Dragon Ball Super – Episodes 82 – 87 Review

The “Universe Survival Arc” is well under way as we start our look at the near-enough sequel series to Dragon Ball Z, Dragon Ball Super, currently available to stream for free at Daisuki.net. We’ve had slightly re-worked versions of the Battle of Gods and Resurrection F films, then a tournament between “our” universe, Universe 7, and nearby Universe 6, which had a lot of comedy in it, as well as introducing the idea of multiple universes to the franchise. We then got the return of Future Trunks and an evil copy of Goku known as Goku Black, which was more like a traditional Z story arc, with more dramatic stakes and large battles.

Now we’re here, and to give a quick, final sum-up of the story so far, Zeno, the “Omni-King” who’s God of every Universe (and a future version of himself from another, now destroyed timeline… don’t ask) have felt that the eight weakest universes of the twelve should be wiped clean from existence, but have been accidentally convinced by Goku to hold a big tournament known as “The Tournament of Power”, with the winning universe getting to survive, while the other seven are destroyed, plus the strongest fighter will also receive a wish on the planet-sized Super Dragon Balls. The tournament itself isn’t actually a tournament, each universe has 10 fighters, and all 80 combatants will fight each other at the same time in a battle royal, elimination occurring if they are thrown from the huge fighting arena.

Sound crazy? Yep. If there is one thing Dragon Ball Super likes to do, it’s play around with the previously small world of Dragon Ball and add to it. Right, now let’s look at this batch of episodes!

Episode 82 starts in the aftermath of an “exhibition match” between Universes 7 and 9, which has seen Goku victorious in the last of the three matches, winning it for Universe 7. Toppo, a overly proud superhero-like character from Universe 11 has jumped in front of Goku and challenged him, declaring that Goku is evil for causing this tournament in the first place. This is sort of true, Goku didn’t know Zeno was going to destroy eight universes before asking for the tournament and that this might save one, and he was also expressly warned not to “poke the bear” and talk to Zeno about the tournament in the first place by Beerus. It worked out well in that now one universe has a chance to live, but I guess Toppo still saw it as Goku’s fault. Goku looks like he’s about to win before Toppo declares he hasn’t used his best yet, which Goku also claims to be holding back (classic Dragon Ball!) but they’re stopped by the entirely untrustworthy Grand Priest. Toppo, also in classic Dragon Ball fashion, tells Goku that he isn’t the strongest person in Universe 11; a fellow member of the “Pride Troopers” called Jiren is far stronger. Goku is excited, and the Priest declares that the tournament will take place in a few days and they should get their teams ready.

The next five episodes are all about recruiting members for Universe 7’s team, with 83 focusing on the birth of Bulma and Vegeta’s daughter Bra, or Bulla, as the subtitles have it, matching up to the English dub version of Z… which makes more sense for English readers, I guess, even if it is just how Japanese people pronounce the word. Having someone say “Bulma has successfully given birth to Bra” might sound like the ramblings on a mad person, admittedly. Anyway, this results in Vegeta agreeing to participate, after previously backing out of the exhibition match due to the upcoming birth. It also has to be mentioned that Beerus’s Angel Whis … I don’t know, magicked Bra/Bulla out of Bulma instead of waiting for a natural birth. It’s a very weird scene…

Episode 84 sees Goku and Gohan recruit Krillin and Android 18 to the team, complete with an exhibition match between Goku and his old friend, which teaches Goku that the upcoming battle royal will be every man for themselves, and so he can’t expect to fight his chosen opponent one-on- one. A rare Goku fighting-related miscalculation, as opposed to a common Goku everything else miscalculation. 85 focuses on Goku checking in on Buu before scenes from the other universe’s Supreme Kais having a meeting that doesn’t really go anywhere, and then a scene with Toppo and his Pride Troopers in action. Finally, Episodes 86 and 87 focus on the first-time meeting between Android 17 and Goku, the former living in a secluded island fighting off poachers and saving the local wildlife… and then the two warriors have to fight off alien poachers in their flying saucer… Yep. Really.

A few criticisms have arisen from the last two episodes, namely Android 17 fighting on a par with Super Saiyan Blue Goku, a form said to be comparable to the Gods themselves, which is a fair comment, but after Golden Freeza did the same thing, I think it’s safe to say that the old “Power Level” debates and spreadsheets have been tossed out the window in favour of a mix of fighters beyond just Goku and Vegeta. Given how one-sided and Goku-based Dragon Ball GT was, I’m okay with this. The second one, and this is the one that annoyed me, suggests that Android 17 isn’t convinced to join the cause, not even when he finds out the whole universe could be wiped out if they lose “Oh well, if we all die at once it won’t be so bad”… I mean, from a “there won’t be anyone to grieve” sort of way that’s true, but… you know… may as well try and stop it…. Anyway, then he is convinced to join when he hears of the Super Dragon Ball wish because, *sigh*, he really wants a big boat to go sailing around the world with his family. Huh?! For starters, just save up your money and buy one. Or ask for one from super-mega rich Bulma as his fee for entering… or use the Earth Dragon Balls to wish for one. Plus, he’s spent two episodes talking about the “last Minotaurus” that he is protecting, why not wish for the species to become un-extinct instead? Selfish git!

It’s a shame because otherwise I really enjoyed this revisit to Android 17 and the first meeting between him and Goku. Also this features Goku admitting he’s not really a hero, and that he just likes fighting strong guys and the Earth keeps getting saved as an aftereffect, although he also admits that seeing innocent people being killed makes him angry. The quote about not being a hero is actually almost a word-for-word quote for a Toriyama interview from the lead-up to the Resurrection F movie, so it was an interesting moment to see it expressly stated by Goku himself. Top stuff. Episode 86 is spectacularly animated, particularly the fight between 17 and Goku. In fact, I’ll say it now: with this arc the animation has switched to a different team and method than the previous 70-odd episodes, and it shows in a positive light. The fight scenes in the Exhibition matches in the previous episodes were top-notch, and the fights here have been great too. Very fluid and the backgrounds have been nicely detailed, even if Beerus often comes off as looking more… oddly shaped.

Another little aggravating point in this recruitment mini-arc is that the intro, ad-break eye-catches and the ending all tell us who gets recruited, so the slow reveal seems a bit pointless. Plus why did Goku and Gohan think of Master Roshi as an option and yet still haven’t thought about Tien / Tenshinhan? They were impressed with Krillin’s new version of the Solar Flare, yet didn’t think about the man who invented the move in the first place! I only hope this is corrected in the upcoming episode that deals with Tien’s recruitment.

So there we have it. I think it’s clear why the mini Exhibition matches happened, after several episodes of between-arc “filler” (though not in the traditional manga-catching-up sense, but still in the self-contained, don’t-add-anything sense), going straight into these recruitment episodes would be a lot of talking and very little action. I’m excited to see the tournament itself and these episodes are at least giving focus to characters that haven’t had focus in a long time, so I don’t mind them… though I think the Android 17 stuff could have been condensed into one episode and not had aliens in it. I guess it’s one of those cases that if these six episodes came in a DVD/Blu-ray set with seven other episodes (as is the old norm) you probably wouldn’t notice so much, but one of these a week is just dragging out a mystery of “who’s going to be Universe 7’s team”, a mystery that was spoiled as soon as they debuted the new opening at the start of the arc…

Title: Dragon Ball Super - Episodes 82 - 87
Publisher: Other (please see review text)
Genre: Martial arts, Comedy, Science fantasy
Studio: Toei Animation
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2017
Format: Legal stream
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles
Running time: 144 minutes

Score: 7/10

Spring Preview 2017

Spring Preview 2017

The return of Attack on Titan! Season 2 of My Hero Academia! Yet more Berserk! The Eccentric Family re-appears for more tanuki mishaps and mayhem! Rage of Bahamut returns, even more epic than before and – oh, wait. What’s that you say? You’ve subscribed to Crunchyroll and Funimation UK and the latest Bahamut isn’t on their Spring list? It’s only showing on Amazon Prime UK? And a raft of other promising, highly anticipated series are only showing in the US on Amazon Strike?

Just when we thought there was some hope of no longer being the poor relations in the UK when it comes to legal, accessible and affordable simulcasts, Amazon buys the rights of several of the eagerly-awaited Spring series. However, with so many long-awaited sequels on show and some intriguing new titles, there’s plenty to keep our writers at Anime UK News engaged and excited. They’re here to share their initial thoughts and impressions of the new Spring Season. Agree? Disagree? We’d love to hear your thoughts too…

 

IncendiaryLemon

To get the obvious out the way first, the show I was looking forward to the most this spring was Attack on Titan Season 2. Yes, it is the most generic answer anyone could possibly give, but it has been 4 long years since the original series first broadcast, and I have been desperate to know what’s in that basement! As someone who doesn’t read the manga, the wait to know what happens next after the first season left so many unanswered questions has been very painful, so I am incredibly thrilled to finally see the show back on our screens. The first two episodes certainly haven’t disappointed so far, with Episode 2 in particular delving into the backstory for Sasha, one of my favourite characters, as well as giving us the Titan- based action we all know and love. I’ve heard from manga readers that it’s all set to go downhill, but from where I’m standing, it’s looking pretty great at the moment.

Going from something everyone and their mother was excited about to something I’m pretty sure only I was, the new series of Berserk also started this season. Last year, when the adventures of Guts finally continued after almost two decades (as far as anime is concerned), the backlash was enormous, with most of the complaints being launched at the 3D animation, which I can certainly agree with. However, even if it does look pretty terrible, at the end of the day, it’s still Berserk, a franchise I have a ton of love for, and no matter how poor the animation, the strength of both the story and characters certainly salvage it. After the cliffhanger ending of the last season, Season 2 wastes absolutely no time getting straight back into the action, with Guts confronting a familiar foe and Farnese getting a horrific backstory. No matter the animation, Berserk remains as dark, twisted and brilliant as it ever was.

The third and final anime I wish to highlight for this season is another one that I don’t think many people were looking forward to, but in contrast to Berserk, I also think it’s one pretty much no one really knows about either: Hinako Note. Filling the ‘cute girls doing cute things’ void in my life this spring, Hinako Note is about the titular Hinako, who travels to the city after living in the countryside, and ends up living with three other girls in a secondhand book store. Together with Mayuki, Chiaki and Kuina, she plans to resurrect her school’s theater club in hopes of getting over her social anxieties. Honestly, there isn’t too much to say about this one given its nature and the fact that only one episode has come out at time of writing, but personally I found it to be a good mix of comedy and cuteness, and it makes for a good break between the gore, death and anguish of shows such as Attack on Titan and Berserk. 

Ian Wolf

We all know what the big series are going to be: the second series of Attack on Titan, the second series of My Hero Academia, and Boruto – the sequel to Naruto. However, there are some other series that are of interest. Two of these are titles whose original manga versions have only recently been released in English.

One is a title I have already reviewed for AUKN:  the clockpunk series Clockwork Planet. The series begins with the world having died, but then brought back to life by a genius engineer using only gears, so the whole world runs like clockwork. The series follows four people – mechanical otaku Naoto Miura; RyuZU, an automaton he manages to repair; Marie Bell Breguet, a genius technician; and her bodyguard Vainney Halter – who, after a month of meeting each other, become the world’s most infamous terrorists.

The series has already attracted comment from some people, but sadly this is about what some see as inappropriate content. For example, there is a scene in which RyuZU sucks Naoto’s fingers in a manner too suggestive for some, and thus it has put some people off. However, the setting and situation will hopefully outweigh these concerns.

The other series of interest is Anonymous Noise, a series revolving around music and romance. It follows a love triangle, at the apex of which is Nino “Alice” Arisugawa, a girl who loves to sing, but who spends most her time in public wearing a face mask. When she was younger the two boys she was closest to moved away from her: Momo Sakaki, her old next-door neighbour and Kanada “Yuzu” Yuzuriha, who loves writing music and hates his lack of height, to the point that he is constantly drinking milk in an effort to make himself taller. When Nino arrives at her new high school, she spots Yuzu playing guitar in the light music club and tries to reignite their relationship. It is not long before she also seems to spot Momo as well.

Having seen the first episode, I find that the series has several impressive features. First of all there is the music: the songs are credited to the band “in NO hurry to shout”, which is a fictional band that appear in the series. The songs that have featured in the anime have been good so far and I’m looking forward to hearing more. A collection of singles will be released on 19th April. The other big thing that impresses is the “camerawork”. There is a scene in which Nino has to perform with the light music club on stage as singer, and when she performs you cut to a view from the audience which looks like it is being filmed by someone on a cameraphone, dancing to the music. The camera doesn’t keep still and the image is slightly of poorer quality as you would expect, thus adding to the realism of the moment. Let’s hope it can keep the pace up.

Rui

I’m drowning in sequels! The follow-ups to Attack On Titan, My Hero Academia, Berserk and (saving the best until last) The Eccentric Family guarantee that I’ll be spending a lot of time on Crunchyroll this season, as all four were highlights of their respective seasons the first time around. If you’re not up to date on The Eccentric Family and like your anime to be both thought-provoking and unusual, it’s well worth checking out the first season on DVD/BD from MVM in the UK.

Amazon has snatched quite a few titles I might have checked out otherwise and some of the ones I want to watch most aren’t available in the UK at all (Natsume’s Book Of Friends, how I miss you) but overall the damage hasn’t been too bad. Yet.

In terms of brand new anime, the horrendously-titled WorldEnd: What do you do at the end of the world? Are you busy? Will you save us (hereafter SukaSuka for my sanity) is the pleasant surprise of the season so far. My expectations were rock bottom; fantasy light novel adaptations about cute girls with powers are a dime a dozen these days and it’s a genre that struggles to impress me at the best of times, but when I forced myself through the first episode of SukaSuka I found a lot more to like than I expected. The characterisation and world building are already getting me thinking! I rewatched the first episode with a friend after the first viewing and we’re both looking forward to seeing where things go.

Aside from that, I’ll definitely be watching the new Laughing Salesman, Kenka Banchou Otome and – if the excessive censorship is less annoying in future episodes – Seven Mortal Sins. Not a huge amount of completely new content has caught my eye this time around but that which has is plenty to keep me busy.

Cold Cobra

Well, okay so I’m also watching Attack on Titan Season 2, and there is obviously very little to mention there. I will mention My Hero Academia Season 2 in a bit more detail, as it is similarly glossed over, due to being an obvious pick. The original series took a lot of people by surprise due to its combination of western comics and manga, not to mention its lead protagonist Izuku Midoriya, who has to be the most likable character on TV at the moment. The first season got through the world building and character set ups, leading to a final few episodes of classic shonen action. This gives Season 2 the ability to jump straight into some more action and light-hearted jabs at comics and hero shows in general without having to build up the characters or introduce them. The first two episodes have set up another shonen classic of a tournament arc, which will be fun, and obviously lead into something bigger.

As this site’s resident Naruto reviewer it won’t surprise you to find out I’ll be watching Boruto as well. The first two episodes of the Naruto sequel have been good in a “seeing characters as adults” kind of way, but also kind of annoying in that Boruto is pretty much Naruto again, including rebelling against the adults, despite growing up in a family. I know, he’s mad that his father isn’t around much, but you’d think given his Dad has his face carved into the side of a mountain might make you respect him a bit more… Still, early days, and this is already better than most filler arcs Shippuden produced, though that might be the biggest damning with faint praise in the history of faint praise damning…

I’m sure by the end of the season there will be one or two other series that I’m not aware of at the moment added to the line-up, but even if nothing else catches my eye, I’m happy to have the three shows to watch, and on my TV via the one streaming service no less!

Paul

The Spring season of 2007 was legendary. 10 years on, I don’t think this season will meet those same high standards, but that’s not to say Spring 2017 is without interest. Second seasons for Attack on Titan and My Hero Academia are welcome, but I’m particularly pleased to see The Eccentric Family return. It’s a weird story, set in the smokey side streets of modern day Kyoto where any number of creatures from Japanese folklore are living amidst a bemused human society. It has a unique aesthetic and is clearly a passion project for the talented animators working on it, who are giving it their all. Based on a story written by Tomihiko Morimi of the fantastic Tatami Galaxy, his love of language is evident throughout as the characters trade dialogue like gun fire.

Somewhat more conventional but never the less entertaining is Re:Creators. Back when musical composer Yoko Kanno (Cowboy Bebop, Escaflowne) was relatively active, her participation in an anime series would be enough to pique interest, and the same could be said today for Hiroyuki Sawano, albeit his trademark style is totally different to Kanno’s own. His style is heavy and infused with adrenaline, and is going to play a big role in Re:Creators. The first episode’s action scenes were great: filled with the sounds of clashing metal and indiscriminating collateral damage. Reading up on it also introduced me to a new word: Isekai, which is a genre of (Japanese) fiction where characters are transported from one world into another, foreign world, albeit this is reversed in Re:Creators, with anime characters invading the real world.

Sarah

Much as I’m enjoying the return of My Hero Academia and AoT, I find that there aren’t as many truly different series this Spring Season to discover. I love coming across something quirky or unusual, a well-made series that draws you back in with its skilful storytelling. However, that said, here’s two new series that – thus far – are different from the over- preponderance of material based on shonen manga or light novels.

The Royal Tutor

The diminutive Professor Heine Wittgenstein arrives at Grannzreich Palace to act as royal tutor to the king’s four younger sons to prepare them as potential successors to the throne, should anything happen to the Crown Prince. Heine could be easily mistaken for a child. (This happens. A lot.) But appearances can be deceptive; in spite of his childlike stature, he possesses a keen intelligence and understanding of human nature. As each of the four princes: forbidding Kai, genius Bruno, proud Leonhard and free spirit, exuberant Licht are soon to discover…

I’d been enjoying reading the manga of The Royal Tutor by Higasa Akai digitally from Yen Press (the first of the paper volumes will be released in May) so was delighted when the anime TV series was announced! At first glance, with its bishonen princes and nineteenth century ‘Viennese’ setting, it might seem as if it’s nothing but a frothy confection – but don’t be deceived. (For anyone confused by its promotional material, it’s not a BL drama or an idol show; it’s something rather more subtle than that.) The design team recreate Akai’s distinctive graphic style rather well, using her chibi forms to amusing effect. But there’s also some shrewd character analysis on offer, leavened by welcome little touches of humour. It’s very different from anything else on offer – and well worth a watch if you’re seeking some relief from the constant barrage of action shows.

Tsuki ga Kirei

Akane is a gifted athlete and member of the middle school track team. A fellow third-year student, Kotarou, loves books and intends to become a published author. They say opposites attract…but, even though they both have spotted each other (there’s a wonderfully awkward meeting where both meet at a family restaurant, with their parents embarrassing them by insisting on chatting together) they’re both so shy that these first feelings of interest and attraction could so easily be blown away by the spring breeze, like falling sakura petals.

I was pleasantly surprised by this quiet little slice-of-life series, an original anime directed by Seiji Kishi (Assassination Classroom, Magikano) with attractive, water-colour designs and a surprisingly unsentimental style of storytelling (thus far!) Another welcome antidote to the noisier series. I just hope it isn’t spoiled by some tedious soap-style melodrama later on down the line.

(I’m also really enjoying sci-fi/alien encounter series KADO: The Right Answer – but feel tempted to wait a little longer before assembling any thoughts, critical or otherwise.)

Demelza:

I fall into the same camp as a few of my fellow writers in regards to some of the shows I wanted to watch being region blocked by Amazon. Most notable of these is Is It Wrong To Try To Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon: Sword Oratoria, which is a spin-off to one of my favourite fantasy series and something I’d been greatly looking forward to watching. Despite Amazon having prevented me from watching Sword Oratoria and a few other anime, I’ve still found a lot to like this season with the return of My Hero Academia and the new whacky comedy Eromanga Sensei, but overall there are just two new shows that have seriously caught my eye.

Sakura Quest

Sakura Quest is the latest original series from studio P.A Works and, as a big fan of Shirobako, I knew I had to check it out. The show follows the adventures of Yoshino Koharu, a young girl who has been trying to find a job in Tokyo. One day she’s offered a role with the tourism board of the economically struggling Manoyama village where she will fill the role of being the “Queen”. With no other choice but to accept the job, Yoshino soon finds herself in Manoyama and does her best to bring this struggling village back to life.

I can’t deny that from the two episodes I’ve watched that Sakura Quest is a slow burner. The plot moves slowly and much like P.A Work’s  Shirobako anime, if you aren’t invested in the characters, then you’ll probably struggle overall. However, I think the studio has a knack for creating these kinds of stories and I like Yoshino and the friends she makes enough that I want to see this adventure through. It might not be as exciting as creating anime, but it’s certainly intriguing in its own way.

Anonymous Noise

The other series to have caught my eye this season is Anonymous Noise. If you’ve read any of my reviews or articles before then you’ll know how much I enjoy a musically focused show and Anonymous Noise looks to scratch that itch quite nicely. So far it has already outdone last seasons Fuuka anime by including more than one original song in an episode and having an incredibly likeable cast (the animation quality is pretty notably as well so far).

The first episode is a bit all over the place because the series is a primarily a shojo in nature and so trying to couple music with a suitably exciting romantic storyline, but I think the fast, action-packed nature of it all is also what drew me in so much. I’m not sure we’re looking at a ground-breaking anime that will change our world forever, but if you’re a fan of shojo series then I think you’ll find a lot to like. At the very least it’s a show well worth keeping an eye on, in my opinion, as the first episode easily captured my heart.

 

Eden of the East – Complete Collection Review

Eden of the East was undoubtedly the big hit of 2009, and now you can own the whole series and the films in one rather lovely Blu-ray box. Before looking at the set itself, let’s have a quick reminder of the series, or a general synopsis for those who have yet to take the plunge into the world of Eden of the East.

Eden of the East is brought to you by Production IG and Kenji Kamiyama, a winning combination that has previously produced the Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex series. Within the opening episode we see young and impressionable girl Saki Morimi on a trip to the US and encountering a naked man waving a gun around who later reveals his name to be Akira Takizawa, although he only knows this due to a passport he found. He has amnesia, and, in true Jason Bourne fashion, goes back to his place only to find guns, various passports along with a mysterious phone he had on his person (well, had in his hand…)

Saki and Takizawa soon travel back to Japan, which is still recovering from a series of missile strikes, the first of which mysteriously managed not to kill anybody, though that wasn’t true for the latest strike. Without going too deep into the storyline, Takizawa is one of 12 “Selecao”, a group of seemingly random people who have been given a “”Noblesse oblige” phone in which they can use to contact someone only known as Juiz and order anything, literally. From assassination to missile strikes to asking to suddenly own a business or a building, with the only catch being they’re limited to 10 billion yen and they must use this power for the betterment of Japan. If they run out of money or they’re judged to have misused the power of the phone, they’re killed by “The Supporter”, who is one of the 12, but which one is unknown. When “Mr. Outside”, the shadowy leader of this game, deems someone to have “won” it, the other participants will be executed.

It all seems rather heavy, and it is, but the story is handled so well mostly because of the lead characters. Both are charming, pleasant, realistic (within a very unrealistic contest) and their feelings for each other are very sweetly played out across the series. Saki has several friends and family members, most of whom run a small business called “Eden of the East”, which hosts a website where someone can tag any person, building or object with a description and other people can see these tags through their phone’s camera. Seems unconnected, and it is, but it does come in handy as the plot progresses. Each one of these side characters again feels very real; it’s only the Selecao that come across as over-exaggerated or a caricature.

The animation is beautiful. The character designs are unique and endearing, the scenery and backgrounds are extremely detailed and busy, and the few bits of CG used for cars and some phone-related screens are perfectly integrated. The background music isn’t exactly memorable, in fact I can’t actual think of any, so that’s one negative, but it’s pretty tiny in comparison to everything it gets right. Even the English dub is good, with Saki and Takizawa retaining their sweet and gentle voice and excitable teen voice, respectively, although like a lot of dubs they miss the mark when they have to voice a sudden “outburst” of anger or panic, complete with comic facial expressions. It’s a very Japanese thing and hard to dub, so it’s understandable and it doesn’t actually happen that often in the series.

The opening of the series as it broadcast on TV was “Falling Down” by Oasis, which is surreal to hear a British band from when I was growing up doing an opening, but very fitting… and also expensive to license, apparently. It features as the opening for Episode 1, and that’s it. Episodes 2 – 11 have “Michael ka Belial” by Saori Hayami instead. Oasis probably just charged too much per use to do anything more. The ending theme is “Futuristic Imagination” by Japanese band School Food Punishment.

As stated at the top of this review, this set not only collects all 11 episodes, but also the two continuation movies, King of Eden and Paradise Lost, which is good because they effectively serve as Episodes 12 and 13 in that the plot isn’t resolved until the final film. In fact King of Eden barely stands on its own, it’s continuing on from episode 11 and ends in a cliffhanger that gets resolved as Paradise Lost starts. It really is safer to say it’s a 13-episode series, it’s just that Episodes 12 and 13 are a lot longer and have a higher budget. It’s also interesting that the compilation film, Air Communication, is included as an extra on the King of Eden film disc, although it’s Japanese with English subtitles only. Obviously there is no need to watch it when you have the 11 episodes it condenses in the same set, but it is nice that it’s there given it’s the “Complete Collection”. I’m surprised it’s not listed in the extras section on online webstores.

Speaking of Extras, it has plenty to tuck into, including several interviews with key staff and voice actors, trailers, TV spots and textless opening and closing, though only the second opening, obviously. As for physical extras you get a nice rigid box, a thick series booklet, art cards and some stickers. A very nice thing to have on your shelf.

So should you invest in Eden of the East? Yes! Absolutely. There was a reason that was the talk of the (anime-related) internet back when it aired, and even the films, which didn’t really stand well on their own when they were released, are perfectly fitting here in the one box. It tells an interesting mystery and techno thriller while simultaneously telling a well written and acted love story. If you’re already a fan of series then you can replace your stand-alone Manga discs and get the whole series and films in one box complete with nice physical extras, and if you’ve never brought or watched the series before, then here it is, settle down and enjoy a proper modern classic.

Title: Eden of the East - Complete Collection
Publisher: Anime Limited
Genre: Mystery, Psychological, Romance, Thriller
Studio: Production I.G
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2009
Format: Blu-Ray
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 15
Running time: 455 minutes

Score: 10/10

Bleach – Volume 69 Review

Against The Judgement

The 69th volume of Bleach has hit British shelves and it’s full of build-up and returning characters! Let’s take a look.

The volume begins with the gathered members of the Gotei 13 as they try to create a gate to reach the Royal Realm and have a crack at the still- annoying-to-pronounce Yhwach (seriously, I’ve visited several threads on how to pronounce it all over the internet, and several completely different ways were put forward, all with valid reasons as to why they’re right…) Yhwach, by the way, absorbed the Soul King at the end of the last volume, thus for all intensive purposes has become God. He soon displays this power by building a Quincy town around the Royal Palace using his mind and the rubble around Soul Society. The Gotei 13 get some help from disgruntled Quincy soldiers who managed to survive their master’s attempted wiping out of his own forces and are more than a little upset about it.

We then switch over to Ichigo and his crew, where we get the now classic Kubo set-up of comedy interactions and several panels of explanation about how and where they are, all leading to the big end fight (for real this time…) These chapters include a few returning characters from both the Arrancar arc and the Lost Agent arc, but I won’t go into details in case you want to be surprised. Anyway, Ichigo and crew, as well as the Gotei 13, all arrive in the Quincy-fied Royal Realm and see a rather large and imposing castle pop up, and both decide to charge towards it and take their enemy’s bait.

That’s about it, apart from the last few chapters. They deal with the backstory of Yhwach’s right hand man Haschwalth and this volume’s cover boy Bazz B, one of the surviving lower-tier Quincy who has changed sides. It’s actually refreshing to see the backstory of these characters, it used to be a Kubo classic that most villains got flashbacks (normally right before they die…), which often really added to them and the overall story, but we’ve had none of that so far. It’s one of the reasons why the Quincy army is far less interesting than the Arrancar army, we simply don’t know or care about any of them (well, apart from Uryu…)

The artwork is of course still on form, though with the exception of the last chapters (give or take) this whole volume is setting up the final battle rather than having much action to convey… which is funny because I’m pretty sure I wrote the same thing last time… and possibly once before that even. Still, the final volume is 74, so even without future knowledge it’s not hard to see the writing on the wall, as this volume sets up the last battle for real this time. There are a few returns to the comedic art style Kubo does during the more silly talky scenes with Ichigo and co, so it’s not all people standing around in the middle of the book, talking.

It goes without saying that Bleach Volume 69 isn’t a good book to pick up if you’re not already following the series, but it is a good example of Kubo’s writing in amongst volumes that have displayed some of his worst. The use of comedic exchanges and black-paged flashback stories feels nostalgic after multiple volumes of neither, and a nice final return to the more familiar Kubo style before we dive head first into the grand finale.

Title: Bleach - Volume 69
Publisher: Viz
Genre: Shonen, Action, Supernatural
Author(s): Tite Kubo
Type: Manga
Original vintage: 2016
Format: Book
Age rating: T
Length: 192 pages

Score: 7/10

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

Mikagura School Suite – The Complete Series Review

So, see if you can follow me on this one. Mikagura School Suite is an anime based on a light novel series by the band Last Note. that was itself based on their own Vocaloid-assisted songs. Now not being full acquainted with the music scene in my own country, let alone Japan, I wasn’t actually sure what that meant, apparently it just means Last Note. (who have a full stop at the end of their name just to annoy people who use auto correct grammar) wrote the songs via a computer program, including the vocals being done by said program, and released them. They then wrote a light novel series “based on the songs” (which is odd because songs are short and don’t really open themselves up well for novelisation) then these light novels were adapted into this 12 episode anime series. Got that? Good.

The series at its heart is a light-hearted slice of life-style comedy, but with weird and super-powered things happening around the place. Slice of weird life? Anyway, our lead character is Eruna Ichinomiya, a hyper-active young girl who seemingly falls in love with pretty much any woman she sees, whether it be on her portable gaming system (that is clearly just a PSP, but you know, rights issues etc), in her head, or in real life. It’s nice that the fact the lead is a lesbian is not pointed out as weird or perverse, nor is it played up to give horny real-life teens some … imagery, it’s just… she’s your classic over-the-top horny teen who happens to like girls. It’s a rare act of maturity, in a series that’s anything but mature! Anyway, she has trouble picking a high school to attend until her cousin shows her a pamphlet of Mikagura Academy, featuring attractive student Seisa Mikagura in it, so that immediately “inspires her” to sign up for it. After a surreal test which includes a floating, talking cat (which doesn’t seem to phase her much) she is accepted.

What Eruna doesn’t realise, however, is that the school has a strange set- up: every student has to join a club and each club battles the others in over-the-top shonen-style battles with powers based on whatever club they’re a part of. Accommodation, food and other things are based on what club you’re a part of and where that club stands in the school rankings. During the battles each participant has three hearts appear above their head; once all three are destroyed, they lose. It’s like a weird Dragon Ball-esque version of Mario Kart’s battle mode. As amusing and occasionally really well animated as these fights are, they aren’t the focus of the show, and for a while in the middle they just don’t feature at all.

The focus of the show is seeing Eruna going from someone only interested in the fantasy girl on her not-PSP dating sim to slowly gathering a large group of friends that she loves hanging out with. That’s really the main story. There is a storyline about Eruna’s ancestors and hidden powers locked away and so on, but it isn’t given any real importance. Some of the friends she gathers have backstory, even tragic backstory, that adds a little to them, but once again it’s never really necessary, often being created so they can have a quick fight before going on to the next comedic adventure. Her group includes: previously mentioned stoic shut-in Seisa who slowly comes out of her shell; Otone Fujishiro who is similarly anti-social but quickly comes around; smiley and bubbly Himi Yasaka of the Calligraphy Club; Eruna’s perverted cousin Shigure Ninomiya and Kyoma Kuzuryu of the Art Club, who is blunt and intimidating, but nice when you get to know him. There are a few more, mostly from the Drama Club, but I’d be here all day.

The Opening is “After School Revolution” in which the music and lyrics were done by Last Note. themselves, but the performance comes from a trio known as Hōkago Rakuen-bu. There are three Endings, either done by all three Hokago Rakuen-bu or just one member of the trio, which are After School Stride for Episodes 1, 9, 10, 11 and 12, Paradise Fanfare for Episodes 2-7, and Naked Candy for Episode 8. Why a 12 episode series needed three endings I can’t tell you, but I guess given the origin of the series can be traced back to a band writing songs on a computer, it makes a sort of sense. The English dub is as accurate as you can get, the FUNimation cast do their best to match the over-the-top shouty rants that somehow don’t sound as bad when they’re done in Japanese, but in English… it tends to get old – and loud – fast. Still, several of the voice actors, some of whom also acted as directors or in script adaptation, appear in a set of episode commentary tracks for Episodes 9 and 10, which is a nice change from the usual clean Opening, Ending and trailers you normally just get (which are present here as well, for the record).

In summary, Mikagura School Suite is a perfectly fine distraction. For 12 episodes you get plenty of humour and crazy over-the-top reactions, plus you occasionally get a good super-powered fight thrown in. However, there are obviously many better examples of this kind of school-based slice-of-life comedy out there, so maybe this is for diehard fans of the genre who love to watch and collect them all, rather than someone dipping their toes into this part of the anime world for the first time. If you’re in it for the action you’ll be disappointed, but one look at the title and box art should have told you what you were getting! To sum it up, the show is fun in parts, slow in others, making it a solid show to watch; just don’t buy it expecting it to blow you away, instead buy it to have something to relax to for a few days.

Title: Mikagura School Suite - The Complete Series
Publisher: Funimation (via Anime Limited)
Genre: comedy, slice of life, action
Studio: Doga Kobo
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2015
Format: Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack (Blu-Ray version reviewed)
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 12
Running time: 300 minutes

Score: 7/10

Naruto Shippuden – Box Set 27 Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Score: 9/10

Aldnoah.Zero – Season 2

 

Aldnoah.Zero, the entirely original anime by Gen Urobuchi of Madoka Magica, Fate/Zero and Psycho-Pass fame, reappears in its second season, but does it make good on the shocking end to Season 1?

Before we get to that, a quick recap: Thanks to an ancient hyper-gate that connects to Mars found on the moon, humanity creates a new Kingdom on the red planet named Vers. Vers gains a new type of power known as Aldnoah and soon decides to attack Earth, but the resulting battle ends in the gate and a good half of the moon exploding. The “Orbital Knights” of the Vers Empire that remain after the attack settle on several large space stations in the debris belt and a ceasefire is agreed on. In Season 1 we saw that peace get broken when an assassination attempt on Princess Asseylum of Vers, set up by the Count Saazbaum of the Orbital Knights so they can have a valid excuse to start attacking Earth, drives the two sides into war. The war ends up including some students, one of whom, Inaho Kaizuka, is a natural at fighting in a Kataphract (this series’ name for mechs), as well as dedicated Asseylum follower and Earth-born member of Vers, Slaine Troyard, who was caught in the middle of the war when he discovers the Princess with the “Terrans” and finds out about the assassination plot by his own master.

This lead to the big cliffhanger at the end of the season where Slaine kills Saazbaum after he shoots the Princess dead, then in turn shoots the injured Inaho at close range in the head. A shocking ending and it makes you wonder who, if any of them, are going to survive as the plot picks up 19 months later…

MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!!!

Well, sadly, it didn’t really capitalize on the shock value. Inaho survives sans an eye, which is fair enough, he’s the main character. The Princess is still alive though in a coma-like state, which is alright I guess, though seems a bit of a backwards step (and unsurprisingly she wakes up about halfway through the series). Then it turns out Saazbaum is still alive! The lead villain lives and is saved by Slaine, who wishes to climb the ranks of Vers under him, so long as he saves the Princess’s life. Really makes you wonder why create such a great cliffhanger if you’re not going to do anything with it? Especially since Saazbaum ends up being killed a few episodes in anyway.

So we then get a blonde-haired antagonist who starts climbing his way up an off-Earth military with the goal of killing the one who wronged him (once he gains enough power) having a rivalry with the Earthling teen (a naturally gifted pilot) who has ended up in the military due to chance. This rivalry is set in stone after a girl they both loved is (seemingly) killed in front of them, and they blame each other for it. In other words, it’s Amuro vs. Char from Mobile Suit Gundam. I’ll give them credit in that by the last few episodes it’s a bit different, but it hovers far too close to the mark for me. I always take a few similarities to Gundam as being fine, it pretty much created the “real Robot” war type anime so some connections are expected, but the first half of this series felt far too familiar.

The ending too is a bit flat. I won’t tell you everything, but the season overall feel as if it starts going round in circles, refusing to give anyone but Inaho and Slaine something to do, and then it picks up before suddenly – and flatly – ending.

MAJOR SPOILERS END HERE

Storyline aside, the mix of CG and traditional 2D animation is still okay, sometimes jarring, but both, for the most part, are fine. I still love the Orbital Knights’ Kataphract designs. Some in this season have crazy X-Men powers that they try their best to explain with actual science, which is doubly enjoyable. The background soundtrack is largely unchanged from Season 1, including a remix of the great second ending theme from that season, apparently called “MKAlieZ” (the original ending song being called “aLIEz”). The opening is “&Z” by SawanoHiroyuki[nZk]:mizuki (bloody hell, can’t they shorten that down a bit?) and the ending is “Genesis” by Eir Aoi (that’s more like it!), although Episode 23 (or S2 E11) is “Harmonious” by Sora Amamiya.

The 12 episodes are once again spread across four Blu-rays, each containing three episodes. That’s still crazy to me, but as I said in the last review, it’s so weird that there must be a technical or other-region disc-authoring reason for it. Also, once again, it’s Japanese with English subs by default, if you want to hear the English voice track (which is fine, though unspectacular) you have to set it in the Set Up menu each disc. The extras are clean openings and endings, plus a few trailers. The usual jazz. You also get a nice artbook along with it.

So, Aldnoah.Zero Season 2. Well, it’s not as good as Season 1. For a start it feels as if the first 6 or so episodes have no clear focus, then the next few pick up, leading to a rather flat and rushed finale. That being said, it’s nice to look at and pleasant to listen to. If you want a flashy mech anime to watch over a few days, all 24 episodes of Aldnoah.Zero will do the trick, though you’ll be in for a roller coaster ride of a plot, with highs and lows, and ending on a flat bit when you get off (which in terms of a roller coaster is good, but a storyline, not so much)

Title: Aldnoah.Zero - Season 2
Publisher: Anime Limited
Genre: Action, Mecha
Studio: A-1 Pictures, TROYCA
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2015
Format: Blu-Ray and DVD (Blu-Ray version reviewed)
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 15
Running time: 300 minutes

Score: 5/10

Winter Season 2017 – First Thoughts and Impressions

Suddenly it’s 2017! As we sweep up the pine needles and polish off the last crumbs of Christmas cake, the first episodes of the new and continuing Winter 2017 series are appearing. Is this going to be as good a season as Autumn 2016? Which series are worth your time? (Especially if you made a New Year’s resolution to waste less time watching duds ‘in case they get better next episode’. We’re all been there!)

So, never fear; our writers at AUKN are here to share their thoughts and make recommendations. Agree? Disagree? We’d love to hear what you think too.

Demelza:

The Winter season always tends to be quite hit and miss for me. I try a bunch of shows, drop the majority, and then gain a few favourites that are no doubt forgotten about by the end of the year. It’s a harsh time for new anime to be released, but I think maybe this season is different.

This winter marks the return of one of my favourite shows from last year, KonoSuba. If you read my review when the series finished (if not you can find it here), you’ll know that I am a huge fan of the anime and the first episode of Season 2 hasn’t let me down so far! Our quirky band of heroes have gotten themselves into trouble yet again and between their over-the-top reactions and the mock Ace Attorney court session, it’s clear that this season is going to be just as fun as the last.

Away from KonoSuba I’d have to say my favourite new show is Fuuka. It’s a series that tells the story of a young kid, Yu, who spends all his time on Twitter and not really interacting with the world. One day he runs into a girl called Fuuka who changes his life forever! At heart the series sounds like your usual slice of life affair, but I’m a huge fan of the manga and can safely say that it’s not as generic as it sounds. The manga eventually evolves into a heavy focus on music (something I’m sure regular readers will know I love), and between that and the very sweet love story it tells I encourage everyone to give it a chance.

While I’m here I’d also like to give a mention to Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid which is the latest adaption from studio KyoAni. Despite my love for KonoSuba, I actually don’t like comedy all that much and so I was surprised to find that I could stick out a whole episode of this series and like it enough to want to watch more. The animation isn’t quite as good as the usual anime put out by the studio, but the story and heartwarming cast certainly more than make up for that. If there was anything that I could recommend to basically anyone, then I think Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is probably it. The series definitely had the best opening episode of the season, besides KonoSuba of course.

Ian Wolf:

For me, the title to keep an eye on this season is the one that has been the most highly anticipated: the return of Blue Exorcist.

It’s been a while; the last outing was the feature film that premiered back in 2012, so it’s been five years since we last encountered Rin Okumura, the trainee exorcist who is still hoping to kill his father – who just happens to be Satan.

The last series finished with Rin’s family history being exposed to the rest of his classmates at the True Cross Academy, thus meaning that everyone around Rin now distrusts him due to his dad being their sworn enemy. Also, Rin is having trouble keeping his demonic powers under control. In this second series, things are made even worse when one of the members of the Knights of the True Cross turns traitor and steals a valuable artefact that in the wrong hands can spread disease. This means that Rin’s class have to travel to Kyoto to stop things getting worse, staying at an inn run by the parents of aggressive classmate Ryuji Suguro.

It is probably worth looking over the first series again as there has been such a gap between the two, but if you enjoyed the first one then the second series should provide you with plenty of action and intrigue.

The other series I would recommend, like Demelza before me, is Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid. For the uninitiated, the story revolves around Miss Kobayashi, a systems engineer and secret otaku who gets drunk one night and bumps into Tohru, an injured dragon sleeping on a mountain. Kobayashi helps her, and suggests that she should come and stay. To her shock, Tohru appears the next morning, dressed as a maid and in a human body (if you ignore her horns and tail). Now Kobayashi has to try and cope with living with a mythical beast in her flat.

Having previously reviewed the manga I can say that there is plenty going for it in terms of humour. Fans of yuri may like it too, although people might be put off by fan service. For example, the first scene in which Tohru transforms into her human guise features some “boing-boing” sound effects as her boobs move. This might be surprising as the vast majority of the series has little objectionable content. I’ve enjoyed it so far, and I like the rather pastel-like art style they have used.

IncendiaryLemon:

As with the start of the majority of seasons, the Winter 2017 was one in which I was looking forward to very little, by pure virtue of not having heard of any of the upcoming shows before. Despite this, however, the  season is actually looking to be pretty good, at least going off the first few episodes of the series I have picked up thus far.

The only series I was actively anticipating in advance was Gabriel Dropout. I’m a huge sucker for Slice of Life comedies, and as soon as I saw the key art for this show, I knew I had to watch it, and its first episode didn’t disappoint. Gabriel Dropout comes courtesy of Doga Kobo, the studio that also produced the excellent New Game! last year, as well as a bunch of other great comedies such as Monthly Girls Nozaki Kun and Himouto Umaru-chan. The premise is a fairly simple one: a bunch of Angels and Demons are sent to a school on Earth in order to learn about human life, and antics ensue. Whilst the school-based SoL comedy isn’t exactly untrodden ground, the first episode managed to have me laughing throughout and has some pretty great gags, the funniest of which involves teleportation and which I dare not spoil here. Gabriel Dropout comes highly recommended if you liked any of the shows I listed above from Doga Kobo.

Another season highlight for me is Kyoto Animation’s Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid. Kyoto Animation is easily one of my favourite studios, with an astonishing track record of outstanding series such as K-On, Free! Iwatobi Swim Club, Nichijou, and my personal favourite show of last year, Sound! Euphonium. Dragon Maid appears to be a bit of a departure for the studio, which tends to focus on high school-based shows, and it’s a change of pace that’s appreciated. The focus in this show is the titular Miss Kobayashi, an average office worker, who, in a drunken stupor, enlists a dragon to be her personal maid. Much like Gabriel Dropout, this is another comedy that had me laughing along for the entirety of its running time, and the art is brilliant, as you’d probably expect from KyoAni. Add in a smidgen of yuri teasing, and you have an anime that is certainly one of my personal highlights of this season.

Venturing out of the comedy genre, the anime that’s piqued my interest the most so far would have to be ACCA 13. Going by Episode 1 alone, it’s actually very hard to tell in which direction this show is going, as the majority of the episode was world building; however it appears to be quite unlike anything else airing this season, or at least that I have seen. The show is almost entirely dialogue based, not unlike something such as Monogatari, but yet still remains very engrossing. It also has a unique art style that instantly grabbed my attention, and is animated by another personal favourite studio of mine, Madhouse. It’s actually quite hard to talk about, as little has happened just yet, but if you are looking for something that isn’t a light comedy series with a bunch of cute girls in it, this is probably one to watch.

Sarah:

ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Dept.

If you’ve read or watched the anime versions of Natsume Ono’s distinctive manga (Dead Leaves, Ristorante Paradiso) you’ll know that you’ll be in for a very different viewing experience in ACCA. Set in Dowa, a Ruritanian-ish European kingdom (check out those moustaches and uniforms!) it introduces us to Jean Otus, the vice-chairman of the inspections department.  Nearly a century ago when a coup d’etat threatened the peace of the thirteen territories, the syndicate was set up to protect the peace. Nowadays, the members of Jean’s department are more concerned with the cakes they’ll be eating for their morning snack break, so maybe it’s not surprising that there’s talk of disbanding ACCA. But the king is not getting any younger…is this really the right time? Something sinister is probably underway…but what? Directed by Shingo Natsume (One Punch Man) the series has a distinctive, primary-coloured palette (and is faithful to Natsume Ono’s stylish character designs). ACCA is unusual enough to hold the attention – but not, so far, to engage the heart. Jean makes a curiously unengaging central character: enigmatic and cool, smoking expensive cigarettes… However, the next episode promises to introduce another central character, the motorbike-riding reporter Nino, and, as I have faith in Natsume Ono’s works, I’m intrigued enough to return to see what happens next. You’ve gotta love a series where the character profiles tell you each person’s favourite snacks! (Jean’s are white bread and strawberries, btw.)

The best anime drama for many viewers last year was the first season of Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu and the second season Descending Tales has been hotly anticipated (certainly by me). Based on the prize-winning manga series by Haruko Kumota, this twisted and insightful tale of two proponents of the ancient story-telling performance art of rakugo battling the tide of twentieth century popular culture, was notable for its depth of characterization, voice acting and unique blend of music and visual art. We rejoin the story in the 1980s where Yotaro, the reformed yakuza turned professional storyteller, has taken the stage name of Sukeroku, in homage to his master Yakumo’s dead friend and contemporary. He’s also married – in name only – Sukeroku’s daughter Konatsu to protect her and her illegitimate baby son (father unknown, at least to us at this stage). Debts to the dead and a complicated web of feelings among the living overshadow the lives of the three main protagonists – and the dying art of rakugo underscores everything they do. Should it be allowed to die out as a historical irrelevance? Or can it be made meaningful to a more modern age and revived? The new OP, sexily, slinkily sung by Megumi Hayabashi, offers a striking and chilling foreshadowing of what’s to come. Not to be missed!

And it would be remiss of me not to mention the arrival of the third season of Yowamushi Pedal  – the first time any episodes of this iconic sports anime series has been made available in the UK (someone will correct me if I’m wrong…) I’m delighted to be able to watch it at last, even if it means coming in late. Perhaps Crunchyroll will bring us the earlier seasons as well now.

Rui:

I was dreading this season at first when Crunchyroll started off by announcing a selection of similar-looking school comedies. However, it’s turning out better than I thought. The best news of all is that hardly anything is locked away from the UK this time around, with the big villains of the season being Amazon for locking two interesting titles (Scum’s Wish and Onihei) behind their Prime paywall. The possibility that they might soon start charging even more for this service with the rollout of their premium Anime Strike subscription (US-only, for now) is worrying for many of us wanting affordable access to legal simulcasts.

Like the other staff members above, I’m very interested in the continuation of the absolutely sublime Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu and also looking forward to seeing where ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Dept. goes after that very stylish beginning. The biggest surprise of the first episodes I’ve seen so far has been Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid, which was much wittier than I’d expected from the premise and a real gem.

MARGINAL #4 key art

Another surprise for me was how watchable the first episode of this season’s idol title MARGINAL #4: Kiss Kara Tsukuru Big Bang ended up being. We had no fewer than three new seasons of big idol-related titles based on games aimed at the female audience last season, and in my personal opinion neither Dream Festival nor Magic-kyun Renaissance really succeeded in offering anything unique enough to dislodge the massive Uta No Prince-sama anime series from its throne. I was expecting MARGINAL #4 to fall by the wayside too – ever since its original debut as an audio series it’s been a direct attempt to cash in on a popular genre – but it neatly sidestepped direct comparisons to UtaPri by focusing on the boys’ silly school lives and idol careers rather than anything too complicated. It’s like an irreverent parody of K-On! blended with the flash of Love Live!, and the humour is so goofy that I think it’s going to work.

Like Rejet’s previous anime projects (Diabolik Lovers, Dance With Devils), MARGINAL #4 is mostly designed to promote the core series and the constant stream of expensive music/situation CDs which come out month after month, so even if the comedy starts to flag it’s a given that the concert scenes will continue to have great music. I’m a sucker for a good concert, and the hope that the (superior) senior idol group might actually be allowed to sing on-screen in a later episode will no doubt keep me pinned to the series all season long.

So my apologies go out to this season’s anime selection; I was too quick to judge at the start. My top titles this winter are all very different from one another so I can’t wait to see which of them still have my attention in a couple of months from now.

Cold Cobra:

Well, like a lot of people here there isn’t a large amount of options screaming at me, at least not at the moment. The series that I’m most interested in is Chaos;Child, mostly because I really enjoyed Steins;Gate and remember liking the possibly overly-gory but nonetheless interesting murder mystery Chaos;HEAd, the series this is a direct sequel to. The first episode was actually a two-parter… sort of as the first half recapped the cases in Chaos;HEAd. The actual first episode is a good start; the unpleasant murders and the mystery surrounding them barely gets going, but in a good way. The lead character, Takuru Miyashiro, and his merry band of high school newspaper club members are a fun bunch, though maybe not anything groundbreaking in terms of character type. So lots of mystery in the air and things to reveal. It could be a great ride, or it could sort of slowly degrade into confusion and end in an unsatisfactory manor, which happens often when an anime is based on a branching paths visual novel. Fingers crossed for the former rather than the latter!

The return of Blue Exorcist and a second helping of Tales of Zestiria the X should provide some entertainment in the coming weeks, the previous parts showing some promise in their genres, but that’s it so far this season. Very bare, but that does tend to happen in the Winter season.

Anime UK News Review of 2016 – Part 2

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

Manga

punpun

IncendiaryLemon:

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

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

Demelza:

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

Complex Age volume 1

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

Sarah:

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

battle-rabbits-1

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

10-count

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

 

 

Ian Wolf:

rg-veda-cover

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

love-stage-5

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

Digital Manga

Sarah:

vanitas

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

 

Ian Wolf:

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

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

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

Light Novels

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

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

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

Ian Wolf:

legend-galactic3

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

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

Things to Come in 2017…

attack-on-titan-2

Demelza:

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

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

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

Rui:

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

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

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

Darkstorm:

yugioh-film

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

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

IncendiaryLemon:

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

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

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

Ian Wolf:

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

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

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

Sarah: 

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

 

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

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

acca