Fairy Tail Zero Review

Fairy Tail Zero mangaThe Fairy Tail manga has long been one of my favourite shonen series. Like with all long running manga though, I always get left feeling that there are more stories to be told in the universe than just the ‘main’ story we read week to week. Thankfully the Fairy Tail Zero manga is here to help fill one such gap.

A certain story that I’d always longed to be told from the Fairy Tail universe was the origin of the Fairy Tail guild itself. We already knew that the first guild master was Mavis Vermillion, but just how did the creation of Fairy Tail come about? With this volume of manga we’re given all of the answers we could hope for and a few pleasant surprises.

Our story begins on Sirius Island (translated as Tenrou Island in the anime) where Mavis, as a child, lived with her parents. After her parents passed away she ended up working for the Red Lizard wizards guild and it’s during this time period that we’re dropped into Mavis’s life. One day the town is attacked by a rival guild known as Blue Skull and Mavis and Red Lizard’s guild master’s daughter, Zera, are the only survivors.

Flash forward seven years and we’re reacquainted with Mavis and Zera as some treasure hunters come to the island. The group of treasure hunters is made up of Yuri Dreyar (father of Makarov Dreyar), Precht Gaebolg, and Warrod Sequen (one of the ten wizard saints in the future) and to any avid readers of Fairy Tail will be familiar faces. The three have come to take the mysterious Sirius Orb, which is said to be worth a great deal of money. However, after meeting Mavis and striking a deal with her for the orb, they discover that it has actually already been stolen! Mavis determines that it was likely taken by Blue Skull during the attack seven years ago and thus the treasure hunters, along with Mavis and Zera, set out to find the guild in question and take back what belonged to Sirius Island.

As this is a single volume I won’t say too much more regarding how the story comes together because I don’t want to spoil anything, but I do want to mention that Zeref has some level of involvement within the plot. Not only does Fairy Tail Zero tell the Fairy Tail guild’s origin tale, it  also shares the story of how Mavis and Zeref became friends. In fact this manga strives to wrap up a few different storylines in one volume and I’m happy to say that it does what it sets out to accomplish rather well.

While we’ve seen a decent amount of Precht and Warrod in the main Fairy Tail manga it’s nice to see a bit more of them when they were younger. The same can be said for Mavis, too, because while we’re fairly familiar with her now, it’s nice to see her humble beginnings and experience the adventure that left her wanting to create a guild: a place to come home to. As far as new characters go, Zera and Yuri are both great additions to the Fairy Tail cast and it’s easy to see that Yuri and grandson Laxus have a lot in common – including their usage of electric magic! Zera is mysterious and very quiet but she’s also much more grounded and down to earth than Mavis, so the two make for a good team.

Fairy Tail Zero has been handled by mangaka Hiro Mashima, who many will already be familiar with as he’s also the mangaka behind Fairy Tail itself. Due to being created by the original mangaka, it leaves Fairy Tail Zero with the ability to slot into the canon perfectly while also working as a standalone story. Mashima penned the 13 chapter story around the same time as the end of the main series’ Tartaros arc (the arc spans chapters 356 to 417 of the manga, which is roughly volumes 42 until 49) and in the back of this volume Mashima notes how more of Mavis’s story is told in volume 53 of the series.

Despite the fact that this story can stand on its own fairly well for readers without a deep knowledge of Fairy Tail, I think you’ll get more enjoyment out of Fairy Tail Zero if you can read it within the timeline that I’ve listed above. As it is the origin story of the guild, it obviously delivers a greater impact the more you know about the series, but I also feel that it’s quite emotional and enjoyable all on its own.

As far as artwork is concerned, I think that Fairy Tail Zero is a really good example of Mashima at his best. The action scenes aren’t quite as impressive as in the main series but the battles still flow very well. What stands out the most though is the emotion that all of our cast display and how this shines through in every panel. Mashima is a strong artist and pays a lot of attention to the small details, even in the smaller panels that are home to a single character. It’s that attention to detail that brings his world to life and makes even a somewhat barren scene looking over a small lake seem pretty special. In the back of this volume there is also an interview with the mangaka, which really shows us just how much thought and effort goes into making Fairy Tail what it is. For a big fan like me it was brilliant fun to read through!

Overall Fairy Tail Zero is a great addition to the Fairy Tail universe. Not only does it expand on some much loved characters’ stories, how the guild came to be and so on, it also gives us time away from our usual cast of heroes and leaves us with something I can proudly recommend to shonen fans. Existing fans of the series will get more out of it but I think there’s a story here for everyone and as a single volume it’s well worth your time.

Score: 9/10

Manga Quick Information

Title: Fairy Tail Zero
Original vintage: 2014
Author: Hiro Mashima
Published by: Kodansha Comics
Genre: Shonen
Age rating: 13 +
Material length: 270 Pages

Log Horizon Season 2 Part 1 Review

Log Horizon Season 2 Part 1When I think of anime that play with the idea of humans becoming trapped in the world of a video game it’s usually Sword Art Online that springs to mind. However, there is another series I’m fond of that plays with a similar idea and that’s Log Horizon. After warming to the successful first season of the anime, I’ve been given the chance to review Part 1 of Season 2. Here’s hoping it’s just as good as I remember…

This season of Log Horizon opens with a major money crisis plaguing the city of Akihabara. Shiroe and the members of the round table have established that running the town of Akihabara is costing them far more money than they have and can gather, so Shiroe begins to concoct a plan to get his hands on more gold. This plan will see him and Naotsugu leave Akihabara to explore a dungeon that is said to have an endless supply of riches at the bottom.

Log Horizon Screen 1
With Shiroe and Naotsugu out of town, it’s left to Akatsuki and the other members of the Log Horizon guild to keep an eye on things in the city. With Christmas approaching, Akihabara seems peaceful, but suddenly a serial killer appears who somehow manages to get past the system’s rules of no fighting in a town/city. With the system failing to stop the killer, Akatsuki must team up with the West Wind Brigade (led by Soujirou Seta) in an attempt to bring an end to this threat.

Log Horizon Screen 4
The first half of Log Horizon Part 1 is heavily focused on Akatsuki and the serial killer, who seems to have a hatred for adventurers. It’s a solid storyline and explores the concept of what happens when something or someone can bypass those rules and cause havoc in somewhere that is considered a safe zone. Of course, this is without mentioning that we already know from Season 1 that if someone dies the revival cost is the loss of some memories, and no one wants that to happen! I won’t go into great detail about how the rules are being broken, or about the killer, but trust me when I say that the reveal is satisfying to the viewer.

If the serial killer arc isn’t your cup of tea, then have no fear! We also get to spend some time with Shiroe and Naotsugu as they recruit the Silver Sword guild and a new character (and self-proclaimed idol) named Tetra for their expedition into the dungeon. This arc gets more attention toward the end of Part 1 but the glimpses we receive of their journey, between the chaos in Akihabara, are fairly interesting. Involving the Silver Sword guild also brings Demikas back to the front of our attention. You may remember him from nearer the beginning of Season 1, where he was causing trouble for Serara and was defeated by Shiroe and Nyanata. This expedition works for a more traditional showcase of what makes Log Horizon special too, and that’s Shiroe ordering people around while battling loads of enemies.

Log Horizon Screen 5

There isn’t a great deal to say about the other characters because, really, Akatsuki is the one who gets the most meaningful development. It’s nice to spend an arc with Akatsuki on her own without support from Shiroe. She has never been a bad character and the first season does give her a suitable amount of attention, but away from Shiroe, she begins to question herself and her abilities – which is interesting to watch for a character who appears so strong on the surface. If you’re not an Akatsuki fan though, not all is lost because watching Soujirou Seta – perhaps one of the strongest fighters in the show – become ever more vengeful as his guild members are struck down by the killer is also extremely satisfying.

The biggest change in Log Horizon Season 2 is a shift in animation studios. Although all of the staff moved from the previous studio, Satelight, to the project’s new studio, Studio Deen, the animation has taken a noticeable hit in certain regards. Character designs have changed drastically in some cases, the best examples being Nyanata and Crusty, but everyone has been changed slightly in one way or another. This appears to have been in an effort to make them closer to the original light novel designs (which I certainly don’t object to!), which I’m sure some fans may appreciate if they also read the novels. However, it is one of the biggest drawbacks of watching Season 2 off the back of the first. I haven’t gone back to the first season yet but if you’re coming into this straight from Season 1, and maybe haven’t seen the light novel designs, then you’ll definitely be thrown off for a few episodes while you adjust.
Log Horizon Season 2Away from character designs, though, Studio Deen have done a good job with the animation. The quality is consistent and very colourful, leaving a warm and cosy feeling when watching scenes involving Akihabara but also suitably striking for the battle scenes. I’m not sure I could say that this is the studio at their best but it’s certainly a better standard of quality than KonoSuba and overall works fine for what Log Horizon demands from it.

Where music is concerned, composer Yasuharu Takanashi, who worked on Season 1, provides a pleasing soundtrack for this season. Takanashi is the mind behind the music for Fairy Tail, the Naruto Shippuden movies, and this season’s The Morose Mononokean. Working on a hit shonen series like Fairy Tail has obviously made Takanashi extremely skilled at composing music for a series like this and that comes through in the scores. They’re never overpowering but always there to back up a scene as is required, and some of the more moving moments in the first part have some wonderful pieces to accompany them. Fans of the first season’s opening “Database” by Man with a Mission will be pleased to hear that it returns as the opening for this season. We do have a new ending however in the form of “Wonderful Wonder World”, performed once again by Yun*chi. Overall good stuff to be heard here!

Log Horizon Sceen 3As far as voice actors go, there is some really solid work here. The cast is too large to point out any examples of who’s done the best work, but I at least want to give a nod to Akatsuki’s voice actor, Emiri Kato (Yayoi Endo in Seraph of the End: Battle in Nagoya, Kyubey in Puella Magi Madoka Magica), who plays the character really well. There is an English dub on offer here but not having watched the first season dubbed (I watched it in Japanese as it aired), I don’t feel right saying a great deal about it. I personally prefer the original Japanese but what I watched of the dubbed version certainly doesn’t seem to be of a bad quality.

This release from MVM is on both Blu-ray (two disc set) and DVD (three disc set). Our review discs are on DVD and the overall video quality seems pretty good considering the format. Splitting the 13 episodes across so many discs has probably helped a lot in the case of the DVD release. The only extras on offer are clean opening and ending animations.

Overall Part 1 of Log Horizon Season 2 is a great watch. It retains the Log Horizon charm I know and love while also introducing new characters and enveloping us in some solid storylines. New character designs will definitely throw you off for a while but once you adjust to them, there aren’t any other problems present. I’m looking forward to revisiting Part 2 as the story begins wandering into some interesting territory. As far as I’m concerned, Log Horizon remains a pleasant and entertaining watch that’s certainly worth your time.

Score: 8 / 10

Anime Quick Information

  • Title: Log Horizon Season 2 Part 1
  • UK Publisher: MVM Films
  • Genre: Adventure, Fantasy, Sci-Fi
  • Studio: Studio Deen
  • Type: TV series
  • Year: 2014
  • Running time: 325 minutes

Re:Zero #1Review

Re-Zero Light novel 1If you asked me which anime was being talked about the most from the Spring/Summer 2016 season then I’d answer without a doubt with Re:Zero. For better or worse the series has captured viewers and held them on the edge of their seats. Today I’m here to review the first volume in the original light novel series and find out if it holds my attention the same way as the anime does.

Re:Zero tells the story of a fairly average teenager, Subaru Natsuki. One day Subaru is magically transported from his local convenience store to a fantasy world. There’s no one in sight to inform him why he’s been brought there.  Surrounded by unfamiliar sights and sounds, just what has Subaru gotten himself into? Filled with determination to work out why he’s been summoned to this place (and to live his life like you would in a video game), Subaru sets out to explore this brave new world.

Okay, I know this all sounds very generic but stick with me. I promise by the end of this review it won’t feel quite as familiar as those fantasy stories you’re used to.

It’s not long before Subaru gets himself into a spot of bother with three thugs. Just when things begin to look their worst, he’s saved by a silver-haired girl, who introduces herself as Satella. Satella uses ice magic and has a spirit familiar named Puck, who introduces himself as Satella’s father and is quick to mention that he works from 9 am till 5 pm. It turns out that Satella has had something very important stolen from her and was in the process of searching for it when she encountered Subaru. As thanks for saving his life, Subaru agrees to help her find the thief and reclaim the item.

It’s not long before Subaru and Satella work out where the thief intends to sell off the stolen item, but when the two arrive at the tavern/storehouse they find that everyone inside has been murdered. Stumbling upon this gruesome scene ultimately leads to the deaths of Subaru and Stella as well by the hand of the killer (who was still lurking in the darkened tavern). In his dying moments Subaru wishes that he could have protected Satella and spent just a little longer in this world.

Unsurprisingly the story doesn’t end with the deaths of our protagonists. It turns out that Subaru has some kind of special ability that allows him to return from death, which he’s dubbed “Return by Death” as upon dying it sends him back to a designated point in time. Perhaps with this ability he can prevent the deaths of himself and Satella, while also helping her retrieve her stolen item.

Return by Death is an interesting ability and author Tappei Nagatsuki handles it rather well. You would think that reliving the same day multiple times over would become boring, especially in book form where there isn’t much to distract you from the fact you’re rereading the same situations over and over, but that’s simply not true here. The first time Subaru experiences the day over again, some things are very similar but they’re also different just enough to keep it interesting. However, as the plot progresses we get the chance to see a new plot line where instead of travelling with Satella, Subaru ends up becoming close to Felt (the thief) and comes face-to-face with the one who killed everyone at the end of his first ‘life’.

Nagatsuki has written Re:Zero from a third person perspective, which works very well for the drama and character interactions. I’d say it’s a shame that we’re not inside Subaru’s head but as he has a tendency to voice all of his thoughts aloud there wouldn’t be a notable benefit to writing the story from his perspective. I found this to be an interesting style of writing because it’s not one that I’ve personally stumbled across in my light novel collection (although when a good portion of my collection has been written by Reki Kawahara perhaps that explains some of it).

Re:Zero started life like a lot of popular light novels, in that it was originally a web novel that was later edited and published as a series. Some of the exchanges between characters go on too long and there is a bit of awkward wording here and there, which has no doubt resulted from the original web novel being rough around the edges compared to a professionally published book. That said, I think Nagatsuki has a good handle on how to write this story and future volumes will likely solve all of the problems in Volume 1.

Illustrations for the series have been provided by Shinichirou Otsuka, who currently doesn’t appear to have worked on anything beyond Re:Zero (at the very least I couldn’t find mention of anything online). Either this is the first (now major) work Otsuka’s produced art for, or the internet just cannot provide me with answers! Regardless, what we have on show for the first volume of Re:Zero looks very nice and character designs are suitably detailed. Volume 1 opens with various colour pages that showcase the characters which, I have to say, look a lot better than the fan-service- laden images we’d usually have for other series. It’s sad that none of the action scenes have been drawn in favour of a picture of each of the main characters, but hopefully future volumes can deliver. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing more of Otsuka’s work.

I’ve spent a lot of time talking about the writing and the story, so let’s talk about the characters now. It’s worth saying that Subaru is not going to win any awards for being a likable member of the cast. He’s annoying, doesn’t know when to stop talking, and more often than not I wanted to punch him. Having said that, Subaru has a good heart and his determination to do his best (despite really not having any redeeming qualities) is perhaps what keeps him from being a total waste of space. In a way it’s actually refreshing that Subaru wasn’t made to be a likable character. There are far too many series that try their hardest to make a lead that you’ll be rooting for from the start and I appreciate the fact Re:Zero hasn’t fallen into that cliché.

Satella, Puck, and Felt are all interesting characters whom I grew immensely fond of. Satella has a cold manner but inside she has a good heart. There is obviously more to her than what we see in this volume, and having watched the anime I know just where her story is going. Puck and Felt don’t get quite as much time in the spotlight as Satella but when they are present they, too, shine and leave me wanting to know more about them. It’s a good cast which is only going to grow to become even better as the story progresses.

For those of you who are watching the anime (as I am) it’s worth noting that the light novel handles itself better than the anime adaptation does in certain ways. To begin with, the light novel doesn’t spend as much time on how Subaru was in Japan one minute and then the fantasy world the next. Rather than dealing with his shock and surprise we’re dumped into the scene about 20 minutes after, where things have calmed down and Subaru calmly explains what happened to him. I found this a much better way of starting the story because it’s refreshing to not have the protagonist overreacting to every little thing in a fantasy world. Overall the light novel also has a much better handle on the flow of the plot due to the anime studio creating certain inconsistencies in the story. For example, in one anime scene Puck knows Subaru’s name despite not yet having met him in that life. Subaru is also a lot more tolerable in the light novel than I found him in the anime, which has got to count for something.

Overall Re:Zero Volume 1 makes for a good read and handles the ‘transported to a fantasy world’ idea in an interesting way that, hopefully, won’t become stale anytime soon. Subaru might not be the most likable character but his future in this world seems like it’ll make for an interesting story. I’m a huge fan of the anime and reliving the story through the light novels is something I’m very much enjoying.

Score: 7/10

Light Novel Quick Information
Title: Re:Zero
Original vintage: 2014
Author: Tappei Nagatsuki
Illustrator: Shinichirou Otsuka
Published by: Yen On
Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy
Age rating: 13 +
Material length: 231 Pages

Haikyu!! Volume 2 Review

Haikyu!! Volume 2I’ve recently had the chance to catch up with the second season of the Haikyu!! anime on Crunchyroll and due to this I’ve been in the mood to sample even more of the series. Enter Volume 2 of the manga. It’s time to find out if this volume continues the excitement I felt reading Volume 1 or if it drops the ball.

The second volume of Haikyu!! continues the volleyball game from the end of the previous book, with Hinata and Kageyama playing a 3-on-3 match with the other first years new to Karasuno’s volleyball club. The match is to determine if the Hinata and Kageyama should be allowed to join the club. After displaying some impressive teamwork and winning the match they gain the approval of captain Daichi. The worry of acceptance to the club may be over but now Karasuno have a practice match with the powerful team Aoba Jousai! While rough around the edges, will Hinata and Kageyama’s newfound ability to work together allow them to prevail against their opponents?

The majority of this volume is taken up with the first years’ volleyball game and the match against Aoba Jousai. It’s great reading about Karasuno playing in their first official game and it’s just the right length to prevent the match from becoming boring. That said, I’m relieved to find that it also leaves plenty of time for some character development.

This volume doesn’t introduce any new characters to the Karasuno team until the end of the book (except for the club adviser, but more on him in a moment), so instead the focus has been split neatly between the rest of the team. A lot of time is still spent with Hinata and Kageyama, which is great but not as necessary considering that Volume 1 did nothing but develop the two. Thankfully Tsukishima and Yamaguchi also had a good deal of the spotlight, so I got to know the two fairly well. It made me feel satisfied that we won’t just be getting volume after volume of Hinata and Kageyama scenes. I love them both dearly, but I think we’d have a fairly uninteresting manga on our hands if the series ignored everyone else on the team!

As mentioned earlier, this volume introduces the club adviser to the scene: Ittetsu Takeda, who proclaims to know nothing about volleyball but obviously has a real passion for watching over the team. We don’t see as much of him as in the anime, where he acts as the audience surrogate for having information explained to him about how the game works, but there is still plenty to establish him as a likable member of the cast.

My only complaints regarding characters is that we still haven’t seen much of the third year members, Daichi and Sugawara, which is a real shame as I’m fond of both of them in the anime. Sugawara does turn up to offer words of comfort to Hinata, who is in a tizzy ahead of their game against Aoba Jousai, but we don’t get to see him partake in the match due to Kageyama taking his position as setter. Daichi on the other hand is around but more often than not is seen but not heard. Having watched the anime I’m sure that later volumes of the manga should solve my problems here.

Overall the layout and artwork for Haikyu!! continues to be well put together by mangaka Haruichi Furudate. Panels flow nicely and it’s always easy to see where the cast are on the court (helped along by some useful charts displaying starting positions and how the rotation works throughout the game), and there are some gorgeous two/full-page spreads presented to really grab your attention. The artwork is generally a little rougher and not as well done for the comedy moments or the panels of less importance, but this actually adds to the charm of the whole thing. You can always count on Furudate to supply some extremely detailed scenes when required and, for what runs as a weekly series in Japan, the most important panels really stand out and tend to be memorable.

Due to this volume including the first official match for Karasuno there are many volleyball terms and team positions discussed that might go over your head if you don’t know much about the sport. Thanks to the anime I’m now well versed in how the game works, but I wanted to quickly point out for newcomers how well Haikyu!!’s manga manages to explain information. Usually there are small notes below panels to explain simple terms, while more complex information is drawn out on a chart. It’s presented in a way that is easy to grasp but also equally painless to skim over if you already understand the game. I wish more mangaka understood how to easily present information like this rather than giving large scale information dumps that will never stick in my mind.

I’ve come away from Volume 2 of Haikyu!! just as eager to read the next volume as I was when I finished the first volume. Haikyu!! continues to be a well presented, thought out, and overall just a great example of the shonen genre. I’m having so much fun that I’m just bouncing up and down on my chair awaiting the next edition!

Score: 8/10

Manga Quick Information
Title: Haikyu!!
Original vintage: 2012
Mangaka: Haruichi Furudate
Published by: Viz Media
Genre: Comedy, Drama, School, Shonen
Age rating: Teen
Material length: 200

Attack on Titan: Lost Girls Review

Attack on Titan Lost Girls novelBy now we’re all very familiar with Attack on Titan and the various characters that make up its cast. Today I’m here to review the Attack on Titan: Lost Girls novel, which shares two short stories about a couple of important female characters from this universe. I’ve commented in the past that I’m not a huge fan of the series, but despite that I’m always happy to read new stories set in its world.

Lost Girls is based off two mini visual novels that were included with the third and sixth volumes of the Attack on Titan anime Blu-ray releases in Japan. The novel has been written by Hiroshi Seko, who acted as a scriptwriter for the anime and wanted to share stories that fit in-between some of the anime episodes. Seko has also worked on the Seraph of the End and Ajin: Demi-Human anime. Lost Girls doesn’t just bring the two visual novels together though, it also includes an extra story and an introduction that explains where the stories take place within the timeline.

This review will contain spoilers for the Attack on Titan series due to the timeline of the stories, so if you haven’t watched the anime or read the manga through to the 8th or 9th volume then stop reading now!

As previously mentioned, Lost Girls is made up of three short stories. The first of these, titled “Lost in the Cruel World”, tells the story of Mikasa and Eren as kids. It’s set when Mikasa still lived with her family and Eren would visit her home with his father, who was attending to Mikasa’s mother’s health. At first the two didn’t really get along but slowly Mikasa and Eren became incredibly close – until his obsession with the Survey Corps and the outside world grew, at least.

Although Eren is present in this first story, he’s not the driving force behind it. “Lost in the Cruel World” very heavily explains the feelings behind a young Mikasa: how lonely she sometimes felt before meeting Eren, and how, after the two become close, she wishes to protect Eren from harm forever. I’ve always felt that our heroine was quite standoffish and found it hard to understand her feelings, but this offers a really good look into how her mind works. I’ve now come away appreciating Mikasa a lot more.

The second story, “Wall Sina, Goodbye” revolves around Annie Leonhart the day before her mission to capture Eren. This tale gives us the chance to live a day in Annie’s shoes as she works to solve the case of a young girl who has gone missing. I’m a big fan of mystery stories, so while I certainly liked the focus on Annie (although not as much as Mikasa) I was far more interested in working out the case. Despite the fact that I’m not the biggest fan of Annie herself, those who do like her will get a lot out of this story because it fleshes out her life outside the main canon.

Our final story is a very short affair, no more than 15 pages, that features a short interaction between Annie and Mikasa and gives a small insight into their feelings for one another. It also ties the previous two stories together rather well.  

Overall Attack on Titan: Lost Girls is a nice package. It’s well written and the scattering of artwork on offer (handled by Ayumu Kotake) fits nicely with the stories. It has to be said that the artwork is mostly very rough pencilled drawings with some watercolour effects in places. While it’s usually something that I’d complain about for anything else, with this novel I think the illustrations do well to compliment the raw emotions of Mikasa and Annie. Seko has fitted the stories into the timeline comfortably and now that I’ve read them I certainly couldn’t imagine Attack on Titan without these tales! I also want to quickly praise publisher Vertical for their work as this is the first novel I own from them and it’s nice to see that they’re doing such high quality releases.

If you aren’t an existing fan of Attack on Titan or have no interest in Mikasa and Annie then this really isn’t a novel for you. However, for those of you who are like me and like to indulge in all the universe has to offer, Attack on Titan: Lost Girls is a great read that gives solid character building and an all-round memorable experience.

Score: 8/10

Quick Information:
Title: Attack on Titan: Lost Girls
Original vintage: 2014
Author: Hiroshi Seko
Published by: Vertical
Genre: Drama, Action, Fantasy
Length (page count): 240

Complex Age #1 Review

Complex Age volume 1
Despite being someone who doesn’t cosplay at all, it’s a hobby that I have a lot of respect for. All of the time, effort and money that people pour into making these costumes in order to become their favourite characters is certainly interesting to me, but not a lot of media seems to tell stories about cosplayers (that I’ve personally seen, anyway). So, perhaps to right that problem, we have
Complex Age by Yui Sakuma, which gives a realistic and down to earth look at what it means to balance being a cosplayer and an ordinary adult life.

Our story revolves around Nagisa Kataura, a 26 year old office worker who loves cosplaying in her spare time but chooses to keep it secret from her parents and coworkers. The synopsis on the back of the book implies that the story is about Nagisa deciding “what’s more important to her, cosplay or being ‘normal’?”, but that isn’t really correct for the first volume. The first five chapters of the volume (there are six chapters in total) focus on Nagisa dealing with her low self-esteem after meeting someone who can cosplay her favourite character far better than she can.

Nagisa loves cosplaying as Ururu from the fictional Magical Riding Hood Ururu anime series, which is supposedly a massive hit with females. She is a bit of a expert when it comes to all things cosplay and can sew up her costumes extremely quickly, never even dreaming of compromising on quality, but unfortunately this leaves her with a somewhat judgemental personality towards the hobby – especially when she sees other fans dressed as Ururu at conventions. When Nagisa makes a snide comment at some fellow Magical Riding Hood Ururu fans about how cosplay isn’t just a game and then walks away from a group photo opportunity, Nagisa’s friend Kimiko gets frustrated and orders Nagisa to create a costume for someone else as means of forgiveness for her rude behavior. When Nagisa is later properly introduced to the person she’s been working on the costume for, Aya, Nagisa begins to understand that cosplaying isn’t just about being able to copy the character perfectly.

In the final chapter of the volume Aya, who has become good friends with Nagisa and Kimiko, asks why Nagisa keeps her cosplaying a secret from her family and workmates. It’s here that the story feels like it’s finally coming into what it should have been from the start, but it’s cut short by the end of the volume. Now I feel like I’ve been left hanging for the next installment. That’s not to say the arc we started with was a bad one, because it wasn’t and I really enjoyed it, but it’s obviously not as important as what’s to come next and that’s a shame.

Story aside, what’s on show in this first volume is well done. Mangaka Yui Sakuma captures the feeling of conventions, cosplayers, and the general mindset of those who like anime and manga very well (with a nice amount of comedy slipped in). Nagisa and her friends are genuinely nice characters and very relatable, especially in one scene where Nagisa is working out if she can afford to attend to an event and is subtracting the costs of the new anime boxset she wants, costume materials, and the general cost of living. This is not a cheap hobby to have and I definitely fall into the pitfall of being distracted by shiny collector’s editions like poor Nagisa! I feel that Sakuma has worked hard at the little things to create a series that could be rather special.

This volume of Complex Age opens with some colour pages which quickly warm you to the art. Sakuma has gone for a pastel inspired style that looks really nice in colour, and throughout the book the artwork continues to captivate. The shading has been handled extremely well and adds a lot of detail to every panel. The end of the book is filled with designs and info for characters from Magical Riding Hood Ururu, which brings the series to life and helps connect us with the show that Nagisa loves so deeply.

Publisher Kodansha Comics have done a wonderful job with the release, which is bigger than your average volume of manga in both width and height. The extra space helps to emphasize the artwork. My best comparison for its size, that I own, is Viz Media’s release of the Tokyo Ghoul manga, which looks to be the same when I held them together. The Wolf Children manga from Yen Press matches up pretty closely as well. For those of you who may be unfamiliar with cosplay and the many different terms associated with it, Kodansha have put together a “Cospedia” in the back of the book alongside their usual translation notes. Between the Cospedia and the translation notes I never found myself lost with the many new terms, so hats off to Kodansha for a job well done there. This volume of Complex Age also comes with the original one-shot for the series which tells a similar (but very different) story to what we now have, so it’s well worth a read.

Overall I’ve come away from Complex Age rather impressed. The story has been well thought out and approached respectfully, and the artwork is simply wonderful to look over. Cosplay is a subject that generally isn’t covered that well, at least not as a main subject matter, so it’ll be interesting to see where the story is taken from here. My only issue is that the story we’re led to believe we’re getting doesn’t even begin until the end of the volume. That said, I’m more than happy to stick around for what’s to come and I’m willing to bet almost everyone else will be too. Highly recommended!

Score: 8/10

Manga Quick Information:
Title: Complex Age
Original vintage: 2014
Mangaka: Yui Sakuma
Published by: Kodansha Comics
Genre: Drama, Slice of Life, Seinen
Length (page count): 208

Attack on Titan: The Movie Part 2 Review


Attack on Titan the Movie Part 2When I reviewed the first part of the
Attack on Titan live action movie I came away from it intrigued to know more about the story and the world it presented us with. Sure, the movie had some flaws, but overall I was looking forward to seeing part 2. However, having now watched it I don’t think my feelings are quite the same as they once were.

As a general note, this is a review for the second part of the live action movie so there are some spoilers for the first part.

This movie picks up just after Eren, who had gone out of control after transforming into a Titan, is saved by Mikasa. Eren has been captured and chained up due to the chaos he caused at the end of the first movie. His transformation ability throws whether he’s human or Titan into question, and whether he’s a risk to humanity.

Ultimately Captain Kubal decides that Eren must be killed, and despite protests from Armin and others in the Survey Corps (who feel he could be a tremendous aid in sealing the hole in the outer wall), the order is given to shoot Eren. However, before Kubal’s squad is able to kill him, a new, seemingly intelligent Titan drops into the prison to capture Eren (killing numerous Survey Corp members in its path) and quickly flees the scene with the boy in tow. When Eren next wakes he is greeted by Shikishima, who explains that he rescued our hero from the Titan and brought him to safety. The Titan apparently escaped, which Shikishima suspiciously glosses over, but Eren never questions this further. Instead, after a “philosophical” exchange about how Shikishima wishes to change the world, Eren decides to fight alongside him and use his newfound power for good (starting with blocking the hole in the wall). Will the two, combined with the Survey Corps, be able to make a difference?

Attack on Titan the movie 2 screen 3
As this whole movie is a bit of a mess and full of plot holes I need to warn you now that it’s unlikely to make much sense from this point onwards. From what I can piece together, in this world the government experimented on humans to change them into a stronger form. The government succeeds in their pursuit but it’s not long before everything goes horribly wrong (because don’t it always?). Not only does the first transformed human (which later comes to be known as a Titan) turn on the scientists, other humans begin transforming without warning and wreaking havoc all over the world. The remainder of humanity comes together to build up the giant walls to protect themselves. With little land, room, and food available inside the walls, humans had to coexist peacefully to preserve what was left of the human race – something that the government was seemingly aiming for all along.

Eren appears to have the ability to transform into a Titan due to his father experimenting on him as a child (perhaps he wanted to bring down the walls and go outside?). This is conveniently revealed through a dream sequence. It’s also mentioned that Eren has an older brother, but this is only talked about for a single line and then never resolved. On top of that, do you remember the big bomb that I talked about from the first part? The one that meant nothing but Titans could apparently survive beyond the outer wall? Yeah, that plot point wasn’t mentioned during this movie whatsoever, which is not surprising but would have been nice for consistency’s sake.

Attack on Titan the movie 2 screen 2
Even if we leave the plot holes aside, this movie is full of issues regarding continuity and convenience factors. The entire movie is set within the area that was invaded by Titans in the first part of the film yet we rarely see any beyond a few select scenes. They’re often briefly mentioned as being in the distance but even though human activity is meant to attract them, they never pose a problem for the group. Likewise, many important characters are protected from fatal injuries/mishaps because of convenience, like my personal favourite, Hans (the woman who creates the Vertical Maneuvering Equipment the group use). She really should have died a few times over. On the flip side though, any characters who aren’t classified as important are simply killed off without a second thought. It’s a mess of a story and very difficult to put any emotional investment into because you’re never given a reason to care.

The characters overall aren’t handled too badly, as long as they’re either Eren or Armin. Eren, Mikasa and Armin all get their time to shine and are a good mix of personalities that make for a somewhat interesting group. Regrettably Mikasa loses some of her fearless attitude from the previous movie and instead stumbles about wishing to know if Eren is safe or not, and even when she discovers that he’s fine this behaviour doesn’t really improve. However, Armin is much better than I found him in the original Attack on Titan series, so perhaps it’s not all bad. The rest of the Survey Corp members are good enough but don’t stand out. While Hans and Shikishima are the best characters on offer here they’re also laughably stupid if you take them too seriously – but then so is the movie itself. All of the actors do a fine job in their roles though, so at least I can say that the characters aren’t being let down by those playing them.

Attack on Titan the movie 2 #1 screen
There isn’t a great deal on offer here in terms of soundtrack. The vast majority of tracks are reused from the first movie and even the new stuff isn’t really memorable because its usage is either badly timed or overshadowed by the action on screen. Animation for the Titans also falls into the category of being ineffective as although the normal Titans are done well, the human-Titans, like Eren, just look like Power Ranger monsters. They’re not scary at all.

This release comes to the UK thanks to Animatsu and is on both DVD and Blu-ray. This is a subtitle only release and there are no extras to speak of on the disc.

Considering all of the above, I’m now left in the sad position of not being able to recommend this movie at all. Part 1 seemed like the story had potential and it was genuinely scary at times, but part 2 had so many problems that I’m not even disappointed – just sad. I’m sad because of wasted potential and wasted time on my part because these movies could have easily been so much more. The Attack on Titan live action movie is only worth your time if you have nothing else in the world to watch, and even then your time is better spent elsewhere.

Score: 2/10

Quick Information

  • Title: Attack on Titan: The Movie
  • UK Publisher: Animatsu
  • Genre: Horror, Drama, Action.
  • Director: Shinji Higuchi
  • Year: 2015
  • DVD/Bluray Release Date: July 25th 2016
  • Run Time: 83 minutes
  • Classification: 15

Haikyu!! Season 1 Part 2 Review

Haikyu!! DVD When I reviewed the first part of Haikyu!! Season 1 I was pleasantly surprised with what I found. Coming from the position of having not really watched any sports anime and not being greatly interested in sports itself, generally speaking, but Haikyu!! impressed me. Watching only 13 episodes of a series didn’t necessarily guarantee that the series would continue to hold my interest though, so I’d been keen to get my hands on Part 2. Now, thanks to Animatsu, the second half of the season has been released in the UK and I’m pleased to report that I’m still a big fan of Haikyu!! – and here’s why.

This review does contain spoilers for the first part of Haikyu!! Season 1, so if you haven’t already watched it, then stop reading right now.

Haikyu6
As we rejoin the Karasuno High volleyball team, our cast are gearing up to take part in their first major tournament of the school year. All 12 episodes of the second half are centered around this tournament, but that’s by no means a bad thing. With new members and a renewed determination to make Karasuno’s team the best it can be, can the boys turn the tide in their favour and advance through the preliminaries to the championships of this tournament? Regardless of the outcome, we’re in for some truly exciting matches!

In the first tournament match the nerves are high and Karasuno are paired against a team with an incredible blocker. The team begins to wonder if they’ll ever be able to score any points against the mighty giant, and with Karasuno’s ace, Azumane, having faced a crushing defeat against this same blocker in the past, will he buckle under the pressure?

Haikyu4I won’t say too much more about the matches as telling you the results would take away from your enjoyment of watching them for yourself. Instead, let’s talk character development! Despite taking place almost entirely within volleyball games, these episodes actually develop our team a great deal. When I reviewed the first set of Haikyu!! I mentioned that I didn’t feel as if I knew all of the characters particularly well – what they’re afraid of, what makes them tick, etc. – but that no longer holds true. Thanks to these later episodes, I now feel that I know the whole cast really well. The only one we don’t see much more development for is our short star, Hinata, but as the whole point of Part 1 was to develop Hinata,  this isn’t a massive loss. I feel much more content now that I know the cast better and can truly get behind each one.

It’s also worth noting that the characters on the opposing teams are very well developed throughout these episodes. A few of the rival team members either have past ties to those in Karasuno or just simply have their own problems and feelings toward volleyball. As they play against Karasuno, they grow considerably – both as characters and volleyball players.

The only major disappointment character-wise right now is the lack of focus on Kiyoko Shimizu, who is one of the managers of the Karasuno team. Throughout the second half she’s very often seen and not heard, and I wouldn’t have missed her had she disappeared completely for these episodes. I can only hope that she gets more attention next season, otherwise I really do wonder what her purpose is beyond being a female character (of which there are almost none in Haikyu!!).

Putting my previous comments aside, I do have to give some respect to the fact that a couple of episodes did, very briefly, shed some light on the Karasuno girls’ volleyball club! No, I didn’t know there was one either, and no, they don’t stick around for the rest of the season. I am, perhaps far too optimistically, hoping that we’ll be seeing more of the girls’ team in the second season of Haikyu!! as it would be nice to have some properly established female characters. I’m not saying that there have to be girls in this show, or that it’s terrible and failing without them, because at the end of the day this is an anime about a boys’ volleyball team. I just don’t appreciate that Haikyu!! keeps adding female cast members and then giving them no focus. Either include them or don’t. It’s just a waste of our time otherwise.

Haikyu3
The animation for the second half of Haikyu!! holds up well with Production I.G clearly being at the top of their game. The matches are fluidly animated and their overall flow is captured convincingly. The studio have a knack for finding just the right angle to truly capture a shot and it really sucks you into the game. The level of drama and tension is very high in this half of the season and I think a less competent studio would struggle to show it as well as Production I.G have.

Where the music is concerned, things also stay pretty strong. The soundtrack overall is not as noticeable as it was during the first half but when it’s present, it’s always great. Composers Asami Tachibana and Yuki Hayashi should be very proud of their work here. The second opening (“Ah Yeah” by Sukima Switch) and ending (“LEO” by Tacica) are both quieter affairs when compared to the previous themes but work well for the tone of these episodes. The lyrics are also interesting, with the opening sounding as if it was written with Hinata in mind and the ending obviously heavily based on Kageyama’s feelings (the animation focuses almost completely on him). The cast of voice actors are also good, although there are so many that I couldn’t even begin to point out the better examples!

Haikyu5Haikyu!! Season 1 Part 2 includes the final 12 episodes of the first season across two DVDs or a single Blu-ray. Despite reviewing the first set as a Blu-ray, this set is a DVD so I’m not sure how the Blu-ray release holds up to having so much stuffed onto one disc. The only extras of note are the clean opening and ending videos and a couple of trailers, otherwise there is nothing to report. It’s also worth noting that this is a subtitle-only release as Haikyu!! does not have a dub.

Overall Haikyu!! continues to be an excellent shonen series that really draws the viewer in. I’m looking forward to the second season (which can be streamed on Crunchyroll) and the third season which will be aired in Japan in October. What we have here is a series to be remembered for quite some time, and now I truly understand why its fanbase is so huge.

Score: 8/10

Anime Quick Information

Title: Haikyu!!
UK Publisher: Animatsu
Genre: Comedy, Drama, School, Shonen, Sports
Studio: Production I.G
Type: TV Series
Year: 2014
Age Rating: 12
Running Time: 291 minutes

Haikyu!! Volume 1 Review

Haikyu!! Volume 1Since being given the chance to review the first half of the Haikyu!! Season 1 anime, I’ve been eagerly awaiting the release of the original manga by Viz Media. As I mentioned back when I reviewed the anime, I am not much of a sports person but there is something special about this series that keeps me captivated. I wanted to find out if the manga would have the same hold on me and I’m happy to say that it does.

Haikyu!! is a Shonen Jump series that follows the story of Shoyo Hinata, who, inspired by a legendary player know as ‘the Little Giant’, wishes to become the best volleyball player ever. His major problem is the fact that he’s fairly short, but with determination and some amazing jumping abilities he’s hoping to overcome the wall before him. For most of his time in junior high, Hinata is the only member of the school’s male volleyball club, but after convincing some of his friends to join him, Hinata gets to take part in a tournament for his final year. In the first match Hinata’s team is put against the favourites to win and there he meets Tobio Kageyama, a king of the court with amazing reflex abilities but an inability to work well with his teammates. After Hinata’s team is beaten solidly by Kageyama’s, our young protagonist vows to someday surpass Kageyama and defeat him in their next game.

Hinata then starts the first year at Karasuno High, the school where his idol, the Little Giant, played volleyball. However, when Hinata goes to join the club he runs into Kageyama, who is also attending the school, and discovers that the two must now work together on the same team! Will the former rivals be able to put aside their differences and work together for the good of the Karasuno team?

The answer to this question, at least for as far as we get in Volume 1, is definitely not. Hinata and Kageyama are told by their three senior club members (Daichi Sawamura, Koshi Sugaware and Ryunosuke Tanaka), that they must prove that they can work as a team before they’re allowed to set foot on the court. Not only do they have to show real teamwork, they’ll also be playing in a match against two other newcomers to the club. If they lose, Kageyama will never be allowed to play his favourite role as a setter in the sport.

This first volume is home to seven chapters and doesn’t reach the conclusion of the decisive match of the Karasuno first years. It does, however, firmly set in place the relationship between Hinata and Kageyama. The two are rivals in every sense of the word but they also have a lot in common. Even within just seven chapters they begin to change one another for the better. It’s actually quite impressive to see how much the characters grow in such a short space of time, and Haruichi Furudate proves a very good mangaka in the way their development is handled.

Of course you can’t have a Shonen Jump title without a healthy dose of action scenes, which Furudate also delivers on. Haikyu!! is packed full of incredibly well drawn action scenes, such as when Hinata is playing his match in junior high and even when he’s simply just practising with Kageyama. The characters feel truly alive, just as if – although you’re looking at static drawings – you’re actually watching them run around the court. Every scene has been well thought out in the effort to keep the reader truly immersed in this world – and it works beautifully.

Production I.G have been working on the anime adaption and I originally thought that some of the stylistic choices were down to them, but that simply isn’t quite true. The studio are doing a wonderful job with the anime but Haikyu!! is just as special in its original form as a manga. The comedy, action and overall brilliance is all at the roots. That said, I definitely miss the wonderful anime soundtrack and while reading this volume of the manga I had the first opening and ending themes looping in my head! The anime also delivers slightly better with the comedy, but the manga’s efforts are by no means bad. More than anything I just need to spend more time with it.

My only other thought regarding the first volume of the manga vs the anime is that the anime gives us more time with Daichi, Koshi and Ryunosuke early on so you get to know them faster. In the first volume of Haikyu!! we’re introduced to them but they’re quite heavily pushed aside in favour of development for Hinata and Kageyama. I’m sure the second volume will solve this issue but for now I’m a little disappointed as I really like those characters and wanted to see more of them this volume.

It’s worth noting that you don’t have to know anything about volleyball to enjoy Haikyu!!. The sport is fairly easy to pick up but the series is also good at explaining the more complex elements as they come around. It’s never enough of an information dump to be intimidating and more little bits of info here and there to slowly build your knowledge (and not be bothersome if you already know plenty about the sport!). Too many series fall into the pitfall of overloading the reader with expositions but I’m really pleased that Haikyu!! strikes the balance nicely – something I also praised the anime for.

Having watched the anime and now reading the manga, I can see why Haikyu!! is so popular in Japan and why it has such passionate fans. The characters have boundless energy and thus so does the person experiencing the story, whether it be thanks to the manga or the anime. I think the anime is probably the better entry point to the series but the manga is still a solid read.

With Viz Media aiming to release a volume of the manga every month (at least until January 2017 judging by the release dates we currently have), I’m looking forward to spending a lot more time with Haikyu!!. I cannot recommend this series highly enough for shonen fans as it’s just great fun with some wonderful artwork and a strong cast of characters. Like Naruto, One Piece, Bleach and other Shonen Jump titles, Haikyu!! truly belongs in everyone’s manga collection.

Score: 8/10

Manga Quick Information
Title: Haikyu!!
Original vintage: 2012
Mangaka: Haruichi Furudate
Published by: Viz Media
Genre: Comedy, Drama, School, Shonen
Age rating: Teen
Material length: 190

Orange: The Complete Collection #2 Review

Orange Collection 2Back in May I was busy singing the praises of Orange as the manga series had just seen the release of Orange: The Complete Collection Volume 1. I’m here again to review the second volume and tell everyone about this wonderful series. This second complete collection of Orange contains the final two and a half volumes of the original Japanese releases collected into a massive 384 page omnibus.

As a general note this review contains spoilers for the first complete collection, so if you haven’t already read it then stop reading now!

When we left Naho in Volume 1 she was struggling with how to best help Kakeru. Despite following the advice of the letters from the future, Naho couldn’t always prevent Kakeru from being hurt or feeling lonely. However, at the start of the second volume our young protagonist has discovered that the rest of her close friends have also received letters from the future and are doing their best to support Naho in helping Kakeru. By working together can the group encourage Kakeru to open up to them and prevent him from committing suicide?

The first major story arc kicks off by covering the school sport festival. In the original timeline this was a notable event for Kakeru as he began feeling even more depressed due to the fact none of his family (especially his deceased mother) could be at the sport’s festival, while other students had their families present. Coupled with the fact that he lost the relay race for his class, it’s easy to see how this festival was a defining moment in Kakeru’s mental health and potential future. In the current timeline, Suwa helps out Naho by making sure that Kakeru’s grandmother can attend the event, which lifts Kakeru’s spirits a great deal. To try and avoid losing the relay, the friends also work hard training together and pass along an inspiring message to Kakeru when they finally run together.

For a moment it appears that things are actually starting to look up. However, it’s soon revealed that life for Kakeru truly isn’t improving. Despite their best efforts, and him and Naho beginning to grow closer romantically, Kakeru still starts to distance himself from his friends.

This is the point where I’ll no longer discuss the plot because knowing more would definitely impact your pleasure when reading the series for yourself. Instead I’d rather talk about how impressed I am with mangaka Ichigo Takano’s work with the story and characters. I said this in my previous review and it rings true here, too: that how the characters deal with Kakeru and their own feelings is very realistic and down-to-earth. Naho is tangled up in her feelings for Kakeru and her fear of not being able to save him – so much so that she doesn’t always make the right choices or say what she truly wants to say. Likewise, we have Suwa, who has feelings for Naho but knows he should push her together with Kakeru despite this.

Hagita, Azusa, and Chino, who were somewhat glossed over in the previous volume, finally come into their own in this collection. As the series starts to draw to a close and Naho learns that everyone in the group has been getting letters from the future, which gives Hagita and co. the chance to really shine. Now that they have more reason to be involved, and aren’t just helping on the sidelines, their personalities really come through to the reader. They’re still not quite ‘main characters’, yet I feel as though I know all of their feelings perfectly. It’s further proof of how well written our cast is.

Let’s take a moment to talk about the artwork. Takano has continued to do a brilliant job by creating very moving scenes through what appears to be quite basic art. Apart from the faces of the characters, panels are often fairly empty, but since Takano draws people so well, this doesn’t matter. If anything, the artistic focus on the cast compared to the backgrounds just heightens the emotions that Takano is trying to convey. Naho and friends look cute and a little rough around the edges at a distance but this also makes them feel more alive. All along, apart from the time travel aspect, Takano has worked hard to build a realistic story and the artwork further illustrates this point.

Generally speaking, I am also impressed by the work publisher Seven Seas have put into the release. The book opens with some wonderful colour pages which showcase the cast in the future and past. Not only that, this release also homes another of Takano’s work – Haruiro Astronaut. Rather than being a brief one-shot, Haruiro Astronaut is about a volume’s worth of content. It’s a love story about a pair of twins and a rather handsome boy. The plot is a simple affair when compared to Orange but still nice to see brought out in English. My only criticism is that perhaps Seven Seas should have published Haruiro Astronaut as a separate release instead of including it with Orange: The Complete Collection Volume 2. Doing such means that the book is so big I left a crease in the spine (right where Haruiro Astronaut begins) and fear it could be a potential weak point for tearing on future reads. It’s not a major complaint but I am a little disappointed when this is an otherwise flawless release and, being one of my favourite series now, I hope that the book will stand up to future wear and tear.

Even on this second read-through, Orange has continued to tug at the heartstrings and be a wonderful experience. The story is simply splendid and I’m sure that I’ll continue recommending it to friends and family for years to come. With an anime in the works, I’m hoping that Orange continues to be popular. Perhaps the anime can even be a gateway for newcomers to manga, who are looking for an insightful view into the minds of those with depression and the friends around said person. One thing is for sure, I’ll certainly be reading Orange again and again as, for me, it’s a true masterpiece.

Score: 10/10

Manga Quick Information

Title: Orange
Original vintage: 2012
Mangaka: Ichigo Takano
Published by: Seven Seas
Genre: Drama, Romance, School, Shoujo, Sci-fi
Age rating: Teen
Material length: 384