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

Attack on Titan: The Movie Part 1 Review


Attack on Titan movie part 1
It goes without saying that
Attack on Titan has exploded in popularity since the original manga received its anime adaptation in early 2013. Since then the series received countless manga spin-offs, two recap anime movies and OVAs, and a two-part live action movie. I’m here to review the first part of the Attack on Titan live action movie, which adapts the source in a rather interesting manner.

The live action take of Attack on Titan changes up the setting from Germany to Japan due to director Shinji Higuchi choosing to film the movie on Battleship Island (Gunkanjima), which is located off the coast of Nagasaki. It’s worth noting up-front for the Levi fans that this change resulted in Levi being written out of the movie completely. Due to Levi not being Japanese in origin, and his name including the katakana character ‘vu’ (which no Japanese name normally includes), the director felt that it would be wrong to to change his name or have a Japanese actor play a Caucasian role. However, to make up for this removal a Levi-like character was created to fill the gap.

Attack on titan movie 1
The first part of the movie is focused around the very early stages of the main Attack on Titan story – with numerous differences. The colossal Titan comes along and smashes a hole in the wall, just like in the original, allowing numerous titans to invade the area behind the outer wall and cause chaos for the residents. After waging a futile battle against the Titan onslaught, the humans take shelter and later evacuate to an area behind one of the inner walls. However, the torment isn’t over yet. With the farmlands now inhabited by titans and a food shortage taking hold, it’s clear that humanity is going to have to fight back to reclaim their home and plug the hole in the wall.

Attack on titan movie 3
There are some key differences between this adaption of Attack on Titan and the original story. First off, there is no Survey Corps to begin with, so no one knew if the Titans still existed beyond the walls as no human had seen them for a 100 years. The story explains that nobody had been outside the outer walls for a century because of a big bomb, which meant only Titans could survive the outside world. We never learn more about this bomb but we do discover that this world was once much more technologically driven than the original Attack on Titan. It’s stated that technology only bred war, lack of resources, and other such things. While we never learn more than this, it’s clear that this world is (currently) vastly different to the one presented in the manga. It’ll be interesting to see if the second part of the movie expands on this concept further.

In this story the relationship between Eren and Mikasa has also been changed, including what happens to them earlier on in the story. In the original series they’re brother and sister (although not by blood as Mikasa is adopted), but for this tale it’s never mentioned that the two are family. What’s more, Eren doesn’t even know his family because they died while he was a young child. Instead Mikasa acts as a love interest for Eren and is often jokingly referred to as his girlfriend. During the first half of this live action adventure Eren and Mikasa are separated, with Mikasa stranded in the part of town now overrun by titans. When Eren returns to the outer walls two years later, now part of the Survey Corps force, he reunites with Mikasa, who has changed drastically after being trained by a mysterious fighter known as Shikishima (our Levi substitute).

Attack on titan movie 2
While the core story of humanity versus the Titans is unchanged, it’s clear that the live action take is its own universe and should be treated as such. There isn’t a great deal of focus on the story once the Survey Corps are established and the troops head out to seal the hole in the wall. Instead the movie supplies endless amounts of gore to entertain the viewers. You definitely don’t want to be watching this while eating. Because of the lack of story later on, I’m not sure if the movie makes for a great rewatch, but it’s certainly fun to just sit back, turn your brain off, and enjoy the ride the first time around.

There is some good acting on show for the Attack on Titan core characters. Haruma Miura makes a fitting Eren, delivering his more threatening dialog with great emotion. Kiko Mizuhara, who plays Mikasa, and Hiroki Hasegawa, who plays Shikishima, are also highlights on an acting level and both do a tremendous job with their roles. So far I’ve neglected to mention Armin, who is a core member of the team in the original manga, but that’s because the live action movie sidelines him a great deal of the time. This makes it difficult to get a read on how good Kanata Hongo actually is at playing the role. It’s likely we’ll be seeing more of Armin in the second film, so hopefully that will give Kanata the chance to truly shine.

Attack on Titan movie 4

Overall the music isn’t anything to write home about but it does a decent job of compelling the movie along. It’s not bad, it just doesn’t really stand out on its own either.

For what it is, Attack on Titan has been approached in an interesting manner. The story might be different but the action scenes are incredibly fun to watch (if the titans don’t scare you to death, that is!) and it works as an interesting take on a well established story. I don’t believe that this is a good entry point for someone who has never watched and/or read Attack on Titan before, but if you already know the story then it’ll make sense. Based on the re-working of the original manga, I can’t recommend this very highly but as a whole it certainly makes a fun movie to watch with friends. I’m certainly looking forward to the second half of the adventure.

Score: 5/10

Quick Information

  • Title: Attack on Titan: The Movie
  • UK Publisher: Animatsu
  • Genre: Horror, Drama, Action.
  • Director: Shinji Higuchi
  • Year: 2015
  • DVD/Bluray Release Date: June 27th 2016
  • Run Time: 94 minutes
  • Classification: 15

To the Abandoned Sacred Beasts #1 Review

To the Abandoned Sacred Beasts vol 1 coverThe mangaka team Maybe first came to my attention thanks to Dusk Maiden of Amnesia. Crunchyroll streamed the anime adaptation back in 2012, and since watching Dusk Maiden, I’ve kept an eye on the team behind the manga. They’ve since been working on two currently running series called Tales of Wedding Rings (a manga that Crunchyroll simulpub) and To the Abandoned Sacred Beasts, which is being published by Vertical Comics. I’m here to review the latter.

Sacred Beasts follows the story of Nancy Schaal Bancroft, who is on a mission to kill the man who murdered her father. During a civil war between the South and the North, the northerners were outnumbered and started experimenting on humans with forbidden arts. Eventually they created Incarnates, humans that have been transformed into beasts with godlike powers but with an inability to turn back into what they once were (except for a few exceptions). With the power of the Incarnates, the war was swiftly put to an end but afterwards the beasts were met with a life of uncertainty and hatred. Due to the Incarnates being so powerful, the government wanted to bring an end to their lives, and thus a Beast Hunter came into existence.

This Beast Hunter, known as Hank, is an Incarnate who has the ability to transform between human and beast. Hank, who struck down Nancy’s father as the Beast Hunter, was previously the captain of a platoon of Incarnates during the war. At the beginning of our story Nancy seeks him out in a faraway town and asks why he had to kill her father, but their conversation is interrupted by the return of the Incarnate that Hank is currently on a mission to kill.

Nancy ends up tagging along with Hank, looking for answers as to why the Incarnate must be put down, and while the two adventure she realises that the beasts quite often have no sense of humanity left in them. It’s a sad situation because some of the beasts still show signs of who they were as humans, yet others do nothing but harm to those they’re living amongst. The story is written in such a way that we’re never lingering on the life of one Incarnate too long, and you’ll often find yourself pondering what could have been had they been left alive.

Throughout the story it’s slowly revealed that Hank has a past with each of the Incarnates he’s currently hunting down as they were all members of his platoon. It becomes clear to see that he’s not necessarily a bad guy and instead just completing a job that he believes has to be done. He’s a likeable character but perhaps a bit too aloof from Nancy and the world, yet certainly well written and easy to understand.

Nancy is a strong-spirited character. She’s not built for fighting, and prone to slowing Hank down when he’s battling an Incarnate, but she has the intelligence to make up for her lack of physical ability. For every time she might stumble in a battle, Nancy’s able to offer an interesting insight on a given situation, which redeems her character a great deal. Being the daughter of an Incarnate also puts her in a position to share opinions and perspectives that contrast with Hank’s and pave the way for some interesting conversations.

This is the first of Maybe’s work to be published physically in English and (while I’m disappointed it wasn’t Dusk Maiden of Amnesia) Vertical Comics have made a good choice. The story, as I’ve hopefully explained, is very well written, the artwork is gorgeous, and the character designs are striking. Maybe have always had a good eye for designing characters and Hank and Nancy are both well done. They’re simple designs but are brought alive by the little details, most notably the realism of their eyes and facial expressions. Backgrounds are also very detailed and remarkable. There is always a lot to see and I found that the shading was really well done to show the distinction between night and day scenes.

Action scenes are striking and packed with detail but this was never enough to confuse me as a reader. It’s always easy to work out where any character is at a given time. To the Abandoned Sacred Beasts is only the second series the team have done that is so heavily focused around action and Maybe definitely deserve some recognition for handling their battle scenes so well. It’s pleasing to see and leaves me feeling satisfied that this series has a good future ahead of it in this regard.

Overall the first volume of To the Abandoned Sacred Beasts offers a satisfying read and ends on just enough of a cliffhanger to leave you wanting to know more. Maybe have crafted an interesting story with a – so far – small but likable cast and I’m really excited to see where things go from here.

Score: 8/10

Manga Quick Information

UK Publisher: Vertical Comics
Genre: Fantasy, Shounen
Mangaka: Maybe
Number of Pages: 200

Blood-C Demonic Moonlight #1 Review

Blood C demonic moonlight volume 1

  • I’ve never watched Blood-C before. Long have I wanted to see the anime series but I’ve never quite got around to doing so. Thankfully, a handy introduction to the series finally made its way to me in the form of the first volume of Blood-C Demonic Moonlight, published by Dark Horse. This two-volume manga acts a prequel to the Blood-C anime and so far I’ve found it a good introduction to CLAMP/Production I.G’s mysterious world.

    The story is set in the year 1946 and centers around a second lieutenant of the American military, David, who’s job is to investigate “strange” incidents. These bizarre cases can range from murders that couldn’t possibly have been committed by a human, to reports of children being ‘spirited away’. During his investigations, David runs into a mysterious man known as Kagekiri, who seems to have an understanding of these supernatural occurrences. All of these incidents tie back to the Ancients: creatures that take advantage of humans as a means of feeding on them. Unfortunately, this volume doesn’t clearly explain the intents of the Ancients, simply that they’re the cause of these incidents in order to find food.

    What David lacks in knowledge is made up for with his good fighting reflexes and investigator’s intuition. While he and Kagekiri are polar opposites in terms of personality, the two make a fairly good team whenever fate puts them together. David is a caring man and shoulders the burden of being an American stationed in Japan after the war, so he, like many other Americans, isn’t treated all that well by most Japanese citizens. Despite this, however, he always does his best for the people in the towns that he travels through.

    Kagekiri is a respected priest that travels from shrine to shrine investigating any mysterious cases that the locals have been discussing. Although he’s known as a priest, he doesn’t do any of the duties that a priest would normally perform. Instead Kagekiri comes off like a bit of a carefree freeloader to others but when faced with an Ancient his personality changes drastically to a much more serious tone. Kagekiri wields a mysterious sword, which is actually just the hilt of a sword that can create a full blade through spiritual power, and hints are dropped throughout the book that perhaps he isn’t even human!

    Whatever the case may be with Kagekiri, our story overall is an interesting one. This first volume includes three different stories (one of them being split across two chapters) and it’s nice to see that David’s whole life doesn’t revolve around his being stuck with Kagekiri. The two only encounter another every few months going by the timeline of these stories. These periodic interactions keep their relationship fresh and prevents either of them getting on the other’s nerves (or ours).

    This type of episodic storytelling also leaves room for plenty of intrigue surrounding Kagekiri and offers more than enough secrets to leave you wanting more. I could see this approach to the story begin to feel stale if this were aiming to be a long running series but for a two-volume plot it works rather well. How this story links up to Blood-C is not yet all that apparent (apart from Kagekiri’s sword) but artist Ryo Haduki teases that the connection will become clear in the next volume.

    Blood-C Demonic Moonlight has been put together by CLAMP, Production I.G, and handled by Ryo Haduki. Haduki doesn’t yet have any other manga tied to his name so there isn’t anything to draw comparisons to, but regardless I’m fond of the work that he’s done here. Backgrounds and characters are drawn well and the panel layouts always fit nicely for the action scenes. The Ancients too are nicely drawn and suitably intimidating for the role they’re meant to fill.

    My only complaint in regards to the artwork is that I feel as though the action scenes were too smooth. The images are detailed and work for this type of series, but the problem is that they work too well. The characters react too precisely and methodically and the environments unrealistically favour their success, and as a result I’d frequently start to lose my connection with what was happening. The battles didn’t draw me into the world enough, nor did I ever truly believe that the cast were in real danger. It’s a difficult feeling to explain but I think saying that some scenes, even for a fantasy series like this, just didn’t feel believable enough for these characters.

    Overall I had a good time with the first volume of Blood-C Demonic Moonlight. Putting my complaints about the art aside, I’ve been drawn in by the cast and I’m hooked enough to be interested in volume two. I think that this works rather well as an introduction to the Blood-C universe, and now I really do need to actually watch Blood-C itself…
  • Score: 6/10
  • Manga Quick Information
    UK Publisher: Dark Horse
    Genre: Mystery, Horror, Supernatural
    Mangaka: Ryo Haduki
    Number of pages: 184

KonoSuba Season 1 Review

What if, when you die, you were given the chance to be reborn in another world tasked with defeating a demon lord? This is the choice that the shut-in main character of KonoSuba: God’s Blessing on This Wonderful World, Kazuma, must make after he pushes a pretty girl out the way of an oncoming tractor (that he saw as a massive truck) and dies from shock. A pretty (but rude) goddess named Aqua greets Kazuma in the afterlife and informs him that if he should decide to go to this other realm, he may pick one item to go with him: whatever he desires. Our hero decides that the best possible solution to this problem (and out of spite towards Aqua’s lack of caring) is to simply take the goddess with him. And so begins the unfortunate – I mean, brilliant – adventures of Kazuma.

As Kazuma soon discovers in this new world, nothing in life is that simple. After joining the guild in the starting town he’s landed in, Kazuma finds out how unfair his new reality really is. His stats (like those you’d find in an RPG), apart from intelligence and luck, are below average, which doesn’t offer him many choices for his life as an adventurer. Meanwhile Aqua has brilliant stats, apart from intelligence and luck, and can choose any job she’d like, even one of the highest: Arc Priest. Could things get any worse for Kazuma? Well, yes, things could definitely get worse. As he and Aqua attempt to take on many quests around the city they all end in failure. To make matters worse, their party is soon joined by an Arch Wizard, Megumin, who can only fire off her magic once a day; and a knight, Darkness, who can’t even hit a target standing still (and really enjoys being hit by enemies…). This party truly isn’t a useful one and, try as he might, Kazuma just can’t get away from the trio of idiots.

At its core KonoSuba is a comedy centered around the trials and tribulations of adventurers, showing that life is perhaps not as easygoing as it would be in an RPG. Even if this isn’t a video game, Kazuma manages to pull many links between the two and his extensive knowledge does come in handy. As a viewer it’s great to watch the similarities, especially with quests and the useless party members (I mean normally we’re only stuck with one, but Kazuma has three to deal with!) and the anime does nothing but amplify this feeling. I’m a massive JRPG fan, which is something I’ve probably mentioned in previous reviews. If I’m not watching anime or have my head stuck in a book, I’m off in some far off world with sword in hand, ready to slay some evil monster – because someone has to, right? It’s a genre of video games that I appreciate a lot and KonoSuba captures the feeling and tropes of fantasy worlds extremely well.

Almost every episode of the anime features an “emergency quest” of some description that Kazuma and friends are dragged into helping with. Half the time these quests have come into play because Kazuma or one of his ‘helpful’ party members have angered some evil monster, but there are some more random quests to balance things out. My personal favourite is the Cabbage Quest. This quest involves defeating and rounding up a flying hoard of cabbages, yes cabbages, that are flying toward the city. If this were a video game it would be a pretty low level quest and the type you just can’t be bothered completing, which KonoSuba knows and plays with wonderfully by having Kazuma make numerous comments about how he wishes he could just go back to bed. The series manages to make fun of every aspect of a JRPG that you possibly could in some fashion or other, and I quickly fell in love with the somewhat quirky humour on offer.

The series is made up of only 10 episodes, which is a shame as I was left wanting just a little bit more. However, it is worth noting that a second season has now been confirmed to be in production. Earlier episodes fare better in my favour as early on, each episode would include two different, but often linked, stories, whereas later we’re stuck with just one. This isn’t a bad thing on average but it does mean there were more episodes that I disliked by the end of the series’s run than those that I liked – although every single episode had something going for it. It’s rare for me to seriously sit down and watch a comedy of any sort, it’s not really my thing, but KonoSuba had me eager to view the latest episode every week purely because of how much fun I was having. I think there is something special here and I’m glad that I decided to give it a shot.

Animation has been handled by Studio Deen and leaves me with mixed impressions. Overall the show looks pretty cheaply made, and although certain scenes are quite impressive, the first few episodes just look awful. The animation was not even slightly consistent from scene to scene where the characters are concerned and they often looked horribly off-model. KonoSuba is a really colorful fantasy world but early on, the environments are fairly bland. It wasn’t until the fourth or fifth episode that Studio Deen got a handle on the quality. I’d imagine that the quality would be especially jarring to anyone who had previously seen the artwork for the light novel source because it’s much better than what Studio Deen provides. Thankfully KonoSuba isn’t the type of show that requires wonderful animation (even if it would have been nice) and gets by just fine even with its oddities, but potential viewers should definitely take note that this won’t be winning any awards for its art.

Music for the series has been provided by Masato Kouda, who also worked on the soundtracks for Magical Warfare and Maria the Virgin Witch. I wouldn’t say it’s the kind of music I could listen to away from the anime but played along with the show it works wonderfully, highlighting the dramatic moments only for the bubble to be burst. It’s neither a bad soundtrack nor an amazing one, but I’d say it generally works really well. No complaints in that regard here.

I can’t say that I have any complaints regarding the cast of voice actors either. Our cynical hero Kazuma is voiced by Jun Fukushima (Shinsuke Chazawa in Shirobako, Shoukichi Naruko in Yowamushi Pedal), who I’d previously not paid much notice to but felt provided a really great performance here. Kazuma is a very passionate character and it’s key that his VA can swap between his distrusting, cynical attitude and that of his more laid-back nature, which Fukushima does wonderfully. Aqua is handled by Sora Armamiya (Toka Kirishima in Tokyo Ghoul, Akame in Akame ga Kill!) and, like Fukushima, manages to balance Aqua’s split personality quite well. The goddess goes from being on top of the world to being crushed by her debts on a daily basis and it’s brilliant to see someone express that so clearly. Rie Takahash (Miki Naoki in School-Live!, Dorothy in Maria the Virgin Witch), who plays Megumin, and Ai Kayano (Shiro in No Game, No Life; Kyouka in Fairy Tail), who plays Darkness, are both fitting for their characters as well. They’re perhaps not as impressive as the actors playing Kazuma and Aqua, but given the roles they’re voicing, I’m certainly pleased with the result.

By the end of KonoSuba I’d fallen in love with the story of these hopeless heroes. I find myself excited for the second anime season and am hoping that someone will license the light novels. I even enjoyed the show enough to watch the earlier episodes twice through! There may have been some teething problems with the animation and some of the jokes just weren’t funny, but I think overall this was a pretty memorable comedy. It definitely gained a new fan in me. If you want to check the series out for yourself then you can find it streaming on Crunchyroll.

Title: KonoSuba: God's Blessing on This Wonderful World Season 1
Publisher: Crunchyroll (streaming)
Genre: Comedy, Fantasy, Adventure
Studio: Studio Deen
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2016
Format: Legal stream
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles
Running time: 250 minutes

Score: 8/10