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 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

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

Naruto Shippuden – Box Set 27 Review

Naruto Shippuden presses onwards in the 27th two-disc “box set”, featuring episodes 336 – 348. As with any kind of long-running series, you get some chunks of episodes that are mostly wasteful filler, then sometimes you get a batch of episodes that move the main plot along and are generally really good, and thankfully that’s what you get with these discs.

The last set ended with Sasuke and his resurrected brother Itachi facing off with Kabuto, a side-villain that has been in the works since pretty much the beginning of the Naruto franchise, and the man responsible for resurrecting all the dead shinobi and having them fight the allied Ninja forces. We get a good long flashback to see just how Kabuto fell under the influence of Orochimaru and why he has started to turn himself into a facsimile of the snake-themed demon. It does a good job of letting you understand his motives, and the way in which he’s defeated is very satisfying. I’ll leave the details out, but with the resurrection ninjutsu broken, Itachi says his tearful goodbye to Sasuke, imploring him to do what was right, and the allied forces watch on and celebrate as their resurrected foes crumble and return to the afterlife.

That was just the first two or three episodes! We switch to the five Kage (top-of-the-pile ruling Ninja in each of the five major hidden ninja villages) battling legendary baddie Madara Uchiha, who reveals he rescinded the resurrection spell and is very much still around. Meanwhile Naruto, Kakashi and others confront the mysterious masked Tobi, who is unfazed by the resurrected ninja falling apart, and instead moves forward with his plan to restore the ten-tails demon and bring about the Infinite Tsukuyomi (a worldwide ninjutsu that will put everyone in a pleasant dream for all eternity). This leads to the moment we’ve all been waiting for. Naruto breaks his mask, eventually revealing the man behind it all. It’s probably not a surprise to anyone at this point in time, if you’re into the series you’ve no doubt found out already, or if you’ve been watching just through the DVDs, you’ve probably noticed which eye socket Tobi’s sharingan eye has been located in and its familiar powers, but I still won’t straight-out spoil it… even if the DVD cover does its best to do so…

The next bunch of episodes spells out how Tobi got from Point A to Point B, then to the present day. It does sometimes reek of retconning in order for something to fit, rather than “it was the plan all along”, which was previously evident when Tobi went from silly comedy character to serious lead antagonist at the drop of a hat (although that is also sort of addressed…) It works well enough that you buy it without much resistance. The last two episodes of the set are actually filler, but the kind of filler you don’t mind because they fill in a blank that doesn’t necessarily need to be filled in, but it’s fun to watch. It deals with the formation of the Akatsuki and shows how Nagato and his Paths of Pain became the front men of the villainous group while Tobi stayed in the background (and acted like a silly fool, for some reason). That, my friends, is the last time I refer to the character as Tobi! Hooray!

“Tsuki no Okisa” by Nogizaka46 is your opening song for all 13 episodes, while “Black Night Town” by Akihisa Kondo is your ending theme for Episodes 336 to 343, then it switches to “Niji” ( or “Rainbow”) by Shinkū Hollow. The extras are your normal affair, clean opening and ending, plus trailers.

Naruto Shippuden Box Set 27 then. It’s a fine example of the show when it isn’t filled with filler and focuses on the story. Plus, even better, this set barely focuses on Naruto himself, who can often suffer from overly-nice-protagonist syndrome, with the side effects of predictability and changing the hearts of the bad guys with his niceness. In fact the backstories of both Kabuto and Tobi (okay, I guess that’s the last time I call him that…) are sad and extremely dark, respectively, and are well written excuses for some of their actions over the past few years of DVD releases. I mean, I’m not saying they’re justified in what they do, but at least if you see how they ended up on their paths and understand it, it makes for more interesting villains.

If you’ve been collecting Naruto “box sets” instead of the… collected box sets, and trying to avoid certain volumes that are skippable, this is NOT one of those. It covers many key points that have ripple effects both backwards and forwards across the timeline we’ve been seeing unfold for over a decade. This is one not to miss for anyone with even a passing interest in the series.

 

Title: Naruto Shippuden Box Set 27
Publisher: Manga Entertainment
Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy
Studio: Pierrot
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2013
Format: DVD
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 12
Running time: 300 minutes

Score: 9/10

Yuri!!! On Ice wins Crunchyroll’s “Anime of the Year” Award – Angering Crunchyroll users

Yesterday Crunchyroll announced on social media that sports anime Yuri!!! On Ice won the “Anime of the Year” award in their inaugural Anime Awards, meaning that it won all the awards it was nominated for; seven of the fourteen prizes overall.

However, the victory has also resulted in angry comments from some who regularly use Crunchyroll, with people taking to their forums to complain about not just YOI winning this award, but the whole of the awards, and have accused fans of the series of rigging the poll.

When the awards were launched Crunchyroll users complained about the quality of the shortlist, saying that having four nominations in each category (apart from “Anime of the Year” which had eight) was not enough, although later during voting it was revealed that an “Other” section was created to allow any nomination.

After the rest of the awards were announced, most of the complaints were directed at the fact that Crunchyroll users thought YOI won awards it did not deserve, in particular the award for “Best Animation”, and referencing stills from the show which featured what they claimed to be poor quality animation. They also highlighted the large amount of votes cast in categories in which YOI was a nomination in comparison to those in which it wasn’t nominated, and many claimed that those such as fujoshi and people on social media sites like Tumblr were actively encouraging people to vote as many times as they could in the open poll, effectively accusing YOI fans of cheating. Others said that the timing at the end of the year meant that YOI had an unfair advantage over shows broadcast earlier in 2016 as the series was fresh in people’s memories.

However, other Crunchyroll users have also defended the awards, saying that none of the evidence the attackers have used to argue that there has been vote rigging has been conclusive, and have some have accused those of attacking the awards of just moaning that their favourite shows didn’t win.

Crunchyroll themselves have said on Twitter that: “We had very strong anti-cheating methods that gave us results in line with true audience sentiment” and that, “we had some surprisingly complex ways to fight multiple voting that worked based on multiple tests.” At the time of writing, although Crunchyroll announced YOI as the winner of the “Anime of the Year” award, they did not say how much by or where the other nominations finished. Nor has Crunchyroll said if there will be changes to the way the awards are run for next year.

A full list of the other awards can be read here.

Review of Yu-Gi-Oh! GX, Series 1

“People rarely succeed unless they have fun in what they are doing.” – Dale Carnegie

Before starting, it should be pointed out that this Yu-Gi-Oh! GX boxset has many of the same problems as the sets for the original Yu-Gi-Oh!: yes, you do get a lot of episodes (52), but you can only have them in the English dub provided by 4Kids (now 4K Media Inc.); there are no subtitles, no DVD extras, the scene selection is rubbish, some of the accents used in the show are dodgy, and if you didn’t like the voice actors in the original show then you should also know that they reuse the same actors here. GX also has problems of its own, with the animation at times being so poor it is laughable. There are some unusual translations from Japanese into English, if you find the catchphrases of the characters annoying you will be annoyed in almost every episode, and the least said about the song in the opening titles the better.

However, when it does something good, it does it well indeed, and the characters and scenario do give it some credit.

GX is set a decade after the original events of Yu-Gi-Oh!. By this time, Seto Kaiba has created his own institute, Duel Academy, to teach the best young duelists all about the “Duel Monsters” game. The series follows Jaden Yuki, who on his way to the entrance exam literally bumps into Yugi Moto (not that you see his face), who gives him a card for luck: a “Winged Kuriboh”, whose spirit Jaden is able to hear.

At the exam, he manages to pass by beating one of the teachers in a game, the ugly and pompous Dr. Crowler, who instantly dislikes him for beating him. Jaden moves in to the school, but is put into the weakest of the three student bodies, “Silfer Red”, which has the fewest resources. He shares a room with a friend he makes on the day of the exam, shy and nervous Syrus Truesdale, and gluttonous dunce Chumley Huffington who has failed to graduate twice. There are all looked after by the eccentric cat lover Prof. Banner.

At the beginning of the series, most of the stories concern Crowler trying to get Jaden expelled, often using students from his top student body, Obelisk Blue, to do his work. Among the students in this class are Chazz Princeton, who thinks all of the worst performing students should be kicked out and thus hates Jaden; Alexis Rhodes, a more kindly student who forms an interest in Jaden and whose brother Atticus is missing; and Syrus’s older brother Zane, the best duelist in the whole school. Aside from them, there is also the middle student body, Ra Yellow, whose main student is Bastion Misawa, a genius with the top grades who also became friends with Jaden at the entrance exam.

The second half of the series is the more interesting, with the plot concerning a group of villainous duelists, the “Shadow Riders” who want to get their hands on three destructive cards, the “Three Sacred Beasts”, which are kept at the Academy. The cards are locked away and can only be accessed by seven keys, which are given to Jaden, Chazz, Zane, Alexis, Bastion, Crowler and Banner. As the story progresses, they find themselves having to take part in the “Shadow Games”, and one of the people controlling the keys appears to be a traitor.

Let’s get onto the negative points first. Most of them have been covered in the first paragraph, but concerning specifically this collection there are some that stick out. For example, when it comes to the animation one scene in which Alexis walks is just done by shifting her animation cell up and across until she is off-screen. Nothing is done to realistically animate her movement. Meanwhile, the attempts to translate everything so it is understandable to American kids take some odd turns. For example, there is a scene where the characters eat rice balls, but these are translated into “stuffed pastries”. I personally have no problem with the catchphrases used in the programme, like Jaden’s “Get your game on”, although I suspect others will find them tiresome, especially with egotistical Chazz telling his fans to chant “Chazz it up” repeatedly. The opening title song though is just rubbish.

But as I said, it is not all terrible. There is plenty to like about GX and the main thing that makes it likable is the characters. Jaden is a loveable idiot; Syrus is timid but approachable; Chumley has his own artistic talents; Chazz has an ego, but is dependable when it counts; and Alexis is kind and loving. Then you have the plot itself. When I first came to it I thought that the idea of having an entire school devoted to a trading card game would be rubbish and it would be mainly about trying to plug the game, but you don’t sense that when you are watching it. Perhaps it is that if you have already seen the original Yu-Gi-Oh! you have already created a sense of expectation around it. You know that it is not going to be the most enlightening anime you have ever seen, and you know that this show would not be here if it wasn’t trying to sell you the game, but because you know this, you know that you should treat the series as a bit of fun – in the same way you would treat the game itself as a bit of fun.

As I have said before, this show is not as bad as other titles concerning trading card games, primarily because the manga came first and the game followed, rather than the series being created just to promote the game. Even the fact that GX is a sequel doesn’t make it as bad as some other series in my view.

Another thing I’ve said before, is that I think that because you know that these series have so many faults, the best way to watch it is to turn the anime into a game itself, and to watch it as a drinking game, which again I have done. This time, I watched the third disc consisting of nine episodes, and again selected three key phrases on which I would drink every time I heard them mentioned. In this case I went with “Life points” because you are always going to hear it; “Elemental Hero”, because Jaden plays with a deck consisting of these kind of cards; and “Winged Kuriboh”, the card Yugi gave Jaden. Here, I heard “Elemental Hero” 39 times, “Life points” 10 times and “Winged Kuriboh” five times, getting through around 2½ pints of beer in the process, although I know I would have got through more had I picked different phrases.

Is GX better than the original series? No, but it is fun and entertaining in its own way. Also, if you are annoyed by the fact you can’t listen to it in Japanese, there is a way to get around it: watch the series on Crunchyroll. The entire series is available to watch in original Japanese on the site.

Title: Review of Yu-Gi-Oh! GX, Series 1
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: PG
Running time: 1075 minutes

Score: 5/10

Review of One Piece, Collection 15

Episodes 349-372, may contain spoilers.

We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves.” – Buddha.

We continue the “Thriller Bark” arc where we left off, with the Straw Hats battling against all sorts of ghosts and ghouls. The crew have come to realise that Thriller Bark is not an island but the world’s biggest ship, captained by one of the Seven Warlords of the Sea: Gecko Moria, who plans to rule the sea without lifting a finger, by getting other people like Dr. Hogback to do the work for him.

Moria has the power of the Shadow-Shadow Fruit, allowing him to control his own shadow and steal those of others. Thus it was he who stole Brook’s shadow, and he has now also stolen the shadows of Luffy, Zoro and Sanji, who will also be destroyed if they come into contact with sunlight. Moria has been inserting shadows into corpses, made stronger by Hogback, in order to create a zombie army. In the case of Luffy, his shadow is put into the 900th zombie, a giant called Oars. Perhaps somewhat fortunately, the zombies still retain some memories of the original owner, so when Oars first awakens, he is too busy looking for meat and his straw hat to do any of Moria’s bidding.

The Straw Hats also have one other advantage when Brook reveals the zombie’s greatest weakness: salt. If a zombie consumes salt, the shadow will leave the body and return to its owner. Thus the Straw Hats start to look for salt in order to return the souls of their crewmates back to their bodies. Brook also reveals what his one great ambition is: to return to see his one last crewmate. As it happens, this crewmate is someone that Luffy and some of the Straw Hats are already familiar with: Laboon, the whale who kept hitting his head into Reverse Mountain back when they entered the Grand Line.

However, there are more pressing matters to deal with. Brook and Zoro duel with a samurai zombie who has Brook’s shadow; Usopp faces Perona, the controller of the ghosts that make people negative – but he has the advantage as he is already the most pessimistic person in the world; Chopper and Robin deal with Hogback and learn just how greedy he was in the past in terms of whom he loved; Nami comes out of a coma just before she ends up being married to someone she doesn’t know; and a group of friendly pirates whose shadows have also been stolen help Luffy fight against Oars by feeding him shadows – 100 of them, turning him into a nightmarish hulk.

The best bits of this collection are the ongoing battles that the various characters face. This all eventually comes down to a battle between the Straw Hats and Oars, who ends up being controlled by Moria himself. Moria is able to get inside the zombie’s body, with the torso as a kind of cockpit. Thus Oars turns into some kind of undead mecha. It is interesting to see how each of the crew is able to use their strengths to combat the creature, even if not all of them are that motivated, as evidenced in a funny sequence where Franky encourages his fellow crew members to grab onto his body as if he was a mecha – although Robin refuses because it looks stupid, annoying everyone else.

Some viewers however, might be annoyed that one of the episodes is almost entirely in flashback, and could arguably be called a clip show, when Luffy and some of the others recall the time they met Laboon. Although watching it does make you appreciate how far One Piece has developed visually: the difference in aspect ratio, the way the animation has developed and so on.

However, the really annoying point is that there are only a few episodes of the “Thriller Bark” arc left, but this collection does not complete the story. You think it would have been better to include some more episodes in these collections, but instead we have to wait for the next one to see the very end.

In terms of the contents of this collection though, there is a textless opening, episode commentaries, and interviews with English dub voice actors Christopher R. Sabat (Zoro) and Eric Vale (Sanji).

Title: One Piece, Collection 15
Publisher: Manga Entertainment
Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy, Fantasy, Shonen
Studio: Toei Animation
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 1999
Format: DVD
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 15
Running time: 563 minutes

Score: 8/10