Persona 3 The Movie #1: Spring of Birth Review


Persona
is a series of video games that act as a spin-off to the Shin Megami Tensei franchise and arguably it was when Persona 3 was released that the series became a real hit. Since the huge success of the Persona 4 video game and its various spin-offs and anime adaptations, it’s no real surprise that starting in 2013 (two years following the Persona 4 anime) Persona 3 was adapted into a series of movies – the first of which I’m reviewing today.

Persona 3 The Movie 1: Spring of Birth follows the story of Makoto Yuki, who has just transferred into Gekkoukan High School. Due to a delay with the trains, our young protagonist finds himself arriving at the Iwatodai Dormitory (where he’ll be living from now on) at midnight, but with coffins lining the streets and a ghoulish green moon in sight it appears that not everything is right with the area.

Upon arriving at the dormitory, Yuki meets Yukari Takeba and Mitsuru Kirijo, who are both suspicious of how Yuki managed to make it to the dorm at this time of night. It turns out that Yuki had stumbled into a strange space known as the “dark hour” where electricians stop working and people become unconscious and appear as coffins (only those with a potential to wield creatures known as Persona can move around in this hour). During this hour monsters known as “shadows” rise out of the ground and cause havoc, something which Mitsuru and Yukari are trying to combat as part of a group known as SEES.

Knowing that Yuki might have the potential to become a member of their group, Mitsuru and Yukari start observing him for any odd activity. However, before they can come to a concrete conclusion, the dorms are attacked and Yukari is tasked with protecting Yuki while escaping. As the two are chased by a powerful shadow, Yukari fails to summon her Persona (this involves shooting yourself in the head with a special gun) and is injured by the enemy, dropping her gun in the process. Yuki picks up the gun and awakens to the power of Persona himself, calling forth a Persona known as Orpheus.

After fully realizing his power, Yuki is accepted as a member of SEES and introduced to Akihiko Sanada, another member of the team. After recruiting an additional new member in the form of Junpei Iori, the team set to work defeating shadows and working to discover what the true meaning behind them and the Dark Hour really is.

The Persona 3 game has been adapted into four movies, and with so much to adapt, it means that a lot of this first movie is restricted to set-up and bringing the whole cast together. It’s not a bad thing and we do get some good battle scenes and character interactions, but from having played the game, I believe the later movies will be more interesting than this one. That said, and again being someone who’s played the game, it’s been very interesting to see how Yuki is handled as a character.

In the Persona series of games, the protagonist never really has a personality. That’s because the games are filled with various choices for us to make and our character is simply meant to be a window for us to experience the story as we wish. In the movie this obviously wouldn’t work, but at the same time there is a fine balance between injecting a personality into Yuki and creating someone that fans of the game wouldn’t be able to recognise. Thankfully, development of Yuki has been handled well and although he’s fairly bland, he’s still progressing along with the story. His backstory is that his parents died in a car accident and because of this, he’s been shoved around from family member to family member and school to school. This has left Yuki as someone who, frankly, doesn’t care about the world, anyone in it, or even his own life. To me he’s a bit of a blank slate and lacking in personality, but, actually, as the movie progresses, I realised this wasn’t true. There are reasons that he’s so uncaring about everything (beyond the fact he doesn’t have a personality in the games) and I’m confident that he’ll continue to evolve, thanks to the input of the other characters. He’s starting to care about this team and beginning to understand the value in life itself. As the mysteries of the world unfold, so, too, will those of Makoto Yuki.

As far as characters are concerned, the rest of the cast are varied and seem interesting enough. It turns out that Yukari is also a bit of a newcomer to the group and so she, Yuki and Junpei are grouped together when fighting shadows. Yukari is quiet and lacking in confidence but she cares deeply about her teammates, and her desire to protect them often overrides how scared she is. Meanwhile Junpei is overconfident and jumps into battle without thinking and without concern for his life, but he and Yuki watch one another’s back and so more often than not they come out unharmed. The whole cast appear to have secrets for us to discover and undoubtedly they’ll come to the surface within the next couple of movies.

Persona 3 The Movie 1: Spring of Birth has been handled by studio AIC, who also handled the anime adaptation of Persona 4 The Animation and Humanity Has Declined. It has to be noted that the character designs are true to those of the original game and although they do look quite old in style (the colours and such don’t look like what you’d expect of more modern designs), for a game that was released more than 10 years ago in Japan this isn’t unexpected. Once you get over the initial introduction they slip into the art style for the movie really well and overall AIC have done a good job conveying the mystery and intrigue of the story.

The music has been handled by Shoji Meguro, who composes all the music for the Shin Megami Tensei and Persona games as well as the Persona 4 anime adaptions. Due to the fact Meguro has long worked on the series, the music for this movie fits very well with the action unfolding on screen and the tracks are memorable enough that I’ve been left really wanting to own the soundtrack for myself.

The voice actors for the movie are all returning to their roles from the game, which really helps those of us who have played the game to properly immerse ourselves in this world. My favourite actors are, firstly, Akira Ishida (Shusei Kagari in Psycho-Pass, Fyodor Dostoyevsky in Bungo Stray Dogs), who plays Yuki, because I think it’s difficult to play a role where you have to express so little emotion to begin with and then slowly trickle it in as things progress. Secondly, I also have to point out Rie Tanaka (Juana in Horizon on the Middle of Nowhere, Ren Mikihara in Full Metal Panic? Fumoffu!), who plays Mitsuru, because she does so with a real flair for the action scenes and works well as the mature upperclassman that Mitsuru is meant to be.

This release comes to the UK thanks to Anime Limited on Blu-ray in a collector’s edition format and on DVD. The collector’s edition contains the movie on both DVD and Blu-ray and comes packed with a 36-page booklet containing artwork, character profiles and so on. There are no on-disc extras and this release is Japanese audio with English subs only as no English dub for the movies exists.

Overall Persona 3 The Movie 1: Spring of Birth proves to be a good watch. The later entries will no doubt be better stand-alones due to the fact that much of this first movie is given to introducing the cast, but if you’ve played the Persona 3 game, you’ll find a lot to like here. If you’re a newcomer, then I’d advise to stick it out until at least the second movie where the plot really gets going, but even then I think there is something for everyone to like here.

Title: Persona 3: Movie #1 Spring of Birth
Publisher: Anime Limited
Genre: Fantasy, Supernatural
Studio: AIC
Type: Movie
Original vintage: 2013
Format: Blu-Ray and DVD (Blu-Ray version reviewed)
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles
Age rating: 12
Running time: 91 minutes

Score: 8/10

Seraph of the End Season One: Part Two


Seraph of the End
is a title I’ve been especially fond of since Weekly Shonen Jump started publishing the manga in English a few years back. When the anime aired back in 2015 I regarded it as one of my favourites for the year, and now I’ve gotten the chance to sit down and rewatch the second half of this series.

As a general note, this review contains spoilers for both parts of Seraph of the End. If you missed the review of Part 1 written by my good friend and coworker, Joshawott, you can find it here.


This part of the series kicks off with Yu and his comrades being sent on a mission in Nagoya, however this is after the higher ups interrogate Yu to determine if he’s working with vampires. Part 2 of
Seraph of the End is heavily dedicated to exploring the relationships between Yu and Captain Guren and Yu and Mikaela, but that’s not to say there isn’t plenty of time for some fun vampire hunting. This part also gives us some focus on the vampire society and works to develop them as characters.

The mission Yu and his team are sent on with Guren and other members of the Japanese Imperial Demon Army is to kill numerous noble vampires, who have been spotted in the area. It’s a life-or-death mission and sadly it doesn’t always go to plan – but thanks to our team’s misfortunes, we’re given some remarkable action sequences as the humans fight for their lives (more on those in a minute). On the flip side, the new perspectives on Mikaela and the vampires leaves us to ponder if they’re really the bad guys in this world, especially as it becomes clearer that the Imperial Demon Army is up to no good.


While I usually wouldn’t go too in-depth into the end of a season, I want to talk about a couple of episodes closer to the end of this set because they really made the series for me. Episode 21 sees Mikaela finally find Yu and his team and features some truly stunning animation as Mikaela storms through hordes of enemies to reach his long-lost family. The scene is set to a remix of the first ending for the series (“scaPEGoat” performed by SawanoHiroyuki[nZk]:Yosh), and between that and the way the camera pans in and out, the sequence looks fantastic. I’ve watched a lot of anime by
Studio Wit but I think this scene stands out as some of their very best work to date. It’s animated, choreographed and executed extremely well and I cannot praise the scene enough for the lasting impact it left on me as a viewer.

The other episode I want to talk about follows directly afterwards . It’s titled “Yu and Mika” and largely focuses on an exchange the two have, in private, away from the battle raging on elsewhere. It’s the first real interaction the two have had since Yu escaped from the vampires as a child and at this point, after suffering a mortal wound which requires human blood to fix, Mikaela is struggling with the decision to remain as he is or become a full vampire. The two argue and bicker and the conversation flows so naturally, and is filled with so much emotion, that it really stood out to me and remains one of my favourite episodes. I’d usually talk about voice actors later on but today I’m going to break my usual trend and mention that Miyu Irino (Koshi Sugawara in Haikyu!!, Ritsu Kageyama in Mob Pyscho 100), who plays Yu and Kensho Ono (Takato in Charlotte, Slaine Troyard in Aldnoah Zero, Phichit Chulanont in Yuri!!! on Ice), who plays Mikaela, both perform exceptionally well for these scenes. I rewatched the scene in English, French and German and none of those dubs even held a candle to the emotional weight that the Japanese VA’s put into their take.  


As previously mentioned, animation for the series has been handled by
Studio Wit and looks really nice. Action scenes were always detailed and fluid, and even the scenes where the characters just stand around talking look great, thanks to some exceptional work on the backdrops. Wit have gone for a pastel-shaded effect for the backgrounds, so they always look very detailed, which it means any action scenes played out against them looks even better than usual. It creates a nice contrast between the smooth, neatly drawn characters and the messy, less detailed backgrounds. It’s a style I really like and would enjoy seeing more of from the studio.


The music for the series has been handled by Hiroyuki Sawano and is fairly impressive. It’s full of piano and orchestrated arrangements which really work with the tone of the series, but as mentioned earlier the track that I especially like is the remix of the previous ED for the series. I do have to admit that a lot of the music for Seraph of the End reminded me of the work of Tomoki Miyoshi, who provided the music for the I Am Setsuna game released last year, which is by not a bad thing but means that it didn’t seem as unique to me as it should have done. The opening for this set of the anime is “Two souls -towards the truth-” by fripSide and the ending is “Orarion” by Nagi Yanagi. Both tracks are rather forgettable but work within the context of the show (and at least the animation is very nice for both).

This release comes to the UK thanks to Universal, who have been nice enough to provide AnimeUKNews with a full retail set for our review. Thanks to that I have all of the extras for the release on hand, and what a nice collection it is! Seraph of the End Season One: Part Two is available on both Blu-ray and DVD and the physical extras include four trading cards, a poster depicting the art on the cover of the box, a set of 12 3D stickers (which, it has to be said, are really cute), four artcards, and, if that wasn’t enough, a 31 page booklet! The set is well, made with the trading cards and artcards being produced in a thick enough grade that I’m not too worried about them bending. The stickers being 3D is a welcome touch and although (as is usual with stickers) I don’t actually want to use them for anything, they’re at least more fun to look over than stickers normally are. It’s worth pointing out that the booklet contains a gallery of the end cards for each episode, which I like a lot.

Physical extras aside, this set also contains clean opening and ending videos, as well as a
Seraph of the Endless bonus episode/special, trailers for the series, and music clips. My only real complaint about the release is that the box is top-loading and I know that many members of the community commented about this with the previous release. It’s something Universal are apparently looking into for future anime sets but at least in this case I’m glad it’s consistent with the previous release. It’s also nice that the spine doesn’t make it clear that this is a DVD set as my version of Part 1 is a Blu-ray, so despite being different formats at a glance you wouldn’t know any different.

Seraph of the End is a remarkable shounen series. While the season doesn’t conclude the whole story because the manga is on-going, it ends in enough of a satisfying manner that it’s easy for me to recommend. If you’ve watched the first half and enjoyed it then you certainly won’t be disappointed here – and if you didn’t then what are you doing reading this? Go and buy Part 1 right now!

Title: Seraph of the End Season One: Part Two
Publisher: Universal Pictures UK
Genre: Action, Drama, Shonen
Studio: Studio Wit
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2015
Format: Blu-Ray and DVD (DVD version reviewed)
Language options: Japanese audio with English/Dutch/French/German subtitles and English/French/German dub audio
Age rating: 12
Running time: 265 minutes

Score: 9/10

Winter Season 2017 – First Thoughts and Impressions

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

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

Demelza:

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

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

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

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

Ian Wolf:

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

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

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

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

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

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

IncendiaryLemon:

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

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

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

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

Sarah:

ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Dept.

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

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

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

Rui:

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

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

MARGINAL #4 key art

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

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

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

Cold Cobra:

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

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

Invaders of the Rokujyoma!? Complete Collection Review

My final anime review of 2016 was none other than Fullmetal Alchemist Part 2, and so going into 2017 I wondered what title I’d be tackling first. Something fantastical set in an alternate universe, with heroes straight out of my favourite stories? Or perhaps a slice of life/romantic series to warm my heart in the cold winter months?

Well, actually, I was completely off the mark, and instead I’m here reviewing the harem series Invaders of the Rokujyoma?!.

Invaders of the Rokujyoma!? tells the story of Kotaro Satomi, who thinks he’s found a bargain when he moves into Room 106 of Corona House – only 5,000 yen a month in rent! With a part-time job at an archaeology site and a friendly landlady in the form of Shizuka Kasagi, Kotaro believes that he’s going to live out his highschool years peacefully and content. What he doesn’t know is that Room 106 is said to be haunted, and all who’ve lived there previously have ended up fleeing the scene, scared out of their wits. The place being haunted isn’t the only problem either, as suddenly strange females begin appearing one by one with desires to claim the room for themselves. It seems that Kotaro may have found himself in quite a predicament…

Kotaro is first visited by Sanae Higashihonogan, the notorious ghost haunting Room 106, who begins to fight with him over which one of them should live in the room. It’s not long before they’re interrupted by the appearance of a magical girl, Yurika Nijino, who wants to occupy the room due to the high levels of magical power within it. If that isn’t enough, Kotaro is then visited by Kiriha Kurano, who is a descendant of the Earth People and wants to take over the room as the first step in invading the surface. And just when you thought things couldn’t possibly get worse, our cast is invaded by Theiamillis Gre Fortorthe (later shortened to Theia), an alien princess who wishes to claim Room 106 for herself in order to prove herself as a worthy successor to the throne.


After the room is almost destroyed during the squabbling over who should live there, landlady Shizuka goes into a rage and punishes Kotaro and the girls. After making repairs, she lays out a contract instructing that the debates over the room must be conducted peacefully. To determine who will obtain the room (without destroying it in the process) Kiriha proposes that they should decide through games.

I’d explain more about the games but by the fourth episode the series starts to move away from the girls wanting to claim the room and instead focuses on their daily lives, so I shall skip forward a bit instead.

Earlier I labelled Invaders of the Rokujyoma!? as a harem series, and while that’s true, it’s not the kind of harem series that I usually dislike. As the girls spend time living with Kotaro they all become fond of him, but it’s not played up to an extreme level as in some other anime. While the girls are fond of Kotaro, only one of them truly appears to have any romantic feelings towards him. It makes the whole thing a lot more watchable for me as I’m not usually someone with a lot of patience for a series such as this, and it ends up being fairly enjoyable for what it is.

The series is split into arcs focused on each of the girls, taking a deeper look at their reasons wanting Room 106. This does mean that if you don’t like one of the girls, their set of episodes will be fairly uninteresting (for example, I wasn’t fond of Theia and therefore I found her episodes boring) but it gives Invaders of the Rokujyoma!? the chance to develop its characters fairly well. I haven’t come away from the anime feeling like I didn’t know any of the main girls and, actually, while they were all very one- dimensional in personality (we had the clumsy one, the quick to anger one, the smart one…) they weren’t a bad cast. I even managed to become quite fond of Sanea!

The anime is based on a light novel series that is on-going in Japan and currently sits at 23 volumes. As the anime is only 12 episodes, it will come as no surprise to anyone that it doesn’t really have a satisfying conclusion. There is a lot more to this story than what we get to see in the adaptation (the final episode makes this quite clear), and it does feel throughout the shows run that two semi-important characters are pushed to the sidelines: Harumi Sakuraba, who is the president of the school knitting club that Kotaro is part of at school, and Kenji Matsudaira, who is introduced as Kotaro’s best friend. Despite the two being large parts of Kotaro’s life, it feels asif we never get to know them properly. In some respects I feel like this could be because Sakuraba becomes more important to the plot in later volumes of light novels, but I think in Matsudaira’s case the issue really comes from the series introducing him as a ‘best friend’. Had he simply been dubbed as just a friend, I might not have noticed his absence so much.


The series was handled by animation studio Silver Link (who I’m quite fond of for their adaption of Strike the Blood) and their work here is passable. Character designs and the overall style is smooth but I can’t help but feel that the anime was a low budget affair. It was aired in Japan in July 2014 but despite that, the animation looks a good couple of years older, which is a shame as some of the battle scenes dotted throughout the story were animated much better in comparison. It’s not bad animation but it’s nothing special either.

Invaders of the Rokujyoma!?’s soundtrack is provided by Ryosuke Nakanishi, who has also provided soundtracks for High School DxD, Kuroko’s Basketball, and Sakura Trick. While the work on display here didn’t really stand out and certainly isn’t memorable away from the series, it’s not a bad soundtrack within the context of the show. The opening is called “Koukan win-win Mujouken” by Heart Invader and is a fairly generic song both musically and in its animation. The ending is “Love is Milk Tea”, which is sung by the voice actresses Aoi Yuki and Ayana Taketatsu. This seems odd to me as the two only had minor roles in the series as Kiriha’s servants/battle drones but as far as the ending itself goes, it’s certainly a nice piece.

Speaking of voice actors, I’d like to drop a mention to Eri Suzuki (Hikari Kohinata in Amanchu!, Chinatsu Kuramoto in Flying Witch), as I really enjoyed her work as Sanae. The character is quite emotional and flips into various different emotions quickly but she’s also a lot of fun and very energetic, which Suzuki gets across wonderfully. The other voice actor of note for me is Yuichi Nakamura (Greed in Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood, Gray Fullbuster in Fairy Tail, Guren Ichinose in Seraph of the End), who plays Kotaro. I always find it fun when such a prolific actor does a series like this and gets to let loose with a slightly less serious character than those they’re usually cast for. Nakamura provides a fun performance, even if it might not be as intensive and interesting as some of his other roles.

This release comes to the UK thanks to MVM Entertainment, who have released the series on both Blu-ray and DVD. The release contains all 12 episodes in Japanese with English subtitles and the only extras to speak of are clean opening and ending videos as well as a scattering of trailers. This release is subtitle only as an English dub has not been created for the series.

Overall Invaders of the Rokujyoma!? was an enjoyable start to my year. It might come from a genre of anime that I’m not a huge fan of, but it manages to be interesting enough so as not to matter. The series may not end in a satisfying manner but it’s a fun ride all the same, so it’s worth checking out if you like this kind of thing.

Title: Invaders of the Rokujyoma!? Complete Collection
Publisher: MVM Films
Genre: Harem, Fantasy, Comedy, Slice of Life
Studio: Silver Link
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2014
Format: Blu-Ray and DVD (DVD version reviewed)
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles
Age rating: 15
Running time: 300 minutes

Score: 6/10

Anime UK News Review of 2016 – Part 2

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

Manga

punpun

IncendiaryLemon:

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

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

Demelza:

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

Complex Age volume 1

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

Sarah:

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

battle-rabbits-1

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

10-count

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

 

 

Ian Wolf:

rg-veda-cover

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

love-stage-5

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

Digital Manga

Sarah:

vanitas

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

 

Ian Wolf:

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

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

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

Light Novels

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

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

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

Ian Wolf:

legend-galactic3

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

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

Things to Come in 2017…

attack-on-titan-2

Demelza:

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

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

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

Rui:

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

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

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

Darkstorm:

yugioh-film

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

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

IncendiaryLemon:

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

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

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

Ian Wolf:

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

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

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

Sarah: 

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

 

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

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

acca

 

 

 

Anime UK News Review of 2016 – Part 1

Anime UK News Review of 2016 – Part 1

your-name-anime-banner

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

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

Anime Streaming

 IncendiaryLemon:

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

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

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

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

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

Demelza:

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

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

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

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

Sarah:

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

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

Cold Cobra:

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

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

 

 

Rui: 

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

chikyuuboueibu1

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

Ian Wolf:

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

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

yuri-on-ice-5

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!

arslance1

Darkstorm:

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

Sarah:

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

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

Ian Wolf:

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

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

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

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

rakugo-season-2

Fullmetal Alchemist Collector’s Edition Part 2

fullmetal-alchemist-collectors-edition-2
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…

fma-set-2-1
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.

fma-set-2-5

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.

fma-set-2-2
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.

fma_2
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

a-silent-voice-image

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