Your Name

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Mitsuha Miyamizu is a young girl living in the countryside, desperate to escape her mundane village life and experience the wonders of Tokyo. Her wildest dreams seem to come true when she suddenly wakes up in a Tokyo apartment inside a boy’s body – a boy who just happens to have the ideal busy life with school, friends, a love interest and waiter job. When she goes to school the next morning, she discovers from her friends’ reactions that it was not a dream at all, whilst she was off parading around Tokyo, a boy by the name of Taki Tachibana was inside her body back at her village, interacting with her friends and family. Shocked by the sudden turn of events with seemingly no way of stopping the random body-switching days, the pair establish a few ground rules to cope with the sudden change and as they begin to learn more about each other, a drastic event threatens to tear them apart forever.

Director and writer Makoto Shinkai has been hailed as the ‘new Miyazaki’ in many publications and reviews, especially of late since Your Name topped the Japanese box office just 28 days after release, becoming the highest grossing non-Studio Ghibli and non-series- related anime film to earn over 10 billion yen. With the Western world’s limited scope for comparison when it comes to Japanese animation directors and Makoto Shinkai being a Ghibli fan himself, it’s easy to put two and two together. But what has struck a chord with Japanese audiences in Your Name? And is the ‘new Miyakazki’ tag warranted? Mr Shinkai already has a variety of films under his belt, as well as novels and manga. From the fantasy- driven Journey to Agartha to the more down-to-earth stories such as Garden of Words, there’s no doubt that he’s a talented storyteller, with Your Name not only exhibiting many elements of his previous works but creating a whole new heart-warming tale in the process for a new generation of anime fans.

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At the core of this tale is the tried and tested ‘body switching’ trope which is a common device in fiction from literature to TV to films, the latter’s most famous example being Freaky Friday, where a mother and daughter swap bodies for a certain amount of time. It’s often played for comedic effect with the actors involved hamming up their physical and/or voice performance to convince the audience of the change, and by the end of the experience it’s the age-old lesson of ‘walking a mile in each other’s shoes’ to understand each other better. Your Name is ripe for such hilarious comedy as it’s a boy and girl swapping bodies but Makoto Shinkai avoids a lot of the trappings and recycled morals, instead creating something new and innovative. That’s not to say it avoids comical beats entirely, both protagonists are incredibly curious about their ‘new’ anatomy when they wake up in the opposite sex’s body, and whilst there is a recurring gag of Taki being very aware of his new cleavage, he doesn’t perve over it as other anime have done before. The comedy comes from a more natural and relatable place; for example, when Mitsuha is in the male body she’s completely comfortable talking with the older female Miki and oblivious to the change in dynamic between the pair, whilst Taki has to deal with the sudden new attention he’s getting from her and the brunt of the jealous male co-workers as a result. Another shake-up of the trope is the time the pair exchange bodies; a lot of body swapping stories have the infected pair stay in their respective forms until they learn their lessons, whereas in Your Name it happens at random intervals. Not only does this prevent the body swaps from becoming boring but allows for the characters to experience the aftermath of the previous day (with entertaining results) and appreciate the time they have in their own skins. Then when they suddenly wake up elsewhere, picking up pieces of someone else’s life for better or for worse serves as a perfect catalyst for some very emotional and tension filled scenes in the second half. Also, because the first switch happens whilst they’re sleeping, they naturally think it’s a dream and act spontaneously, believing that there will be no consequences for their actions. When the sequential swaps occur, they change how they handle their situation and work together as they go along. It’s a very humane approach to an overdone plot device.

Most body swapping stories avoid officially explaining how the actual process works; Your Name is no exception, starting the film with the very first time it happens and failing to  explain it later on, even when more fantasy elements come into play during the story. But among the likes of The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, the lack of scientific explanation does not detract from the enjoyment of the film; it’s an emotional journey that brings the audience into the concept and keeps them there, especially a third of the way in, when the first twist occurs. To avoid as few spoilers as possible: emotionally it hits you, as if a piano has been dropped on you, very suddenly and unexpectedly (considering the light-hearted lead-up) and in a lesser movie it would be unwarranted or too abrupt to carry forward, but this comes hand-in-hand with the change in focus of protagonist. The first third of the movie is mostly from Mitsuha’s point of view; a scenario born from a wish she makes on a whim as part of an expressive outburst, so as a result we see her having the time of her life in Tokyo and not thinking about the long term plans. Then it switches to Taki, who didn’t ask for the change and takes longer to accept his new weird situation. However, he’s more mature and it’s his desire to learn about the body he inhabits that brings the movie to a grounded space when he discovers more than he bargained for. The last third switches between the two and blends the two moods together, resulting in a rollercoaster ride of many emotionally charged highs and sudden stops for quiet moments that will pull on the audience’s heart strings for a glorious finale. The continuous up-and-down emotional spikes in the final act may have been stretched too far once or twice (the film runs to 107 minutes) but it’s to help wrap up the last elements of the story, rather than force another flood of tears from the audience. Building that heart-pulling connection however comes naturally, due to the protagonists; the two teens are very relatable in different ways because of her enthusiasm and his curiosity. They react naturally to an unnatural situation, and you want them to succeed in finding themselves and each other, as well as laugh along when the moment calls for it.

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Animation is provided by CoMix wave Studios, who have produced most of Makoto’s work so Your Name looks very similar to his previous films. Although visually it’s not as striking as Garden of Words, the animation for the lead characters is where it excels; the body switches are revealed through body language and facial expressions before a single word is spoken. From the small hand gestures to big reactions; it’s the little details here and there that really bring the whole premise and emotional core of the story together.

Japanese rock band Radwimps provide the score with mixed results; although the actual score is delightful that ranges from low key, to playful, to heart-breaking when the movie switches gears, the vocal tracks are more of a distraction than an addition to the experience. The songs themselves aren’t bad but feel shoehorned into the film, as if the band were promoting an album rather than the movie. This is especially true of the opening track which plays over a mini-trailer edited opening that’s more like a music video than part of the film.

Your Name is a delightful movie, gorgeously animated, that takes a wacky, unbelievable concept and shapes it into a genuinely thoughtful story, filled with relatable characters and emotional highs. It’s one not to be missed when it arrives in cinemas.

Your Name will be screened as part of BFI’s London Film Festival 14th – 16th October. In cinemas across the UK from November 24th.

Title: Your Name
Publisher: Anime Limited
Genre: Coming of Age, Drama, Teen,
Studio: CoMix Wave Studios
Type: Movie
Original vintage: 2016
Format: Cinema screening
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles
Running time: 107 minutes

Score: 9/10

The Empire of Corpses Review

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Project Ito may seem like a studio name but it’s actually a synonym for Satoshi Ito, a Japanese science fiction writer who produced four novels before his passing in 2009. Most of his books have been translated and released in the UK, including his novelisation of Metal Gear Solid 4. In early 2015 it was announced that his three original novels would be made into anime films, each with their own animation studio and directors to bring the stories to life. Two of these films so far have been licensed for UK release: Harmony and The Empire of Corpses – not only was the latter’s original book released posthumously but it has not yet been released in English (however, a small sample can be read here.) Luckily each film is its own entity so they do not need to be watched sequentially.

Set in the late 19th Century; the great Victor Frankenstein’s technology to raise the dead has become common knowledge. Although the ability to bring back one’s soul has been lost, along with the location of his first creation, the ability to reanimate corpses has become the backbone of society the world over; enabling easily-controlled corpses to do work such as waitressing, carrying cargo to boats, and even serving as soldiers in wars. Dr John Watson is a growing expert in this technology and he has been scouted by the British Empire as an agent to locate Victor’s original notes; however, he’s not the only one searching for such information and many other parties are willing to do whatever it takes to get their hands on it.

To make it clear: the main character is John Watson from the Sherlock Holmes books, and besides Victor Frankenstein, there are also cameos from real-life adventurers, presidents and inventors from the same period (for example Fredrick Burnaby). There are characters from classic French and Russian literature such as The Future Eve and The Brothers Karamazov, and a lot more British icons that I won’t spoil. Basically it’s a buffet of characters that join in the worldwide journey to recover Victor’s notes and stop a ‘zombie apocalypse’ (not really, but it’s a similar situation). That premise in itself is crazy enough to be a comic book, or wacky fanfiction, but half the fun is seeing the characters in a new environment outside their norm and having the audience figuring out who’s who – because unless you’ve read the relevant British, American, Russian and French material to know all of the name-drops, you’re only going to get a few. If you have read them all, good on you! You’re in for a treat.

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Outside of the iconic names however, most of the characters are very different to their original counterparts to the point that many would question why they are even named the same at all. Fredrick Burnaby and the Frankenstein mythos are the closest to their originals; the former maintaining his adventuring spirit and battle prowess, the latter drawing the most heavily from its work in terms of story and mythology. The others have little to nothing in common, but for the majority of the time whilst the movie flows from one stunning location to another, and action scenes keep the pace going, it really doesn’t matter because the characters are interesting in their own right regardless of what material (or country, in terms of the real life people) they come from. John Watson, for instance, is still a doctor but not the post-war Veteran kind, and he doesn’t show any physical health issues until close to the end of the film. However, he maintains his astute senses and curiosity about the unknown. It’s also a breath of air for the character that he’s able to shine alone; John Watson and Sherlock Holmes often come as a package deal for several obvious reasons, but it’s a great idea to let the character stand on his own, allowing him to take charge for once rather than just being in Sherlock’s shadow. We don’t need more Sherlock and Watson stories when we’ve got tons already, but we could do with more Watson tales; especially this one.

Adapting a text-heavy source to a visual medium often has lots of complications and issues, and these do not start to become apparent until the second half of the movie. The opening scenes are very engaging and set the tone fantastically, explaining the alternative history that has unfolded. The worldwide journey from England, to India, to Russia, to Tokyo to America not only gives the animators opportunity to really stretch their skills but also creates an epic feel to the whole movie. However, two thirds of the way into the film the characters start to play a cat and mouse game, merely chasing the villain to catch up with him before he does untold damage. That equates to jumping back and forth to locations we’ve already visited, a lot of action scenes with characters breaking into monologues over the top of them, hastily-paced character development and exposition to keep the movie going. It’s clear that there was so much material and world building going on in the original novel that there was simply no room to fit it into a standard movie running time. Enough is explained here and there to grasp the themes, character motivations and understand mostly what’s going on but there are many unanswered questions left at the end. For example, why does Hadaly have the unique powers she exhibits in the second half? What was the full extent of Friday’s and John’s relationship? How did they meet and come to reanimate corpses together? Why did the US president Ulysses Grant want the notes for himself? It’s clear a lot was cut from the source material and some of it was squeezed in to explain plot threads, but a large chunk of it could have been saved if they had dropped the constant travelling back and forth in the latter half. Credit to the production crew for not just having the movie all set in Japan, but the locations for the big finale and the previous fight scenes leading up to it could have been set anywhere so leaving it in one place would have saved a lot of ‘travelling’ animation and unnecessary scenes.

Despite the grand finale battle being weighed down by a lot of exposition and unanswered questions, the heart of the story – Watson’s mission to save Friday – remains strong even after repeated watches. Friday never says a word but you can see how much Watson adored his friend even after he’s long gone; Watson’s constant calling after him, the way he looks at him like he expects his friend to suddenly jump back to life, and the tiniest moments from Friday that give Watson hope to go on are really touching, and make the final scene at the very end all the more potent and heartbreaking.

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Wit Studio (the animators behind Attack on Titan) handled the visuals for this film and it does not disappoint. Aside from the aforementioned welcome changes in locations outside of Japan to set the film, the characters are designed marvellously with the corpses’ dead-eyed look and fractured movements making them appear just human enough to be recognisable but creepy enough to make the viewer wary of them whilst they’re on screen – they’re not just zombies, they’re something more and seeing them moving around with other humans, mostly blending in, is a freaky world to consider living in. Also a big thumbs up to the excellent use of 3D animation for the group corpses that loiter around the film; a common complaint with 3D animation is that it often looks out of place or flat compared to the anime style, but here that works to its advantage. Take the opening scenes, where you have rows and rows of corpse soldiers for example; the 3D-animated corpses look odd to the eye, moving awkwardly and inhumanly, but that’s exactly what they are. It’s a genius move on the studio’s part. There is some use of 3D for the last battle, which goes from high science fiction into fantasy territory, but its implementation makes the finale look as glorious as the story builds it to be.

Yoshihiro Ike provides the music for the film, and, like the animators, he gets to work with elements from the various countries the characters visit to his advantage to create a sweeping score. The theme song ‘Door’ by EGOIST is a jazz-inspired slow number that fits very nicely with the heavy British backdrop and mood of the final scene. Speaking of British; applause goes to Funimation for giving the characters the appropriate accents from English to Russian that make them sound as diverse as they are in the story. Although the accents aren’t completely perfect and some actors struggle more than others (you can practically hear Jason Liebrecht’s mind working in overdrive to say the word ‘corpses’ in the English way) it’s great they’ve gone the extra mile for the film, rather than just having everyone speaking in an American accent.

On disc extras include movie trailers, promos for other anime properties including Tokyo Ghoul √A and Psycho Pass, and there’s also a Funimation short where four members of the English voice cast discuss the movie, its themes, the characters, and so on. It’s an enjoyable little watch but be sure to watch it after you’ve seen the film as it’s full of spoilers! The collector’s edition comes in a very nice steel case, complete with dual formats and an art book.

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To summarise it in more modern wording, The Empire of Corpses can be described as a ‘hot mess’; it’s very fast paced with too much location jumping, leading to abrupt character development and world building that looks amazing but isn’t explained fully in the context of the story. The name-dropping of real and fictional characters is often no more than that. However, that doesn’t mean the film isn’t a blast to watch; a thrilling, wacky ride bursting with passion and imagination with lots of lovely Easter Eggs to get whilst watching or discover afterwards. If the idea of British, French, American, Russian characters coming together in one big corpse-slaying army interests you, then check it out.

One last note; stay through the credits for an added bonus scene that includes many more glorious cameos which will either have you squealing in joy or scratching your head in confusion. But it’s worth the watch either way.

Title: The Empire of Corpses
Publisher: Anime Limited
Genre: Horror, Action, Sci-Fi
Studio: Wit Studio
Type: Movie
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: 120 minutes

Score: 7/10

Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works Part 2 Review

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This review will contain spoilers for Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works Part 1

With his contract to Saber ripped from him by Caster’s Rule Breaker Noble Phantasm, Shirou is now officially out of the Holy Grail War, but he refuses to let Rin continue to fight on alone. Although badly injured and not standing a chance against the other masters and servants, he tails Rin and her servant Archer to the location where their battle with Caster is taking place. Little do they know that Archer has his own agenda and a secret that will change their lives forever.

The second season of Unlimited Blade Works picks up right from where the first season left off, but despite there seemingly being no break in time between them, there are a few obvious changes in atmosphere and production. Luckily, the animation is not one of them.

Firstly; there’s a shift of focus from both Rin and Emiya, to just Emiya. Somewhere between seasons Rin has stopped being the assertive, powerful and competent mage she was introduced as; now she’s mostly a side character to make way for Shirou Emiya’s arc, which is the entire focus for this season. Despite the sudden jump in power and ability that Emiya has gained between seasons, he still remains the weakest link in the series and sadly his story development in these 13 episodes does not help.

The main conflict is this: Shirou Emiya wants to be a hero of justice, a man who saves all lives at the cost of his own without sacrificing anyone else, which is of course impossible to do as not everyone can be saved and some might not even want to be. Archer shows up as a result of these ideals taken to the extreme; he shows Emiya that the only thing that clinging to these flawed ideals will do is make him an emotionally and mentally broken man, cursing the day he was born and wishing to undo everything. Emiya is shown exactly what the fruit of his labour will bring, and how unhappy it’ll make him and those around him.

So what does Emiya do? He decides to continue holding onto these ideals just as before. Why? Because… I don’t know, he’s got nothing else better to do, apparently. I’m not saying that I did not watch what happened, I’m saying that there’s no solid reason for Emiya to continue down this path. Despite the fact that Emiya and Archer talk for three episodes straight about what the ideals are, how flawed they are, why they bring about destruction and why they must be nipped in the bud, and then again just before the final battle, Shirou decides to do what is equivalent to a child sticking his fingers inside his ears and shouting ‘la la la I can’t hear you!’ when a parent tries to tell them off. Instead of repeating the same conversation over and over we could have had Emiya pointing out a more positive outlook on Archer’s memories, focusing on those who are living instead of the hordes of corpses we keep getting shown (which horribly is mostly piles and piles of black people) or Emiya recognising that just knowing his future is enough to change things like other time-travelling narratives tend to suggest. But we get nothing; we’re not presented any decent, strong upside to Emiya continuing down his route; he comes to the conclusion that because in this very moment he feels no regrets and he still likes the idea of a hero of justice, he’ll continue on. Instead of accepting his limitations and changing his unnatural view on life into a healthy one, it falls to the people around him (mostly Rin) to help him not become the broken man he might turn into.

What a horrible message to land on, and what an awful position to put the poor girl in; Shirou can monologue all he wants in this show but nothing warrants this dim-witted attitude. If the show painted it as a terrible tragedy, it could have been a sad but effective continuation of Fate/Zero. A man’s sacrifice for the one boy he could save ends up turning him into someone just like him but worse; a man who wants to save everyone but ends up only bringing death. Sadly, the series wants us to think he’s being ‘noble’ – sorry, I’m not sold.

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The other reason these episodes differ from the first set is that, despite the first season trying very hard to tie itself with Fate/Zero whilst also maintaining the bridge for new fans to hop on by introducing new magical terms and techniques clearly, these batches of episodes give up on both entirely. They do try in the beginning with two episodes deviating from the visual novel to give backstory to Caster, and Illya has her own episode to wrap up her arc (abruptly, but it still tries) with links to the tragic end her parents had in the prequel, but from then on no attempt is made to clue the audience in on, for example, what Gilgamesh’s Ea (large black sword) is, or what makes Saber come to an emotional closure in episode 22 when all she’s done for the past few episodes is stand around and watch Emiya fight. Even the reveal of important Servants’ identities are blurted out and swiftly explained in throwaway dialogue with next to no impact; say what you want about Sailor Moon Crystal, despite most audiences knowing the Moon Princess, it at least they tried to make the reveal a big deal, given that it had a huge influence on the characters and the audience. Unlimited Blade Works, however, doesn’t feel the need to because, as many Type Moon fans would say, it was already covered in another route, which we don’t see here. Saber’s character arc was in the Fate route, so in Unlimited Blade Works she takes a back seat. This would be understandable if you were playing the video game and went through one route straight to the next but we haven’t. At best the audience knows next to nothing about her and won’t care much, at worst the Fate/Zero fans will desperately want to know why the poor girl ends up being a pawn for the Emiya family.

This is where we reach the true problem of Unlimited Blade Works; it’s not an effective adaption of Fate/Stay Night. (I’m going to deviate a bit to explain why, but bear with me…)

Adapting a story from one medium to another has been done many times over; from book to film, from comic to TV series, from video game to big screen, etc. And yet there’s no one sure way or foolproof equation for adapting from one to the other seamlessly and without error; each story and every medium has its own pros and cons to consider when adapting, and that’s without taking into consideration the fan expectations. For example, when adapting a book you have to consider its mountains of text; the detail that went into the world building, the characters’ inner monologues and descriptions of locations. For video games it’s the interactive element; how do you get around the player immersion and present the story just as effectively without a controller involved? Visual novels have a combination of these strengths and weaknesses, especially Fate/Stay Night which had three routes with their own character focus and stories to tell; there were pages and pages of dialogue and the player was experiencing it all from Shirou’s point of view.

So when adapting the story, especially from a text-heavy medium to a more visual one such as television or cinema, you have to consider the following;

Who is the adaptation being made for?

The obvious answer seems to be ‘for fans’ but that’s where a lot of more niche attempts such as Vampire Academy and the more recent Warcraft film fail to break bank, because an adaption can’t just be for a small minority. You can’t expect everyone who loved the original story to cross over to the new medium to experience it again in a new way. For example, the first Star Wars film has probably been seen by an extremely large majority worldwide; however, not every person who has watched the film has gone on to read the books, or to play a video game version of it, or to listen to the radio drama. Having an audience follow the story in the same medium (film, in this case) is a big ask in itself, but asking them to pick up a comic book would be a stretch. So despite fans wanting it to be for them, the answer is that it has to be for a general audience; the more people (whether they liked the original story or not) that come to see the new, more accessible version, the better. Aim broader and hope the fans of the original will follow suit.

How much of the story do you adapt?

Again, the temptation is to answer ‘all of it’ but sometimes it’s just not logically possible; a scene where characters think of a scheme then talk to their opponent to fish information can work wonders written down, but visually it’ll be incredibly boring. Trying to cram an entire video game backstory into one movie will only result in being incredibly rushed and making little to no sense. The Harry Potter franchise split the last book into two films to avoid this problem, while Game of Thrones is a TV series spreading each book across its own season because George RR Martin knew squeezing each book into the restricted time of a movie would be intolerable.

Does the adaptation work on its own?

Imagine if The Lord of the Rings movie did not have the opening scene explaining all the different rings, why the ‘One Ring to Rule Them All’ has a special pull to it and the villain’s motivation for wanting it. Imagine if you had to read the book first before watching the first film to understand what’s going on; not only would you be incredibly confused and frustrated, but the movie trilogy would have nowhere near the amount of fans it has now. Luckily, The Lord of the Rings explains its mythology, the world and character motivations clearly, so non-book-readers can understand the story and become attached to the characters without needing prior knowledge.

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Now that all that information is laid out, let’s put these questions to Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works.

Who is the adaptation being made for?

This adaptation fails to pick an audience and stick with it. At first it was Fate/Zero fans, then it wanted newcomers, and then Fate/Stay Night fans. Aiming for everyone is fine but you have to remain consistent, which this adaptation does not. Where it matters most (the approach to the climax and the actual climax itself) it’s clear it sits firmly in the ‘fans only’ club and no one else applies. Which is a shame considering how welcoming the opening episodes were (remember the first two double-length episodes?)

How much of the story do you adapt?

Because of the nature of the three routes, adapting just the one with no additional material from the other routes would be detrimental to anyone outside of the game fans. In the Visual Novel, Fate served as an intro, Unlimited Blade Works was middle ground, and Heaven’s Feel is the final conclusion. Studio ufotable did include some anime-exclusive scenes to help connect the dots when it needed to for the side characters and villains but it does not take cues from any other route. Which is why Saber is mostly cast away and does not get a fitting continuation from her development in Fate/Zero, why Sakura disappears after episode 8 and is not seen again until the Epilogue, why Shinji gets away with his horrible actions and seems to learn nothing as a result in the end, and the less we think about Kotominei’s final unfulfilling moments the better. The 2006 Fate/Stay Night anime was flawed but at least it did try to add depth with arcs for all the characters, giving weight to the right moments and padding out the revelations (such as the connection between Rin and Sakura) to make the story more than just Shirou and Saber’s love. It didn’t always work but at least it tried to be its own story, without relying on outside knowledge to support its weight.

Does the adaptation work on its own?

The answer is a resounding no. The anime falters at deviating from the source material to make the big character reveals and emotional payoffs work. The world building is hastily explained at best or just ignored at worst; as previously mentioned most characters outside of Shirou and Rin are half baked or not developed at all, and the main conflict by itself is not deep, interesting or resolved strongly enough to carry itself through all 26 episodes.

Before we wrap up let’s throw in a few positives. The animation is still really good; it’s not as polished as the first half but it still glimmers with effort. The same can be said for the action scenes; although they rely a lot on recycled set pieces (the Unlimited Blade Works desert world and Gilgamesh’s glowing sword powers) but they’re well-choreographed regardless. The score by Hideyuki Fukasawa also packs a punch; Type Moon fans will get a kick out of the new version of Emiya’s Theme especially. The new opening theme by Aimer, ‘Brave Shine’, sounds very different to the previous opening; like an early 00s rock anthem. Kalafina return with the ending ‘Ring Your Bell’, which sounds like part 2 of ‘Believe’, using similar chords and chime sounds but with a more uplifting vibe to the song.

DVD extras are sadly restricted to clean opening, closing and promo trailers. The OVA ‘Sunny Days’ (animating the alternative ending to the original game route) is not included here.

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Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works had a great start and heritage to work from with all the right elements to make it a superb masterpiece, but instead its poor writing and rigidity in deviating from the restricted POV of the original Visual Novel shackled it before it could take off. It all looks and sounds impressive but in the end, the dialogue and main character who never learns turned the whole journey into wasted noise. It’s for fans of the original game only, I’m afraid.

Score: 5/10

Anime Quick Information

Director: Takahiro Miura
Number of discs: 3
Classification: 15
Studio: MVM
Release Date: 25 Jul. 2016
Run Time: 312 minutes

Future Diary – Part 2 Review

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This review will contain spoilers for Future Diary – Part 1

The game to win the title of God is still afoot, and all major players seem to have their eye on eliminating Yuki Amano first and foremost. How does Yuno Gasai attempt to fix the problem? Drugging, kidnapping, stripping and chaining Yuki inside a large abandoned building, setting up traps around them so no one can get in, and waiting it out until all the other players have kicked the bucket. Yuki’s friends plan on rescuing him and getting Yuno far away from him as possible, but our pink-haired psychopath has other ideas which come into full view once the remaining players start dropping one by one.

In the review for the first half of Future Diary I barely mentioned the infamous Yuno, and there were reasons for that. One of them is mostly due to spoilers. Granted; the nature of her being utterly insane is not a spoiler as it’s very clear from Episode 1, but the way she gradually deteriorates over the first half of the series is. There have been series in the past that toy with the idea of a protagonist being a crazy love-struck borderline-abusive person but normally it’s played for laughs and eventually disregarded, or the ‘craziness’ aspect of said person’s character is ‘fixed’ in some fashion or another by the power of love (normally from the opposite sex). Future Diary plays with the latter early on when Aru Akise says that Yuki is Yuno’s only hope to maintain her grip on reality. But Future Diary doesn’t hold onto that for too long and instead goes full throttle with the logical path a crazy person in love with a clueless other half would take: straight up kidnapping and drugging them against their will. This happens just at the end of Part 1, and Part 2 picks up right afterwards.

In a surprising twist, Yuki finally realises that Yuno’s threats about killing others weren’t just a bluff and promises to never go near her again. In another series this would be the turning point for their relationship, with Yuno getting what she deserves (imprisonment or electric chair) and poor Yuki finding a way to move on from his traumatic experience. But of course, this is not what happens, for this is Future Diary where the writing quality is poor and cheap shocks take precedence over actual character development. So despite what happened to him, in the next episode Yuki ends up questioning whether to trust Yuno AGAIN when things get rough, and falling right back into her devilish grip. And it doesn’t stop there; in Episode 19 Yuki goes through a traumatic event that shakes him to the core, and results in the next episode completely changing his personality and motivations, making grand speeches and offing other players like his psychopathic girlfriend. It comes completely out of nowhere and feels really shoe-horned in as if he’s been replaced by a completely different character. Granted; brushing with death every day as he has over the past few episodes would cause a mental strain and eventually snap him, and if the series spent time weaving it into his past actions to see him slowly devolving it could have been a really tragic turn for the hero, but they don’t do that at all. It’s also incredibly rage-inducing when Yuki goes back and forth between whether to trust Yuno or not; there are at least four scenes where he says “You’re insane!” to her over these batches of episodes, like it’s the first time he’s seen her for what she is; dude, if you haven’t accepted it by now than you deserve to be stabbed by the pink-haired teen.

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The same whiplash effect also affects the plot and side characters. In a violent game such as this, where all players are meant (for the audience) to have an equal chance of winning, sudden story twists and ‘gotcha!’ moments are to be expected. Future Diary loves the execution of them but refuses to do the groundwork needed to make them work. There are plenty of scenes where a character suddenly pops out a major story twist that alters the course of the game or results in someone dying, but they come at the cost of making no sense within context, completely changing a character’s motivations or personality; having characters forget their powerful diaries within the moment, or sometimes all at once. None of the big twists have been built up over time or are particularly clever; rather they’re just ideas that the writers have thrown at the wall and gone with whatever’s stuck, without thinking about the lead-up. It’s all for shock value, and it ranges from groan-worthy to outright laughable.

Going back to Yuno; having her sent to jail and/or the electric chair would be suitable punishment for her crimes but in some odd way it’s a good thing she isn’t because she is, by far, the best character in the show. She’s the most active player and unlike the rest of the cast and plot she’s the most consistently written, having a clear arc across the series. There’s a reason her face is the most recognisable; yes, her wacky actions and bloodlust play a part, yet nevertheless out of all the characters, she’s the best written by leaps and bounds. There are plenty of twists and turns that she brings and then the plot throws back at her; however, they work because it’s clear that the writing from day one has been leading up it. Yuno also has the most volatile personality, so she is able to do wilder things to keep the plot moving without coming across as being out of character.

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While her character is handled steadily, the way the show (and other characters) treat her is not; it constantly flip flops between painting her as an irredeemable villain and victim of circumstance, while also one minute trying to sell her connection to Yuki as ‘true love’ and the next a horrible relationship that can only end in disaster. It doesn’t help that by the end the show turns itself on its head to try and make her awful actions forgivable. The ending itself, while providing a conclusion to the show for the majority of the side characters and the main plot, will most likely be widely disliked. It wants to have its happy and angsty cakes and eat them too, but can’t seem to get a solid balance to please everyone, much like the tonal imbalance of the show itself. The additional OVA that expands on the ending (Redial) is sadly not included in this set; in fact, the only extras are the clean opening and closing.

Future Diary belongs on the thin line between ‘so bad it’s good’ and ‘just pure trash’; its mileage will vary depending on whether you have the patience and sense of humour to put up with inconsistent tone, wild plot developments that come out of nowhere and badly written characters. Future Diary is a lot of things, but boring is definitely not one of them.

Rating: 5/10

Anime Quick Information

Title: Future Diary
UK Publisher: Manga Entertainment (Kaze)
Genre: Psychological Thriller, Action, Romance, Horror
Studio: Asread
Type: TV Series
Year: 2012
Age Rating: 18
Running Time: 325 minutes

Tokyo Ghoul √A Review

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This review contains spoilers for Tokyo Ghoul.

After enduring torture at the hands of Jason, Ken Kaneki decides to embraces his ghoul half and consume the body of his tormentor. Despite his friends coming to his aid, it’s too late, Kaneki is a changed man and no longer wishes to turn back to the quiet life at the coffee shop. Instead he’s decided to turn his back on them and join the Aogiri Tree, much to Touka’s dismay. But with the CCG drawing ever closer to eradicating the One Eyed Owl and Aogiri Tree, will Kaneki ever find a place in this world?

On paper Tokyo Ghoul √A looks like a seamless continuation of the first season; the opening episode plays out like the long-overdue season finale that we should have seen at the end of Tokyo Ghoul with Kaneki closing the door on his human life, choosing to embrace his ghoulish nature. Plot-wise the two stream perfectly together; however, it slowly becomes clear after the first episode that the two are not so joined at the hip, and not just because the animation budget takes a hit for the first few episodes.

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For the first season, even though we had several ghouls and humans hogging the spotlight and receiving character development, the main voice of the series was Kaneki. We heard his inner voice and saw things from his perspective; he was the audience surrogate whom we watched suffer and learn to adapt to his new ghoulish ways. In Tokyo Ghoul √A we no longer hear his inner voice and because he joins one of the more aggressive (near antagonistic) ghoul groups, he’s no longer the proxy of the audience, he distances himself from the others as well as us, therefore the narrative is shared amongst cast members we’ve already met as well as a few new additions. This change obviously has its pros and cons. The positives are mostly reserved for the cast that carry on from the first season that get more time in the spotlight, especially the human characters that have more of a say as to why they want to eradicate all ghouls. Their actions are not waved away or forgiven but given relatable motives via how they view of the world, adding to the ‘shades of grey’ view point that Tokyo Ghoul excels at. The negatives first appear early on with Kaneki as he continues to grow and go through some serious mentally challenging situations; having his inner voice would have added more of an emotional punch, similar to the heart-breaking scenes we endured for the season finale of Tokyo Ghoul, but sadly it’s lacking here so it’s an emotionally colder series as a result. The other side effect lies with the newer characters that were either introduced in the last episodes of season one or beginning of √A; the series tries to cram in their tragic backstory into a handful (or sometimes just the one) scene in an episode to make the audience feel sympathy for them, and just before they’re fatally wounded, killed, or written off the show. It happens enough times to be noticeable and frustrating to sit through; you can’t expect us to feel sorry for a character suffering a life-threatening wound after one scene explaining how horrible their life was, when we got several episodes in the first season revealing in great detail why each ghoul has to do the things they do to survive.

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Tokyo Ghoul shook a lot of fans during its initial run due to its graphical bloody gore, and its intimate showing of it. That’s also changed in √A; of course by now the shock of seeing such bloodshed has worn off, but instead of trying to up its game to the point of having overblown blood everywhere like some series to maintain its ‘edgy’ appeal, √A instead goes for a broader spectrum of gore, showing the brutality of fight scenes (of which there are more) and having the cast gasp at Kaneki’s new ‘taste’ for flesh. This may disappoint some audiences but this was the best way to go; going for more outrageous blood fountains and eating flesh carnage would have eventually worn out its welcome or worse, turning it into a comical exploit, rather than the horrific action it’s meant to be.

The first season also left the audience with many unanswered questions; the nature of each ghoul’s personal attacks and why some are stronger than others just being one. Does √A answer all questions left hanging? Not only does it not, but instead adds more. The biggest early example is what a Kakuja is – the ghouls act like it’s a ghastly thing to turn into, and the audience with no manga knowledge can gather that it’s a somewhat nastier version of a typical ghoul – but how so? Why does it happen? How did it come to be known in the first place? There’s also the whole backstory of the One Eyed Owl, and the numerous characters such as Armia showing up in the last few episodes, apparently being CCG’s ace member, but we know nothing about him and why he ends up taking the last scenes of the series that had next to nothing to do with him. As a result, the overall conclusion of the series fails to tie up all the loose ends it opens in the first place. There are a few OVAs tied to the series (currently not out in the UK) that may or may not help remedy the situation, but it seems that the series left things open in hopes of a sequel…which is currently up for debate. Manga fans will have plenty of reasons to feel smug by the end of the series, is the best way to describe it.

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Yutaka Yamada returns to provide the score for the series and seems to favour inserting random English songs into the soundtrack. Credit where it’s due; the English is mostly very good, however for the first half of the series every episode ends on a different English song, often out of the blue and tonally doesn’t work with the scene, strange addition indeed. New opening song ‘Incompetence’ by Muno is backed by a very artsy animation, with accompanying strange lyrics and a voice that sounds like a cross between Kate Bush and Bjork, however the song lacks compared to the soul-screaming ‘unravel’ the first season had. Luckily there’s a stunning acoustic version of said song that’s played out during the final scenes of the √A. Ending theme (The Seasons Die Out, One After Another ) is provided by Amazarashi, it’s very different to People In A Box’s efforts, being far more uplifting musically and lyrically but it works extremely well, especially as the series builds towards the climax.

Blu-ray extras include commentaries for episodes 1, 7 & 12, Japanese and US trailers for Tokyo Ghoul √A, textless opening, and trailers for other anime – it has the same problem as the first season; advertising series only currently available in the US (however one series Black Butler: Book of Circus has JUST been licensed for UK so it’s not as bad).

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Tokyo Ghoul √A is no doubt still an engaging show with splendid action, relatable characters and intriguing ideas, but its overall progression and ending will leave behind mixed emotions. Ken Kaneki’s emotional journey has reached a conclusion but there’s still many questions left unanswered. It’s not a simple case of ‘read the manga’ ending; the anime tried to conclude it admirably but mostly failed to bring in all the meat from the original source material, so has to settle for making do with what it could. Tokyo Ghoul, both seasons, are a worthwhile watch overall and worthy of any anime fan’s collection, but what ultimately you take from the end of it will depend on whether you need all questions answered and endings to be fully settled when the credits roll.

Score: 7/10

Anime Quick Information

  • Title: Tokyo Ghoul √A
  • UK Publisher: Anime Limited
  • Genre: Horror, Drama, Action, Fantasy, Supernatural
  • Director: Shuhei Morita
  • Studio: Studio Pierrot
  • Type: TV series
  • Year: 2015
  • DVD Release Date: 13th Jun. 2016
  • Run Time: 288 minutes
  • Classification: 15