Snow White with the Red Hair Part 1 Review


If you’re someone who’s read many of my
Anime UK News reviews, you’ll know that I’m a real fan of any work adapted or created by Studio BONES. Lately there was one notable series of theirs that I didn’t watch while it aired: Snow White with the Red Hair. After hearing good things from one of my co-writers, Joshawott, I decided that I had to give the show a chance when it came up for review. Here’s what I thought of the first half of the series.

The story of Snow White with the Red Hair follows the tale of Shirayuki, a young girl with beautiful red hair who lives in the kingdom of Tanbarun where she works as a skilled herbalist. Because of her rare hair colour, she attracts the attention of Raji Shenazard, the prince of Tanbarun. The prince desires to make Shirayuki his mistress, but rather than obey his command, Shirayuki decides to run away. In doing so, she encounters a young man known as Zen and his two companions, Mitsuhide Lowen and Kiki Seiran, but it’s not long before Raji catches up to Shirayuki and manages to poison Zen! With no choice but for Shirayuki to face Raji to obtain an antidote, just what will become of our heroine?


Well, as it turns out, quite a lot will become of her! It’s soon revealed that Zen is actually the second prince of the neighbouring country, Clarines,  and he uses his influence to help rescue Shirayuki from her situation. Afterwards Shirayuki decides to move to Clarines and begins working hard to pass the court herbalist exam (which will allow her to serve the castle) while also remaining close friends with Zen. However, it appears that love may be in the air between these two…


It has to be said that the story of Snow White with the Red Hair is fairly simple. It’s a shojo series, therefore a love story, and it’s happy to bubble along slowly as the two main characters get closer to one another. That being said, while the plot is simple, I don’t find it badly done, which is mostly down to the fact that the characters are well written.

Shirayuki often finds herself in trouble due to her unusual red hair and her friendship with the prince, but she’s by no means a damsel in distress. The nice thing about Shirayuki is that she’s a very confident person, and although she has limitations in strength due to being a woman (for example, at one point early in the series she is kidnapped and struggles to overpower her male captor) it just leaves her feeling very human. She’s always trying her best to improve herself and isn’t happy to just sit around and be saved by Zen; she wants to be his strength and actually have something to show for herself.

That’s not to say the show is flawless. Despite the characters being well written, Shirayuki is the only one who feels original to me. The rest of the cast seem generic. If you break Shirayuki down far enough then she’s certainly made up of many typical personality traits but that would take dissecting her character under a magnifying glass to really notice. Characters like Zen and his guards, Mitsuhide and Kiki, feel like cutouts of how we’d all imagine a Prince Charming and his supporters to act. There is nothing wrong with this as on the whole I did like Zen, Mitsuhide, and Kiki, but if you’re coming here looking for a vastly different love interest, then I’m sorry to disappoint you. That said, I do like Zen’s third aide, Obi, who was originally being used to scare Shirayuki out of the castle but becomes a silly goofball character once he’s taken in hand by Zen.

I think Snow White with the Red Hair is a safe shojo story. It’s not attempting to be groundbreaking or tell a wholly new story, it’s just trying to be good – and I really do think it satisfies that condition. I like love stories. I’m usually busily reviewing action/fantasy series like Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls In A Dungeon? but I have a real soft spot for a good shojo series, too. Being a shojo anime fan living in the UK doesn’t offer that great of a deal of selection for these titles (Say I Love You UK anime release when?) and often those that do get released aren’t that good. I think that’s why the release of Snow White with the Red Hair is so important to me because not only is it a series handled by BONES, it’s a genuinely strong entry for the shojo genre.

Speaking of BONES, I’m happy to report that they’ve done some very good work here. Character designs, backgrounds, and the overall standard of animation is very smooth. It walks the studio’s usual line of being anime but with a slightly western influence without losing the charm of being a Japanese piece of work. The colours are bright and vibrant throughout but the studio are also happy to use a darker selection of shades for the more gritty sequences (such as when Shirayuki is kidnapped) and that’s something I really respect them for. BONES have a good eye for colour and how to make it really fit the mood. I’d also like to spend a moment pointing out how much I love the way the studio artists depict exaggerated character expressions, as they’re always a joy to behold and fit right in with my sense of humor.

Where music is concerned, one of my favourite composers, Michiru Oshima, has handled things and overall the soundtrack sounds great. I’ve heard a lot of Oshima’s work recently thanks to rewatching Fullmetal Alchemist and The Tatami Galaxy, so it was quite obvious from the use of violins and strings that Snow White with the Red Hair was a work of hers. It’s a soundtrack that fits well with the show and the various themes it explores. Overall I have nothing to complain about. The opening for the series is “Bright Hopes” sung by Shirayuki’s voice actress and the ending is “Kizuna ni Nosete” by Eyelis. Neither track is that memorable and the animation is simply of Shirayuki and the cast having fun together, but both fit the series well enough.

The Japanese voice actors do a fine job on the whole. Shirayuki is voiced by Saori Hayami (Koyuki Hinashi in Fuuka, Shinoa Hiragi) and she plays the role with a great deal of emotion, managing to convey Shirayuki’s feelings well. Zen meanwhile is handled by Ryota Osaka (Sadao Mao in The Devil Is a Part-Timer!, Keiji Akaashi in Haikyu!!), who plays the prince in a suitably charming and engaging way. He injects a lot of fun into the role and that enthusiasm comes through to the viewer. I’d like to take a moment to also give a shout-out to Jun Fukuyama, who plays Raji (Ango Sakaguchi in Bungo Stray Dogs, Takeshi Nishigori in Yuri on Ice!!, Shinra in Durarara!!)). Raji is a side character who reappears about halfway through Part 1 and when he did, he instantly became one of my favourites due to Fukuyama’s fun and engaging voice work with Raji (although this is due in part to the fact that he started reminding me of Shinra). Raji went from being a total sleaze to being a silly character that I’ve grown attached to.

I’d like to say that the English voice actors do as good a job as well but unfortunately I have real problems with Shirayuki’s English actor: Brina Palencia (Nina Tucker in the original Fullmetal Alchemist, Maho Minami in Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad). What I got from watching the anime in Japanese is that Shirayuki is a very emotional character, yet Palencia doesn’t convey her feelings that well at all – and when the main character is not conveying emotion then the whole dub feels underwhelming. I’d recommend that everyone simply watch the show subbed instead.

This release comes to the UK thanks to Funimation and contains Episodes 1-12 of the series on two Blu-ray discs both subbed and dubbed. Although notably absent for me is an OVA that bridges the gap between the first and second cour of the show; hopefully Part 2 includes it. The extras on offer are the usual scattering of trailers, clean opening and ending videos and some episode commentaries for Episodes 9 & 11.

In the end, I’m certainly looking forward to Part 2 of Snow White with the Red Hair. It’s not really groundbreaking for the shojo genre, but the cast are really likable and I find myself wanting to see more of how this love story will play out. Highly recommended on the whole!

Title: Snow White with the Red Hair Part 1
Publisher: Funimation (via Anime Limited)
Genre: Shojo
Studio: BONES
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2015
Format: Blu-Ray
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 12
Running time: 300 minutes

Score: 8/10

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess Volume 1 Review

The Legend of Zelda is a famous video game series that every gamer will have heard of at some point in their life. Even if you haven’t heard of it before, with the recent release of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, it has been impossible to miss the critical accolades the series has received. With this in mind, Viz Media has just released the first volume of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess in a bid to build on Breath of the Wild’s success.

The story of Twilight Princess follows a young ranch hand, Link, as the quiet life he has known until now is plunged into darkness. Long ago powerful wizards tried to take over the kingdom of Hyrule, but the Spirits of Light that inhabit the land banished these wizards to a place known as the Twilight Realm. With no way back to Hyrule, the wizards went on to build a society of their own in the Twilight Realm and until now the two worlds have lived peacefully. Now the current Princess of Twilight, Midna, is in trouble because an evil menace known as Zant is looking to take over both the Twilight Realm and the World of Light (otherwise known as Hyrule). To combat this evil a hero must rise, and that person is Link. With so much at stake, is Link really ready to fill the shoes of a legendary hero when evil threatens his world?

At the center of it all, Twilight Princess is a story of good vs. evil – just as all the stories in this series are. The Legend of Zelda series always follows the concept of the hero’s journey, the friends he makes, the challenges he must overcome, and (usually) a princess in need. They’re incredibly generic stories on the surface but have a knack for being home to some fascinating lore which gives the world a real sense of depth and realism.

On the whole, Twilight Princess follows this trend. Link is happily living his life in a small village known as Ordon Village until one day he begins to become aware of an evil presence nearby (it’s noted that Link appears to be sensitive to spirits and such). When children from the village get lost in the Faron Woods, Link chases after them with a search party. There he comes face-to-face with fierce monsters, and he now must fight to protect those who are important to him.

In the video games our protagonist, Link, is always mute. He has no personality of his own because the developers want players to be able to project themselves onto him; to become fully immersed in the various Legend of Zelda worlds. However, mangaka team “Akira Himekawa” have built up their own version of Link throughout the years as they’ve adapted the different games into manga form, this being their tenth adaption of the series. In Twilight Princess Link is an adult: he’s laid-back and a little cheeky but also has a dark secret from his past that he works hard to hide from others. This secret is something that Link doesn’t have in the original video game simply because Link is usually not given a history (except in Breath of the Wild). This is a history and story that the team have thought up themselves and which works incredibly well.

From reading this volume, it’s also clear to me that I wouldn’t want anyone else adapting the Legend of Zelda stories. Akira Himekawa have a real talent for capturing the world of Hyrule in their artwork. They put a lot of detail into the characters and the environment but it’s never overwhelming. In particular, I like the forbidding air given to the enemies; one glance tells you all you need to know about whose side they’re on! Action scenes are also drawn well and flow smoothly, and you can almost see Link jump around as you read.

I think a lot has to be said for how well written this volume is too. Although there is quite a lot going on in the plot, there isn’t enough text scene to scene to put off younger readers (which some action/shonen titles of late suffer from) and makes it a welcome read for people of all ages. Less text doesn’t mean that the manga doesn’t convey emotion well either (which again some series in this genre do struggle with) as one look into a character’s eyes will usually tell you all you need to know. They’re filled with so much emotion, it’s wonderful!

I have a long history with the The Legend of Zelda series but, funnily enough, Twilight Princess was my first experience with the franchise. To me, it’s my favourite Legend of Zelda game and where my love for adventure and good vs. evil stories was really born, so when I did some research into the manga’s history, I was horrified to find that this adaption was originally planned for and then cancelled many years ago.

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess game was released worldwide in late 2006 and the manga adaption was scheduled to be published in a children’s magazine in Japan. However, thanks to the game having a higher age rating than expected, the manga was cancelled and the mangaka team ceased adapting the games afterwards (although they did pen a story based on The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword as an extra in the Hyrule Historia book that Dark Horse published in 2013). Of course I wouldn’t be writing about the manga now if it had never been released and thankfully in 2016 Nintendo re-released Twilight Princess on Wii U in HD. With the general popularity of the The Legend of Zelda series also on the rise again, Akira Himekawa were finally given the chance to begin publishing their take on Twilight Princess.

The manga has moved from the usual Viz Kids label to simply being under the Viz Media name. Instead of an ‘All Ages’ rating it has now been put up to a ‘Teen’ rating, but the content is still fine for younger teenagers to read. There are some mildly graphic fight scenes (although not as bad as Naruto, which is also under a Teen rating), but I think the rating jump is more down to the darker story and possibly to allow for more freedom going forward. This series is still on-going in Japan and with the second volume also penciled in for a English release, with no sign of stopping yet, it seems this adaption will be longer than any other in The Legend of Zelda series – the current longest being The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. If it does end up being three or more volumes then it’s certainly a slightly harder sell than the other Legend of Zelda books, which are mostly self contained stories, but I think it’ll be worth it in the end due to the quality of the art and the story.

Overall, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess Volume 1 shows promise. The story has been well adapted to manga and still gives me the same sense of enjoyment that 11-year-old me got from playing the game for the first time. I just hope that this story can inspire the same desire for adventure and fantasy stories in young readers today as it did for me, as it truly is something special. It’s a real treat for Legend of Zelda fans of all ages and newcomers or veterans to the series.

Title: The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess Volume 1
Publisher: Viz Media
Genre: Action, Fantasy, Adventure
Author(s): Akira Himekawa
Type: Manga
Original vintage: 2016
Format: Book
Age rating: Teen
Length: 200 pages

Score: 8/10

Serial Experiments Lain – The Complete Series Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Score: 9/10

Review of Clockwork Planet, Volume 1

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

A long time ago, the Earth died.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Score: 9/10

Sword Art Online: Ordinal Scale Tickets Available Now

Following last week’s theatrical release of Kyoto Animation’s A Silent Voice, Anime Limited have already put gears in motion for their next cinematic anime effort. Get ready to explore a whole new world around us, because Sword Art Online: Ordinal Scale is coming to cinemas from 19 April 2017. To find your nearest screening and book tickets, please visit http://saothemovie.co.uk/.

An original story set in the world of Reki Kawahara’s popular light novels, Sword Art Online: Ordinal Scale sets aside the franchise’s trademark take on Virtual Reality to offer its own spin on Augmented Reality – the Augma. Released as a safer competitor to the infamous NerveGear and its successor, the Amusphere, the Augma is an instant hit on the market. Kirito and his friends quickly take to a new MMO designed exclusively for the Augma, Ordinal Scale, but will soon find out that it isn’t all fun and games.

Director Tomohiko Ito (Erased) returns to helm the franchise once more at A-1 Pictures (Your Lie In April), alongside the original cast, led by
Matsuoka Yoshitsugu as Kirito and Haruka Tomatsu as Asuna.

Heavy Object Part 1 Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Summary

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

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

Score: 8/10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

Score: 9/10

Animatsu’s In This Corner of the World Releasing June

Animatsu Entertainment’s highly anticipated drama film, In This Corner of the World will be released theatrically in the UK & Ireland on 28 June 2017, the distributor confirmed today.

From the director of Mai Mai Miracle and the producers of Millennium Actress & Tokyo Godfathers. The award-winning story of In This Corner of the World follows a young lady named Suzu Urano, who in 1944 moves to the small town of Kure in Hiroshima to live with her husband’s family. Suzu’s life is thrown into chaos when her town is bombed during World War II. Her perseverance and courage underpin this heart-warming and inspirational tale of the everyday challenges faced by the Japanese in the midst of a violent, war-torn country. This beautiful yet poignant tale shows that even in the face of adversity and loss, people can come together and rebuild their lives.

A sleeper hit in its native Japan, the independently produced In This Corner of the World grossed over $20 million and was awarded multiple accolades, including “Best Animation of the Year” and “Outstanding Achievement in Music” at the 40th Japan Academy Prize and the Hiroshima Peace Award at the 3rd Hiroshima International Film Festival.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© nagabe / MAG Garden

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

Score: 9/10

Film Review: A Silent Voice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Score: 9/10