Gundam Reconguista in G Review

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“About time!” screamed Gundam fans when Gundam Reconguista in G was announced. Yoshiyuki Tomino, the man behind the original 1979 Mobile Suit Gundam series, was returning to write and direct a Gundam series for the first time since 1999’s Turn A Gundam. In a world where recent Gundam series had been either heavily kiddie-focussed (Gundam Build Fighters) or just plain bad (Gundam AGE), the return of “Kill ‘em all Tomino” as director was pre-emptively heralded as a revival of Gundam’s glory days. The fans hyped themselves up, eagerly anticipating new and interesting worlds, philosophical musings on war, and major characters getting suddenly killed off.

Then Gundam Reconguista in G finally arrived, and reaction was… mixed. Some claimed it was a masterpiece, labelling it Tomino’s most impressive work yet; others dismissed it as a confusing mess. After the series had finished airing, Tomino himself famously said of his work that “I’d only get 15 points out of 100… Frankly, I didn’t think it would be this horrible.” However, he did go on to imply, in his trademark way, that people today weren’t clever enough to fully appreciate it, and that he would be vindicated in 50 years’ time. Now that Gundam Reconguista in G, G-Reco for short, has reached British shores in the form of Anime Limited’s Limited Edition Blu-ray release, we must ask the question: is G-Reco the magnum opus of a genius, or the confused ramblings of a disgruntled OAP? The answer is somewhere in the middle…

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For decades the nations of Ameria and Gondwan have been at war, with the Capital Territory caught between the two as the owner of the Earth’s space elevator, Capital Tower, and ostensibly a neutral party. In this future world, certain technology is forbidden and humanity is forced to rely on Photon Batteries for energy, which are sent down to Earth via the Capital Tower by mysterious space entities. Ameria wants to reverse engineer these batteries so that the Earth may gain independence from relying on the space people, but the teachings of the Capital Territory’s religion forbids it. Ameria, Gondwan and the Capital Army are all drawn into an arms race as they break the taboo on producing space weaponry, using the threat from the other parties as justification. This draws the ire of the spacenoids who, it turns out, have been producing their own weaponry, and have their own plans for Earth’s future… Into this situation falls, quite literally, the G-Self, a mysterious mobile suit which seems poised to turn the tides of war in favour of whoever gets their hands on it. Bellri Zenam, a young recruit of the Capital Guard, manages to retrieve the G-Self from the pirates who first grabbed it, but takes a romantic interest in its beautiful pilot, Aida. When Aida escapes from the custody of the Capital Army, Bellri goes with her to the pirate ship Megafauna, and unwittingly gets dragged into a war which he cares little about.

While that may seem excessive as a plot summary, believe me, it’s barely scratching the surface of G-Reco’s story. That is, in fact, the series’ primary weakness: it attempts to cram far too much content into a 26-episode run, meaning that there is always a whole lot happening, but no time to explain it. As such, Tomino makes liberal use of the oft-ignored, particularly in anime, storytelling mantra of “show, don’t tell”. While many anime feel the need to explain every detail of the show’s history and setting through excessive exposition, G-Reco just drops the audience right in. It gets straight into the plot and then describes the world in pieces along the way, so there’s a lot of time spent wondering what the hell is going on: why are these people fighting; where do these spaceships come from; what’s this taboo thing; why does the Megafauna’s captain have a woman wearing a bikini painted on his chair? (Okay, the last of those may be slightly less integral to the plot).

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G-Reco is therefore difficult to follow, and this is the main gripe that people seem to have with it. Toshio Okada, co-founder of anime studio Gainax and now an ‘anime scholar’, said of the series, “Gundam Reconguista is really bad!… I watch a fair amount of anime, and I can’t figure out what’s going on. Ordinary people watch this and don’t know what’s happening, but Tomino thinks it has to be like this.”  I take issue with this view. While things do move at a breakneck pace, and it is sometimes necessary to make use of the rewind button to fully grasp the meaning of what’s just been said, with a little effort it does (mostly) make sense. Honestly, I found this understanding process to be part of the appeal – it made watching G-Reco more of an active experience, akin to, as silly as it sounds, reading a mystery novel and trying to work out the culprit. But all the effort I put into following G-Reco was more than paid off by the depth of the world on offer.

In fairness, it doesn’t help matters that every other word out of the characters’ mouths is one that Tomino has dreamt up: for example, when a character says, “Klim, I’ll position the Hecate behind the Salamandra and take on the Garanden,” you better have picked up the meanings of those four proper nouns or you won’t have a clue what’s going on. This is nothing new for Gundam, which thrives on its made-up names, but when there is so little exposition it makes these things more difficult to follow than usual.

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There are other symptoms of the story being rushed. One is that while characters’ motivations can be interpreted, they are rarely properly shown. In an early battle Bellri chooses to fight against the Capital Army on behalf of the pirates, despite himself being from Capital Territory. While we can infer from his single glance towards Aida that he’s probably doing it for her sake, we aren’t shown any of the inner turmoil that a character must presumably experience when betraying his friends and family in such a way. Rather than this being poor writing, I believe it’s simply that Tomino and co. didn’t have the running time spare to dwell on the emotional side, and needed to plough onwards with the battle. This isn’t a one-time thing; characters often become either allies or mortal enemies at the drop of a hat, and then flit back and forth between the two with little justification. Tomino has always been one for characters changing allegiances, but in the past he’s handled it better than he does here.

It is worth noting that the tone of G-Reco is mostly quite light-hearted, at least by Gundam standards. Despite engaging in many battles, it is rare that the characters feel as though they are in any real danger, and for the first half of the series it seems as if Tomino has outgrown his “Kill ‘em all” moniker somewhat. However, once the action moves to space and mobile suit pilots can no longer hop out of their cockpits once things go wrong, the death toll does increase quite drastically; even so, there is relatively time spent bemoaning the horrors of war, something which is typically a staple in Gundam.

Humour is more of a focus than any moral preaching, and G-Reco’s comedic edge really adds to the series. We are treated to some classic toilet humour when Bellri is forced to use the G-Self’s ‘facilities’ to go number 2, while awkwardly sharing the cockpit with three girls. Another highlight is when a ship’s captain is asked to pull up data on an attractive enemy commander, but inadvertently opens a load of her bikini pics alongside her battle statistics. Not all jokes are so bawdy; my favourite is the Amerian Lieutenant Klim Nick, who insists on calling himself “Genius” Klim. The rest of the cast consider him to be a bit of a hot-headed idiot, but make use of his nickname in a sardonic way – a subtlety that the genius himself never picks up on.

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The setting of G-Reco is no doubt an interesting one, with Earth being caught in a stand-off in which all parties both fear the mysterious spacenoids and their superior technology, and yet also want to use them to further their own schemes. A nice twist is that even within this new setting, much of the core of G-Reco is borrowed from the original Mobile Suit Gundam. It has a ragtag crew roaming around on a spaceship which relies mainly on a single mobile suit, it has cool mechs, a diverse cast of characters, and space politics. There is a more literal link to the old series, too: G-Reco is set around 1,000 years after the Universal Century era, meaning that while it technically takes place in the timeline of previous series, this has little material impact on the plot. It does allow for a few cool mobile suit cameos though, either as statues in museums or as ruins scattered around old battlefields.

Industry veteran Kenichi Yoshida, who previously worked with Tomino on Overman King Gainer, outdid himself with G-Reco’s unique and brightly coloured character designs. His achievement becomes even more impressive when one considers the size of the cast; the only downside of this large cast is that it sometimes feels like a waste that an interesting character can end up getting only two and a half minutes’ screentime before they explode in a fiery death.

It wouldn’t be a Gundam series without an adolescent mobile suit prodigy as the main character, and Bellri fills that role pretty well. He initially doesn’t take much interest in the world around him and tends to go with the flow, but he does eventually develop more of a personality and his own reasons to fight. We also have that other Gundam staple, the protagonist’s masked rival – this time named, hilariously, Captain Mask. Mask’s motivations are less amusing than his codename: he is from a race of people called Kuntala, a group that were once cannibalised during food shortages in ancient times, and are still racially discriminated against. Mask’s goal is to succeed in battle so that he may bring pride to Kuntala people, and change the rest of humanity’s perception of them – however, this noble motivation becomes corrupted as Mask fights, until he grows less concerned with improving the status of his own people than with tearing down those from more privileged backgrounds.

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There are a lot of appealing secondary characters – one of my favourites was Happa, the Megafauna’s disgruntled mobile suit engineer, who openly tells Bellri that he’s only working on improving the G-Self so that it will be able to better protect him. While most of the Megafauna’s crew are great, the other particularly notable character is the Megafauna’s attractive helmsman, the appropriately named Steer, who always seems to be in a terrible mood unless she’s piloting the ship into an exciting situation. It’s characters like this that make the world of G-Reco come alive – while fairly minor, their idiosyncrasies make it feel real, rather than just a means to telling a story.

This release contains Japanese audio with English subtitles only, as no English dub has been produced. Fortunately, the voice acting on offer here is superb. The brilliantly varied characters each have unique voices to match, and they are all so competently done that it is difficult to name any stand-outs. Takuya Satou is perhaps worthy of a special mention for his cool portrayal of Captain Mask, giving a performance which echoes all the strengths of Shuichi Ikeda’s famous Char Aznable, the original masked antagonist.

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A primary concern to anyone watching a Gundam series is the quality of the mecha designs, and G-Reco certainly delivers in this regard. While the main mobile suit this time around, Bellri’s G-Self, is rather run-of-the mill (aside from its eyes and antennae making it look like a giant mechanical bunny), the other suits can be great. The Capital Guard’s Recten and Recksnow have wonderfully retrofuture designs, with heads shaped like old computer monitors and adorably clunky frames. As we get introduced to more mobile suits, particularly those in space, we see more sleek and futuristic designs, with all sorts of ridiculous weaponry. The rate at which these get introduced can be a little overwhelming, but any serious mech-head will struggle to complain once they’re all in space shooting, slashing and smashing the crap out of one another.

Another great feature is the thought that has been put into the peripherals of mobile suit operation. G-Reco often shows pilots making toilet while in their mobile suits, a need which makes perfect sense but has typically been skimmed over in the past (just as Jack Bauer apparently never takes a dump), and we see mobile suit airbags activating as pilots get smashed around their cockpits. Toilets and air bags are hardly the most exciting of mecha innovations, but it all goes towards developing the world of G-Reco.

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G-Reco’s animation is one of its strongest attributes; it is consistently stunning in its fluidity, whether that be the expressive body language of the characters, or the wild battles of the mobile suits. While the space-based battles tend to be more exciting, Episode 10 sees one of the best Earth-based battles: it contains some awesome animation of mobile suits brawling, with the G-Self punching and kicking an enemy unit as pieces fly off it – interestingly, this episode was storyboarded and directed by Attack on Titan’s Tetsuro Araki, who is no stranger to intense fight scenes between giant entities.

The scenery all looks excellent, and in every shot there are tons of minor background details which add great depth to the setting. Characters can be talking in the mess hall of the Megafauna, and through the window in the background one can see the deck chief shouting at his men – it’s a small detail, but helps make the ship seem real and alive. Also of note is the series’ CG: G-Reco contains what is possibly the best blend of CG and 2D animation in any anime series I have seen. The CG is used sparingly, mostly for complex space equipment like Capital Tower and space colonies, and its sleekness highlights the detailed designs, without ever seeming at odds with the traditional animation alongside it.

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G-Reco’s music is by Yugo Kanno, and he provides a high quality orchestral score, well suiting the tone of a sweeping space opera with exciting battles. There’s an occasional issue with it being used poorly, though: some battle scenes use music that’s a little too cheery, which kind of kills the tension, and also seems inappropriate given that the pilots can (and do) die at any moment. Both of G-Reco’s openings are fairly bland J-Pop fare, but the ending theme, G no Senkou by Daisuke Hasegawa, is a pleasantly upbeat song which repeats the show’s title a bunch. It is well suited to the ending animation which displays all the characters, friend and foe alike, arm in arm doing the cancan – an odd choice, sure, but an amusing one that highlights G-Reco’s slightly brighter tone compared to previous Gundam series.

While it clearly has its flaws, for those viewers willing to put in the effort Gundam Reconguista in G delivers some great entertainment. Its mecha designs are weird and wonderful, its battles exciting (particularly once the action moves to space), and its massive cast are varied and largely likeable. Somewhere deep within the series there even lies a philosophical message: a message about moving forward as humanity despite historical divides, about not judging other peoples without first judging yourself, and about the dangers of relying on weapons to maintain peace. However, when most of one’s effort is taken up on simply trying to understand what’s going on with the story, it’s easy to see how these messages remain buried. Still, by the end of G-Reco­ it really does feel like you’ve been on a journey. And while that journey was confusing, and at times even nonsensical, it was bright, exciting, occasionally thought-provoking, and always a lot of fun.

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On-disc extras consist only of clean opening and ending sequences, and a promotional video. The release does come, however, in a very nice box, complete with art cards and a ‘Gundam Collection’ spine which will ensure it fits well on the shelf next to Anime Limited’s other Gundam releases.


 

 

Title: Gundam Reconguista in G
Publisher: Anime Limited
Genre: Action, Mecha
Studio: Sunrise
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2014
Format: Blu-Ray
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles
Age rating: PG
Running time: 650 minutes

Score: 8/10

Autumn Anime Season 2016

 

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Autumn Season 2016 – the leaves are falling and just as we finish watching and discussing Mob Psycho 100 or Re:Zero or Sweetness and Lightning, the anime studios are already tempting us with the next slew of goodies. And there’s so much to choose from these days! (Crunchyroll and Funimation, you’re spoiling us – but please don’t stop. We’ve been the poor relations for a long while in the UK, so it’s nice to get some choice.)

But how to decide which series are the duds and which the hidden treasures? The staff at Anime UK News are here to offer some suggestions of their own. We’re not infallible, of course, and personal tastes can differ wildly! We’re always very interested to know what you think too.

IncendiaryLemon:

Going into this year’s Autumn Season, I wasn’t expecting to watch a whole lot of shows. I had one or two in mind, but after seeing what was cropping up on Crunchyroll, my curiosity got the better of me and I ended up picking up eight! Whilst everything I’ve picked up has been at least good, there are some definite stand-outs among the crowd.

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My favourite from the season so far definitely has to be Sound! Euphonium Season 2. I’ll admit, it might be a little unfair to pick a show with a whole season under its belt as my front runner, when all the other shows only have an episode or two out, I just can’t deny how fantastic the first two episodes of Sound! have been, easily being on par with the first season. From the amazing animation from Kyoto Animation, to the excellent characters and drama on display in just these first two episodes, there’s no doubt in my mind that Sound! will definitely be somewhere near the top of my ‘best of’ list for the year, never mind the season.

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In terms of non-sequels starting this season, the one that instantly grabbed my attention from the get-go was Flip Flappers. It was a little hard for me to grasp what exactly it’s about (I hope the second episode will shed some light on that) but, from a pure animation standpoint, Flip Flappers had my jaw on the floor. I haven’t seen an anime by Studio 3hz before, but their visuals rival the greats, and I genuinely couldn’t tear my eyes away from the bright colours and fluid action on display, it was truly a marvel. If the future episodes can match the level of the animation with character and story, then I think Flip Flappers will certainly be a contender for the best of the season.

Another show I’d be remiss not to mention would be Mahou Shoujo Nante Mou li Desu Kara 2nd Season. Both the first season and this current season seemed to fly under the radar a bit in terms of popularity and I definitely think both seasons are worth a watch. More akin to a Slice of Life Comedy than you’re regular magical girl offering, Desu Kara always manages to get a good laugh out of me, and at only 4 minutes an episode, there’s really no reason not to give it a go.

Demelza:
haikyu-season-3-imageWhen I first looked at this season, I didn’t think there would be much to catch my interest. However, over the last couple of weeks I’ve found myself pleasantly surprised in the vast quantity of good quality anime hitting
Crunchyroll. Thanks to the service picking up so much, so I’ve found myself watching quite a lot and already have some firm favourites that I can recommend everyone give a shot.

As IncendiaryLemon mentioned above, this season is a season full of sequels and so I’m happily watching the second half of Bungo Stray Dogs, Sound! Euphonium season two and most importantly (for me) the third season of Haikyu!. Bungo Stray Dogs continues to be an example of Studio BONES at the top of their game with some exceptional action scenes, animation and their fun blend of comedy that I always fall deeply in love with. Sound! is off to a worse start and hasn’t really gripped me but then I was never that fond of the first season, so I’m really only sticking with it because of Kyoto Animation and the hopes of things improving (they never did in Season One for me though…). By far the best of the sequels though is Haikyu! which promises to spread a 5-set game against Shiratorizawa Academy across the whole 10 episodes of the season. Usually I’d be worried about stretching one match across that many episodes, but with Production I.G at the helm and a wonderful first episode I’m just left with pure excitement for what’s to come. I truly believe that if any sports anime is going to pull this kind of idea off well it’s going to be Haikyu!.

As far as new anime goes my favourites are definitely Girlish Number, Izetta: The Last Witch and Yuri!!! On Ice. It seems as though Girlish Number is going to fill my New Game! hole by telling the story of cute girls doing cute things in an industry I’m really interested in learning about. The story is about a new voice actor, Chitose, who so far hasn’t had the chance to play any named roles, but her big break comes along by the end of the first episode and she finds herself playing a lead role! The first episode was full of good humour and digs aimed at anime adaptations of light novels, so I can see myself having a lot of fun with this. If nothing else I might learn something interesting about how the voice acting industry works.

izetta-the-last-witch-animeI think my favourite of my favourites has to be Izetta: The Last Witch. I’m sure many of our writers will pick this one as well because it’s pretty universally likable no matter what your tastes are. I love magic and witches so the show won me over on that alone, but I’m also aware that it has some of the Code Geass talent behind it and that intrigues me to no end. Set in a world currently stuck in a war with a feisty princess who wishes to protect her kingdom, it sounds pretty generic but trust me, it’s better than it sounds. The first two episodes have been busily setting up the world and cast, but pretty animation and a strong selection of characters has kept me on-board so far. If you watch nothing else this season then at least give Izetta a chance.

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My final pick is Yuri!!! on Ice which tells the story of Yuri Katsuki, an ice skater who loses in the final of the Gran Prix competition and begins to question what he’s even doing with his career. After a video of a private performance back in his hometime goes viral on the internet, Yuri is suddenly visited by his idol Victor Nikiforov who wishes to coach Yuri! The first two episodes have displayed some captivating animation and so far Yuri and Victor are both interesting characters with a lot of depth to them. I’m writing about this one because it was a show I passed by originally (because I’m not that big on ice skating really) and went back to watch after seeing a number of friends really enjoying. I don’t want anyone else to miss out on trying this because they overlooked it the same way I did – trust me, it’s well worth your time this season.

Sarah:

Putting aside my annoyance about not being able to watch Kiss Him, Not Me!  (because, UK) and wondering if it’s worth signing up to Amazon Prime to watch one of the series I was really interested in this autumn, Ame no Funi, I’ve found plenty to watch and enjoy. For me the stand-out so far is Yuri!!! On Ice. That OP! Such a heart-stopping blend of animation and song! (Watching this reminds me how enthralled I felt when seeing/hearing the OP of Vision of Escaflowne for the first time.) Director Saya Yamamoto deftly blends humour with the poetic, artistic side of ice skating and those oh-so-naughty teases. But in spite of the comedic moments, there’s much that will chime with anyone who has ever striven to excel in the arts or sports; Yuuri’s utter devastation when faced with his own failure at the Gran Prix Finale competition will create a strong feeling of sympathy in many hearts and minds. I can’t wait to see where this goes next…

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Another new sports anime is All Out! Which is all about the rugby! Coming from a rugby-mad household, I couldn’t wait to see this (with fingers firmly crossed that it wouldn’t turn out to be a damp squib like Cheer Boys!!, juggling too many characters and not enough animation budget). It’s early days yet but the distinctive manga-based character designs (and an OP that shows a realistic match in the mud and the rain) are encouraging. Facts about rugby have been fed in quite subtly, so if you don’t know the game, you won’t feel left out. Typical shonen hero, first year (and short of stature) Gion, proves almost impossibly stubborn and determined to join the team, unafraid to take on the truly intimidating captain Sekizan, even though he knows nothing of the game. His new friend, timid giant Iwashimazu, has his own reasons for not wanting to play rugby ever again but somehow you just know…  This has been a fun watch so far and is well worth catching if you’re looking for a sports anime with a difference.

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ClassicaLoid and Nanbaka although ostensibly very different, the first based around classical composers and their music, the second about four prisoners whose unusual gifts allow them to break out of any jail in the world, are both as many technicoloured shades of crazy as the animators can splash onto the screen. I’m enjoying both – because I like crazy when it’s done with imagination and even affection – but, as a musician, I’m probably better qualified to talk about ClassicaLoid.  (I’m going to cheat by quoting the Crunchyroll blurb) :

Kanae and Sosuke are two high-school students living in the suburbs in Japan where music flourishes. One day, they encounter Beethoven and Mozart, two suspicious men who call themselves ClassicaLoids. The “Musik” they play have mysterious powers, such as causing meteor showers and summoning giant robots. Kanae and Sosuke’s daily lives suddenly turn chaotic! Adding to the commotion are the appearances of other ClassicaLoids such as Bach, Chopin, Liszt, and Schubert. What is the big secret behind their powers? And are they a threat to humankind, or could they be saviors?

The first episode, in which Kanae’s amazingly eccentric house, complete with pipe organ (originally her grandmother’s) is threatened with demolition, is satisfyingly over-the-top and gets the series off to a fine start. Different teams of musicians have been given the task of arranging music from the named composers and a theme from Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony gets a full-on 70s rock orchestra interpretation worthy of Jeff Lynne or Rick Wakeman. Less successful, I feel, is the second episode’s rather perfunctory interpretation of ‘that’ theme from Mozart’s ‘Eine Kleine Nachtmusik’ (the one everyone knows) which hardly gets any airtime at all. But will this attract any new listeners to classical music? We shall see what happens when Liszt turns up next time (in this series, Liszt is a glamorous woman, not the 19th century musical superstar who had female audiences swooning in the aisles and throwing themselves at him). And who knew that Beethes was so obsessed with gyoza…?

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Last but not least of my picks, March comes in like a lion tells the story of loner and seventeen-year-old pro-shogi player, Rei Kiriyama, and is a complete contrast to the other series I’ve mentioned. This is a Slice-of-Life show based on the manga by Chika Umina (Honey and Clover) and, although gentle in pace, has some striking imagery, wonderfully animated, as well as a touching depiction of a young man struggling to deal with loneliness. The lively family of three sisters (and their cats!) with whom Rei is beginning to interact provide a fascinating contrast to his solitary existence. One to watch for lovers of Slice-of-Life – and cats!

Cold Cobra:

I have to repeat what my fellow staff have said above in that I wasn’t expecting much going into this season. I was happy to find Gundam: Iron Blooded Orphans once again able to be streamed straight to my TV via Crunchyroll, even if it is on a weeks delay. As a Gundam fan of over a good decade and a half I’ve been thrilled to see the property once again find its footing with another slice of war stories and drama mixed with giant robots shooting at each other. Fingers crossed this second half goes better than the second half of Gundam 00, which struggled to recapture what it created in its opening season a fair few years ago.

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Continuing with the returning shows theme, I too am watching Bungo Stray Dogs, with its great mix of comedy and action. Lastly, the only new show on my personal “must catch every week” list: Drifters. I was interested in the idea of the plotline: a bunch of historical figures are plucked from their time periods the moment before they’re historically killed and forced to fight each other on two (or three, seemingly) sides. It was a good concept, and throw in the fact that it is based off of a manga by Kouta Hirano of Hellsing fame and I was in. The first episode has already seen a bit more humour mixed in with the expected gore, and some fine laying of groundwork that has me excited to strap in for the 12 episode ride to the end of the year.

I also feel I should given a quick mention to Part IV of the JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure story, Diamond is Unbreakable, coming to an end this season. While not a new or returning show, it’s a favourite and the fact that this is the home stretch feels like a big event for the season.

So there you have it, only three new or returning shows in this season, but three shows I’m very happy to continue to follow in the run up to the end of the year.

Publisher: Crunchyroll (streaming)
Genre: Action, Sports, Comedy, Slice of Life, Fantasy
Type: Movie
Format: Legal stream
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles

Parasyte -the maxim- Collection 2 Review

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Parasyte -the maxim-, the anime adaptation of Hitoshi Iwaaki’s late 80s/early 90s manga, returns for its concluding half. When we saw Shinichi last he had just come to terms with one tragic loss, only to promptly suffer another. On the flipside, his romantic pursuits seemed to be bearing fruit, and he had become a fighter able to hold his own against attacking parasites. However, this increase in his abilities, caused by the fusion of Migi’s cells with his, seemed to be coming at the cost of his humanity…

And as Shinichi loses his humanity, this half of the series sees Migi and the other parasites start to exhibit it. Initially this is in selfish ways: parasites begin to partake in human politics, primarily so they have access to more information, which will allow them to feed on humans while evading capture. But they also demonstrate other forms of human behaviour, which are less easily explained by any kind of self-interest. Migi, for example, appears to develop feelings for Shinichi that are more than parasitic, and instead almost friendly in nature. Some parasites also begin displaying human emotion, smiling and laughing, making them somehow even more disturbing than the ones who remain stone-faced.

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Whereas the first half of the series was about Shinichi’s own experiences and development, that seems to take a backseat in this second half to looking at the existence of parasites more generally. It makes sense – in the battle against monstrous parasites there is only so much one teenage boy, even one with a parasite for a hand, can do. As such, a lot of time is spent on the police and their efforts to crush the parasitic menace, as well as on the parasites and their own internal power struggles. While this makes for an interesting story, it may be off-putting to those who prefer a straightforward hero’s journey – and they would have every right to be put off, as prior to this point Parasyte has very much presented itself as the story of Shinichi and Migi, as seen through Shinichi’s eyes; now Shinichi seems to spend a lot of his time on the periphery of the show. For example, while a large-scale battle is ensuing between the police and the parasites, Shinichi is just sat in the back of a van the whole time, with the scenes of action and gore occasionally cutting to him just so he can say, “hmm, maybe I should be doing something about this”.

The benefit of this shift of focus is that we now get more of an insight into the parasites and they become, to an extent, more relatable as characters in their own right, rather than being purely monstrous. That’s not to say that this second half of Parasyte is all friendly – just as you think the parasites are becoming more reasonable, there is a shocking scene which demonstrates just how callous the majority of them are towards humanity. It is these scenes, often combined with some amount of gore, which make for many of Parasyte’s most memorable moments.

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The series also starts getting more philosophical, using the existence of parasites to explore what it actually means to be human; it questions whether it is not humans who are the true parasites, with how willingly we kill other animals and pollute the earth for our own convenience. To some degree, this is done quite well: these ideas are explored in a mature and thoughtful way, and are several tiers above the typical “It turns out it’s man” level of depth that one is accustomed to seeing in gory anime. Where this fell flat for me were the times when characters decided to engage in these environmental debates while in life or death situations – call me a traditionalist, but if someone’s trying to kill me, I am fighting or flight-ing, not debating. The other problem I had with some of these debates I think stems more from me being a bad person – while Shinichi is deeply affected by the moral dilemma of whether it is okay for humans to destroy other life, even life as seemingly monstrous as the parasites, I just found myself rolling my eyes. However, I am a man who can happily ignore the moral contradiction of eating lots of animals and yet also loving my pet cat more than anything in the world, so maybe I’m not quite the target audience.

Satomi Murano, Shinichi’s love interest since the start of the series, begins to grind a bit in these later episodes, seemingly stuck in a continuous cycle of getting freaked out by Shinichi and pushing him away, and then getting sad whenever he’s gone. Speaking of annoying characters, there is also the private detective who was hired to tail Shinichi, who makes some bad decisions that stand out as being very illogical – although an effort is made to justify why he makes these decisions, it still makes him difficult to relate to as a character. We do get introduced to some new characters who are actually interesting, the foremost of these being the convicted serial killer, Uragami, who has the strange ability to tell parasites apart from normal humans. Uragami is interesting just because he is such a scumbag, and yet due to his unique power the police have no choice but to rely on him to support their investigations. He hits all the right notes: creepy, pathetic, and horrible, and somehow also highly entertaining to watch.

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Parasyte’s animation continues to be competent, albeit it with a bit of an increase in the use of dodgy CG background characters. The complaint I made about fight scenes in my review of part 1 still stands: battle animation often isn’t particularly exciting as we just see bladed tentacles flashing through the air with repeating speedlines, while Shinichi slowly walks towards (or runs away from) his opponent. That’s not to say that the fights are boring, just that the animation is not what makes them good. There are a few impressive battles, including one which is particularly interesting as it’s between fellow parasites, with Shinichi being nowhere near at the time. Another highlight is when Shinichi and Migi have to face off against a single human body which is hosting multiple parasites – while up until this point Shinichi and Migi have been relying on the tactic of the two of them being separate entities to essentially outnumber opponents, this time their opponent is using that same tactic against them.

Ken Arai’s dodgy soundtrack is still present, but I found that by this point I had gotten used to it, so it didn’t stand out as being quite so obnoxious. It also seems that someone in the production team felt the same way as I did about the weird electronic beats being ill-fitting with the more emotional scenes in the first half of the series, as a couple of the later emotional climaxes feature classical pieces instead. The opening and ending songs remain unchanged, with the studio presumably wanting to get its money’s worth out of Fear, and Loathing in Las Vegas and Daichi Miura.

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Parasyte’s conclusion ticks all the right boxes in theory, but in execution doesn’t quite pull it off. This may be because the conclusion focuses back in on the personal experience of Shinichi – and yet for much of this second half, the show has encouraged us to disregard him somewhat. At least it is a definitive ending; while there is no excuse for it not to be, given that the Parasyte manga ended in 1995, it does feel quite refreshing these days to see an anime which doesn’t concern itself with sequel-baiting.

Parasyte -the maxim- is a very good anime, bursting with interesting ideas and freaky monsters. Its latter half loses its way somewhat, switching to a more holistic view of the parasites in Japan but then expecting the audience to be able to go back to caring only about Shinichi at the very end. This unfortunately lessens the emotional impact of the finale, which could have been so much better had more of an effort been made earlier on to properly portray the relationship between Shinichi and Migi. Despite this, and despite other minor issues with the music and animation, Parasyte -the maxim- is still a compelling watch, with certain scenes that are likely to stick with the viewer for a long time.

As with the Part 1 collection, extras consist only of clean opening and ending sequences, and trailers for other releases.

Score: 7 / 10

Anime Quick Information

  • Title: Parasyte -the maxim- Collection 1
  • UK Publisher: Animatsu
  • Genre: Action, Sci-fi, Horror
  • Studio: Madhouse
  • Type: TV series
  • Year: 2014
  • Running time: 300 minutes
  • Classification: 15

Parasyte -the maxim- Collection 1 Review

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Hitoshi Iwaaki’s manga Parasyte has long been considered a masterpiece, particularly in the west where it was released back at a time when most people thought that manga were videos (thanks to the name of one particular distribution company), and when it was rumoured that James Cameron had bought the rights to adapt the series into a Hollywood blockbuster. When it was announced that Parasyte would finally be getting its long overdue anime adaptation, people were understandably overjoyed – after all, many of them had been waiting over 20 years to see Iwaaki’s combination of shape-shifting monster story and environmental allegory on their screens. So, now that it’s finally here, how does it stack up?

Firstly, a primer for those who haven’t previously enjoyed Iwaaki’s source material. Shinichi is a regular high schooler who spends his days pining over the girl he likes and lazing about at home. While engaged in some of the aforementioned lazing about, he seems to get bitten by a snake that has come in through his window. This is no snake, however, and the creature crawls inside his hand, before Shinichi manages to tie up his arm to prevent the intruder from getting any further into his body. The next day Shinichi dismisses his experience as a dream – that is, until, his hand starts operating independently of its owner. Shinichi’s hand is now controlled by some kind of strange intelligent lifeform who can manipulate itself at will to take on different forms, and who, it turns out, had intended to infiltrate Shinichi’s brain so as to take control of his whole body. Named Migi (meaning “right”, after the hand that he took over), the parasite and its host form an uneasy alliance in order to fight the other members of Migi’s species who were able to successfully take over their hosts, and now kill and eat humans to survive.

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Parasyte -the maxim- is definitely not a series for the faint of heart. Over two decades before the gore of Attack on Titan or Tokyo Ghoul, Parasyte was giving us monster heads splitting open and bloodily devouring humans. The anime adaptation does not shy away from this, and presents these scenes in all their gory glory. As one can probably imagine, a series which involves so much death is quite dark at times – but never excessively so. For example, where titles based on more contemporary manga feel the need to give their protagonists tragic backstories right from the get-go so that the whole story is always underpinned with darkness and depression, Parasyte’s Shinichi begins his story more surprised that anything else. He’s a normal, happy kid, and initially Migi’s existence is more of a freaky situation than anything especially grimdark. However, as the story goes on we see the negative spiral of Shinichi’s life beginning to unfold – this makes for a far more interesting series of developments, as opposed to other anime where the audience is just watching some teenager whose life was already crap at the start, and so find it hard to care when it gets any worse (see the aforementioned Attack on Titan and Tokyo Ghoul for two of the worst recent offenders).

While Parasyte can be pretty unpleasant, that’s not to say it’s all doom and gloom. The series has many moments of levity to contrast with all the nastiness, and Shinichi’s relationship with Migi is the perfect example of this. While there is always the sinister undertone of Migi being a monster who had been intending to kill his host, and who threatens to do so still should Shinichi ever get too out of line, there is also a lot of humour between them: for example, while Shinichi is at the urinal in school, Migi decides it wants to learn more about human anatomy by trying to stimulate Shinichi into getting an erection – and hey, if a bloke getting publicly pleasured against his will by his own hand isn’t funny to you, then I don’t know what to say…

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Due to the age of the source material some changes obviously had to be made: the character designs were made more contemporary; smartphones exist; Migi was given a cute female voice (that of Aya Hirano, the somewhat controversial lady behind Haruhi Suzumiya and Lucky Star’s Konata). A change that may at first seem random is giving Shinichi glasses, and using this accessory to turn him into more of a nerdy character, whereas in the manga he was just normal (don’t be offended, fellow four-eyes – I rock a pair of specs myself). This initially struck fans of the original manga as an unnecessary change, at first taken as a ham-fisted attempt at pandering to the bespectacled otaku who are the main consumers of anime. However, adding the glasses is actually a smart move – throughout the series Shinichi transforms as he becomes more integrated with Migi, and he starts to change both physically and mentally. Beginning the series with Shinichi as a weak, glasses-wearing geek means that as this change occurs its impacts are more immediately obvious to the audience and other characters.

Parasyte has good animation overall, though it can be somewhat inconsistent. The nature of the parasite battles, with Migi and its opponents being super fast and super powerful, mean that the fighting animation isn’t particularly exciting, as it consists mostly of lines flashing back and forth across the screen while the characters debate speciesism. While this is the same as in the manga, in the medium of print using excessive blur to depict fast action is necessary, whereas in animated form it just comes across as lazy.

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The music for Parasyte is a bit all over the place; it is composed by Ken Arai, a guy whose bio suggests he is very much DJ first, soundtrack composer second. This is great news if you’re a fan of wub-wubs and sampled snare drums, but not so good if you favour subtle soundtracks. Please don’t write me off as an old fogey just yet – I do actually enjoy the Parasyte soundtrack in its own right, but it just isn’t great as an accompaniment to a TV show. As the saying goes, the best score is the one you don’t notice – during certain scenes in Parasyte, the soundtrack was all I could notice. In fitting with the tone of the OST, the show’s opening is an enjoyably fast-paced number from increasingly popular electronic screamo band Fear, and Loathing in Las Vegas. The ending song, meanwhile, stands in stark contrast by being one of the most obnoxiously sappy Japanese pop songs in recent memory.

Both Japanese and English dubs are very competent, although Migi’s English voice feels somewhat lacking as a creepy but loveable monster-limb simply because it’s hard to sound as weird as Aya Hirano. It does feel strange as a big fan of the manga to hear Migi with a female voice anyway, as its dialogue and attitudes always felt more masculine to me (then again, that could just be my unconscious sexist bias at play) – but after taking a bit of getting used to, Hirano does actually do an incredible job in portraying a character that is equal parts unnerving and intriguing. Fans of Kana Hanazawa will enjoy her doing her thing as Shinichi’s cute love interest, while Nobunaga Shimazaki captures well Shinichi’s transition from wimpy nerd to brave hero.

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Overall, Parasyte is a series well worth checking out, whether you’re a fan of the manga or not. The twelve episodes in this set see Shinichi learning to live with Migi, and getting embroiled in the turf wars of the monsters as he tries his best to save the lives of his fellow humans. The episodes are good in their own right, but they whet the appetite for greater things to come – fortunately there isn’t long to wait, as Parasyte -the maxim- Collection 2 is due to be released at the end of July.

In terms of on-disc extras, this release is sparse: clean opening and ending songs, and the usual smattering of trailers for other releases.

Score: 8 / 10

Anime Quick Information

  • Title: Parasyte -the maxim- Collection 1
  • UK Publisher: Animatsu
  • Genre: Action, Sci-fi, Horror
  • Studio: Madhouse
  • Type: TV series
  • Year: 2014
  • Running time: 300 minutes