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.

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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.

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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!

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Fullmetal Alchemist Collector’s Edition Part 2

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When I was given the chance to review the first Collector’s Edition of 
Fullmetal Alchemist I was overjoyed (you can find my first review here). I really love this series and so it’ll come as no surprise to anyone that I am also reviewing the second Collector’s Edition. Has the second half lived up to my memories of this beloved anime?

Fullmetal Alchemist Collector’s Edition Part 2 starts off with Episode 28 of the 51 episode series and sees Ed and Al reunited with their old alchemy teacher, Izumi. Having discovered the sin that the two committed as children in trying to bring a human back to life, she decides to place them on Yock Island where the two once learned an important lesson while training under her. A scary teacher and being left on a deserted island for a month is the least of the boys’ worries, however, as they’re also being hunted by a group of Homunculi…

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This half of the series is also where things become more complicated with the military and we finally get an idea of what has been going on. When Colonel Roy Mustang and his group of followers are relocated from their remote station to the main central branch of the state headquarters, Mustang starts investigating the odd goings-on that have been taking place. While these story developments are important for Ed and Al as well, I truly believe that what I enjoyed most of the first 15 episodes of this set was the focus on the military.

It has to be said that Roy Mustang has always been one of my favourite characters in the Fullmetal Alchemist universe. He’s not quite my top favourite (that position belongs to Edward) but there is something special about him, and as the story progresses, he starts to become more human. And as his character develops, he becomes infinitely more likeable.

fma-set-2-3The same can be said for those that work under Mustang, especially Hawkeye, as they become a lot more important than just side characters. They’re not quite “main cast” but they do get a lot of focus, and that really helped me engage with the military storyline where I otherwise might not have done. In fact, the only one who lacks in development during these episodes is Major Armstrong. However, Armstrong was given a lot of development during the first half of the series and remains an awesome character, so I’m not sure that lacking some development here really matters.

Military cast aside, it’s nice to see that Ed and Al are still learning and growing throughout the course of their adventures. At this point we’ve already seen them go through many a hardship, and this set of episodes certainly has a lot more in store, but despite this, they continue to stand up and keep moving on. It’s a quality that I admire in the two brothers. I also enjoy their relationship and how it isn’t perfect. The two don’t always get along despite how much they love one another. They fight, run away, but eventually come back and are all the stronger for it.

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The animation for this final stretch of episodes continued to be handled by Studio BONES, and towards the end of the series they truly began to outdo themselves for the time period the anime was produced in. Although the series isn’t in widescreen, because it was produced before the transition to HD, it’s still very well animated and could even stand against some of today’s series quite well. BONES have a good sense of how to animate action scenes smoothly, and considering how many there are in Fullmetal Alchemist that was definitely an important quality for the studio to have! As you may expect, this means that the action generally flows well throughout the show and the final episode is simply terrific to watch from an animation point of view.

Fullmetal Alchemist’s music continued to be handled by Michiru Oshima and overall the soundtrack makes a greater impact in this second half of the series. The score never once overpowers the action on-screen, instead amplifying it to a height that it might not have otherwise reached. It’s easy to see why she’s regarded as such a legendary composer, judging by the work on offer here. Across this portion of the series there are three different opening and ending themes, although one set of OP/ED themes kicked in during Part 1’s set of episodes. While I won’t mention them all, my favourites are the final opening, “Rewrite” by Asian Kung-Fu Generation (whom you’ll probably have heard of before because they have provided numerous anime openings, including many themes for Naruto as well as the opening for Tatami Galaxy), and last ending, “I Will” by Sowelu.

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The English voice actors continue to offer simply outstanding work for the series and the English dub remains my favourite. I spoke a great deal about the voice actors for Ed and Al in my previous review, so I thought I’d take the time to sing the praises of Travis Willingham (Free in
Soul Eater, Takashi Morinozuka in Ouran High School Host Club), who plays Mustang. It probably goes without saying that Mustang is a character who is not good at showing his emotions and Willingham voices that type of personality very well, but when Mustang begins to crack, Willingham makes the explosive transition remarkably well.

This second set once again comes to the UK thanks to Anime Limited and includes Episodes 28 through to 51 in both English and Japanese across three Blu-ray discs. Extras include clean opening and ending videos and a scattering of trailers. There are seven art cards included as well, depicting some of the key characters featured in this set of episodes.

Overall, after rewatching the whole series, I can safely say that Fullmetal Alchemist is still my all-time favourite anime. I also think that, without a doubt, it’s one of the best anime with mass market appeal to come out of Japan in the last decade. Hopefully with this release many more people will be introduced to Fullmetal Alchemist and become anime fans through it, but even if they don’t, I’ll still be just as in love with this series as I was the day I first started on this journey through Japanese media.

Title: Fullmetal Alchemist Collector's Edition Part 2
Publisher: Anime Limited
Genre: Shonen, Adventure, Action, Drama
Studio: BONES
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2003
Format: Blu-Ray
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 15
Running time: 600 minutes

Score: 10/10

Fullmetal Alchemist Collector’s Edition Part 1

fullmetal-alchemist-collectors-edition-part-1
I think it goes without saying that the original 
Fullmetal Alchemist anime is an important series for the anime industry. It paved the way for a whole new generation of people to stumble into Japanese media, and the series is still well renowned to this day. It’s also a very special series for me on a personal level as it’s one of the very first anime I ever watched – and a solid part of the reason that I decided to watch more. After all these years, does the series still live up to what I remember?

The story of Fullmetal Alchemist is based around brothers Edward and Alphonse Elric, who are in search of the mysterious Philosopher’s Stone that Ed hopes will allow them to change their bodies back to normal. Edward has a prosthetic arm and leg made from automail (a sort of robotic metal substitute for limbs), while his brother Alphonse lost his whole body (his soul is now tied to a suit of armour) after the two tried to perform a forbidden act of alchemy: bringing a human back to life. Some time after that day Edward became a State Alchemist, and now he and Alphonse travel the world working for the military while seeking a way to restore what they have lost.

The first two episodes focus on introducing Ed and Al while also painting a picture of what this world is like. Anyone working for the military is considered a dog of the state and hated for it. This is largely down to a war that happened a few years before the beginning of Ed and Al’s present day story. The war and the people’s hatred toward the military comes into play later in Fullmetal Alchemist but after the introductory episodes, the series jumps back to the past to tell the story of how Ed became a State Alchemist. Furthermore, and perhaps more importantly, it also shows us why the brothers performed such forbidden alchemy to get themselves into this state.

fma_4The rules of alchemy in this world are fairly straightforward. In order to perform alchemy, you must first draw a Transmutation Circle and provide something of equal value to what you’re trying to create, which is in accordance with the Law of Equivalent Exchange. The only things that an alchemist is forbidden from creating are gold or humans, and anyone who tries succumbs to a fate similar to that of our young protagonists. Ed and Al believe deeply in the idea of equivalent exchange.

The brothers’ devotion to the Law of Equivalent Exchange is one thing that’s always stuck with me since originally watching the series. At heart, Fullmetal Alchemist is your typical shonen series filled with impressive battles and powerful characters, but it also has a very important story to tell about loss, growing up, and the hardships of the world. The plot pushes Ed and Al into dangerous situations, situations that question their beliefs and (at times) childish views of the world. Doing so paves the way for Fullmetal Alchemist to really impress the viewer. It toys with ideas that no other series had explored at the time, and that few have since. It’s truly remarkable in its storytelling and really connects with me on so many levels. With this set I’ve only watched the first 27 episodes of the series but already I’m completely immersed in this world once again.

fma_5One of the notable elements of the original Fullmetal Alchemist anime is that much of it was anime original content, because at the time of its airing the manga series was not yet complete. In saying that, a lot of the episodes in this first set do follow the manga quite closely, but already it’s easy to see (if you’ve read the source or watched Brotherhood) where it differs. Usually being anime original would be a bad thing – not many studios have the ability to truly carve out their own stories in a world they’re adapting – but studio BONES do a wonderful job with Fullmetal Alchemist. They do such a good job that I actually prefer the 2003 anime to the manga and Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood series (although I still liked both quite a bit). It never feels disjointed or like it’s missing anything and, from what I remember, the story that BONES create for the second half is just wonderful.

On the subject of BONES, I have to point out how good the animation on offer looks. This is not an anime that was created in HD but despite that the show looks very sharp on Blu-ray. The world is full of the usual BONES style that many of us have come to know and love, and the characters make similar comedic reactions to those found in their most recent adaption, Bungo Stray Dogs. Fullmetal Alchemist just screams that it’s a BONES series and, admittedly, it is the series that made me fall in love with this studio and the way they create anime.

fma_9The soundtrack has been handled by Michiru Oshima, who has brought something really wonderful to the series. She has also worked on Snow White with the Red Hair, Blast of Tempest and provided some arrangements for the Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess video game. With scores full of violins, pianos, and the odd guitar piece, Fullmetal Alchemist has something for everyone and it always blends nicely with the action on-screen. My favourite track is one titled “Brothers” and there are a few different versions of it used throughout the series, but the most memorable is a version played just on the violin. It’s a thought-provoking and truly emotional piece of music. During the 27 episodes on this set there are three opening themes and three ending themes on offer, and while I won’t name them all my favourite opening is the second OP titled “Ready Steady Go!” by L’arc~en~Ciel. The better ending is the first ED named “Inerasable Sin” by Nana Kitade.

Where voice actors are concerned, I actually find myself with a completely different opinion to my usual reviews. For Fullmetal Alchemist my favourite track is the English dub, and despite having attempted to watch the series numerous times in Japanese, my opinion hasn’t changed. To me, the series is just better dubbed. From watching the Japanese version again for the purpose of this review I can say that there certainly isn’t anything wrong with it, but I found myself quickly flipping back to the dub and ultimately I just don’t think the Japanese track works as well as the English dub does.

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For the dub, Edward is voiced by Vic Mignogna (Matt Ishida in 
Digimon Tri, Rin Matsuoka in Free!, and Zero Kiryu in Vampire Knight), who manages to put a great deal of emotion into Edward’s character. Sometimes his pitch comes off as a bit sharp, but for a young kid like Ed this works in favour of the role. Alphonse is voiced by Aaron Dismuke (Yasuchika Haninozuka in Ouran High School Host Club, Lucifer in The Devil Is a Part-Timer!) and, quite impressively, he played the role at the age of 12. Allowing a young boy to play the role of a young male character is a rarity and something that also works in Fullmetal Alchemist’s favour, because it makes the performance feel much more realistic.

This Collector’s Edition has been brought to the UK thanks to Anime Limited and marks the first time that the series has been released here on Blu-ray. It includes 27 episodes both subbed and dubbed across three Blu-ray discs and features clean openings and endings. The Collector’s Edition also comes packed with seven art cards.

Overall the first half of Fullmetal Alchemist has proven to be everything I remember. It’s a fun shonen series that also packs a lot of emotional punch and reliving these first 27 episodes all over again has been a true joy. It still remains one of my favourite series from BONES and one of my favourite series of all time. Fullmetal Alchemist is a true wonder of animation and something that everyone should take the chance to check out.

Title: Fullmetal Alchemist Collector's Edition Part 1
Publisher: Anime Limited
Genre: Shonen, Adventure, Action, Drama
Studio: Studio BONES
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2003
Format: Blu-Ray
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 15
Running time: 675 minutes

Score: 9/10

Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in A Dungeon? On the Side: Sword Oratoria Volume 1 Review


danmachi-on-the-side-sword-oratoria-volume-1Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?
(henceforth referred to by its Japanese abbreviation DanMachi) is one of my favourite light novel series, so when a spin-off series was licensed in the form of Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? On the Side: Sword Oratoria (henceforth known as Sword Oratoria) I was excited. I love this universe and the chance to experience it from the perspective of different characters was a welcome one. However, has this first volume managed to live up to my love of the main series?

Sword Oratoria focuses on the famous adventurer Aiz Wallenstein as the main character, someone that readers of the main DanMachi series will be familiar with. Aiz belongs to one of the most powerful Familia in the city, Loki Familia. This first volume takes place during the same time frame as the first DanMachi volume and starts off with Loki Familia’s expedition down to the deepest depths of the dungeon. The dungeon is where all adventurers go to battle against monsters to earn a living. This is the journey that eventually led to Aiz saving Bell from a Minotaur, which had gotten away from her while she was hunting a pack of them. Her encounter with Bell is one that we know changed his life significantly, but seeing it from Aiz’s perspective is also quite interesting.

The furthest we’ve been in the dungeon with Bell thus far (as of Volume 6) is down to around the 20th floor, so being able to go much further in with the Loki Familia group is a welcome change of pace. Author Fujino Omori openly admits that Aiz is too powerful a character to frequently use in DanMachi (she’d instantly save the day for Bell just by clicking her fingers) so giving her a series all of her own works out very well. Sword Oratoria gives Aiz the chance to take on enemies that are more suited to her level and fighting abilities. It also gives Omori the chance to write more about Loki Familia and spend some time with the characters we’ve come to know through DanMachi itself (like Loki and Bete).

Being the same author as the main series, Omori has the ability to freely overlap the Sword Oratoria and DanMachi plotlines. Thankfully the overlapping is kept to a minimum for this volume, which I feel is important because it allows a new story to develop. Aiz and Bell interact a lot more going forward in DanMachi, so one of my main concerns for Sword Oratoria is that portraying the same scenes as DanMachi could begin to feel redundant beyond being from Aiz’s prospective. Running Sword Oratoria alongside the main series also means that nothing of importance can happen that could impact on the main storyline, at least not until it catches up with the timeline of the latest volume.

I think Sword Oratoria is important to the DanMachi series as far as newcomers are concerned. While not everything is explained in as much detail as it was in the main series, stuff like Familia, levels, stats and the world are explained in enough detail that even if you’ve never watched the anime, or read the original books, you’ll still be able to slip into Sword Oratoria quite comfortably. It’s not just a good starting point, though, as veterans of the DanMachi series will find a lot to love here too. Omori has very obviously set out with the goal of exploring Aiz as a character and leaves various hints throughout the plot that Aiz wasn’t always the quiet, often emotionless girl we’ve come to know. Couple this idea with some impressive battles and we’ve matched the quality of DanMachi at its best – although I will confess that I do miss our usual dungeon exploring with Bell.

Omori has written Sword Oratoria from a third person perspective with the occasional jump to first person if Aiz has anything on her mind (which, admittedly, is rare), and his usual style of writing shines through in his detailed explanations of the world around the characters. This series has a new illustrator named Kiyotaka Haimura (he also provided illustrations for A Certain Magical Index) and the art on offer is really good. One of my favourite pieces is a two page spread dedicated to Aiz delivering the final blow to a high level monster, but the opening colour pages also depict this same battle with other members of Loki Familia and looks pretty cool in its own right.

While I have some concerns about the future of Sword Oratoria and the overlap and consistency it requires with the main series, I’m equally really excited by getting to spend some real time with Aiz. I’m not sure I’ve enjoyed my time with the first volume as much as I do DanMachi itself but I’d still highly recommend it to other fans of the series and newcomers alike. This is definitely a series to keep an eye on.

Title: Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in A Dungeon? On The Side: Sword Oratoria Volume 1
Publisher: Yen Press
Genre: Fantasy, Action, Comedy Romance
Author(s): Fujino Omori (author), Kiyotaka Haimura (illustrator)
Type: Light Novel
Original vintage: 2014
Format: Book (digital edition available)
Age rating: Teen
Length: 240 pages

Score: 9/10

Leeds International Film Festival Animation Day 2016 Coverage

kizumonogatari-leading-imageThis year marks my second chance to attend the anime day at the Leeds International Film Festival. This year also marked a fairly major change for the anime day, as instead of being focused on Japanese animation the section has been renamed the ‘Animation Day’ so that it could include animated works from around the world. Like previous years, the films on offer for 2016 were fairly big titles and were as follows:

Kizumonogatari Part 1 -Tekketsu-
Kizumonogatari Part 2 -Nekketsu-
Belladonna of Sadness
The Red Turtle + Father and Daughter short
Psychonauts, the Forgotten Children
A Silent Voice

For the record, I am not providing coverage of Psychonauts due to it not being Japanese in origin. The Red Turtle will have shorter coverage for a similar reason; I’ve only included it at all due to Studio Ghibli’s involvement.

Before we dive into the anime, let’s first talk about the event itself. This year’s Animation Day was once again held in the Leeds Town Hall, which is a fantastic venue for this kind of event. The staff were friendly and helpful and I never had any issues getting around the venue to where I needed to be. A complaint of mine from last year was also addressed.  Last year I complained that the breaks for lunch and dinner weren’t long enough to actually find food (especially for those who might not live in Leeds), and this year the event did offer longer breaks. I’d had the foresight to pack some food for dinner this year anyway, but discovering that I could have had the freedom to leave the town hall and buy something was pleasing to hear.

My only major complaint this year involved actually getting to the venue. This isn’t really the fault of the film festival, but on the Animation Day there was a race for charity happening and the finish line was right in front of the town hall. Due to this it was near impossible to work out if I could access the front of the town hall to get into the venue or even where I could cross the road to get to it (due to the fact it was difficult to see where the course for the race was going). I eventually walked around the back of the nearby library and plotted a course from there. Once I got nearer the town hall I battled my way through spectators and realised that the front of the town hall was open for the festival. In hindsight I’m glad that I’d left home 10 minutes earlier than originally planned that morning, otherwise I would have missed the beginning of Kizumonogatari Part 1.

The only thing I wish we’d had from the organisers of the film festival was better signage or some comments on the social media regarding where attendees were meant to go to get into the venue. I personally know the area so I could navigate around the issue okay, but if anything like the charity race clashes again with Animation Day I do hope that the organisers can deal with it a bit differently. With that said, onwards to the films!

Kizumonogatari Parts 1 & 2

kizumonogatari-part-1
To start off the day we were treated to a double bill of 
Kizumonogatari Parts 1 and 2. I’ve previously watched the first few episodes of Bakemonogatari but I’ve otherwise never put much time into the Monogatari series despite knowing how well loved it is, so these movies were a first for me. The movies act as a prequel to Bakemonogatari so no previous knowledge of the Monogatari series is required, which was good news for people like me!

Kizumonogatari tells the story of Koyomi Araragi, a second year high school student just living his days peacefully. One day he befriends a female classmate named Tsubasa Hanekawa, who tells him a rumour about a blonde vampire that has been sighted around the town. Later that day as he walks home after buying some books, Araragi hears someone crying out for help and stumbles upon a mostly decapitated, yet somehow still alive, blonde haired woman. It turns out that this woman, known as Kiss-Shot Acerola-Orion Heart-Under Blade (Kiss-Shot for short), is the vampire from the rumours and she wants Araragi’s blood so that she can recover from her injuries!

Araragi agrees to give Kiss-Shot all of his blood despite the fact it means his death, but instead of dying it turns out that Kiss-Shot has turned Araragi into a vampire too! She promises that she’ll turn him back into a human later but he must first help her hunt down 3 powerful vampire hunters and take back the limbs they stole from her. Using his newfound vampire powers, Araragi fights to reclaim the limbs and to one day regain his normal everyday life.

The first part of Kizumonogatari spends the majority of its hour runtime simply on setup and some character development, which works nicely because it doesn’t feel like it drags on too long nor rushes the plot along too quickly. That said, it would have been somewhat awkward if Part 2 hadn’t also been shown because you’d have been left feeling like Part 1 was a bit of a waste – but thankfully that wasn’t the case.

Part 2 focuses a lot more on the action side of things and sees Araragi battling it out with the vampire hunters, while also offering development for his friendship with Hanekawa. Like the first part it only has a runtime of just over an hour, but a lot gets done and the action on offer is simply superb. There are moments where the movie slows down and I got a bit disconnected from it but this is a problem I’ve found with the Monogatari series in general, so I don’t believe it’s the fault of these movies alone.

Like the main series, Kizumonogatari is being handled by studio SHAFT (Madoka Magica, March Comes in Like a Lion) and has a blend of 3D backgrounds and props while the characters are still very 2D. It’s an interesting mix but one that seems to work quite well, although I will mention that the world of Kizumonogatari is very dark and made up of variations of white, grey, brown and black. It’s not a terrible thing but I almost wish there had been a tad more colour on offer to shake things up.

The music for the two parts has been handled by Satoru Kosaki, who has worked on the Monogatari series since the beginning. The soundtrack is full of delicate pieces but also much louder, more compelling tracks for the action scenes. It has to be said that out of everything I watched for the Animation Day, the soundtracks for Kizumonogatari Parts 1 and 2 were the best.

Overall Kizumonogatari works as a solid starting point for anyone not familiar with the Monogatari series. It won’t feel complete until I’ve seen the third part, but the second part made for a good enough stopping point. Now I’m just eagerly awaiting more of it. It’s worth noting for people who want more of Kizumonogatari, like me, that the original light novel has been released in English thanks to Vertical.

Score: 8/10

Belladonna of Sadness
belladonna-of-sadness
Belladonna of Sadness is a movie from 1973 that was inspired by the French novel Satanism and Witchcraft written by Jules Michelet. Now this is an 18 rated film and features more adult content than I wish to remember, but I don’t want to talk about that per se. I’d rather offer a little bit of background information and then explain why the movie didn’t really work for me as a viewer.

The story is based around a woman known as Jeanne. On her wedding night, Jeanne is forced into a ritual deflowering by the local baron and some of his staff members. After this event she begins to see a spirit who leads her to eventually gain the power to overthrow the local baron and those who caused her so much suffering.

What Belladonna of Sadness is trying to do, outside of the blatant sex and sexual references, is tell the story of a woman going through suffering and then becoming empowered from her experiences. I think that back in 1973 this premise was probably much more powerful and thought-provoking than it is now. It’s not merely the fact that this scenario is a bit outdated, it’s also that I think other media and films have used similar ideas and simply presented them better.

I have to admit I’m not someone who likes heavily artistic films and Belladonna of Sadness goes so far in its approach to – frankly – crazy animation that it was difficult to keep track of what was happening and not be thrown out of the story. The animation does look really pretty as it has a lot of watercolor images but the constant and graphic sexual content being depicted was enough to put me off. I don’t think I was the only one who felt that way either, as the overall feeling in the hall was quite muted. When the credits finally rolled, the friend I’d watched it with and I looked at one another completely bewildered as to what we’d just experienced.

Overall I think Belladonna of Sadness was trying to make a statement, but that point was probably much clearer back in the 1970s as opposed to the present. I also admit to potentially being the wrong audience for this type of film because it isn’t the kind of thing that I’d usually go out of my way to watch. If you find yourself intrigued by my write-up then certainly give it a watch, but as it stands I don’t recommend it.

Score: 4/10

The Red Turtle

the-red-turtle-posterThe Red Turtle is a French animated film directed by Michael Dudok de Wit, who was behind the Father and Daughter short back in 2000 – which won many awards at the time. The Red Turtle was co-produced between Wild Bunch and Studio Ghibli. The involvement of Studio Ghibli is why I’m covering the movie for this article, but frankly it seems as though their involvement with it was fairly small.

The film tells the story of a man, who remains nameless, that gets shipwrecked and wakes up on a deserted island. After he has explored and gathered his bearings, the man decides to build a raft to get himself off the island. It’s not long until the raft is complete and he sets sail, but once reaching a certain distance from the island, the raft is destroyed by a red turtle. The man tries again to make a raft and leave the island but once more the raft is broken apart by the turtle. Is our protagonist destined to never leave the island?

It’s difficult to write about The Red Turtle because the movie has no dialog at all, so saying too much about the story would likely spoil someone’s enjoyment of it. However, while the plot is lacking in complexity, that doesn’t mean the movie isn’t deeply emotional – because it is. On the contrary, The Red Turtle does all the right things to make you care about this man and gives him a lot of character despite the fact that he never speaks. It’s very interesting and the mark of a good film.

The biggest disappointment that I had with The Red Turtle is that it didn’t seem to have great deal of work put into it by Studio Ghibli animation wise. The protagonist and much of the world around him were presented in CGI animation, but even when there was some traditional hand drawn animation, it didn’t scream Ghibli. This doesn’t make it bad by any means but it is worth noting for anyone who was going into it hoping for something more closely resembling a Ghibli movie.

Overall The Red Turtle is emotional and has a solid idea behind it. It’s not quite what I was expecting but that certainly doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it. Perhaps it’s not something that I’d watch again, but I and the audience watching it (judging by the round of applause afterwards!) had a good time.

Score: 7/10

A Silent Voice

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The last film of the night was undoubtedly the best of the day. The 2016 Animation Day came to a close with a showing of A Silent Voice by Kyoto Animation, a film based on an award winning manga (which is published by Kodansha and is also on Crunchyroll).

The story centers around Shoya Ishida, who back in elementary school bullied a deaf classmate of his, Shoko Nishimiya. Now in high school and isolated by his classmates due to his past sins, Shoya plans on committing suicide. However, one of the things he wants to do before ending his life is to track down Shoko in order to apologise for what he did as a child. After meeting Shoko and realising that she’s still suffering due to his past actions, Shoya is determined to finally put things right and works hard to be a good friend to her.

The most important part of A Silent Voice is that it isn’t just about Shoko’s suffering, it’s about the suffering that both of them go through. After Shoko eventually transferred schools because of the bullying, her former classmates blamed and started to pick on Shoya despite the fact that they were also responsible for what happened to Shoko. All throughout middle school and high school Shoya continued to be isolated as people learnt what he’d done back in elementary school.

While the core of the story is about the relationship between Shoko and Shoya, it also delves into the feelings of Shoko and Shoya’s former classmates. Shoya wishes to reconnect Shoko with their old classmates that she didn’t have the chance to become friends with back then. As he does so, he discovers how much fun it is to have friends and how much better the world is for it.

I also really want to mention just how wonderful it is to have an anime that features a deaf character and to have multiple characters who have learned sign-language because of her. The original manga series was supported by the Japanese Federation of the Deaf due to how well it covered the subject, and Kyoto Animation have carried over that quality very well. I don’t know much about sign-language but from what is shown in the movie it seems accurate enough to me. I don’t know anyone who is deaf either, but from the way Shoko is portrayed, I believe it’s realistic to how someone who is deaf might act.

The animation on offer was beautiful, although perhaps not that much better than Kyoto Animation’s usual TV output. I think I’ve been spoilt by the efforts of this studio and the wonderful anime they’ve created over the years because I was left feeling like the animation for A Silent Voice just wasn’t that special. Don’t get me wrong – it’s still heads and tails above other animation studios, it just didn’t surpass the usual Kyoto Animation standards.

Music was handled by Kensuke Ushio, who also worked on the music for Ping Pong The Animation. The soundtrack on offer seemed like a bit of a limited selection despite the fact the official CD release comes in at a massive 45+ tracks. I think perhaps the real problem here is that the scores just didn’t stand out, or because there were many piano pieces they all blended into one another in my head. It’s not a bad soundtrack but it’s not necessarily as good as I’d been hoping for (and led to believe) going into this showing.

It’s interesting that overall I found myself in a similar situation to the previous film festival where the last movie of the day was truly the best. A Silent Voice is truly breathtaking in a way that no other film that day was. It’s dealing with very sensitive issues and did so extremely well by approaching it head-on but in a gentle, realistic manner. Anime Limited are planning on giving the movie a wider theatrical release in the future, so if it turns up near you I urge you to check it out.

Score: 9/10

Publisher: Animatsu
Type: Movie
Format: Blu-Ray
Language options: English dub audio only

Pokémon The Movie Collection Review

pokemon-the-movie-collectionAbout a month ago (at the time of writing) I was given the chance to review the latest Pokémon movie,Pokémon Hoopa and the Clash of Ages, and in doing so it reminded me of how much I enjoyed some of the very first movies in the series. Luckily for me, I’ve been given the chance to revisit them thanks to Manga Entertainment, who are releasing a collection of the first three movies in the UK.

Due to the fact this article is covering three movies instead of just one, I’ll be reviewing each movie but giving them slightly shorter reviews than the usual so as not to overwhelm you as a reader.

Pokémon: The First Movie

screen-shot-2013-12-23-at-12-55-24-pm I think it probably goes without saying that the movie most people think of when they think of Pokémon is Pokémon: The First Movie. As the name implies this was the very first movie released for the Pokémon series (it was released in Japan in 1998 and in the US as of 1999) and is still a fan favourite to this day.

The story revolves around Ash and some of the strongest trainers in the Pokémon world being summoned to a mysterious place known simply as New Island. When Ash, Brock, Misty and the collection of trainers arrive there they discover that the challenger who summoned to them to this island is actually a Pokémon who calls himself Mewtwo.

Mewtwo has called the trainers here to do battle and should they lose to him then he will claim their Pokémon for his own. Once free of human’s control, Mewtwo will go on to destroy the world while keeping the Pokémon safe as he believes all humans are evil. Can Ash and Pikachu prove that the relationship between trainer and Pokémon isn’t simply that of master and servant?

As a Pokémon fan I’ve always been fond of Pokémon: The First Movie. I was still very young when my parents bought me a copy of it on VHS to watch (probably no older than 6-7 years old), but despite that, the story struck a chord with me. I’d long been a fan of the TV series and the toys associated with it, but getting to see Ash and Pikachu battle it out in a movie, which had a much higher quality of animation, really captivated me. This release is using the Japanese remaster of the movie (and the other two included), so I can say that the animation still really impresses me for a work from that time period. It also helps that this work is telling a story with a considerable amount of depth, something that the later movies of recent days simply do not do.

There are a lot of inconsistency issues with the movie compared to the rules we learn through the video games. For example, at the beginning of our story Ash battles with Pikachu against a trainer using a Golem. Pikachu defeats the Golem by using Thunderbolt, a move that would normally not work at all on a rock/ground-type Pokémon like Golem. There are also some instances where Pokémon are called by completely the wrong name, although there aren’t many examples of those and one of them can be written off as the members of Team Rocket just being incorrect.

screen-shot-2013-12-23-at-12-48-42-pmAs touched upon previously, the animation for this movie is really smooth and looks nice even by today’s standards. The movie has been handled by OLM, who have worked on all of the Pokémon anime. There is a little bit of CGI on show but only in a few brief scenes and while it doesn’t quite fit in with the animation, it’s not around enough to really spoil things.

Where music is concerned, none of the music from the original Japanese release is present (it was removed from most of the Pokémon movies until quite late in the series’ life). The English soundtrack has been produced by John Loeffler, who is responsible for all the music for the Pokémon series. There are a lot of string and piano pieces on offer and while nothing is truly memorable, it’s also quite nice within the context of the movie.

Overall Pokémon: The First Movie continues to be an entertaining watch for fans of the series. It’s easy enough to show newer Pokémon fans without them being turned off by poor animation, and it’s a good example of the good old days when the Pokémon movies actually had thought-provoking plots.

Pokémon: The Movie 2000

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As the name may suggest, Pokémon: The Movie 2000 was first released back in the year 2000 and is set during the Orange Island arc of the original anime series. Of the three movies on offer in this set I have to say that this is my favourite and has been since I was a kid.

The story of Pokémon: The Movie 2000 focuses around Ash, Misty and Tracey as they’re journeying between the Orange Islands. While travelling, a storm suddenly hits and the boat they’re travelling on is swept away toward a place known as Shamouti Island. As Ash and co. are introduced to the islanders they’re informed that Shamouti Island is just about to celebrate their Legend Festival. The festival follows a prophecy’s tale that tells of a chosen one who will appear to help the legendary Pokémon, Lugia, save the world. Once Ash is introduced as being a Pokémon trainer he’s quickly roped into filling the role of the chosen one for the celebrations, but little does he know that he really will have to save the world…

The role of a chosen one for the festival is to travel around three different islands and retrieve a treasure from each and then bring them back to Shamouti Island. The islands are usually protected by the three legendary bird Pokémon: Moltres, Zapdos and Articuno). However, it turns out that the three bird Pokémon have been captured and so the weather is starting to become unbalanced. Ash’s role now is to collect the treasures and take them to Shamouti Shrine so that the beast of the sea, Lugia, can be called to quell the fighting and bring balance back to the world.

pk_oj_movie-2-00_36_38_07-still030Like most Pokémon movies the plot on offer here is a fairly simply one, but an interesting one nevertheless. Ash has a lot more character in this movie than we’re used to seeing him have these days. He’s nervous and doesn’t think the fate of the world should be resting on his shoulders, nor does he truly believe that he has the power to save it. I think Pokémon: The Movie 2000 is a bit of a coming-of-age story for Ash as his friends and Luiga put their trust in him to do what is right. It’s interesting because if this movie had been created with the Ash we know now, who is so full of confidence, it probably wouldn’t have been nearly as interesting.

For this movie animation has once again been handled by OLM and music is thanks to John Loeffler. The animation flows nicely and although there is a lot more CGI usage than in Pokémon: The First Movie, it’s not off-putting and blends in fairly well. The music also works quite nicely and there is a truly wonderful ocarina score on offer that ties into the plot.

Overall Pokémon: The Movie 2000 sets out to showcase a plot of epic proportions that involves saving the whole world. Ash is a much better character in this movie than perhaps in any other throughout the whole run of the Pokémon series. Like the first movie it’s an example of Pokémon at its finest.

Pokémon 3: The Movie

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The final movie in this collection is Pokémon 3: The Movie, which is set during the Johto Journey’s arc of the Pokémon anime and was originally released in English in 2001. While this movie isn’t my favourite of the three on offer, plot-wise, it provides something other than Ash needing to save the world from danger.

Our story is centered around Molly Hale, whose father, Spencer Hale, is currently actively investigating mysterious Pokémon known as Unown. One day her father disappears and Molly is left with a box of mysterious letters that look just like Unown. Using them she spells out the words Mama and Papa, desperately wishing she could be reunited with them rather than being alone, and suddenly she is surrounded by Unown and the legendary Pokémon Entei. Convinced that Entei is her father and wishing to live her life peacefully with him, Molly’s imagination leads the Unown to cover the town of Greenland in mysterious crystal to prevent anyone from getting close to her home.

Ash, Misty and Brock are been travelling to Greenland to use the local Pokémon centre when they discover the area has been covered in crystal. However, they aren’t the only one’s concerned about this weird turn of events as Professor Oak, Delia Ketchum (Ash’s mother) and a TV crew have also come to Greenland to investigate. Back at the Hale household, Molly spots Ash and Delia on TV and begins to wish for a mother of her own, so Entei sets out to hypnotise Delia and bring her back to fit the role. With his mother captured, Ash vows to break into the Hale mansion and rescue Delia, but first he has to make Molly understand that Entei and Delia aren’t really her father and mother.
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The nice thing about this movie is that it’s not about saving the world but instead about saving someone from themselves. The loss of both of her parents has left Molly scared and vulnerable and I’m sure anyone in her position would give anything to see their loved ones again and to stay with them forever. There are still lots of the battles and dramatics that you’d expect from a series like Pokémon, but overall the movie is fairly grounded and wants to tell a fairly realistic story. It’s also one of the only Pokémon movies not to include an actual legendary Pokémon because although Entei is technically a legendary in the video games, this one is confirmed as an illusion that the Unown have created. This is probably also why the fate of the world isn’t at stake, because Entei is an illusion and therefore unlikely to cause mass destruction – apart from crystallizing a whole town, of course.

Like Pokémon: The Movie 2000, the animation for this movie been handled by OLM. Overall Pokémon 3: The Movie features a great deal more use of CGI and in some scenes it does feel quite out of place. This isn’t a major problem though and otherwise the animation quality is consistent with that of the previous movies.

The release of Pokémon: The Movie Collection comes to the UK thanks to Manga Entertainment and is on both Blu-ray (there is also a steelbook collector’s version) and DVD. The Blu-ray release is notable for being the very first time these movies have been released on Blu-ray in the UK. Like always with Pokémon releases outside of Japan, these movies are dub only and don’t have any special features.

The real only downside here is that this collection doesn’t include the Pikachu Shorts that originally accompanied these films. In Japan every Pokémon movie is released alongside a short, known as a Pikachu Short, which is an adventure based around Pikachu and the various Pokémon Ash and his friends have at the time. These shorts have also been present on previous releases and it’s a real shame that they’re not included here.

Overall this is a dream collection for any hardcore Pokémon fan. These movies look great on Blu-ray and even if you’re a new fan just getting into the series they’re easy enough to get into without a great deal of past knowledge about the Pokémon franchise. I can only hope in the future that similar treatment is given to the Pokémon movies that came after these three.

Title: Pokémon The Movie Collection
Publisher: Manga Entertainment
Genre: Action, Adventure, Shonen
Studio: OLM
Type: Movie
Original vintage: 1998
Format: Blu-Ray and DVD (Blu-Ray version reviewed)
Language options: English dub audio only
Age rating: PG
Running time: 218 minutes

Score: 8/10

Log Horizon Season 2 Part 2 Review

log-horizon-season-2-part-2-coverRecently I was given the chance to dive back into the Log Horizon series by reviewing the first part of Season 2. Now I’ve returned to finish the job by reviewing the second half of this fantasy anime.

This set picks up in a rather awkward place as it starts with Episode 14, which is centered around a new cast of characters. This includes a girl called Kanami, who used to be the leader of the Debauchery Tea Party – the famous guild that Shiroe was a part of. Back when Elder Tale was a game there were many different servers that players would connect to, directly related to where they lived in the world. For example, players who lived in China and connected to a Chinese server would in turn play the game in a location that was modeled after China itself. This was still true when everyone got physically pulled into the world of Elder Tale as well, therefore Kanami and her current party were in a completely different part of the world than Shiroe and company. Despite the characters being likeable, unfortunately, Kanami and her friends are only featured in this half of the season for just a single episode and then aren’t seen again until a brief appearance in the final episode.

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With the awkwardly placed Kanami-focused episode out the way we dive into the real meat of this season’s story, which is based around the younger members of the Log Horizon guild. Shiroe decides to send Tohya, Minori, Isuzu, Rudy and Serara (who is from the Crescent Moon Alliance) on a mission to collect the items needed to create a magic bag: an item that will allow them to carry a great deal of objects with them at all times. The quest is a simple affair and just involves travelling to a town and killing some wyverns, but as a viewer it’s fairly interesting because this is one of the first times we get to see the kids take on their own quest.

I will confess that none of the younger members of Log Horizon are favourites of mine, but this story is a solid one and gives all of them some good character development – especially Isuzu. Back in the real world Isuzu loved music and, like her father, wished to perform professionally, but sadly no one considered her skills good enough. This journey gives Isuzu the chance to play her music in the taverns of many different towns and villages. As she does, Isuzu slowly comes to terms with what music means to her. I’m sure many of you are already aware that I’m a music fanatic, so this storyline is perhaps one of my favourites from the Log Horizon series and is definitely the best featured within this set of the anime.

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The problem that I have with this half of Season 2 is that once the arc surrounding the kids is finished, we go into the next plotline without enough time to finish it. When we hit Episode 21, the story suddenly shifts gears toward what I consider a major plot point and then never resolves it. Perhaps the biggest issue is that around the 18-20 episode mark the series had run out of the original source to adapt. While Studio Deen very obviously knew what was coming (the light novels released since have matched the anime’s content) it’s still a prickly situation because the ending is just left too open, especially when there is a chance we won’t ever get a third season.

Away from the story,, Log Horizon fares pretty well. As previously noted, the series continues to be handled by Studio Deen and the animation works well for the fantasy setting we’re in. The changed character designs from moving studios (which I mentioned in my review of Part 1) may still bother you throughout the remaining episodes but, having watched Season 2 multiple times now, I had no issues myself. I’d also like to mention how satisfying the battle scenes were handled throughout this set and that they flowed remarkably well. Even though this series is filled with a lot of talking versus action it’s always nice to see that Studio Deen can handle the action superbly when necessary.

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The music for this set, handled by Yasuharu Takanashi, is pleasing to the ear and builds up the dramatics for the battles well. There were also a great deal of cheerful, upbeat tracks for the kids’ adventures that I grew fond of. I think Part 1 of this second season had the better soundtrack but I’m still pleased with what we have here. The opening and ending theme stay the same as the first part.

Voice actors do their jobs well for this set, too. It’s nice to hear more from the younger members of Log Horizon and while there are too many cast members to discuss I’d like to mention a couple. My firm favourites are Eriko Matsui (Nuba Suzuki in Dusk Maiden of Amnesia, Mio in Young Black Jack), who plays Isuzu, and Nao Tamura (Chika Amatori in World Trigger, Cosmos in Fairy Tail), who plays Minori, as both give very emotional and engaging performances that truly drew me into the world. Although the set does include an English dub, I didn’t sample it for this review as I have not watched the rest of the series dubbed.

log-horizon-s2-part-2-5This set comes to the UK thanks to MVM and contains Episodes 14 – 25, both subbed and dubbed, and is available on both DVD and Blu-ray. The only extras to speak of are clean opening and ending animations.

Overall I came away from Log Horizon Season 2 fairly happy. I’m disappointed that the ending is so open when the series has otherwise been fairly flawless in terms of tying everything up arc to arc, but there is certainly still good to be found here. Despite the ending I do highly recommend the season as, although this part isn’t as good as the previous one, it’s still really fun to watch.  

Title: Log Horizon: Season 2 Part 2
Publisher: MVM Films
Genre: Adventure, Fantasy, Sci-Fi
Studio: Studio Deen
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2015
Format: Blu-Ray and DVD (DVD version reviewed)
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Running time: 300 minutes

Score: 7/10

Your Lie in April Part 1 Review

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“Just like you said, we might not be able to turn in a performance that we can live with. But we’re going to play. So long as we have a chance to play, and an audience that will listen, I’m going to play with everything I’ve got. So that the people who’ve heard me will never forget me. So that I can live in their hearts forever. That’s my reason for existing. I’m a musician, just like you.” – Kaori Miyazono

I always find it difficult to work out how to open my reviews, and this is especially true for a series like Your Lie in April that I’m extremely fond of. It was two years ago now that I watched the first episode on Crunchyroll and instantly fell in love with it. After completing the anime, I quickly decided that the series deserved to be hailed as one of my all time favourite shows. It’s a title that I regard highly for various reasons, which I hope to convey to you throughout the course of this review.

Your Lie in April tells the story of Kosei Arima, a former child piano prodigy who, following the death of his mother, retired as a pianist due to becoming unable to hear the piano notes he was playing. It’s worth noting that this isn’t a physiological disability, it’s just limited to his own music. Since leaving the world of music, Kosei has resigned himself to a quiet and almost bleak outlook on life. He feels like he’s drifting through his existence without a real purpose in the world.

your-lie-in-april-5One day Kosei’s childhood friend, Tsubaki Sawabe, invites him and Ryota Watari (another close friend of Kosei’s) to hang out so that Tsubaki can introduce Watari to a classmate of hers: Kaori Miyazono. The meeting of Kosei and Kaori will change both their fates forever and bring colour back to Kosei’s monotone world.

On the day that Kosei meets Kaori, he discovers that she’s about to perform in a violin competition! While he’s reluctant to attend the recital due to having not set foot inside a concert hall in over two years, he’s reluctantly dragged along to the show by Tsubaki and Watari. As Kosei watches Kaori’s wild and free-spirited performance he begins to feel inspired by her music. Maybe, just maybe he’ll finally try to play the piano once more.

your-lie-in-april-3What this anime gives us is not quite the romantically driven plot that’s been implied by trailers and the media. In reality, this is a story that explores what it means to be a musician and how music affects us. The very fundamentals of Your Lie in April speak volumes to me because music is incredibly important to me. I picked the quote above to open this article because I think it truly gets to the heart of Your Lie in April better than perhaps I ever could.

Music is a powerful way of conveying stories and emotions. How a song is played comes down to the individual: it can be slowed down, speeded up, or the rhythm and timing can be altered. Even just what that track means to the musician can influence its sound. This is a concept that Your Lie in April explores incredibly well. Kosei was taught by his mother to play a score note for note, never deviating from the original piece. Meanwhile, Kaori has little regard for playing something precisely and would much rather inject her own personality into the score. This makes Kosei question how he was taught and how he himself wants to play music. Musicians are ever evolving, ever improving, and Kaori constantly challenging Kosei’s way of playing is very important for his development as a pianist.

your-lie-in-april-6Kaori’s central role within the story is to inspire Kosei as a musician. Watari and Tsubaki are both great characters (more on this later), but when all’s said and done, they aren’t musicians. Only Kaori can truly relate to Kosei’s feelings toward music – and vice versa. It’s heartwarming to watch as they encourage one another and grow together as performers, which is something that most music-focused anime just does not do. All throughout, Your Lie in April has the the burning desire to inspire, to teach, and to take your breath away.

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You can’t have a strong series without a solid cast and that’s what we’ve been given in this anime. I’ve already rambled on about Kosei and Kaori quite a bit but let me just say that both characters feel realistic, especially for young teenagers. Kosei is noted to be 14 and presumably Kaori is the same age. I feel this is notable because many anime series focus on older characters and 14-year-olds, especially  when it comes to professional matters such as performing, are rarely given the spotlight – which Your Lie in April offers this cast.

I haven’t said much about Watari and Tsubaki but don’t worry, these two are full of interesting insights and play supportive roles in Kosei’s life. The biggest problem with talking about them is that they don’t really come into their own until later in the story. They’re both ever-present but don’t make a notable impact until nearer the end of this set, when Kaori’s presence has begun to infect their lives. Watari and Tsubaki might not play music but that doesn’t stop them from being inspired by Kaori and wishing to do their best in life, which just feeds back into my earlier point about how important music truly is.

your-lie-in-april-4The animation for Your Lie in April has been handled by A-1 Pictures and is simply beautiful. The world is so bright and full of life that it just draws you in until you simply can’t look away. Most importantly though, the studio have managed to capture the live musical performances very well and make it look as if the characters are actually playing the violin/piano thanks to some sneaky usage of 3D (which actually fits in for once!). A-1 Pictures have simply excelled in bringing this world together in a way that only their studio really can. Your Lie in April might be a slice-of-life series but it needs the ability to inspire through its animation – and it does just that.

Where music is concerned, the soundtrack has been handled by Masaru Yokoyama, who also provided music for Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches, Plastic Memories, and Rolling Girls. Many of the tracks on offer here are performances of classic Beethoven and Chopin but there is also a hefty amount of original music thrown in too. It has to be said that Yokoyama has worked wonders here and every little note enchanted me while also adding an incredible amount of emotion to every scene. The soundtrack is beautiful and often my first stop when I’m in need of some inspiration! The opening for the series is ‘Hikaru Nara’ by Goose house, which acts as a very pop-y and upbeat track, while the ending ‘Kirameki’ by wacci is more reserved but still a very uplifting song. Unfortunately neither tracks had Japanese or translated lyrics on offer in this release, so I’m left in the dark as to what the two songs are about.

your-lie-in-april-1The voice actors have also done a good job here, but my personal favourite is Natsuki Hanae (Ken Kaneki in Tokyo Ghoul, Inaho Kaizuka in Aldnoah.Zero and Taichi Yagami in Digimon Adventure tri.), who plays Kosei, because he’s quite quiet and reserved but also so full of confidence when Kosei needs it most. This is a role that Hanae voiced really well. My second favourite after Hanae is Risa Taneda (Rory Mercury in Gate, Erina Nakiri in Food Wars, Mirai Kuriyama in Beyond the Boundary), who plays Kaori, because she handles Kaori with a lot of fun and enthusiasm. The whole cast are just bursting with childish optimism and confidence. They sound great!

This release also has an English dub on offer and I wish I had as many nice things to say about it as I do about the Japanese language track, but sadly I don’t. The best of the cast is Erica Lindbeck (Yuki Kaizuka in Aldnoah.Zero, Jericho in The Seven Deadly Sins), who plays Kaori, because she voices her character very well. On the other hand, Matt Mittelman (Hikari Sakishima in A Lull in the Sea, Saitama in One-Punch Man), who plays Kosei, just sounds incredibly bored and his voice doesn’t fit a 14-year-old character. Because there was no emotion in his performance I didn’t feel anything for Kosei as a character and that brought the whole thing down.

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Your Lie in April Part 1 comes to the UK thanks to Anime Limited and is being released as both a standard DVD and Blu-ray collector’s edition. The collector’s edition includes a storage box to hold part 1 and part 2 together. On-disc extras include clean opening and ending videos, as well as audio commentary for Episode 1. This release contains the Japanese audio as well as the English dub and Episodes 1 to 11.

When everything’s said and done all I can really say is that, to me, Your Lie in April is a masterpiece when it comes to telling a story about music. It inspires, captivates, and truly captures what it means to be a musician. I simply can’t wait to get my hands on the second set and finish off my rewatch of this series because, as it stands, Your Lie in April is still one of my all-time favourite anime.

Title: Your Lie in April Part 1
Publisher: Anime Limited
Genre: Drama, Music, Romance, School, Shonen
Studio: A-1 Pictures
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2014
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: 264 minutes

Score: 10/10

Autumn Anime Season 2016

 

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

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

IncendiaryLemon:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sarah:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cold Cobra:

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

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

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

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

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

Orange Anime Review

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“I’m writing because I don’t want you, my 16-year-old self, to carry these regrets with you for the rest of your life.”

Regular visitors to Anime UK News will know that I’m a big fan of the Orange manga. I first stumbled across the manga thanks to Crunchyroll on a whim and a desire for a new romance story. As a result I fell in love with the series and now happily house the two omnibus volumes on my shelves. When an anime adaptation aired during the 2016 summer season I was the first in line to sample it.

As a general note this review does contain some spoilers, but I have tried to keep these to a minimum.

Orange tells the story of Naho Takamiya and Kakeru Naruse, and a love that transcends time. On a seemingly ordinary day, Naho receives a mysterious letter in the mail that’s supposedly been sent from her future self. This letter informs her that a new student named Kakeru Naruse will be joining her class and that Naho’s future self has a huge favour to ask: that Naho uses the letter as a guide so not to repeat her future self’s past mistakes, and to keep a close eye on Kakeru.   

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One immediate request the letter puts forth is that Naho and her friends must not invite Kakeru out after school on that first day. Naho disregards its contents to begin with – I mean, how could a letter, let alone anything, be sent from the future? However, while Naho’s friends (Hiroto Suwa, Takako Chino, Saku Hagita and Azusa Murasaka) go ahead and invite Kakeru, it’s not until later that Naho learns the letter was correct all along and inviting Kakeru out led to something terrible happening. It was on that day that Kakeru’s mother committed suicide.

After that day, Kakeru doesn’t attend school for a couple of weeks and other things stated in the letter begin to happen. As Naho reads through the notes she sees that future Naho is asking her past self to ‘save Kakeru’, who is no longer with Naho and her friends in the future.

orange-shot-3The plot sounds a lot more complex than it actually is; it’s just difficult to explain. We flip between our cast in the past and the future (which is 10 years after Kakeru’s death) fairly frequently to show that Naho and her friends in the future have deep regrets about not saving Kakeru. They only realised after he died how depressed he was and the signs they missed, which leads them to decide to write the letters and attempt to prevent Kakeru’s death.

The explanation for how the letters travel back to the past is interesting, and makes some level of sense, but you’ll still probably want to shut your brain off concerning it. Orange’s explanation involves the characters of the future tracking down a black hole in the ocean in order to deliver the letters to the past. How they find the black hole, and how the letters actually reach their past selves, is never clearly explained. This might all sound crazy and off-putting but I think it doesn’t matter. After all, the time travel may play an important role for getting the letters to Naho but it’s not what’s most important.

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What Orange is really trying to do is tell a story about living with depression and being friends with someone who suffers from it, which is something that the show does wonderfully. Kakeru’s behaviour is true to the way someone with depression might act, and so are the symptoms he shows in the way he reacts towards Naho and Suwa (the two characters that Kakeru becomes closest to). Kakeru wishes to always put up a happy front and not show anyone his pain because he believes they’d just laugh or not want to spend time with him anymore. It feels satisfyingly real and easy to understand while also drawing you into the story.

Although Orange is labelled as a shojo series, it doesn’t feel like one in the traditional sense. The classic shojo elements are present in that Naho and Kakeru have romantic feelings for one another, but Orange is sensible enough not to push those aspects in favour of the real crux of the story: saving Kakeru. Naho is shy and struggles to fulfill every request that the letters ask her to do but with the support of her friends she accomplishes a lot. Suwa has a strong bond with Naho and wants to do what’s right by her, and in the future deeply regrets not noticing how depressed Kakeru was. The series focuses on Suwa, Naho and Kakeru the most and sadly generally pushes Chino, Hagita and Azusa aside in favour of their development, especially early on. However, thankfully, they do get more focus during the latter half of the story, so even if you feel that they aren’t that interesting to begin with, I can confidently say that things do improve.

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As much as I love this story, I do think the anime has some issues. Most of them are down to the animation (more on this below), but I also think that the characters don’t feel as real as they do in the manga. They’re not handled terribly by any means but my best example lies with Naho, who just comes across as more dim and clumsy than in the manga. It seems as if every time she makes a bad move, the show lingers on it for far too long. In the manga Naho’s very cute and, yes, she’s shy and makes mistakes by not always following the letter’s advice, but perhaps because we’re flicking through a book so much faster than watching an episode of the anime, it just flows much better.  

The remaining problems that I have with the anime rest with TMS Entertainment, the animation studio that handled the adaptation. They’ve done some really nice work for the backgrounds, which all look stunning and very lifelike, but this design choice leaves the character designs (which are very colourful and quite “anime” versus realistic) feeling out of place against the backdrops. It’s not just the art style conflicts that are an issue, though. There are also fairly major consistency issues with the cast either looking quite off-model, from shot to shot, or lacking facial features when at a distance. It isn’t even a case of this only happening in one or two episodes, it’s a problem that plagues the whole show. I was pulled out of the story fairly often just to wonder what had happened to Naho’s face! The studio also added in some random montages from episode to episode of everyday school life and the kids having fun together, which didn’t exist in the original manga and felt horribly out of place.

orange-7Orange’s music was provided by Hiroaki Tsutsumi and fares a lot better than the animation. Tsutsumi has previously worked on the music for Blue Spring Ride, Meganebu!, and Kuromukuro and seems to have a good grasp on the kind of tone Orange was looking for. It’s a soundtrack full of emotional piano tracks but also some very pop-y acoustic guitar-inspired scores that fit what a series like this really needs. Overall I have no complaints with the music, although it’s worth noting that the mixing on Crunchyroll was a bit out of whack and music was usually louder than the characters’ dialogue.  

Where voice actors are concerned we have a pretty good group that gave solid performances, but the best in the series are definitely Naho and Kakeru. Naho is voiced by Kana Hanazawa (Zera in Fairy Tail Zero, Anri Sonohara in Durarara!!, Rize Kamishiro in Tokyo Ghoul) and is definitely the best of the lot, giving Naho some excellent emotion – especially during her exchanges with Kakeru. Speaking of Kakeru, he’s played by Seiichiro Yamashita (Nakagawa in Golden Time, Eita Kursunoki in Seraph of the End) who also gives a very emotionally driven performance that suits the character exceptionally well.

Overall Orange’s anime leaves me feeling a little unsatisfied. Due to the way the animation has been handled, and other mild niggles, I feel as if the best thing I can do is recommend that fans read the manga, which is so much better than the anime adaption was. The TV series isn’t a bad way to get into the series but I fear that would definitely leave you a little cold at the end and that’s just not how Orange should be.

Orange can be streamed in the UK on Crunchyroll

Title: Orange
Publisher: Crunchyroll (streaming)
Genre: Romance, Slice of Life, Shojo
Studio: TMS Entertainment
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2016
Format: Legal stream
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles
Running time: 335 minutes

Score: 8/10