summary

Whilst it isn’t perfect, this first half of Owarimonogatari delivers three unique and compelling arcs and introduces a fantastic new character, as well giving Araragi some much needed fleshing-out, all whilst maintaining that wonderful Monogatari charm.

Title: Owarimonogatari Volume One
Publisher: MVM Films
Genre: Mystery, Supernatural
Studio: Shaft
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2015
Format: Blu-Ray and DVD (DVD version reviewed)
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles
Age rating: 12
Running time: 175 minutes

Score: 9/10

Review of Fairy Tail, Collection 11

Warning: this review contains episode spoilers.

“I never think about the future – it comes soon enough.” – Albert Einstein

This collection of Fairy Tail episodes is possibly the best yet, primarily because it has one of the most dramatic endings to a story arc I’ve come across.

It begins with the Fairy Tail guild having managed to defeat the dark guild Grimoire Heart, but Grimoire Heart have other problems. Zeref has appeared before their leader Hades to reveal that there was no point in their plans to revive him as he was never sealed away to begin with. Zeref then kills him, claiming that Hades has released something called “Acnologia”.

Back down on Tenrou Island, things are already pretty dramatic as Cana finally reveals to Gildarts that they are daughter and father respectively, but shortly after this they find that the whole island is under attack from the aforementioned Acnologia, which turns out to be an incredibly destructive dragon. It was this dragon that resulted in Gildarts losing an arm, a leg and some of his innards. Natsu, however, is partly glad to see the dragon, because it proves that dragons are still alive and therefore possibly Igneel is alive too. Any happiness is short-lived, though, as Acnologia proves to be so violent that no-one on the island can stop the beast – not even Makarov using his magic to make himself gigantic (and thus the same size as the dragon) can hold things off. Eventually, the only thing they can do is hold hands and cast a defensive spell to protect themselves from one final blast from Acnologia – who obliterates the entire island.

No trace of the wizards can be found. The Fairy Tail wizards are assumed to be dead. The story then moves forward seven years into the future.

By this point the Fairy Tail guild is a shadow of its former self, what with the deaths of the best wizards. Among the many changes that have happened, Macao is now acting as head of the guild, his son Romeo is now a full-up member of the guild using multi-coloured flame magic, Alzack and Bisca have got married and have a daughter named Asuka, and Reedus has slimmed down in size. They are also no longer the most powerful guild in town and are in debt to a new guild that has moved in.

However, thanks to some help from their old friends in the Blue Pegasus and Lamia Scale guilds, they learn that Tenrou Island may not have been totally destroyed after all. They take a voyage by ship where they discover that a woman has protected the island. There, they find that the old members of Fairy Tail are not only still alive, but they have not aged in the past seven years, thanks to the woman’s spell. The woman claims to be the spirit of Mavis, the guild’s founder, and vanishes after completing her task.

With the whole guild reunited, they soon take care of their rival guild and start to re-establish themselves. Lucy, though, has to come to terms with the news that just a few months ago, her father died. After dealing with some normal guild business (i.e. a few episodes of filler before the main story continues), Lucy then receives a visit from a distant crybaby relation named Michelle Lobster, who has delivered her a memento from Lucy’s father: what looks like a metal rod covered in bandages. But when Michelle drops it, some ancient writing appears on it. Lucy and Levy learn the rod is actually part of a clock face, but they have bigger problems when the guild is attacked by some wizards that look strangely familiar.

The reason why this collection of episodes is so entertaining is the drama. As far as things go, seemingly having the whole of the main cast obliterated by a dragon is a pretty big way to end the season. OK, let’s face it, we all know there was going to be some way for the characters to come back, but witnessing the guild knowing that they have finally come across something that even they know they cannot defeat and thus have to prepare for the worst makes for very gripping viewing.

It is also interesting to see just how much of Fairy Tail depends on the characters, as is evidenced by what happens to the guild once it is only left with a handful of members, especially its weaker ones. Macao does get to keep his job as guild leader when Makarov returns, but you sort-of know his effectiveness is questionable, given what has happened to the guild in the past seven years. Things may change now that the best wizards are back.

There are a few things about this collection that are somewhat questionable however, mostly concerning the way Funimation has released the episodes. For starters, given that the Tenrou Island arc is dealt with in about four episodes, you have to ask why those episodes were not put on the previous DVD collection. Surely it would have been better to have kept the arcs separate, or to put just the last one or two episodes on this collection and end the last collection on a cliffhanger, making the viewers wonder whether the wizards survived the blast from Acnologia. Funimation does keep the arcs separate across the two discs in the collection, but that means you end up with seven episodes on the first disc and only four on the second.

Mind you, the second disc does contain most of the extras. The first disc only has one episode commentary, but the second has a commentary, trailers, footage of Todd Haberkorn (the English voice of Natsu) at Otakon 2013, and the textless opening and closing music, including some new title sequences. Out of the two, the end sequence “Glitter (Starving Trancer Remix)” by Another Infinity is better than the opening, “Hajimari no Sora” by +Plus.

It is hard to tell how well the next storyline will pan out, but it is going to have to pull something big out of the bag to top what happens at the end of this one.

Title: Review of Fairy Tail, Collection 11
Publisher: Funimation (via Anime Limited)
Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy, Fantasy, Shonen
Studio: A-1 Pictures, Satelight
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2009
Format: DVD
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 12
Running time: 300 minutes

Score: 9/10

Persona 3 The Movie #1: Spring of Birth Review


Persona
is a series of video games that act as a spin-off to the Shin Megami Tensei franchise and arguably it was when Persona 3 was released that the series became a real hit. Since the huge success of the Persona 4 video game and its various spin-offs and anime adaptations, it’s no real surprise that starting in 2013 (two years following the Persona 4 anime) Persona 3 was adapted into a series of movies – the first of which I’m reviewing today.

Persona 3 The Movie 1: Spring of Birth follows the story of Makoto Yuki, who has just transferred into Gekkoukan High School. Due to a delay with the trains, our young protagonist finds himself arriving at the Iwatodai Dormitory (where he’ll be living from now on) at midnight, but with coffins lining the streets and a ghoulish green moon in sight it appears that not everything is right with the area.

Upon arriving at the dormitory, Yuki meets Yukari Takeba and Mitsuru Kirijo, who are both suspicious of how Yuki managed to make it to the dorm at this time of night. It turns out that Yuki had stumbled into a strange space known as the “dark hour” where electricians stop working and people become unconscious and appear as coffins (only those with a potential to wield creatures known as Persona can move around in this hour). During this hour monsters known as “shadows” rise out of the ground and cause havoc, something which Mitsuru and Yukari are trying to combat as part of a group known as SEES.

Knowing that Yuki might have the potential to become a member of their group, Mitsuru and Yukari start observing him for any odd activity. However, before they can come to a concrete conclusion, the dorms are attacked and Yukari is tasked with protecting Yuki while escaping. As the two are chased by a powerful shadow, Yukari fails to summon her Persona (this involves shooting yourself in the head with a special gun) and is injured by the enemy, dropping her gun in the process. Yuki picks up the gun and awakens to the power of Persona himself, calling forth a Persona known as Orpheus.

After fully realizing his power, Yuki is accepted as a member of SEES and introduced to Akihiko Sanada, another member of the team. After recruiting an additional new member in the form of Junpei Iori, the team set to work defeating shadows and working to discover what the true meaning behind them and the Dark Hour really is.

The Persona 3 game has been adapted into four movies, and with so much to adapt, it means that a lot of this first movie is restricted to set-up and bringing the whole cast together. It’s not a bad thing and we do get some good battle scenes and character interactions, but from having played the game, I believe the later movies will be more interesting than this one. That said, and again being someone who’s played the game, it’s been very interesting to see how Yuki is handled as a character.

In the Persona series of games, the protagonist never really has a personality. That’s because the games are filled with various choices for us to make and our character is simply meant to be a window for us to experience the story as we wish. In the movie this obviously wouldn’t work, but at the same time there is a fine balance between injecting a personality into Yuki and creating someone that fans of the game wouldn’t be able to recognise. Thankfully, development of Yuki has been handled well and although he’s fairly bland, he’s still progressing along with the story. His backstory is that his parents died in a car accident and because of this, he’s been shoved around from family member to family member and school to school. This has left Yuki as someone who, frankly, doesn’t care about the world, anyone in it, or even his own life. To me he’s a bit of a blank slate and lacking in personality, but, actually, as the movie progresses, I realised this wasn’t true. There are reasons that he’s so uncaring about everything (beyond the fact he doesn’t have a personality in the games) and I’m confident that he’ll continue to evolve, thanks to the input of the other characters. He’s starting to care about this team and beginning to understand the value in life itself. As the mysteries of the world unfold, so, too, will those of Makoto Yuki.

As far as characters are concerned, the rest of the cast are varied and seem interesting enough. It turns out that Yukari is also a bit of a newcomer to the group and so she, Yuki and Junpei are grouped together when fighting shadows. Yukari is quiet and lacking in confidence but she cares deeply about her teammates, and her desire to protect them often overrides how scared she is. Meanwhile Junpei is overconfident and jumps into battle without thinking and without concern for his life, but he and Yuki watch one another’s back and so more often than not they come out unharmed. The whole cast appear to have secrets for us to discover and undoubtedly they’ll come to the surface within the next couple of movies.

Persona 3 The Movie 1: Spring of Birth has been handled by studio AIC, who also handled the anime adaptation of Persona 4 The Animation and Humanity Has Declined. It has to be noted that the character designs are true to those of the original game and although they do look quite old in style (the colours and such don’t look like what you’d expect of more modern designs), for a game that was released more than 10 years ago in Japan this isn’t unexpected. Once you get over the initial introduction they slip into the art style for the movie really well and overall AIC have done a good job conveying the mystery and intrigue of the story.

The music has been handled by Shoji Meguro, who composes all the music for the Shin Megami Tensei and Persona games as well as the Persona 4 anime adaptions. Due to the fact Meguro has long worked on the series, the music for this movie fits very well with the action unfolding on screen and the tracks are memorable enough that I’ve been left really wanting to own the soundtrack for myself.

The voice actors for the movie are all returning to their roles from the game, which really helps those of us who have played the game to properly immerse ourselves in this world. My favourite actors are, firstly, Akira Ishida (Shusei Kagari in Psycho-Pass, Fyodor Dostoyevsky in Bungo Stray Dogs), who plays Yuki, because I think it’s difficult to play a role where you have to express so little emotion to begin with and then slowly trickle it in as things progress. Secondly, I also have to point out Rie Tanaka (Juana in Horizon on the Middle of Nowhere, Ren Mikihara in Full Metal Panic? Fumoffu!), who plays Mitsuru, because she does so with a real flair for the action scenes and works well as the mature upperclassman that Mitsuru is meant to be.

This release comes to the UK thanks to Anime Limited on Blu-ray in a collector’s edition format and on DVD. The collector’s edition contains the movie on both DVD and Blu-ray and comes packed with a 36-page booklet containing artwork, character profiles and so on. There are no on-disc extras and this release is Japanese audio with English subs only as no English dub for the movies exists.

Overall Persona 3 The Movie 1: Spring of Birth proves to be a good watch. The later entries will no doubt be better stand-alones due to the fact that much of this first movie is given to introducing the cast, but if you’ve played the Persona 3 game, you’ll find a lot to like here. If you’re a newcomer, then I’d advise to stick it out until at least the second movie where the plot really gets going, but even then I think there is something for everyone to like here.

Title: Persona 3: Movie #1 Spring of Birth
Publisher: Anime Limited
Genre: Fantasy, Supernatural
Studio: AIC
Type: Movie
Original vintage: 2013
Format: Blu-Ray and DVD (Blu-Ray version reviewed)
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles
Age rating: 12
Running time: 91 minutes

Score: 8/10

Review of DRAMAtical Murder

Aoba lives with his grandmother Tae and works part-time in a junk shop in the Old Residential District on Midorijima, an island divided in two. An entrepreneur, Toue Konzern, has converted the other part of the island into Platinum Jail, an exclusive luxury resort. Aoba and his AllMate AI pet dog, Ren, navigate their way through the various turf wars taking place on the island until they are both propelled into the dangerous online game ‘Rhyme’ set in a virtual world. This unleashes another personality buried deep within Aoba, ruthless and possessing a dangerous psionic power. Aoba’s peaceful life begins to crumble around him as sinister strangers seek him out and those closest to him go missing.  What lies buried in his past that is triggering these events – and how can he solve the mystery without harming those he holds most dear? But as Aoba and his friends are invited to enter the futuristic paradise of Platinum Jail, it becomes apparent that the answers to the mysteries in his past – and the other Aoba – can only be solved by walking into enemy territory and confronting Toue Konzern.

DRAMAtical Murder (2014) is based on a popular Japanese BL visual novel from Nitro+CHiRAL, the company famous (infamous?) for their adult-rated BL series like Lamento and togainu no chi. A lot of artistic talent goes into the creation of these games, with high-end character design and top-notch voice actors. Not surprisingly, they are very popular in Japan, inspiring cartloads of doujinshi and special cafe events and, inevitably cute and collectable merchandise! The manga that have come out based on these series have been less successful, and – like this anime TV series – they don’t portray anything of a sexual nature other than the occasional smooch. It’s also significant that DRAMAtical Murder was made before the recent phenomenal success of Yuuri!!! On Ice which, one hopes, along with the charming film Doukyusei (not yet available in the UK) will make it possible for more Slice of Life, character-based BL stories to be told well in anime and reach a wider audience. DRAMAtical Murder most definitely ain’t Slice of Life, placing itself firmly in the cyber science fiction category, allowing for the presence of AIs, virtual reality and altered minds.

So, yet another anime series based on a popular visual novel, only this time the male protagonist has the choice of several very different male partners. The main challenge is to gently tease the audience as our hero meets each of his potential love interests (could this be The One?) but – in the interests of creating a satisfying drama – the writers may well opt for a path that diverges from the one the viewer personally favours. This can result in a bland, unsatisfying storyline as nothing is ever properly resolved. Touken Ranbu, another recent series based on a popular otome game, almost imploded under the weight of characters that the writers felt duty-bound to introduce so as not to offend any fans by omitting a few. And when watching such a series, there’s always the nagging feeling that the creative team are writing solely for the existing game-playing fans. However, that isn’t really a problem here as the writers have produced a self-contained story that – after a few initial hitches – delivers the goods: it actually resolves the issues that it sets up at the beginning. And how many anime series do that?

Who is Aoba? Why does he suffer from immobilizing headaches and loss of memory? We get to learn more about him in his interactions with the various men he gets embroiled with in his search, ranging from his tattooed childhood friend Koujaku, through IT genius/hacker Noiz to strong, silent, bike-riding activist, Mink. All of the men he encounters have tragic back stories which lend them greater depth and interest as Aoba learns the truth about them. One of the deepest and most philosophical conversations occurs in Episode 4 with Clear, the mysterious gas-mask wearing, umbrella-carrying stranger who insists on calling him ‘Master’. In fact Aoba’s interactions with Clear deliver some of the most touching moments in the series as he comes to realize that Clear is probably not human… but would really like to be. Kudos to this series, as well, for the depiction of Tae, Aoba’s dynamic and feisty grandma, who knows more about the sinister goings-on in Platinum Jail than at first she is willing to share. We need more feisty grandmas!

When I first watched DRAMAtical Murder weekly on Crunchyroll I was rather underwhelmed, but returning to it (some early animation quality issues resolved) I was pleasantly surprised. As science fiction, it’s not very original, but the issues it explores about identity and consciousness through Aoba, Clear and Ren are compellingly and relatably done.  DRAMAtical Murder relies on a street-smart grunge to lend it some authentic street-cred, hence the different gangs like Morphine, Dry Juice and Benishigure with their tags, allegiances, tattoos and territories. Oddly enough this gives it a slightly old-fashioned feel, as if it’s trying a little too hard to combine the gritty realism of togainu no chi with a futuristic VR gamer-vibe. However, the character designs are attractive and the comic potential of the AI AllMate pets is milked (but not too much) alternating between the cute (little blue doggie Ren with his protruding red tongue) and the distinctly eccentric Beni and Tori birds belonging to Koujaku and Mink respectively.

Music is by Yuuki Hayashi (who has recently provided some fine soundtracks for My Hero Academia, Kiznaiver, Haikyu!!) and delivers here an appropriately futuristic palette of electronic sounds and tracks (synthesized and guitar) to enhance the futuristic world of Platinum Jail and Rhyme. A nice touch is the retro game music vibe that accompanies the teasing game clues Aoba receives. Nevertheless, it’s Hayashi’s understated and subtle theme for piano and strings which underscores some of the more emotional scenes that is by far the most effective.

The Opening Theme “Slip on the Pumps” (frankly not my favourite) and main Ending Theme “Bowie Knife” are by rock band GOATBED and are notable mostly for their unintentionally funny lyrics. There are also four different Ending songs for each of the other main characters: “BY MY SIDE” by Kanako Itou (Ep. 7) for Koujaku; “Felt” by Seiji Kimura (Ep. 8) for Noiz; “Lullaby Blue” by Kanako Itou (Ep. 9) for Clear and “Soul Grace” by VERTUEUX (Ep. 10) for Mink.  These play over a sequence of luminous and attractive character stills.

A US dub script by George Manley flows more colloquially than the subtitles (although with some questionable choices) and the delivery by the voice cast is way too variable in quality. Veteran VAs like Greg Ayres as Clear and Andrew Love as Mink deliver but, disappointingly, in the crucial main role of Aoba, Gabriel Regojo just hasn’t got the range or the charm that the excellent Atsushi Kisaichi brings to the role.  I’d recommend the Japanese cast every time.

The inclusion of the unaired 30 minute OVA “Data_xx_Transitory” is a bonus that will make this Animatsu set very attractive to BL fans as it includes slightly more edgy material (and is probably what earned this set the 15 certificate in the UK). My own feeling is that it doesn’t really add that much to the story as it’s a tad repetitive (and, if it’s only taking place in Aoba’s mind, suggests a rather more masochistic personality than the one we’ve been shown throughout the episodes).

The DVDs are reviewed here – but the set on sale from Manga-Animatsu is a Blu-ray/DVD combo comprising 5 discs. The only extras are Clean Opening and Endings and four trailers.

In Summary

DRAMAtical Murder works rather well as a sci-fi mystery adventure with sympathetic main characters, luminous backgrounds and an attractive, versatile soundtrack. If you’re a BL fan, however, there’s very little to get excited about as it’s all (bar the OVA) very chaste.

Title: DRAMAtical Murder
Publisher: Manga Entertainment
Genre: Science Fiction, Action, Adventure, BL
Studio: NAZ
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2014
Format: Blu-Ray and DVD (DVD version reviewed)
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 15
Running time: 300 minutes

Score: 7/10

Review of Yu-Gi-Oh! GX, Series 2

“Light thinks it travels faster than anything but it is wrong. No matter how fast light travels, it finds the darkness has always got there first, and is waiting for it.” – Terry Pratchett

It is now the second series and thus Jaden Yuki is in his second year at Duel Academy. Some old faces have gone, with Chumley having finally graduated and become a card designer for Maximillion Pegasus; some have gone on to greater things, with Dr. Crowler now the academy’s chancellor. Some new first years joining the school, with Jaden and Syrus duelling and later becoming friends with the dinosaur-loving, military-obsessed “Sergeant” Hassleberry of the Ra Yellow dorm.

Crowler and his new assistant, Vice-Chancellor Bonaparte, are constantly trying to come up with ways of boosting the academy’s profile, most of which concern getting rid of the Slifer Red dorm. This includes trying to trying to get Chazz to move back to Obelisk Blue, which he doesn’t do; and successfully getting Syrus to move up to Ra Yellow, but both he and Hassleberry decide to live in the Red Dorm.

Another supposedly new student joining is Aster Phoenix, who manages to beat Jaden in a duel and soon after leaves the island to make it big professionally, helped by his fortune-telling tutor Sartorius. Later, Aster manages to beat ex-Academy pupil Zane in a duel on TV, using a deck similar to Jaden’s. This causes Zane to go into a downward spiral, wrecking his career and forcing him to take part in shady “underground duelling”. Meanwhile, Aster revisits the academy to duel Jaden, with Aster using his own “Destiny Hero” deck to take Jaden on, and angrily stating that the reason that he duels is not for fun like Jaden, but for revenge. Aster’s father created the Destiny Hero cards, but he disappeared and the strongest card was stolen. He has spent 10 years trying to find them again. Jaden loses the duel and this is where things start to get really weird…

For starters, the loss is so shocking that Jaden ends up being unable to see his cards when  they are shown to him, meaning that he cannot duel and thus he decides to leave the island. While at sea, Jaden enters into a dream where he believes that some alien creatures called “Neo-Spacians” talk to him, which are based on a design for a card he drew as a child. These beings tell him that the universe is on the brink of destruction because the balance between light and darkness is wrong. If there is too much light it will cause devastation across the universe. The main force causing this is the “Society of Light”, whose main figurehead is Sartorius. He is told to return to the island to defeat the society, and when he wakes, he finds that he can see his cards again, including some new cards based on the creatures that he met and previously drew.

Sartorius, on the other hand, has been using his powers of divination and mind control to slowly make his presence felt on the island. When he defeats opponents in a duel, he brainwashes them to join the Society of Light. He manages to get Chazz, Alexis, Bastion and a whole other bunch of students under his control, setting up his own White Dorm. Jaden has to use his skills to stop Sartorius – a task that sees him meeting up with Yugi Mutou’s grandfather on a school trip to Domino City; teaming up with Aster when they discover the true cause of Sartorius’s behaviour; entering into a new “GX” competition with the students taking on professional duellists; and discovering that Zane’s experience on the underground circuit has corrupted him to become cruel and obsessed with nothing but victory.

Like with the first series boxset, there are still the same old problems with this collection: poor scene selection; English dub only; no subtitles; no extras; dodgy accents etc. There is less of an issue with the quality of the animation in this collection which is one of the few plus points, but this is outweighed by problems with dialogue. For starters, this collection does see Chazz describing Jaden as a “spaz” which is just wrong. It seems strange that 4Kids were willing to use what we in Britain at least would consider to be derogatory language, but it is concerned not to mention other terms it believes to be inappropriate.

The main examples of this come across in Sartorius’s fortune telling. Sartorius uses tarot cards and his duelling deck is based on tarot as well. It appears 4Kids did not want to use some of the normal tarot card names because they thought they were unsuitable, so while it is perfectly happy to refer to cards such as “The World” and “The Chariot” with no issue at all, it does feel the need to change “Death” to “The Reaper of Souls” and “The Devil” to “The Fiend”. Now, I can understand some people may not want children to know about the occult, but if that is your attitude, best not show them a series which features heavy use of the occult practice of divination

The plot might also be a bit too far-fetched for people, now that the show is introducing alien life into the mix and Jaden having to save the world. The idea of the lead being so heroic is nothing new in the Yu-Gi-Oh! franchise, but the plot of the original with the time travel story is more enjoyable than the plot in this collection.

On the more positive side, the characters are overall still enjoyable. The new characters are good, with Hassleberry being rather fun and Aster being motivated to fulfil his revenge. Meanwhile the old characters are developing nicely, with Syrus moving up to a higher class and Bastion becoming annoyed that no-one will recognise his abilities as a duellist. It is also nice to see some more of the original Yu-Gi-Oh! characters making a bigger appearance, the best one being Pegasus who gets involved in a duel between Crowler and Bonaparte.

Once again, I tried out my drink game theory again, this time on the second disc of this collection. I stuck with “Elemental Hero” and “Life Points” again, but this time my third choice was “Destiny Hero”. It started off slowly, because for most of the early episodes on this disc Jaden does little duelling of his own, but then one the episodes is a clip show and that helped boost things back up, and Aster duels later as well. Overall my score was 23 for “Elemental Hero”, 32 for “Life Points” and 15 for “Destiny Hero”, totalling 70, beating the last time I did the game by 14 utterances, totalling around three pints.

Series 2 is not as good as the first series, but it still has the odd element in it that still makes it just entertaining enough to make it watchable.

Title: Review of Yu-Gi-Oh! GX, Series 2
Publisher: Manga Entertainment
Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy, Gaming, Fantasy, Non-School
Studio: Studio Gallop
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2004
Format: DVD
Language options: English dub audio only
Age rating: 12
Running time: 1075 minutes

Score: 4/10