Review of Battle Rabbits Volumes 1-3

Kokoryuu Kaguya’s high school life takes a turn for the unexpected when he’s struck by a bolt of light while waiting for a bus. Then he’s accosted by Mao-chan, a pink-haired, rabbit-eared girl who claims to be from the moon. Next minute, he’s fighting for his life against a murderous ogre that’s taken over the body of one of his fellow high-schoolers. It’s only then that Kaguya undergoes a life-changing transformation. Later, Mao explains to him that he – like her – is one of the Battle Rabbits, a force established to defend humanity from the ogres. Kaguya realizes that his father was killed by just such an ogre.

Battle Rabbits is the new manga from Yuki Amemiya and Yukino Ichihara (Ameichi), whose first major collaboration, 07-Ghost, won many admirers (including me). 07-Ghost was made into a 25-part anime TV series (still available on Crunchyroll) and ran to 17 volumes. So I had great hopes for their new series (originally published in Zero Sum, the magazine that has also brought us Loveless, Saiyuki and Karneval). However, as with Bisco Hatori’s new series, Behind the Scenes, sadly, those hopes have not been fully realized. The problem? The story is presented to the reader in full-on, ‘hit the ground running’ fashion – not a bad thing, in itself, if it can be fluidly delivered. But it’s all over the place. The concept of Battle Rabbits who come from the Moon to protect the Earth is wonderfully daft and the sight of the dashingly handsome warriors with their cute bunny ears is distinctly moe. Mao, the bunny girl Battle Rabbit who becomes Kaguya’s companion, even – annoyingly – says ‘desu’ at the end of every sentence. Are Ameichi gently sending up the whole fantasy action genre?

Volume 2 is a distinct improvement on the first. Kaguya learns more about his role as the bearer of the golden Rabi-Jewel and is put through a harsh shounen-style training by Battle Rabbits Earth Force Defense Commander Hijiri who, it seems, has been watching over him for some time. We get to see Kaguya’s difficult and painful childhood, which makes him a more sympathetic protagonist, but by the end of the volume, the golden Rabi-Jewel cracks in battle and it seems as if his life is over. Which is when he finds himself on an endless staircase (very familiar to readers of 07-Ghost) talking with a black-garbed, fair-haired man wielding a death-scythe. Yes, to all intents and purposes, it’s Frau. Is all finished for Kaguya before he’s achieved his aims, protected the earth and avenged his father?

Volume 3 brings answers – not as straightforward, of course, as Kaguya (and the struggling reader) could wish. Unfortunately, it becomes clear that neither the two mangaka nor their editors were sure which direction was right for the story and the downside of this is their failure to build up Kaguya as the viewpoint character. Too many needless digressions into other characters are annoying when the main character has not been given enough time to let us relate to him (a large part of this volume is taken up with the backstory of another battle rabbit and his little sister). This exudes a rather tired vibe, as if the mangaka were being forced by their editor to take the story in directions they hadn’t intended. A major plot twist occurs in the very last pages which seems promising after all the digressions and confusing background material piled up in the preceding pages. And more names from 07-Ghost are tantalizingly yet frustratingly dropped into the mix. I suspect that there’s a lot of foreshadowing embedded in the text but because of the clumsy way that the story is being revealed, it just adds to the confusion.

Battle Rabbits looks good; the character designs are attractive and distinctive and the action scenes are thrillingly (if sometimes confusingly) depicted. The translation by Jill Morita flows smoothly and each volume of the Seven Seas edition boasts two glossy colour images. Ameichi’s quirky sense of humour is allowed to show through sometimes with some cute chibi designs and one 4-koma strip per volume.

So why the disappointment on this reader’s part? Well, it’s difficult for any writer to follow up on a very successful title and 07-Ghost was deservedly very successful in the josei fantasy/action field, inspiring a 25-part anime series. However, 07-Ghost was set in a fantasy world with a dark, compelling and well-developed mythology/belief system and Battle Rabbits labours under the disadvantage of being set in the present day. This ought not to present problems (Harry Potter, after all, is set in the real world too) but instead of this being helpful, the story has to keep stopping to explain the many fantasy elements that intrude – and the whole warriors from the Moon set-up ends up feeling awkward and underdeveloped. There are allusions to Japanese moon mythology: the rabbits, Tsukuyomi (the Japanese moon deity), Kaguya’s name (as in the recent Ghibli film The Tale of Princess Kaguya, in which the moon princess visits the earth) but much more intriguing yet frustrating are the appearances of familiar names from 07-Ghost. Will these characters make more than a brief appearance? There’s only one more volume to go as the series was brought to an abrupt end, presumably because it didn’t do well in reader polls in Zero-Sum.

In Summary

Battle Rabbits is drawn with all Ameichi’s considerable skill and flare but the story it tells is all over the place and lacks focus. Nevertheless, if you loved 07-Ghost, you’ll definitely want to give it a try.

Title: Battle Rabbits
Publisher: Seven Seas
Genre: Fantasy, Action, Josei
Author(s): Ameichi
Type: Manga
Original vintage: 2015
Format: Book
Age rating: T 13+
Length: 180 pages

Score: 7/10

Feature: A Guide to the Odagiri Effect

AUKN Banner (Ian Wolf's Feature)

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

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

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

What is the Odagiri effect?

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

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

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

Does the Odagiri effect happen in British TV?

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

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

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

Where can you see the Odagiri effect occurring in anime?

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

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

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

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

How do fans change the way the series is seen?

This is where things seem to get really interesting.

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

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

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

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

How has the Odagiri effect changed anime?

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Odagiri effect and Yuri!!! On Ice

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is the Odagiri effect good or bad?

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

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

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

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

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

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

What does the Odagiri effect say about ourselves?

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

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

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

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

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

What can we conclude from this?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anime UK News Review of 2016 – Part 2

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

Manga

punpun

IncendiaryLemon:

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

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

Demelza:

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

Complex Age volume 1

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

Sarah:

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

battle-rabbits-1

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

10-count

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

 

 

Ian Wolf:

rg-veda-cover

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

love-stage-5

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

Digital Manga

Sarah:

vanitas

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

 

Ian Wolf:

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

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

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

Light Novels

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

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

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

Ian Wolf:

legend-galactic3

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

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

Things to Come in 2017…

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Demelza:

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

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

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

Rui:

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

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

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

Darkstorm:

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

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

IncendiaryLemon:

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

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

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

Ian Wolf:

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

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

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

Sarah: 

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

 

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

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

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UK Anime and Manga Christmas Gift Guide 2016

It’s currently [insert number found on this site] days to Christmas and you’re either in two camps; calm as a cucumber and ready for the big day whether you celebrate it or not, or stressing out because once again it’s the day everyone is pressured to give SOMETHING to someone and fulfil an unwritten Christmas law. We promise ever year we’d start sooner or worry less about spending as much money, but we never seem to learn the lesson.

But I’m here to say ‘don’t worry’; I have once again compiled a list full of ideas to fill your head and internet baskets up with. So put the kettle on, get comfy and open up those tabs as we get ready to cross off that Christmas list of yours!

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“I’m not made of money”
Gifts under £10

Just because you’re strapped for cash, doesn’t mean you can’t give the gift of anime or manga!

Many single volume manga fall safely into this: Tokyo Ghoul, The Ancient Magus’ Bride, Is It Wrong to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?, Attack on Titan, and much more. Introduce your loved one to a new series or get the latest volume they’re reading. Does a friend have a Kindle? They can purchase several manga omnibuses for a cheaper price, so why not get them a voucher?

Although TV series are hard to come by within this price bracket you can get the Bleach series in parts for cheap, if you’re unsure they want to dive right into a full set. Older, shorter series such as High School of the Dead sneak in here and can be a bloody surprise on Christmas Day. Even Supernatural: The Anime Series just makes it into this margin. But you’re more likely to find films for under a tenner; ranging from Makoto Shinkai’s Five Centimetres Per Second, to Mamoru Hosoda’s Summer Wars. Studio Ghibli’s Spirited Away just makes it in here too.

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“I suppose they were extra nice to me this year…”
Gifts £10 – £25

If you’re sold on getting them literature, omnibus manga is the way to go, especially for long-running series such as Tsubasa and Oh My Goddess! which can be a salary by themselves if you purchase them all. But there are also many other wonderful series to invest in; the collector’s editions of fan favourite Fruits Basket, the classic Astro Boy is out in bigger volumes, plus the Evangelion main series AND spin-offs have had the omnibus treatment. The murder mystery series Monster has all volumes out in the same format and vampire fans will love Dance in the Vampire Bund. In addition, you can grab some light novel collections, such as the yuri series Strawberry Panic in omnibus form, within this price bracket.

In terms of physical discs, a lot of newer series that are split into parts (television series for example) or are shorter in length can be purchased for this budget. The Devil is a Part Timer or part of Kill La Kill would make great little gifts. You can grab RWBY seasons 1 – 3 in steel book form for this price bracket, or DVD editions of Another and Elfen Lied if you happen to be buying for a horror fan.

For movies, Studio Ghibli has most of its library (including double play) within your budget but there’s also an eclectic variety of anime films from A Letter to Momo to The Empire of Corpses that shouldn’t be ignored. Got a friend who loves a nostalgia trip? The 30th Anniversary steel book edition of the original Transformers movie is the right way to go, or even the Pokemon movie collection to satisfy the 90s kid at heart.

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“I earnt it so I’m going to spend it!”
Gifts £25 – £50

Did a friend of yours go see Makoto Shinkai’s Your Name in cinemas and love it? Treat them to The Place Promised in Our Early Days/Voices of a Distant Stars twin pack. The Miss Hokusai Ultimate Edition would make a delightful surprise under the tree as well.

As for TV series, there’s loads of stunning Blu-ray collections to brighten up your friend’s faces for old and new shows. Just think how pleased they’ll be when they unwrap Chobits, the new Death Note complete collection, or Yurikuma Arashi on Christmas Day. You can’t go wrong with the new shinier collection of Cowboy Bebop as well, especially if they’re a veteran anime fan.

At the top end of the scale there’s also several limited editions to snag: Eden of the East, Assassination Classroom, Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo and Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun make it within this budget.

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“I’m making it rain!”
Gifts £50+

Got someone special who deserves the extra few pounds spent on them? Luckily in recent years the UK has been fortunate to receive special editions of many series.

The movie collection Garden of Sinners can be snagged for £60, whereas buying just one season of Fate/Stay Night UBW will set you back easily £70 if you’re going for the Blu-ray editions.

Anime Limited have lots of lovely special editions for those with the money to splash such as Aldnoah.Zero, Terror in Resonance and The Tatami Galaxy, just to name a few.

Taking another step up the price bracket is the Ultimate Blu-ray edition of Vision of Escaflowne; 760 minutes equals £100+. The full Blu-ray edition of Full Metal Panic has all 3 seasons for a similar price. If you really want to push the boat out, however, Fullmetal Alchemist fans can practically drool over the limited edition version of the 2003 classic anime, and that’s just for the bonus features written on the web page! It technically comes out on Boxing Day, but imagine how surprised they’ll be when they see this delightful set appear on their doorstep when they least expect it.

Don’t forget about manga; if single volumes or omnibus aren’t cutting it, you can grab many box sets of several long running series. Give someone a complete collection (e.g. Claymore, Death Note, Ouran High School Host Club) or the first push into a lengthier running story (Bleach, One Piece and more).

All prices are correct at the time of writing this article.
Have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from everyone at Anime UK News!

Review of Scumbag Loser

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SAITEIHEN NO OTOKO -Scumbag Loser- vols 1, 2, 3 © 2012, 2013 Mikoto Yamaguti / SQUARE ENIX CO., LTD.

“Employee of the month is a good example of how somebody can be both a winner and a loser at the same time.” – Demetri Martin

Released as a single omnibus edition, horror manga Scumbag Loser is a series that seems hard to appreciate. Maybe this is the reason why Yen have released it as one large book rather than three separate volumes, because the overall feeling reading it is that if the volumes were individually released the chances of stopping after the first volume would be much greater.

Perhaps one issue it is has is the unappealing central character, the “scumbag loser” in question. Masahiko Murai is a high school student who is pretty lower down in terms of popularity in his class. The only positive quality he seems to have is that he has a very good sense of smell, but this is outweighed by the fact that the smells he likes are usually unappealing. For example, the first thing he is seen smelling is a pair of girl’s knickers.

Murai is also obsessed with people he considers to be losers and trying to prove that is above what he calls the “biggest losers”. In his class the biggest loser is the ugly and smelly Yamada, but things then suddenly change when Yamada announces that he has a girlfriend, which in Murai’s mind means that he is now the biggest loser, something that he cannot handle. Thus, he falsely claims to have a long-distance girlfriend, and picks the name Haruka Mizusawa, a girl he knew five years ago. But then, to his horror, he finds that Haruka Mizusawa has transferred to his class – and she does indeed claim that Murai is her boyfriend, completely unprompted. The reason why Murai is filled with horror? Mizusawa died five years ago.

After school, Murai and Mizusawa meet up. Murai asks Mizusawa to actually be his girlfriend, and promises that he will do anything to keep the relationship going. Mizusawa, who appears to have a sadistic streak complete with a menacing grin, demands that from now on she wants Murai to introduce her to the “biggest losers” that he knows every Wednesday. This then begins to snowball, partly because of Mizusawa’s disturbing personality, but also because the personalities of everyone in Murai’s class, as well as those of his family, start to change dramatically.

As stated, it is a hard manga to like, primarily because the characters are relatively unappealing. The manga is called Scumbag Loser for good reason. Murai is unpleasant and unattractive, while Mizusawa is manipulative. However, as a horror manga, unpleasantness is what you should expect. The best character in my view comes later on in the story. Yumi Ookura is a wannabe pop idol who auditions for an idol group whose manager wants unappealing members. In the case of Ookura, it’s that she has no social skills. She too also becomes obsessed with Mizusawa, who also auditions for the group.

However, there are some positives to this series, the main one being the artwork. Mikoto Yamaguti’s art is suitably creepy, especially when it comes to drawing Mizusawa’s toothy grin. It kind of puts you in mind of the Titans in Attack on Titan, in that you can almost envision her eating those she torments. Plus, this smile starts to spread towards other people, making it even creepier in its sudden uniformity.

Having said this though, sometimes the artwork is not so great. The “Mature” rating of Scumbag Loser mainly comes from the violence as there is a fair amount of blood spilt in this manga. Whenever there is nudity or a sex scene, what are seen as the rudest parts (i.e. the groins and the nipples) are always obscured – sometimes in odd ways. For example, there is a scene where Mizusawa and Ookura’s idol group entertain some fans sexually, so they have their buttoned-up shirts unfastened and opened so you can see part of their breasts, but not fully so the nipples are covered. However, at some angles it feels like the shirt is covering so little that you feel that the nipples are almost on the sides of the boobs rather than on the front.

Scumbag Loser is a hard manga to get through: the length, the characters, the plot make it a bit of a slog. The artwork in some areas does make it enjoyable, but sometimes when you are reading through the book it feels that it just isn’t worth it.

Title: Scumbag Loser
Publisher: Yen Press
Genre: Horror, Psychological
Author(s): Mikoto Yamaguti
Type: Manga
Original vintage: 2012
Format: Book
Age rating: 18
Length: 600 pages

Score: 4/10

Geeks, Otaku & Weeaboos: The language and range of fandom

“Those of us who are geeks, OK, real geeks, who earned our geekhood at school through sweat and loneliness and wedgies will no long stand idly by and watch our geekly identity taken from us be people who think geekhood is nothing more than wearing cute glasses and an asymmetric fringe – particularly not when they are the very people who gave us the wedgies at school!” – John Finnemore

While I’ve been having many of the ideas for this piece for some time, the main impetus for writing this feature comes not from an anime, but from the new series of stand-up comedy show Dave Gorman: Modern Life is Goodish.

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In the first episode of the new series, starting on Dave on 8th November at 22.00, Gorman deals with the subject of guilty pleasures, fandom and why he is not a geek when loads of other people mistakenly think he is. When discussing fandom, he talks about those annoying groups of fans that seem to suck the joy out of a subject you might have an interest in, or as he calls them: “extractor fans”.

I would advise everyone to watch the episode, but for those of you living outside the UK and are unable to access the episode, here is a quick explanation. Gorman claims that “extractor fans” fall into three groups:

  • “I can’t believe you’ve never heard of…” – e.g., someone who is outraged by the fact you haven’t heard of a particular thing and then show off that they know all about it.
  • “Unless you like them as much as me, then you’re not a real fan of…” – e.g., annoying completists, which if you are an anime fan is troublesome because that also means the expense of importing expensive stuff from Japan.
  • “I don’t like them now everyone else likes them…” – e.g., people who hate anything once it becomes mainstream.

Now we in the anime community have our own group of annoying fans: “weeaboos”, or “weeb” for short. If we go by Wiktionary, their definition of weeaboo is: “A non-Japanese person (especially one of Caucasian ancestry) who is obsessed with Japan and behaves in a stereotypically Japanese manner.” For some people it is considered a useful term, pointing out when certain fans are being infuriating or ignorant, and perhaps should educate themselves more on the subject of Japan and its history. People must be aware that no country is perfect, and must acknowledge what they have done wrong as well as what they have done right. However, for other people the term “weeaboo” is a xenophobic word. To quote one of AUKN’s editors when I was drafting the article: “it tends to be rolled out to trash any fan who doesn’t display a cool dismissal of anime’s Japanese roots in certain communities, discouraging people from learning Japanese or engaging with the wider fan community across the world.”

Recently, I feel that the term “weeaboo” is now being misused, and no longer being used to describe annoying fans like many people do currently. I have seen on social media people calling anime fans “weeaboos” because they happen to like a popular anime. Anime-loving extractor fans are now calling people weeaboos because they like the most popular series around such as One Piece, Naruto and Sword Art Online.

One example I’ve found is a Tumblr post where an anonymous person says: “How can I tell if I’m a weeb?” The person responding says: “Easy. What is the first thing you think when you see this?” Then they post this picture.

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And then adds: “Thought so. Weeb.”

If this is a joke it is a rather pathetic one. What this person seems to be saying is that if you know that this hat is worn by Monkey D. Luffy, the main character in One Piece, that makes you a weeaboo and thus an annoying fan. That hat belongs to the lead character in the single most popular manga series ever made. Loads of people are going to recognise it because it is such a famous show. It is like accusing people of being annoying fans of all things American because they recognise a large stack of blue hair belongs to Marge Simpson, or you are annoying Anglophile because you know who says: “Don’t tell them Pike!” Knowing who wears that hat doesn’t make you a weeaboo – it means you have a basic working knowledge of anime and manga.

Mind you, it should be acknowledged that the snobbery can be reversed. If you are only into mainstream shows and think people who are into niche anime are being pretentious, then you are just as annoying the people who are only into the obscure stuff and shun the popular.

It saddens me to see such a term being misused, but at the same time I know that this sort of thing is inevitable. Language is constantly evolving. Words change and gain new meanings. Take the word “gay”. It used to mean “happy”, then it meant “homosexual”, and now some people use it to mean “rubbish” or “uncool”. Similarly the word “geek” had a very different meaning. A geek was originally a performer at a freak show – normally someone who bit the heads off live chickens.

The problem comes down to how you define something or someone as being geeky, something which again is dealt by Gorman. As he says, if you have seen Star Trek, that doesn’t make you a geek, because Star Trek is such an incredibly popular programme, but, “If you go to Star Trek conventions and speak Klingon”, that makes you a Star Trek geek.

Another term that has problems when defined is “otaku”. In the west, we use it to mean an anime fan, but in Japan the term is used to mean someone who is obsessive, and it doesn’t just refer to anime or manga. You can be an otaku about any subject. The term is also an insult, popularised by Akio Nakamori who is famous for his deeply-critical views on pop culture and people attending conventions. Later Tsutomu Miyazaki, dubbed the “Otaku Murderer” by the Japanese media, who would go on to make the term even more negative. Given this, “otaku” seems less of a synonym for “fan” or “geek”, and closer to our British term “anorak” in its negativity.

In terms of a solid definition, I would recommend this piece from Tofugu, dealing with the term’s origins, controversy and meaning. Here, they claim that otaku focus on the following:

  • Sharing information.
  • Possessing their passion – examining it in every detail.
  • Going further by creating their own works: costumes, fiction, art, etc.

The article also differentiates between an “otaku” and a “maniac”. The latter are “spectators in their obsession” and want to collect things, whereas the former, an otaku, combines both the physical and the intangible. They want the action-figure and to learn more about the series in question. They want the homemade, derivative products too. As a result, I would say a “maniac” is closer in definition to “anorak” than “otaku” is. After all, you don’t tend to hear about train-spotters making their own creative projects. The only example I can think of is the co-creator of the British adult comic book Viz Chris Donald who collects full-size train stations, one of which he turned into the world’s most geographically remote restaurant.

Having examined all these terms, I think it is possible to try to define and rank fandom terms more accurately. Thus I present…

The Wolf Scale of Fandom

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On this scale – which let’s be honest I have named after myself mainly as a way of inflating my own ego – the higher your rank, the more obsessed you are with your subject and normally the more weird you appear to be to those outside the fandom. As this is brand new, it won’t be perfect, so I would encourage debate to improve the scale in any way possible.

I would also argue that the following scale can by used on any form of fandom. This is not just applied to subjects normally considered geeky like comic books or anime, but anything. A sports fan who has an obsessive knowledge of their favourite team is just as passionate as someone who is into sci-fi. You can be an otaku about western comics as much as an otaku on manga.

-1 or 0 Hater or Disinterested

People in this rank either dislike or have no interest in the subject in question. Thus, there is little to say about this rank.

1 – Fan

The entry level. This, going back to Gorman, includes people who have watched a particular show and like it, but don’t feel the need to go beyond any level of deeper devotion. For example, the Star Trek fan Gorman refers to in his programme. No-one generally thinks of fans as being weird.

2 – Geek

This is where things start to get interesting. How do we define a geek? There are many ways, but having started this feature by talking about one comedy show, I would like to reference another one. My preferred definition of geek is taken from this sketch from BBC Radio 4’s John Finnemore’s Souvenir Programme.

Thus the central elements of being a geek should be:

  1. You should, “know loads and loads and loads about it”.
  2. You should be, “a bit weird about it.”
  3. You can’t like it all.

Going by this definition, a “geek” is mostly concerned with knowledge. A geek should we willing to put the hours into their subject, to the point those outside the fandom think that you becoming a bit too obsessed. However, this is not proper obsession yet. You also need to have your own opinions. If you just like everything in your fandom then you have not been looking hard enough. I know there are certain anime and manga that I don’t like. To give one example, Cardfight!! Vanguard, which in my view is way too commercial in comparison to Yu-Gi-Oh!, which at least began as a manga before the trading card game version took off.

However, it is easy in your hatred to stray into extractor fan/weeaboo territory. You need to have a valid reason for hating something, and if you become involved in an argument with some you should not resort to any form of snobbery. We need civilised debate. People are not going to get anywhere if people suddenly accuse you of being a weeaboo because you happen to favour dubs over subs. In fact, I suspect that if you call someone else a weeaboo, then it is you yourself that are the weeaboo.

3 – Nerd

Here we start to see more practical applications being used. If the “geek” ranking is mainly concerned with knowledge, it is the “nerd” that starts putting that knowledge to some kind of use.

Think of the classic computer nerd. Here they have taken their knowledge of computers and use it to improve the design and functionality of the next generation of computers, gadgets and so on. To use an analogy, the nerds are like the people who work backstage on a film, TV show or play. They are the people who make the stars look good, getting the action caught on camera, perfecting the lighting and sound and so on.

The end result is a product that people want. At the same time, they tend to shun the limelight. They are too busy working on the next big thing to concern themselves with other projects. This therefore makes them weirder than geeks in my opinion, because a nerd will probably be too busy working to go out and have a normal social life. They would either be too busy making something or learning something new.

This is also what separates the nerds from otaku. Otaku spend their time sharing information. The nerd is alone, busy working on their projects. They are misers of knowledge, reluctant to share what they know if others unless it is worth their while. Think a nerd will share what they know if you for free? Bah humbug! Give them an incentive like a job in which they might earn money from their nerdiness and then they may progress.

4 – Anorak

If the thing that moves you up to “nerd” is the practicality, then the thing that moves you up to “anorak” is the weirdness.

For those living outside the UK, an “anorak” is normally defined as someone who obsessed with their hobbies and often being boring to those not part of their fandom. The term is most associated with train-spotters, wearing unfashionable waterproof anoraks while indulging their passion.

The key thing that moves you from “nerd” to “anorak” is you yourself moving. If the nerdy Scrooge is trapped inside with all of his knowledge, then the anorak is the newly reformed Scrooge who is willing to be friendlier after his spiritual visitation. The anorak moves away from their work and takes it elsewhere, making it public, often to the derision of passers-by. If the train-spotter is proud to wear their anorak and be humiliated, then the cosplayer should be proud of their outfit as they walk down the street, as well as the sports fan who’s painted their body in their team’s colours when going to an away-game.

In fact, not only should the reaction be one of weirdness, but possibly one of hostility. If you know that you are angering people then that probably means you are doing something right. The anorak should expect to be insulted. They should walk towards the gunfire, but they should also be ready to fight back. They know how to ignore the haters, or even better are able to come up with a way of fighting back.

5 – Otaku

As mentioned before when talking about Tofugu’s article, an “anorak” is close to a “maniac”. To reach “otaku” they not only must be collecting information, but also to be making their own stuff.

The otaku takes their passion, and with their expert knowledge change it into something they want, and then they share it with others. They share their ideas, art, stories and more. The otaku becomes a figurehead of the community, respected by others around. Not necessarily liked, as an otaku can be a divisive figure and it is only right that geeks may not like said otaku, but a figure that people know about and at least have an opinion on.

6 – Otaking

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This last rank is purely hypothetical as there is currently no otaking.

This term comes from the anime Otaku no Video. For those who haven’t seen it, the central character, Kubo Takeshi, becomes an otaku and his obsessions take over his life. He eventually becomes annoyed by people’s prejudices towards otaku and thus decides to overturn them by becoming the greatest otaku of all, the “otaking”, which he does by setting up a garage kit business which slowly becomes a multi-million yen company. His ultimate plan is to set up an otaku-themed amusement park where otaku all around the world can indulge in their passions without fear, and thus slowly make everyone in the whole world otaku.

While this anime may be a flattering portrayal of otaku, it is mixed with a live-action mock documentary called Portrait of an Otaku which shows otaku in a negative light, and thus production company Gainax got criticism from the otaku community when it was released in the early 1990s.

The “otaking” (if you prefer “otaqueen” or some other gender neutral term, I’m not fussy) is thus a lone position. There can only be one. The otaking must be able to turn the public to their side and join them. In effect, the otaking is a world dictator, with the masses all joining in with that otaking’s passion, whether it be manga, sci-fi, sport or whatever.

Thus, the person who is closest to the rank of otaking is the one with the largest following of any sort. Therefore, in terms of who is the closest to becoming the otaking at the moment, to once again reference Dave Gorman from an earlier episode of Modern Life is Goodish: “I’m gonna go… with the Pope.” The Catholic Church currently has 1.27 billion members, so currently Pope Francis probably has the largest loyal following. You could also argue that the president of China, currently Xi Jinping is even closer as the country has a population of 1.33 billion, but membership of the Communist Party of China is just shy of 89 million, so it is probably safe to assume his following is less committed. You might even consider the General-Secretary of the United Nations for the role as so many countries are members of the UN, but again there is the question of actual support for the person in the role, which at the time of writing is currently in transition.

This then raises the question of where I would consider myself in the ranking. Obviously I’m being subjective, but I personally think than when it comes to anime and manga I’m somewhere between “anorak” and “otaku”. There are certain bits of knowledge I am still lacking in, such as not speaking Japanese. I’ve never even visited Japan at the time of writing. However, I believe my writing does help count towards the area of making my own works. I certainly suspect I will become more humiliated and hated when this article goes out.

To conclude, I would like to thank all the writers who I have used as sources and in particular Dave Gorman, who just for clarification is not a geek – well, he admits he could be a geek geek, but hopefully you know what I mean.

Dave Gorman: Modern Life is Goodish is on the TV channel Dave, and airs at 22.00 on Tuesday nights. The previous three series can be watched in the UK on UKTV Play.

John Finnemore’s Souvenir Programme is available to download or by on CD. The first five series are available now, with a sixth series to begin on 27th December. Episodes are often repeated on BBC Radio 4 and 4 Extra.

Otaku no Video is available on a region free DVD and Blu-Ray from US distributor AnimEigo.

Manga review: Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid, Volume 1

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Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid Vol. 1 © coolkyousinnjya 2013

Everyone who has ever gotten drunk has probably done something they have come to regret, whether it’s making drunk texts to ex-loved ones, or accidentally buying a load of stuff online while inebriated. But these pale somewhat in comparison to inviting a dragon to come and live with you.

Miss Kobayashi is a low level systems engineer and closet otaku who, one drunken night, went up a mountain and met a dragon called Tohru, who had been attacked with a sword. Kobayashi helped the dragon and the two got talking. During the conversation, Kobayashi suggested that Tohru should stay in her flat, an offer which Tohru accepted. Now Kobayashi has to put up with co-habiting with a legendary monster in her home, but to make things easier for her Tohru adopts a human guise and decides to work for Kobayashi as her maid, although she can’t hide her dragon horns.

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Tohru has some talents. She is able to get Kobayashi to work incredibly quickly, although her hard skin makes the ride uncomfortable. If the laundry is taking too long to dry because it is overcast, a quick burst of flame towards the clouds will make a hole big enough to let the sun shine through. Tohru also has some problems though. She distrusts other humans such as Kobayashi’s work college and fellow otaku Makoto Takiya, and her cooking is terrible.

There is also the problem that soon other dragons start visiting Kobayashi. There is Kanna Kamui, ejected from the dragon realm for playing a prank; Fafnir, whose attitude to humans appears to be summed up with the word “kill”; and the oddly dressed and buxom Quetzalcoatl.

miss-kobayashis-dragon-maid-2While this title comes from the same publisher as How to Build a Dungeon, this manga is much more family-orientated. However, you still get the feeling that perhaps the “all ages” rating is not quite true. There is a brief scene where Tohru is naked, and at the beginning of the volume Tohru claims she likes Kobayashi “sexually”. Apart from those instances however, Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is pretty much suitable for all. Perhaps it is best to think of it as “PG” rather than “U”.

The main characters are what make the series work. Kobayashi has to put up with the stress of keeping Tohru and later Kanna in check, but is also free to loosen up and suddenly start debating with Makoto about the differences between Lolita fashion and maid outfits. Tohru meanwhile has so many different comic elements: trying to adjust to the human world, her love of Kobayashi, her jealous feelings toward Makoto, and then there is just her doing what to her is normal, but what Kobayashi and for that matter any human would think is bizarre – like play-fighting with Kanna, which involves a potentially massively destructive battle.

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It is certainly a jolly title and it already has built a fan base. There is currently an anime adaptation of the series in the works, so watch out for more.

Title: Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid, Volume 1
Publisher: Seven Seas
Genre: Comedy, Fantasy, Yuri
Author(s): Coolkyoushinja
Type: Manga
Original vintage: 2013
Format: Book
Age rating: All ages
Length: 150 pages

Score: 7/10

Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D’s Season One Review

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When most people think about Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D’s, the first image that pops into their mind may be a bright red Duel Runner with its impossibly spiky-haired rider because, after all, a lot of people simply laughed, shrugged and dismissed this series based on four words: “card games on motorcycles”. However, you shouldn’t judge a card until you’ve seen its effect and the same rings true with Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D’s.

The third television anime series based on Konami’s best-selling trading card game, Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D’s opens up with an introduction to “Satellite”, a run-down slum just a stone’s throw away from the luxurious metropolis of New Domino City. The two share a complicated co-dependence with each other, despite travel being prohibited and the clear class divide, with Satellite residents likened to vermin. Residing in an abandoned subway station with his friends, Yusei Fudo is unlike the peppy protagonists of Yu-Gi-Oh!‘s past in that he’s a stoic young man with one thing on his mind – revenge. Hailed as New Domino City’s “Master of Faster”, duelling champion Jack Atlas enjoys a celebrity lifestyle achieved through betrayal and now, Yusei wants to regain what he lost.

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Now, before we go any further, there is one important rule to remember when watching Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D’s – don’t just suspend your disbelief, but leave it at the door. There’s no point asking why a children’s card game has a place in law enforcement, is outlawed amongst poorer residents or is important enough to resolve world-ending crises – it just is. There’s no denying that the series is a glorified advert for trading cards, but we just have to embrace it and enjoy the ride.

Manga Entertainment’s first Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D’s release contains a whopping 64 episodes spread across two major story arcs – the “Fortune Cup” tournament that serves to summon all our key players to the field together for the first time, as well as their battle against the villainous “Dark Signers” and their world-ending scheme.

This time is well-spent progressing the characters at a natural pace, with long-standing disputes being resolved, allegiances changing and individuals not only questioning their place in the world – but finding it too. The result is a largely likeable cast with believable story arcs that go far beyond the expectations of children’s television, with the most striking example perhaps being Akiza Izinski.

Possessing the ability to bring Duel Monsters and the damage they deal to life shrouded Akiza in a cloud of fear, with many labelling her a “witch” and driving her to seclusion behind the mask of the “Black Rose” – a chilling persona that takes sadistic glee in punishing those who would ridicule her. Although introduced as an antagonistic figure, over the course the season we learn of the scared flower behind the thorns and bear witness to the struggle with a cult she was led to call “home”. Akiza was easily the highlight of the series for me; her duels were often just as much a psychological battle as a trading card one and the instances where her psychic powers ran wild were some of the most atmospheric and visually striking of the series; the chaotic ecstasy on her face was incredible and her more sombre, reflective moments were the most emotional.

When combined with the series’ slow pacing however, this overexposure can quickly become a double-edged sword. Leo’s hyperactive and overenthusiastic attitude may be the norm for a young boy and bearable in small doses, but when a whole four episodes are dedicated to his duel and his sister’s frankly cringe-worthy escapades in the Duel Monsters’ Spirit World (talking monkeys are involved), it can start to feel like a chore. In general, duels are occasionally stretched beyond their natural length by periods of excessive monologuing with few cards being played and repetition of flashbacks.

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Especially when taking the series’s age into consideration, I was impressed with the quality of both its 2D and CG animation. The addition of Turbo Duels (yes, the “card games on motorcycles”) adds a much-needed visual flare to duels, providing a more kinetic experience than just watching two people stand opposite each other (although those kind of duels still happen).

A few shots in the first season did look noticeably off-model and some CG movements were occasionally clunky, such as one scene when Jack Atlas effectively flops off his bike. The majority of the errors, however, were a result of 4Kids’ adaptation. On at least one occasion, the Japanese image of a card was replaced with an entirely different one, showing a Junk Synchron on Carly’s duel disk, despite the card being a signature of Yusei’s. There were a number of verbal snafus as well, with spell cards misidentified as traps on occasion and vice versa, as well as a surprising amount of misidentified monsters towards the end of the collection; which is especially unusual given that Junk Warrior has been used frequently since the very first episode.

As part of 4Kids’ now-notorious localisation process, it is to be expected that certain aspects will be toned down to match the target audience’s perceived sensitivities, but some of the edits here are borderline farcical. An example of this is when Yusei is injured following a duel and is carried away for immediate medical attention. Despite the obvious urgency from the rest of the cast, as well as visuals depicting bloodstains following his transportation and invasive surgery, the doctor performing the procedure is given lines diagnosing internal bruising! Now, I can totally get behind a world with soul-devouring trading cards, but life-threatening operations to treat internal bruising? Please.

Although the casting and vocal performances of the English cast leave nothing to complain about, the script’s over-reliance on quips can not only be annoying, but get in the way of characterisation. For example, whenever Crow duels with his Blackwing deck, you can bet that both he and his opponent will throw out any bird-related joke the writers can think of – which isn’t many, considering how many times I heard phrases like “birds of a feather”. I also wonder if one of the writers recently purchased a puppy when localising the earlier episodes and was just really excited about it, considering the number of random jokes about dogs that just felt out of place.

Ultimately, it would be foolish to simply dismiss Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D’s as a hollow product tie-in, because behind the trading cards lies an entertaining and heartfelt story that confidently speeds ahead of the series’ that came before it.

Title: Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's Season One
Publisher: Manga Entertainment
Genre: Shonen, Card Game
Studio: Gallop
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2008
Format: DVD
Language options: English dub audio only
Age rating: PG
Running time: 1536 minutes

Score: 8/10

Haikyu!! Volume 3

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This is the third month in a row that I’ve gotten to review the
Haikyu!! manga for the site and I’m still loving every second! Volume 3 features some notable changes to the Karasuno team but these are for the better. With the third season of the anime due to begin at the start of October this is the perfect time for some volleyball fun and I’m happy to say that the Haikyu!! manga hasn’t disappointed me yet!

Volume 3 kicks things off by introducing a new character, Yu Nishinoya, who is a second year student at Karasuno High. Usually Nishinoya plays the role of libero in the volleyball team but he’s been absent due to being suspended from school for a week (which explains why we haven’t met him yet). Nishinoya is short, which gives him a lot of movability for the role he plays and leads to great joy for Hinata when he discovers he’s an inch taller! Having Nishinoya back surely means great things for the Karasuno team, but the situation isn’t quite that simple. Karasino’s libero declares that he won’t be rejoining the club if the team’s ace won’t return too!

The ace is a position held by Asahi Azumane (another new character being introduced this volume), who left the team after an extremely difficult match that Karasuno faced before Hinata and the other first years joined. The job of the ace is to break through the opposing team’s wall of blockers and score points wherever possible, but during the match in question every move Asahi made was completely shot down. Ultimately Karasuno lost the match, which Asahi feels is all his fault rather than that of the whole team and leads him to believe that the team would be better off without him.

While Nishinoya is stubborn and refuses to officially rejoin the team, he does practise alongside Hinata, who regards him as a ‘senpai’. When Hinata and Kageyama learn about the situation with Asahi they go to introduce themselves and try to convince him to rejoin the team, which eventually leads to a passionate speech from Hinata that triggers something in Asahi’s heart. Will it be enough to bring him back to the team?

This volume also introduces a potential coach for the team in the form of Keishin Ukai, who used to play for the Karasuno team while he attended the school. He’s also the grandson of the previous coach Ukai, who was famous for his brutal practises but produced a brilliant team in his time. At first Keishin isn’t interested in the role and flat-out refuses each time club advisor Takeda asks him to consider the job. However, after hearing that Karasuno will be holding a practise game with the previous coach’s old rivals, Nekoma High, he finally gives in and agrees to take a look at the team.

While this volume is packed full of new character introductions, it still finds time for some volleyball as well as more development for Hinata. After learning about the responsibilities and fame associated with being an ace, Hinata begins wishing he could be an ace as he reckons that his current role, a decoy, is extremely boring. Some harsh yet encouraging words from Kageyama hit home and convince him that, despite not having the flashiest title, he can be the very best (like no one ever was) when paired with Kageyama.

I think it’s safe to say that Haikyu!! is still a very strong shonen series. The characters introduced in this volume are all genuinely likable and have their own story to tell, as well as a reason to be on the Karasuno team. Placing the focus on Nishinoya, Asahi, and Hinata does mean that we don’t see much of the other cast, and Tanaka is notably absent for most of the volume except for the odd panel, but what’s important is that I wasn’t left feeling like it mattered. A story about a sports team is always going to have noticeable absences; it’s just common sense that a weekly series won’t feature the entire cast all of the time. However, the characters in Haikyu!! are all so interesting that even if we lose some of them for a volume, I’m just as happy with those being focused on, and mangaka Haruichi Furudate has a knack for making everything just work.

On the whole this is yet another volume that has been beautifully handled where artwork is concerned. The characters’ eyes especially are very captivating, which is interesting because the way Furudate draws eyes is very simple: they’re just ovals with pupils, highlights, and pencil lines from side to side. Furudate is so skilled at conveying such deep and powerful emotion from these simple designs that it’s breathtaking, and I really admire how much skill this must take to pull off. In the back of the volume there is a four-paged short story that is drawn completely in pencil sketches rather than being inked over, and I have to say that even for a rough extra it looks wonderful.

Character designs for this volume are also very nice because while Nishinoya, with his blond streak and very pointy hair, looks like he belongs in a shonen manga, we also have Asahi, who is more of the gentle giant of the series. While his design doesn’t exactly stand out, he’s still rather unique in appearance. There are a couple of off-model shots when characters are in the background of smaller panels, but considering the fact that this is a weekly series in Japan it’s not too unusual and I certainly wasn’t bothered by it.

Overall Haikyu!! continues to be a fantastic read and with the third season of the anime on the horizon it’s a nice way of keeping my excitement for the series intact. I don’t think I’ll ever fall out of love with Haikyu!!, but these monthly releases are making sure I definitely won’t.

Title: Haikyu!!
Publisher: Viz Media
Genre: Comedy, Drama, School, Shonen
Author(s): Haruichi Furudate
Type: Manga
Original vintage: 2012
Format: Book (digital edition available)
Age rating: Teen
Length: 192 pages

Score: 8/10

Immortal Hounds Volume 1

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In an alternate reality Earth, humans cannot be killed. Even if they are shot in head or stabbed in the heart, they will instantly revive in perfect health. However, a disease is spreading, RDS, or  Resurrection Deficiency Syndrome, that prevents humans from coming back when killed. After his sister dies as a result of RDS, Kenzaki Shinichi is put in charge of the Anti-Vector Task Force, a special group of investigators who hunt Vectors, humans who carry the fatal disease. Opposing the task force is a mysterious organisation who protect the Vectors at all costs, with people known as Escape Artists rescuing and protecting the Vectors. Despite this, Kenzaki is determined to put a stop to RDS once and for all and discover the secrets behind the shadowy organisation that opposes his team.  

If you’re looking for a manga series with buckets of blood and gore, you can’t go wrong with Ryo Yasohachi’s seinen action splatterfest Immortal Hounds. The idea behind Immortal Hounds – that everyone can instantly come back to life in an instant – is genuinely quite genius for a manga all about trying to be as violent and gory as possible, and it takes great advantage of its concept. Kenzaki and his team of investigators are killed and mutilated in a bunch of different and increasingly violent ways throughout the first volume and the sheer amount and intensity of the action here is incredibly over-the-top and very enjoyable, if you can stomach that kind of thing.

Whilst Immortal Hounds’ insane violence is certainly the element of this first volume that I enjoyed the most, the story is more than just an excuse for mindless violence and is an intriguing start to a larger story. The premise alone was engaging enough to keep me invested but these initial chapters set up plenty of plot threads that left me wanting to know what happens next. Despite the story being quite straight-faced and taking itself pretty seriously, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the comedic in-universe public service announcements that pop up in-between some of the chapters. Not only are these shorts darkly hilarious, poking fun at real life PSAs, they also help to flesh out the universe by having the characters explain how RDS works and how people with the disease are treated. This makes the universe feel much more believable whilst also delivering some surprisingly good laughs.

When it comes to the characters, there isn’t really much to talk about, at least in this first volume. We do find out a little bit about Kenzaki and Rin, but there isn’t really a whole lot to them at the moment, although the ending of Volume One certainly leaves them in a good place for future development.  

Considering artist and author Ryo Yasohachi has never done an action manga before, with his only other notable work being the sci-fi/romance Uwagaki, Immortal Hounds is actually quite the impressive looking manga. It’s nothing particularly unique, but the action and gore look great. If I did have one complaint, it’s that I found it occasionally hard to follow in the more hectic scenes, but it was never really a huge issue.

In Summary

With delightful amounts of over-the-top gore and violence and an interesting premise, the first volume of Immortal Hounds provides a promising start to what could be a great splatter series.

Title: Immortal Hounds Volume 1
Publisher: Vertical Comics
Genre: Action, Seinen, Supernatural
Author(s): Ryo Yasohachi
Type: Manga
Original vintage: 2013
Format: Book
Age rating: 16+
Length: 204 pages

Score: 7/10