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

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IncendiaryLemon:

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

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

Demelza:

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

Complex Age volume 1

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

Sarah:

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

battle-rabbits-1

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

10-count

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

 

 

Ian Wolf:

rg-veda-cover

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

love-stage-5

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

Digital Manga

Sarah:

vanitas

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

 

Ian Wolf:

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

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

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

Light Novels

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

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

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

Ian Wolf:

legend-galactic3

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

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

Things to Come in 2017…

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Demelza:

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

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

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

Rui:

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

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

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

Darkstorm:

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

 

 

 

Anime UK News Review of 2016 – Part 1

Anime UK News Review of 2016 – Part 1

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2016 has been a turbulent year – and at Anime UK News we’ve had our fair share of ups and downs too. But overall, it’s been a good year for anime, light novels and manga, with some significant improvements in what we get to see in the UK, even in cinemas! So it’s time for the AUKN staff to look back at what they’ve enjoyed the most in the past twelve months and to pass on their recommendations.

What have been your favourite shows and reads this year? Why not share you views with us here!

Anime Streaming

 IncendiaryLemon:

Whilst I can’t say it’s been good in all respects this year, when it comes to anime, I really can’t complain, as I’ve seen an absolute ton of fantastic shows in 2016. Last year, when I picked School Live as my Anime of the Year, it was an incredibly easy choice, but I’ve had to think far harder this year than last.

Way back in the Winter we had the heartfelt and emotional mystery series Erased, which, whilst shaky towards the end, was still excellent on the whole. Spring saw the return of a personal favourite franchise of mine: JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, which adapted the fourth part of the manga, Diamond is Unbreakable; as well as the thrilling fantasy adventure Re:Zero: Starting Life in Another World.  In the Summer, we finally got a continuation of Gut’s story after almost 20 years in the form of Berserk (2016), as well as being introduced to the next generation of school idols in Love Live! Sunshine!!. Finally, the Autumn season is shaping up to be possibly the best season out of the whole year, with visually mesmerising and surprisingly heartfelt Flip Flappers and hilariously over the top and self aware sports series Keijo!.

So what was my favourite show?  Well, it’s something that, at time of writing, has actually yet to wrap up, but I can still say with utmost confidence that it’s the best anime of the year, hands down. That show, is Sound Euphonium Season 2. 

The first season of Sound! Euphonium was one that took me a little while to sound-euphoniumwarm to, and it was only when revisiting it before the second season for a refresher that I actually fell in love with the show, but this second season takes an already fantastic series and just continues pushing the quality up. It’s already better than the season that came before it, and it hasn’t even finished yet! The characters are the true core of what makes Sound! brilliant, and this second season continues to expand upon the cast introduced in the initial season and to develop both the characters and their relationships, as well as introducing new characters into the mix too, with spectacular results. There are also some excellent story beats in this season too, and I’m very much excited to see how they play out in the end. Kyoto Animation’s animation is also just beautiful and and is definitely the pinnacle of the studio’s work from an artistic standpoint, which is saying a lot considering some of the gorgeous shows they’ve put out in the past.

I’m really hoping that calling Sound! Euphonium Season 2 my Anime of the Year doesn’t come back to bite me if the ending is poor, but I have every confidence that it will be just as amazing as the rest of the season has been.

Demelza:

When it comes to anime that has been streaming in the UK this year I don’t think we’ve had the best year. There have been some good shows, but truly memorable works have been few and far between for me. If I have to pick shows that stood out then I think my picks would be Erased, Re:Zero, My Hero Academia and Orange. Each of these series stood out in different ways but now we’re into the last of the Autumn season and looking toward Winter 2017, I honestly can’t say they’re favourites of mine.

When it comes to my favourites, I have three. To start with I have Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash which took the very generic idea of being trapped in a fantasy world and filled it with realism. After the first two or three episodes, it was clear to see that this world holds no punches and so if our heroes wanted to get anywhere they’d have to be extremely careful or risk certain death. Coupled with some wonderful animation from A-1 Pictures and a soundtrack from R.O.N it was an instant hit with me and definitely the one series I think of when looking back at 2016.

konosuba-1
My second favourite is undoubtedly KonoSuba. The series aired right at the beginning of 2016 and it won’t be the most memorable for everyone but for me it stuck around in my mind simply because, like Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash, it took the idea of being trapped in a fantasy world and did something memorable with it. It’s not serious by any means (and the animation was several grades of downright terrible), but it made fun of the tropes of the genre and a lot of fantasy video games so it won a lot of respect in my book. With Yen Press gearing up to release the original light novels early next year and a second season due to air in the Winter, it’s definitely an anime that’ll be sticking around in my memory.

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My third and final pick is the wonderful Bungo Stray Dogs from Studio BONES. If you’ve read any of my reviews of a BONES series before, then you’ll know they’re probably one of my favourite studios and so their latest offering quickly became a favourite of mine. While I’m not sure the series hits the heights of Blood Blockade Battlefront or Noragami, it’s still home to a lot of really likeable characters and the story is interesting enough to keep me wanting to see more.

Sarah:

morose-mononokeanThis has been a fascinatingly varied year. Personal favourites include: superhero with a difference Mob Psycho 100; gentle slice-of-life with youkai The Morose Mononokean; slice-of-life with a tanuki Poco’s Udon World, and the dry humour of sadly overlooked ‘vampires with a difference’ Servamp (only on Funimation). Yuri!!! On ICE has been my stand-out series of 2016, closely followed by the first part of Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinju, a fascinating and insightful picture of the practitioners of the ancient performance art of rakugo (story-telling) trying to keep it alive as the distractions of the twentieth century take away their audience. It’s also a compelling and moving drama about the performers and their lives. Subtle and understated, yet vivid and dramatic when it needs to be, I can’t wait for Season 2 in the Winter Anime 2017 Season.

The launch of Funimation UK has brought an even greater range of choice to viewers in the UK and the decision to concentrate on dubs this autumn is an interesting one (some dubs proving more convincing than others as many new VAs are brought in, some less skilled than others). It’s a little early to tell how well this is working with series as varied as Drifters, All Out!!  and Nanbaka receiving the full Funi treatment (remember when they used to call it reversioning?).

Cold Cobra:

jojoAs is often the case when you’re one of the last to add your thoughts, I don’t have anything new to recommend! Still, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure Part IV: Diamond is Unbreakable probably gets my highest recommendation. Since Capcom’s 2D fighting game in the late 90s I’ve been aware of the JoJo series, but obviously pretty much only Part III (the part the game was based on). So when that part ended I wondered what the rest was like, as I enjoyed Part II a lot due to not knowing what on Earth was going on, and I’m happy to say that’s held true for Part IV this year. Top marks goes to the series’ lead villain Kira, who has been superbly built up as someone you want to see get their comeuppance and has been responsible for some real edge-of-your-seat cliffhangers in the last few weeks. Diamond is Unbreakable may well be my favourite part so far, despite not having a 2D Capcom fighter based on it!

Other series I’ve really enjoyed are Bungo Stray Dogs, Mob Psycho 100 and yes, Re:Zero. I’d also like to mention how nice it is that I can now mention Dragon Ball Super as a series that is officially streaming here in the UK. The new Future Trunks arc that aired throughout the year may have taken the Dragon Ball lore book and thrown it out the window, but it did have some really well animated fights, so that’s always a plus!

 

 

Rui: 

I’ve been relying on streaming for my anime consumption for most of the year as it’s the most economical way to get my fix of new content, and fortunately there have been quite a few titles which leapt in to fill the void after the wonderful Osomatsu-san came to an end. A list of my highlights would definitely include Erased, Joker Game and Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu, all of which I knew I’d like from the very first episode. Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash managed to be a rare modern LN-based fantasy show I actually enjoyed thanks to its realistic tone and human cast. Then there was the latest part of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure and the second season of The Heroic Legend of Arslan, both of which were thoroughly satisfying continuations in their own (very different) ways. This season’s Yuri!!! On ICE is shaping up to be a candidate for the best show of the year, too; its focus on the leads’ feel-good romance demonstrates that turning everything into a tragic melodrama isn’t the only way to tell a dramatic love story.

chikyuuboueibu1

The series I remember most fondly, though, is something of a guilty pleasure: Cute High Earth Defense Club LOVE! LOVE! made me laugh harder than anything else all year! It’s the sequel to an equally irreverent parody of magical girl anime starring a bunch of eccentric, mostly-unenthusiastic guys which somehow managed to be even more entertaining than its predecessor through the addition of a pair of vengeful twin pop singers from outer space who serve as the new main villains. I don’t expect it to make many other lists for the year, but I laughed so hard I cried during some of the later episodes. Truly ridiculous stuff.

Ian Wolf:

This is a difficult one for me, because the series I most want to nominate has not ended yet, and I don’t think I can really confirm it is my personal favourite series of 2016 until it has finished.

This series is Yuri!!! On ICE, which I previously reviewed for AUKN. I have been enjoying this series, because I’m both a fan of sports anime in general and I’m pansexual. However, I’ve had my fill of gay subtext – what I want now is actual gay text. I just want more than anything else, for the gay relationship between Yuri and Victor to be beyond any doubt. I could go on about the kiss scene and further developments with the duo getting themselves rings which indicates some form of engagement, but what I really want is for them just to say: “I love you”, or “Will you marry me”, or to see a kiss without Victor’s arm getting in the way. If they do I’ll be ecstatic; if they don’t, it’ll be a massive disappointment and a missed opportunity; at the moment, it’s the single biggest cock tease I can think of.

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Speaking of sports anime, there are other series that spring to mind. The comedian Ross Noble once said: “You can have sex with a man, and that’s still less gay than rollerblading.” This year we found out something even gayer than that: an all-male cheerleading team. Cheer Boys!! on Funimation definitely tops the list of the most unintentionally camp anime ever. It was a series that made me laugh – for the wrong reasons. The problem was that it seemed to be taking itself too seriously. It claimed to be overturning prejudices – it certainly didn’t in my opinion.

A show that didn’t take itself so seriously, the return of Cute High Earth Defense Club LOVE! LOVE! was much more enjoyable in comparison: because it’s funny, you embrace the more flamboyant elements. Other returning series that were good include series two of Food Wars! and the third series of Haikyu!! In terms of brand new anime, ERASED was certainly a highlight, even if the ending was predictable, and it might be my favourite of the year if Yuri!!! On Ice fails to develop the way I hope it does.

Anime Film 

Theatrical Screening

Demelza:

your-name-pr-4When it comes to theatrical anime screenings, I haven’t had the chance to see many this year. I was gutted when Anthem of the Heart was being shown in Manchester and I was too unwell to attend, and Boruto was screened just a little too far away for me to justify the trip. However, that said, I have been able to see both A Silent Voice and Your Name this year and both are truly remarkable works of animation.

When it comes to the mass media and most anime fans, I think Your Name is the movie that stands out. It’s emotionally moving, absolutely beautifully animated and telling a story that only Makoto Shinkai could tell. Meanwhile A Silent Voice has so far only been shown at the Leeds International Film Festival and Scotland Loves Anime, so the chances that many of you have seen it are, sadly, quite slim. With a wider theatrical release planned for early next year I highly recommend checking it out as, although I am a big fan of Your Name, I think that A Silent Voice has a story that is perhaps more easily relatable than that of Your Name. Either way both stood out to me this year and are the best of the theatrical screenings we’ve been given.

Rui:

I’ve been spoilt this year and been able to watch quite a few anime titles on the big screen, with Your Name being a particular highlight due to its relatively high profile release; who would have thought I’d see posters for non-Ghibli anime screenings all over the London Underground! It helps that the film itself is very good. I haven’t yet had the opportunity to check out A Silent Voice – it’s on my list for next year – but choosing a favourite is tricky. Being forced to sit and watch a film quietly in a cinema is a different experience to watching at home, and the lack of distractions means they’ve all left a strong impression on me as a viewer.

Surprisingly, the most fun film screening experience I’ve had this year was probably the first two Kizumonogatari films, which I saw at last month’s Leeds International Film Festival. It’s surprising because I was quite excited about them several years ago when they were originally announced, then over time my interest in the ongoing Monogatari series began to fade as my favourite characters stepped aside to let (mostly) less interesting ones have their time in the limelight. I knew that one character I wasn’t all that interested in at all was likely to have a major role in Kizumonogatari, too, and went in expecting little more than kinky fan service and stunning animation. Suffice it to say that my expectations were surpassed. If you’ve ever liked any part of the Monogatari series at all there’s probably something to enjoy in Kizumonogatari.

Darkstorm:

I was very fortunate to see a preview screening of Your Name back in October, and as per my review I highly recommend it if you haven’t seen it already. It’s fantastic that more anime films are getting recognised and screened in the UK; but one must not forget that earlier in the year we FINALLY got a screening of Studio Ghibli’s last movie (for now): When Marnie Was There. I saw this with friends and we all walked out of the cinema with smiles and tears in our eyes, it’s a delightful little movie that is now out on DVD and Blu-ray; it doesn’t have Miyazaki’s name on it but it’s certainly worth your attention.

Anime DVD/Blu-ray

IncendiaryLemon:

Much like the brand new anime that came out in 2016, the releases that hit home video in the UK this year were also of incredibly high quality, being just as hard to narrow down to a single title. In fact, it was so difficult for me, I decided to pick a handful of titles rather than just one, because honestly, I think I love all of these shows in equal amounts, and they’re so wildly different to each other, I don’t think I could really pick just one.

HaNaYaMaTa (Manga Entertainment, DVD and BD)-Full Review

Along with When Supernatural Battles Become Commonplace (which is also excellent), HaNaYaMaTa is probably one of the most overlooked titles this year. It’s certainly not going to be for everyone, but the brilliant visuals from Madhouse and the charming cast was enough to win me over, making it one of the best Slice of Life series I’ve seen.

Love Live: School Idol Project Season 2 (MVM Films, DVD and BD)Full Review

Whilst the first season of Love Live was great, it was its follow-up that really cemented the franchise as a favourite of mine. Its more focused story led to some incredible emotional moments that put me on the brink of tears multiple times throughout and further developed its memorable and lovable characters, as well as having a brilliant J-Pop soundtrack.

No Game No Life (MVM Films, DVD and BD)-Full Review

Switching things up a bit from the other two recommendations, No Game No Life is a thoroughly enjoyable series, mostly due to its wonderful premise, about a world where all matters of conflict are settled through games rather than violence. This makes for a very unique anime as the protagonists Sora and Shiro try to conquer the world through a plethora of different and varied games. Add in a healthy dose of comedy, some very striking visuals from Madhouse, and a nice but affordable Collector’s Edition from MVM, and it’s a series I can’t recommend enough.

Assassination Classroom (Anime Limited, DVD and BD)-Full Review (P1, P2)

Another series high on the fun factor is Assassination Classroom, in which a classroom full of high school students attempt to kill their teacher, Korosensei, who threatens to destroy the planet if he’s not dead by the time the class graduates. Much like No Game No Life, this is another series that works almost entirely due to the fantastic premise, which provides a lot of mileage as we see the kid’s increasingly elaborate attempt killing the nigh invincible Korosensei. I was also quite a big fan of the relationship between Korosensei and the students, which is probably the most interesting element, as, despite being a strange tentacled creature with near godlike powers, he’s actually still a great teacher too.

The Tatami Galaxy (Anime Limited, BD)-Full Review

This was without a doubt the most unique anime I’ve seen all year, perhaps the most unique anime I’ve seen ever. The distinct visuals are like nothing I’ve ever seen in a show before and are just gorgeous, however the show is more than just a pretty face, having a very intriguing plot that will certainly make you think, and a good amount of sheer bizarre and surreal humour that was right up my alley.

Cold Cobra:

This year has seen several high-quality special edition releases that certainly deserve pointing out, mostly from Anime Limited. Although it was a bit out of my price range, “most amazing looking release of the year” award has to go to their Fullmetal Alchemist Ultimate Edition release, which came in a large resin model of the “The Gate” from the series, plus had a large artbook as well.

transformersMy personal favourite releases of the year are two restored versions of two classics from my late teens and childhood, respectively. They are Outlaw Star (from Anime Limited again!) which was a great restoration of the old footage and came in a lovely looking box with plenty of extras. The second is The Transformers: The Movie – 30th Anniversary Edition (from Manga), which not only was amazingly restored, but came with a nice complement of extras and two viewing ratios on two separate Blu-rays. There have been many more releases I’ve brought and/or reviewed over the year, but they stick out in my mind the most.

Rui: 

Universal Pictures UK are my unexpected heroes of the anime industry for 2016, mainly due to their special edition Heroic Legend of Arslan releases which are absolutely stunning. That’s not to say that their Seraph of the End releases aren’t as good; it’s just that Arslan is one of my favourite shows of the last few years and I still can’t believe my luck that it got such a lavish local release. The Tatami Galaxy from Anime Limited is also one of the crown jewels of my UK DVD/BD collection; at last the series has been given a release without the (minor, but annoying) glitches of the DVD edition. I can’t believe that there’s still no DVD/BD at all in the US!

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Darkstorm:

Despite reviewing some high profile series (Fate/Stay Night Unlimited Blade Works, Tokyo Ghoul and Future Diary) and finding much to enjoy from them, it’s the movie releases that have stood out the most to me this year. First we have A Letter to Momo, a sweet little kids’ film with unique goblin designs, the aforementioned When Marnie Was There came out few months after the cinema release, and the Project Itoh movies, although not completely flawless films, have certainly brought a lot of creatively to table. I know it’s a giant hot mess, but I can’t deny that The Empire of Corpses won my heart when I first saw it cinemas during BFI anime film season and was delighted I was able to review it for the site.

Sarah:

escaflowneThis has been the year of the Collector’s Edition re-release with most of the honours going to Anime Limited for Vision of Escaflowne (with the new dub!) and the original Fullmetal Alchemist. However, I’m all about getting to see stuff I’ve never seen before, so other welcome releases from AL have been series gaining their first R2 outing, notably the superb  Gankutsuou and immensely likable fan favourite  Free! – Eternal Summer.

Surprise hit for me was Punch Line from Manga Animatsu: an intriguingly plotted science fiction time paradox story masquerading as a harem panties show.

Ian Wolf:

Not surprisingly, nearly all the series I’ve listed here are from All the Anime, who have continued to produce box sets of a high quality. The only problem I have is that, thanks to their deal with Funimation, many of their releases promote series that are released by Funi in the USA, but are released by other companies in the UK.

I’ve not given any of the box sets I’ve reviewed this year a 10 out of 10, but ones that came close include Assassination Classroom, with its fun characters and bizarre premise; Ping Pong, for its distinctive animation style and for the fact that it is a sports anime for those who think that some of the characters might be straight; and for All the Anime’s continuing imports of Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin from Japan, released in high quality box sets. Outside of All the Anime, the only other 9 out of 10 I found was Manga Entertainment’s release of Death Note, releasing all the episodes along with the OVA, providing a high quality rendering of one of anime’s most intriguing characters.

There are of course the box sets which I’ve purchased myself (i.e. the ones I couldn’t get for free to review). Ouran High School Host Club is certainly one that springs to mind, as it has always been one of my favourite anime anyway thanks to the comedy, but on Blu-ray we get to enjoy the artwork even more.

And thus concludes Part 1 of our survey of 2016. Join us in Part 2 where we share our thoughts on manga, light novels and look at what we’re excited about coming up in 2017!

rakugo-season-2

The Transformers – The Movie 30th Anniversary Edition

transformers-cover

The classic, and often controversial, theatrical special of the original Transformers cartoon is now 30 years old and Manga have released the restored version on Blu-ray, but does the film still have the touch? Does it still have the poweeerrrrrr? (Sorry, couldn’t help it…)

Before anyone wonders why it’s being reviewed here on Anime UK News, it’s simple: it was written by the American cartoon team, but it was animated by Toei Animation in Japan, which includes the cinematography. Rule of thumb is if it’s animated in Japan, it’s an anime, if it’s animated in the US, it’s a cartoon, but let’s not go down the route, that way lies madness…

So the plot is quite… odd. It’s set a full 20 years after the end of Season 2 of the TV series, and the war on Cybertron isn’t going well for the Autobots. In fact the Decepticons have conquered the planet, leaving Optimus and co. hiding out on the planet’s two moons, as well as their old Earth base. The obnoxious little boy Spike Witwicky is now an adult and working with the Autobots on one of the afore-mentioned moons, but … ahem… luckily, his son is about the same age as he was back in the day and is on Earth, so… thank goodness for that, nearly didn’t have an obnoxious kid in an 80s animated property for a second there!

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Here is where things get unexpectedly dark. Megatron, leader of the Decepticons, after over 20 years of constant war (and never-ending retreats where nothing gets accomplished) finally realises that a good way to win a war is to kill your enemy. I’m talking Megatron and co. arriving on an Autobot shuttle, Megatron declaring he’s going to kill them, and then transforming into his gun form followed by four friendly Autobots being gunned down and killed. That’s only the beginning! The Decepticons soon arrive on the Earth base and so begins a would-be-bloody-if-they-weren’t-robots war where several characters on all sides either die or are near death, including a fated showdown between Optimus Prime and Megatron, where instead of one standing while one falls, it ends in pretty much a draw, with Optimus dying (spoiler! … for a 30-year-old film…) and Megatron being all but dead. This is all pretty shocking coming off of a “nobody is killed, let’s not even mention the words kill or die” cartoon.

Newly introduced Autobot Hotrod is to blame for Optimus Prime’s death, getting involved with the fated duel and getting Optimus shot several times in his bungled attempt at help. It’s actually quite amazing that beyond having a “cool” flame paintjob, Hotrod is a pretty bad attempt at creating a new lead character, which is what it was all about. Anyway, as if things couldn’t get any worse, a giant sentient transforming planet named Unicron arrives and is disturbed by the “Matrix of Leadership” that Optimus once held, that was then passed to the dull-as-dishwater Ultra Magnus. He sees the object as the one thing that could defeat him, and so regenerates Megatron and a few other near-dead Decepticons that had been thrown into space by their new “brave” leader Starscream, and uses his immense power to force them to hunt down and destroy the Matrix.

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This sets up the rest of the film, where the remaining Autobots are chased around several newly introduced planets by Galvatron (the new Megatron) and eventually have to rally to defeat Unicron before he destroys Cybertron. I could go on for many more paragraphs about some of these characters, planets and a certain universal greeting, but I’ll leave it there on the off-chance you haven’t actually seen the film already (and for the sake of review length!)

On to some other points. Firstly, the soundtrack. If you like 80s power ballads and rock, it’s great. Hell, even if you don’t I’d like to see you not get a little more excited and invested into the film when “The Touch” or “Dare” comes on in the background. Even the moody (and synth-filled!) music that plays when Unicron is introduced is great, top marks to composer Vince DiCola on that front. There isn’t a mention of whether the audio mix was upgraded along with the picture, but everything was definitely loud and clear on my end. The voicecast is also worth mentioning, the classic cartoon actors return, but are joined by the likes of Leonard Nimoy and… Orson Welles! In his last ever performance… always a weird fact. The animation is often fluid and the art switches between really detailed drawings come to life (particularly the scenes with Unicron devouring planets, so many little lines and bits everywhere) and more simple drawing that’s closer to the TV series. The (4K, although it’s still a standard Blu-ray) restoration is great too, everything is really bright and clear, yet still featuring some film grain for that touch of authenticity.

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It’s worth saying that this is the full, unedited version of the film. That means Spike Witwicky exclaims “Oh shit! Whadda we do now?!” when Unicron eats the second moon of Cybertron unaffected by their attempts to blow it up, and there is no “Optimus Prime will return” message at the end that was quickly added after the supremely negative feedback from their decision to kill the character off. I don’t know if this is the first time the unedited version has been released in this country, but the swear word wasn’t on the VHS or DVD version I’ve seen in the past, though I know there have been a few different DVDs, so I can’t say for sure.

It should be noted that this comes in two discs, one labelled “Full Frame” and the other “Widescreen”. Much like most of the films by Toei at this point, it was created using 4:3 animation with the intention of it being zoomed in to fit the cinema’s widescreen. This also meant that the film could be released on VHS and fill up the 4:3 TV screens without the need for black bars. The “Full Frame” version is the full 4:3 version, meaning it’s not zoomed or stretched, but it is a 4:3 box in the middle of your now standard 16:9 screen, and the “Widescreen” version is the cinematic version and therefore fills your screen, but you lose some of the top and bottom, but that was always taken into account when it was created anyway and is therefore the more authentic way to view it. What’s nice is that the full compliment of extras is on both discs, meaning whichever way you choose to watch you won’t have to switch discs to watch the extras.

As for the extras, they include a well-made and interesting Making Of Documentary titled “Til’ All Are One”, Audio Commentary on the film with Director Nelson Shin, story consultant Flint Dille and star Susan Blu, a few featurettes, storyboards and trailers (both cinematic and TV). It’s a good chunk of extras, that’s for sure, and again they’re all on both discs.

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So should you buy this? Well… yeah. I mean, if you grew up with the film like myself, or you’ve come to like it, or even if you want to try it out, there is no better version of it out there, picture, audio and extras-wise. Hell, the steelbook box is nice as well, by the looks of it. If you have no intention of watching an 85 minute 80s-fest based on a cartoon that’s being more and more lost due to never-ending Michael Bay-created films, then that’s a shame, because to answer my question from earlier, this film does indeed still have the touch… and the poweeeerrrr

Title: The Transformers - The Movie 30th Anniversary Steelbook
Publisher: Manga Entertainment
Genre: Science Fiction, Action, Adventure
Studio: Toei Animation
Type: Movie
Original vintage: 1986
Format: Blu-Ray
Language options: English dub audio only
Age rating: PG
Running time: 84 minutes

Score: 10/10

Bleach Volume 68

bleach-cover

The Ordinary Peace

The first volume of Bleach to be released in the UK after its official end over in Japan, Volume 68 does its best to regroup everyone for one last push, but does it do well?

The battle between the Shinigami and the Quincy still rages on, though most of the invading villains were wiped out in the last chapter (with little-to-no thought), leaving only the top brass on either side of the war. The goal of the Quincy, or specifically the goal of their leader (the still-hard-to-pronounce Yhwach), is to kill the Soul King, an omnipotent being that apparently ties all the realms together. After breaking into the Soul King’s realm and defeating its guardians in Squad Zero, Yhwach is finally about to achieve his goal as Ichigo and his fellow humans are hot on his tail.

The volume begins with several remaining Captain Level Shinigami gathering together, battered but not beaten, under the orders of former captain Urahara. The original mad scientist plans to open a portal to the royal realm and lead an attack on the remaining Quincy. Speaking of whom, Yhwach succeeds in stabbing the Soul King before Ichigo and his friends arrive, but then uses his influence over Quincy blood to force Ichigo to slice the Soul King in half to finish it off. This surely means the end of all realms of reality?! Right?! Well, I won’t spoil how, but no, and in fact when he is foiled Yhwach gets the chance to do it again, but goes down a different route, for some reason, and tries to absorb the Soul King’s power for himself instead.

Just to touch on some of the other happenings in this volume: Captain Commander Kyoraku visits Bleach’s iconic villain Aizen with an offer to partially free him in exchange for his help; classic Captain Ukitake finally does something in this final arc… briefly (but so you don’t get your hopes up, it’s not revealing his Bankai…) and the Quincy “Schutzstaffel”, or Elite Guard, who were powered up in the previous volume (at the expense of all the other characters Kubo had built up…) appear a few times in the background towards the end, with one or two lines shared between them. I mention that because Schutzstaffel member Askin Nakk Le Vaar is featured on the cover for this volume, but doesn’t even get a single line of dialogue and barely appears. Weird! You’d think maybe Aizen in his prison bondage (oo-er) or Ukitake would have featured on the cover instead.

The volume ends with Yhwach gaining even more power while his men watch on, and Ichigo and friends, along with the Shinigami, getting ready for one last run at them.

So, unlike the previous volume which was great and had a well drawn fight take up most of it, this volume is a come-down after that, where the good guys and the bad guys re-collect into groups and then get separated, leading to an inevitable final showdown between the two of them in the last few volumes to come. As always it’s well drawn, even if there’s a lot of standing around and talking, but it comes with a few “huh?” moments surrounding the lead villain’s goals and an interesting twist with a much-loved Captain… that literally become irrelevant two or three chapters later. This may be the final calm before the storm, but it wasn’t as exciting as it should have been. More… mildly annoying.

Title: Bleach Volume 68
Publisher: Viz
Genre: Action, Adventure, Supernatural
Author(s): Tite Kubo
Type: Manga
Original vintage: 2015
Format: Book
Age rating: T
Length: 208 pages

Score: 5/10

Outlaw Star – The Complete Series (Blu-ray)

outlaw-star_3d

Outlaw Star is a beloved classic, though is often lost in the haze of better known series of similar genre (like Cowboy Bebop, most commonly), but now the series has been cleaned and beautifully restored onto Blu-ray, is it worth revisiting?

Before we get to that, a little history. Outlaw Star started off life as a manga series published in Ultra Jump from 1996-1999, where as the anime was made and broadcast in Japan in 1998. Here in the UK it debuted on short-lived TV channel CNX, where it was sadly paired and aired directly after the afore-mentioned Cowboy Bebop in an hour block, thus causing a lot of people to view it far more harshly than it warranted at the time. It has been released a few times on DVD, but it goes without saying that its never looked this good before!

The story is pretty standard fare, with a lot of familiar character types, set in the old space frontier setting. Cool, laid-back gunslinger Gene Starwind and his smart and sarcastic child sidekick, Jim Hawking, run a small business taking odd jobs for people, and end up doing a job for notorious space pirate “Hot Ice” Hilda. After a fight with some local pirates they end up in possession of not only a new experimental starship (which they dub “the Outlaw Star”), but shy and awkward bio-android Melfina, who integrates with the ship and controls its navigation directly. They find out that the ship’s true purpose is to find the “Galactic Leyline”, a place that is said to hold immense treasure, or power, or knowledge… or all three!

outlaw_5

Gene, Jim and Melfina begin to travel the stars and soon add silent kimono-wearing assassin “Twilight” Suzuka and dumb and obnoxious but strong catgirl Aisha Clanclan of the alien race known as the Ctarl-Ctarl to their travelling roster. In their travels they come up against several recurring foes, including suave bounty hunter and killer Ronald MacDougall and his narcissist younger brother Harry, a group of assassins known as the Anten Seven which is lead by Darth Vader wannabe Lord Hazanko, and bold and obsessed scientist Nguyen Khan. Not to spoil too much, but all these plotlines and characters converge in the last few episodes, and it really pays off to see all these individual elements get together in search for the prize.

outlaw_1

The episodes themselves are often really good, self-contained stories, and at only 26 episodes long, it doesn’t overstay its welcome; even a comedy side-step episode revolving around a hot spring planet is actually funny, especially in the English dub (I’ll get to that in the bit). As I alluded to in the above paragraphs, a valid criticism would be that the characters remain vague cookie-cutter character types and never really develop any personalities or backstory. Thankfully, the episodes are often well written enough that you don’t mind the rather predictable personalities because you’re enjoying the story unfolding, or just the general interaction between such … straightforward and contrasting personalities.

Something that is unique on the other hand is the space battles. Now they do contain your normal missiles and lasers, but the ships, including the Outlaw Star itself, have grappler arms on them and often get into weird tests of strength with each other, or rip bits off with them. Now, I don’t know why this became a thing in this universe, but it makes for exciting and interesting space battles at least!

outlaw_10

Now there have been a few allusions to Cowboy Bebop, but I’m happy to say they share another thing in common and that’s a great English dub. Not many shows would have this in their review, but each member of the show’s roster is really well cast, the acting is great and the script is sharp. As someone who often (though not always) ends up watching anime in Japanese and subtitled, I think the English voice cast add a lot to the feel and atmosphere and I would recommend it to be viewed this way, though obviously the set includes the Japanese dub with subtitles, should you disagree.

The opening is an exciting tune named “Through the Night” by Masahiko Arimachi, while the first 13 episodes have “Hiru no Tsuki” by Arai Akino as their ending, whereas the second half have “Tsuki no Ie”, also by Ms. Akino. The actual background music is very memorable and catchy, and was composed by Kow Otani, a man who has worked on such properties as Godzilla, Gundam and the classic game Shadow of the Colossus.

outlaw_8

Getting to the set itself, it’s a lovely looking box filled with a nice-looking 100-page artbook. The on-disc extras range from the normal clean openings and closings, some design galleries, TV ads and, most interestingly, the “pilot film”, which is actually a two minute promo with footage that never ended up being used when the series went into production proper (including Jim seemingly having a weird pink rabbit hanging around with him, which I guess was dropped entirely!) The picture quality is outstanding, clearly restored carefully with the original film print. With some anime you can’t really see the difference between the formats (apart from blocky subtitle text!) but this is a proper HD makeover.

outlaw-star_open

So, now it’s free of the shadow of Bebop (he says after referencing it a dozen times…), does Outlaw Star stand on its own feet in 2016? Yes and no; a lot of the characters are very shallow and beyond Gene, most don’t get any development at all, just staying within their character archetype, but the actual story-telling is top-notch, as is the animation and the soundtrack, plus it has a top-class English dub, along with the by-no-means-poor Japanese original. It won’t take you on an emotional journey of self discovery, but it will keep you entertained and keep a smile on your face for 26 episodes straight. That’s a feat a lot of shows have failed to pull off, regardless of what decade they come from.

The box looks good on a shelf, and the show looks great on your TV. If you’re a fan of the show already, then this is the best available version of it. If you’re looking for a fun ride that doesn’t outstay its welcome, then I recommend you put your money down and enjoy Outlaw Star.

Title: Outlaw Star - Complete Blu-Ray Box
Publisher: Anime Limited
Genre: Space Western, space opera, science fantasy
Studio: Sunrise
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 1998
Format: Blu-Ray
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 12
Running time: 650 minutes

Score: 9/10