Shimoneta: A Boring World Where the Concept of Dirty Jokes Doesn’t Exist – a Second Review

Warning: Contains very strong language from the start.

“I wrote, I wrote to the- the Council of Churches and I said, ‘This fucking Bible… especially, erm, Paul,’ I said, ‘This fucking Bible really gives me the horn.’ And er, I wrote, you know … civilly to them at the World Council of Churches, I wrote, ‘Dear Cunts in Charge of Religion,’ you know, familiar, friendly, ‘Dear Cunts in Charge of Religion, your fucking guidebook or whatever the fucking thing is don’t half give me the horn. I get fucking horn, especially on St. Paul!’ And I got no reply whatsoever from that. Cunts! No wonder church attendance is dropping off.”
Peter Cook, from Derek and Clive: Ad Nauseam

I decided to begin this second AUKN review of Shimoneta with this quote to prove that you can create something that is incredibly rude and disgusting, but also funny. Peter Cook and Dudley Moore’s X-Rated Derek and Clive albums are some of the funniest things you can ever listen to, even though what is contained on them is utterly disgusting.

Incendiary Lemon’s review of Shimoneta pretty much covers all aspects of the plot and there is little reason for me to repeat it all again, so I would advise you to read his review first. If you already have, you will know that he talks about how 90% of the comedy is just saying something sexual and it is rubbish. I am inclined to agree. Most of what was featured didn’t make me laugh, but the moments that did were the ones that were incredibly ridiculous. For example, there is a moment where they talk about Otome, the artist in the erotic terrorist group SOX, drawing by sticking a pencil up her pussy. There is another where the lead character Okuma eats biscuits that have been made out of Anna’s “love nectar”.

This is where the problem with Shimoneta stands out. Some might say that the problem with it is that is too rude. I say the problem is it’s not rude enough! Those two jokes in the above paragraph to me are funny because they are so gross. The Derek and Clive albums of the 1970s still contain routines that are gross today, which is why they have lasted. To highlight a scene which Incendiary Lemon mentions, in which Ayame rolls around on the floor shouting: “Penis, penis, penis, penis, vagina, vagina, vagina, vagina”, even I can make that funnier with a simple re-write, by changing it to “Cock, cock, cock, cock, cunt, cunt, cunt, cunt.” It means the same thing, but those words are more direct and impactful, making the shock of the rudeness much greater.

Any two-bit writer can make a scene in which a woman tries to rape a man, but it takes people like Pete and Dud to make a genuinely funny scene which involves a man trying to the break the Guinness World Record for producing the longest trail of snot, only for it to be ruined by his wife, and thus the man decides to break the Guinness World Record for kicking his wife in the cunt. It sounds horrific on the surface, but listen to it, and you won’t stop yourself from laughing.

This brings up the vexing question of censorship. You see, it has been argued by some writers that Shimoneta is an attack on censorship, and a reaction to recent laws in Japan concerning pornographic works. This is arguably a noble endeavour, even if you don’t like the sort of works coming out of Japan at the moment. Our laws on porn are messed up as well. Remember me mentioning the joke about the biscuits made out of Anna’s “love nectar”. If you don’t know, that “nectar” is her ejaculate. Under UK law, it is illegal to feature pornography featuring female ejaculation, but as it is OK to show it featuring male ejaculate, you can argue that UK porn laws are sexist. Britain may have made it an offence to possess erotic images of characters under 18, but you can go into a bookshop and buy a Penguin Classics edition of the Marquis de Sade’s The 120 Days of Sodom, which not only features extreme pornography, but sexual acts with people as young as four-years-old. So you can write a paedophilic sex scene, but if you try and draw the exact same thing, you would be committing a crime.

The problem, however, is that Shimoneta‘s attempts at humour let it down. Maybe if it was released as an OVA rather than a TV series, free of any possible issues broadcasters might have to offensive content, it might have worked better, but as it is based on a series of light novels and most of the anime adapts the contents of the books, I’m guessing not. If you are looking for a series which tackles the problems of censorship Library Wars does it better, mainly because it is not trying to be funny most of the time, being more dramatic and romantic.

There is also the other major problem when it comes to this sort of thing, which is that when you say you are against censorship of porn, you end up worrying that you end up siding with people you don’t want to be on your side. I’m not talking about people who might support paedophilia although obviously that’s an issue, but more like people who think that it is an attack on freedom of speech to deny them the right to say “nigger” in public.

I do know of people and news websites in this country whose views on freedom of speech and what should be said in comedy do infuriate me. I won’t mention who these people are, partly as a petty act of self-censorship to pointlessly annoy them, and partly, to reference Linda Smith, because I don’t want to give them the oxygen of publicity – or indeed the oxygen of oxygen.

But some of these people who claim to support freedom of speech do frustrate me. For example, I’ve seen people trying to compare Dapper Laughs, the comic who got axed from ITV2 for telling rape jokes, to Lenny Bruce, the American comic who in the 1960s was arrested several times for obscenity and died of a drug overdose. As far as I’m concerned, Dapper Laughs is no way comparable to Lenny Bruce, chiefly because Dapper’s material was so shit it doesn’t even deserve comparison. To quote Stewart Lee: “Who gets dropped by ITV2? That’s like being barred from a pub that’s already on fire.”

Now I should state that I think that comedy and indeed all art forms should be free to cover any subject, including rape, murder, drugs etc. One thing that annoys me, though, is bad comedians using freedom of speech to defend jokes that are just poor. Other comedians who have done material about rape and rape culture are brilliant. Adrienne Truscott for example, did a show at the Edinburgh Fringe about rape culture, naked from the waist down, in 2013. That year she won the Panel Prize at the Edinburgh Comedy Awards, and an increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality. In that same year, Bridget Christie won the main Edinburgh Comedy Award prize with a show about feminism, and has one of the best rape jokes I can think of: “My rape fantasies involve more prosecutions and longer sentences.”

In the world of anime, rape is also a strange issue. We protest if it involves two people, but we get less bothered when it involves a tentacled monster. It doesn’t stop outside commentators talking about it obviously, which did lead to the memorable incident when both the left-wing and right-wing press published articles attacking the release of Urotsukidōji: Legend of the Overfiend, and ironically increasing the sales of the anime by giving it so much free publicity.

What also annoys me is that the same comedians who use freedom of speech to defend their rubbish jokes often tend to be the same comedians who tell their hecklers to shut up. They are hypocrites. Hell, I’m probably a hypocrite too for my views, but at least I’m willing to admit the possibility that my views are askew.

Maybe what we need to do when watching Shimoneta is get more into the world that it is set in, with people constantly having to talk in bizarre euphemisms to discuss anything rude otherwise they would get arrested. It is probably through this language problem that we end up having the issue with the humour. To the people of this world, just saying “penis” is offensive enough, whereas saying “fuck” (which only happens once in the series) doesn’t seem to be needed as much. Is it possible to imagine such a setting really existing? I would say that it is, because people have lived through such a thing, there was a comedy that tackled it, and we have overcome it.

I’m talking about the time when in Britain it was illegal to be homosexual. The comedy that helped to tackle it was the 1960s radio show Round the Horne, which featured the characters of Julian and Sandy played by Hugh Paddick and Kenneth Williams, who spoke the Polari gay slang to get away with all kinds of things that if said directly would have got the BBC into a whole heap of trouble. In one sketch set in a music shop Sandy mentions that Julian is, “a miracle of dexterity on the cottage upright”, but in Polari a “cottage upright” is an erection in a public toilet. Polari appears in later comedies, like the 1970s sitcom Porridge, where characters would often tell each other to “Naff off”, but “naff” was Polari for a straight man who was not available for fornication.

You can compare the repressed Britain of the 1960s to the repressed Japan of the future. Here we see different groups of people trying to get away with what is seen by the government as perverse behaviour. The difference is that Round the Horne was dealing with a real-life situation and it managed to outlive it, the show ending in the same year the homosexuality was decriminalised. Shimoneta is set in a fantasy world and thus is harder to relate to. That is why it fails to live up to the rest comically, but it might live up to them in terms of a message about the dangerous of censorship.

Title: Shimoneta: A Boring World Where the Concept of Dirty Jokes Doesn't Exist
Publisher: Funimation (via Anime Limited)
Genre: Comedy, Dystopia, Ecchi, Sci-fi
Studio: J.C.Staff
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2015
Format: Blu-Ray and DVD (Blu-Ray version reviewed)
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 18
Running time: 300 minutes

Score: 5/10

Spring Preview 2017

Spring Preview 2017

The return of Attack on Titan! Season 2 of My Hero Academia! Yet more Berserk! The Eccentric Family re-appears for more tanuki mishaps and mayhem! Rage of Bahamut returns, even more epic than before and – oh, wait. What’s that you say? You’ve subscribed to Crunchyroll and Funimation UK and the latest Bahamut isn’t on their Spring list? It’s only showing on Amazon Prime UK? And a raft of other promising, highly anticipated series are only showing in the US on Amazon Strike?

Just when we thought there was some hope of no longer being the poor relations in the UK when it comes to legal, accessible and affordable simulcasts, Amazon buys the rights of several of the eagerly-awaited Spring series. However, with so many long-awaited sequels on show and some intriguing new titles, there’s plenty to keep our writers at Anime UK News engaged and excited. They’re here to share their initial thoughts and impressions of the new Spring Season. Agree? Disagree? We’d love to hear your thoughts too…

 

IncendiaryLemon

To get the obvious out the way first, the show I was looking forward to the most this spring was Attack on Titan Season 2. Yes, it is the most generic answer anyone could possibly give, but it has been 4 long years since the original series first broadcast, and I have been desperate to know what’s in that basement! As someone who doesn’t read the manga, the wait to know what happens next after the first season left so many unanswered questions has been very painful, so I am incredibly thrilled to finally see the show back on our screens. The first two episodes certainly haven’t disappointed so far, with Episode 2 in particular delving into the backstory for Sasha, one of my favourite characters, as well as giving us the Titan- based action we all know and love. I’ve heard from manga readers that it’s all set to go downhill, but from where I’m standing, it’s looking pretty great at the moment.

Going from something everyone and their mother was excited about to something I’m pretty sure only I was, the new series of Berserk also started this season. Last year, when the adventures of Guts finally continued after almost two decades (as far as anime is concerned), the backlash was enormous, with most of the complaints being launched at the 3D animation, which I can certainly agree with. However, even if it does look pretty terrible, at the end of the day, it’s still Berserk, a franchise I have a ton of love for, and no matter how poor the animation, the strength of both the story and characters certainly salvage it. After the cliffhanger ending of the last season, Season 2 wastes absolutely no time getting straight back into the action, with Guts confronting a familiar foe and Farnese getting a horrific backstory. No matter the animation, Berserk remains as dark, twisted and brilliant as it ever was.

The third and final anime I wish to highlight for this season is another one that I don’t think many people were looking forward to, but in contrast to Berserk, I also think it’s one pretty much no one really knows about either: Hinako Note. Filling the ‘cute girls doing cute things’ void in my life this spring, Hinako Note is about the titular Hinako, who travels to the city after living in the countryside, and ends up living with three other girls in a secondhand book store. Together with Mayuki, Chiaki and Kuina, she plans to resurrect her school’s theater club in hopes of getting over her social anxieties. Honestly, there isn’t too much to say about this one given its nature and the fact that only one episode has come out at time of writing, but personally I found it to be a good mix of comedy and cuteness, and it makes for a good break between the gore, death and anguish of shows such as Attack on Titan and Berserk. 

Ian Wolf

We all know what the big series are going to be: the second series of Attack on Titan, the second series of My Hero Academia, and Boruto – the sequel to Naruto. However, there are some other series that are of interest. Two of these are titles whose original manga versions have only recently been released in English.

One is a title I have already reviewed for AUKN:  the clockpunk series Clockwork Planet. The series begins with the world having died, but then brought back to life by a genius engineer using only gears, so the whole world runs like clockwork. The series follows four people – mechanical otaku Naoto Miura; RyuZU, an automaton he manages to repair; Marie Bell Breguet, a genius technician; and her bodyguard Vainney Halter – who, after a month of meeting each other, become the world’s most infamous terrorists.

The series has already attracted comment from some people, but sadly this is about what some see as inappropriate content. For example, there is a scene in which RyuZU sucks Naoto’s fingers in a manner too suggestive for some, and thus it has put some people off. However, the setting and situation will hopefully outweigh these concerns.

The other series of interest is Anonymous Noise, a series revolving around music and romance. It follows a love triangle, at the apex of which is Nino “Alice” Arisugawa, a girl who loves to sing, but who spends most her time in public wearing a face mask. When she was younger the two boys she was closest to moved away from her: Momo Sakaki, her old next-door neighbour and Kanada “Yuzu” Yuzuriha, who loves writing music and hates his lack of height, to the point that he is constantly drinking milk in an effort to make himself taller. When Nino arrives at her new high school, she spots Yuzu playing guitar in the light music club and tries to reignite their relationship. It is not long before she also seems to spot Momo as well.

Having seen the first episode, I find that the series has several impressive features. First of all there is the music: the songs are credited to the band “in NO hurry to shout”, which is a fictional band that appear in the series. The songs that have featured in the anime have been good so far and I’m looking forward to hearing more. A collection of singles will be released on 19th April. The other big thing that impresses is the “camerawork”. There is a scene in which Nino has to perform with the light music club on stage as singer, and when she performs you cut to a view from the audience which looks like it is being filmed by someone on a cameraphone, dancing to the music. The camera doesn’t keep still and the image is slightly of poorer quality as you would expect, thus adding to the realism of the moment. Let’s hope it can keep the pace up.

Rui

I’m drowning in sequels! The follow-ups to Attack On Titan, My Hero Academia, Berserk and (saving the best until last) The Eccentric Family guarantee that I’ll be spending a lot of time on Crunchyroll this season, as all four were highlights of their respective seasons the first time around. If you’re not up to date on The Eccentric Family and like your anime to be both thought-provoking and unusual, it’s well worth checking out the first season on DVD/BD from MVM in the UK.

Amazon has snatched quite a few titles I might have checked out otherwise and some of the ones I want to watch most aren’t available in the UK at all (Natsume’s Book Of Friends, how I miss you) but overall the damage hasn’t been too bad. Yet.

In terms of brand new anime, the horrendously-titled WorldEnd: What do you do at the end of the world? Are you busy? Will you save us (hereafter SukaSuka for my sanity) is the pleasant surprise of the season so far. My expectations were rock bottom; fantasy light novel adaptations about cute girls with powers are a dime a dozen these days and it’s a genre that struggles to impress me at the best of times, but when I forced myself through the first episode of SukaSuka I found a lot more to like than I expected. The characterisation and world building are already getting me thinking! I rewatched the first episode with a friend after the first viewing and we’re both looking forward to seeing where things go.

Aside from that, I’ll definitely be watching the new Laughing Salesman, Kenka Banchou Otome and – if the excessive censorship is less annoying in future episodes – Seven Mortal Sins. Not a huge amount of completely new content has caught my eye this time around but that which has is plenty to keep me busy.

Cold Cobra

Well, okay so I’m also watching Attack on Titan Season 2, and there is obviously very little to mention there. I will mention My Hero Academia Season 2 in a bit more detail, as it is similarly glossed over, due to being an obvious pick. The original series took a lot of people by surprise due to its combination of western comics and manga, not to mention its lead protagonist Izuku Midoriya, who has to be the most likable character on TV at the moment. The first season got through the world building and character set ups, leading to a final few episodes of classic shonen action. This gives Season 2 the ability to jump straight into some more action and light-hearted jabs at comics and hero shows in general without having to build up the characters or introduce them. The first two episodes have set up another shonen classic of a tournament arc, which will be fun, and obviously lead into something bigger.

As this site’s resident Naruto reviewer it won’t surprise you to find out I’ll be watching Boruto as well. The first two episodes of the Naruto sequel have been good in a “seeing characters as adults” kind of way, but also kind of annoying in that Boruto is pretty much Naruto again, including rebelling against the adults, despite growing up in a family. I know, he’s mad that his father isn’t around much, but you’d think given his Dad has his face carved into the side of a mountain might make you respect him a bit more… Still, early days, and this is already better than most filler arcs Shippuden produced, though that might be the biggest damning with faint praise in the history of faint praise damning…

I’m sure by the end of the season there will be one or two other series that I’m not aware of at the moment added to the line-up, but even if nothing else catches my eye, I’m happy to have the three shows to watch, and on my TV via the one streaming service no less!

Paul

The Spring season of 2007 was legendary. 10 years on, I don’t think this season will meet those same high standards, but that’s not to say Spring 2017 is without interest. Second seasons for Attack on Titan and My Hero Academia are welcome, but I’m particularly pleased to see The Eccentric Family return. It’s a weird story, set in the smokey side streets of modern day Kyoto where any number of creatures from Japanese folklore are living amidst a bemused human society. It has a unique aesthetic and is clearly a passion project for the talented animators working on it, who are giving it their all. Based on a story written by Tomihiko Morimi of the fantastic Tatami Galaxy, his love of language is evident throughout as the characters trade dialogue like gun fire.

Somewhat more conventional but never the less entertaining is Re:Creators. Back when musical composer Yoko Kanno (Cowboy Bebop, Escaflowne) was relatively active, her participation in an anime series would be enough to pique interest, and the same could be said today for Hiroyuki Sawano, albeit his trademark style is totally different to Kanno’s own. His style is heavy and infused with adrenaline, and is going to play a big role in Re:Creators. The first episode’s action scenes were great: filled with the sounds of clashing metal and indiscriminating collateral damage. Reading up on it also introduced me to a new word: Isekai, which is a genre of (Japanese) fiction where characters are transported from one world into another, foreign world, albeit this is reversed in Re:Creators, with anime characters invading the real world.

Sarah

Much as I’m enjoying the return of My Hero Academia and AoT, I find that there aren’t as many truly different series this Spring Season to discover. I love coming across something quirky or unusual, a well-made series that draws you back in with its skilful storytelling. However, that said, here’s two new series that – thus far – are different from the over- preponderance of material based on shonen manga or light novels.

The Royal Tutor

The diminutive Professor Heine Wittgenstein arrives at Grannzreich Palace to act as royal tutor to the king’s four younger sons to prepare them as potential successors to the throne, should anything happen to the Crown Prince. Heine could be easily mistaken for a child. (This happens. A lot.) But appearances can be deceptive; in spite of his childlike stature, he possesses a keen intelligence and understanding of human nature. As each of the four princes: forbidding Kai, genius Bruno, proud Leonhard and free spirit, exuberant Licht are soon to discover…

I’d been enjoying reading the manga of The Royal Tutor by Higasa Akai digitally from Yen Press (the first of the paper volumes will be released in May) so was delighted when the anime TV series was announced! At first glance, with its bishonen princes and nineteenth century ‘Viennese’ setting, it might seem as if it’s nothing but a frothy confection – but don’t be deceived. (For anyone confused by its promotional material, it’s not a BL drama or an idol show; it’s something rather more subtle than that.) The design team recreate Akai’s distinctive graphic style rather well, using her chibi forms to amusing effect. But there’s also some shrewd character analysis on offer, leavened by welcome little touches of humour. It’s very different from anything else on offer – and well worth a watch if you’re seeking some relief from the constant barrage of action shows.

Tsuki ga Kirei

Akane is a gifted athlete and member of the middle school track team. A fellow third-year student, Kotarou, loves books and intends to become a published author. They say opposites attract…but, even though they both have spotted each other (there’s a wonderfully awkward meeting where both meet at a family restaurant, with their parents embarrassing them by insisting on chatting together) they’re both so shy that these first feelings of interest and attraction could so easily be blown away by the spring breeze, like falling sakura petals.

I was pleasantly surprised by this quiet little slice-of-life series, an original anime directed by Seiji Kishi (Assassination Classroom, Magikano) with attractive, water-colour designs and a surprisingly unsentimental style of storytelling (thus far!) Another welcome antidote to the noisier series. I just hope it isn’t spoiled by some tedious soap-style melodrama later on down the line.

(I’m also really enjoying sci-fi/alien encounter series KADO: The Right Answer – but feel tempted to wait a little longer before assembling any thoughts, critical or otherwise.)

Demelza:

I fall into the same camp as a few of my fellow writers in regards to some of the shows I wanted to watch being region blocked by Amazon. Most notable of these is Is It Wrong To Try To Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon: Sword Oratoria, which is a spin-off to one of my favourite fantasy series and something I’d been greatly looking forward to watching. Despite Amazon having prevented me from watching Sword Oratoria and a few other anime, I’ve still found a lot to like this season with the return of My Hero Academia and the new whacky comedy Eromanga Sensei, but overall there are just two new shows that have seriously caught my eye.

Sakura Quest

Sakura Quest is the latest original series from studio P.A Works and, as a big fan of Shirobako, I knew I had to check it out. The show follows the adventures of Yoshino Koharu, a young girl who has been trying to find a job in Tokyo. One day she’s offered a role with the tourism board of the economically struggling Manoyama village where she will fill the role of being the “Queen”. With no other choice but to accept the job, Yoshino soon finds herself in Manoyama and does her best to bring this struggling village back to life.

I can’t deny that from the two episodes I’ve watched that Sakura Quest is a slow burner. The plot moves slowly and much like P.A Work’s  Shirobako anime, if you aren’t invested in the characters, then you’ll probably struggle overall. However, I think the studio has a knack for creating these kinds of stories and I like Yoshino and the friends she makes enough that I want to see this adventure through. It might not be as exciting as creating anime, but it’s certainly intriguing in its own way.

Anonymous Noise

The other series to have caught my eye this season is Anonymous Noise. If you’ve read any of my reviews or articles before then you’ll know how much I enjoy a musically focused show and Anonymous Noise looks to scratch that itch quite nicely. So far it has already outdone last seasons Fuuka anime by including more than one original song in an episode and having an incredibly likeable cast (the animation quality is pretty notably as well so far).

The first episode is a bit all over the place because the series is a primarily a shojo in nature and so trying to couple music with a suitably exciting romantic storyline, but I think the fast, action-packed nature of it all is also what drew me in so much. I’m not sure we’re looking at a ground-breaking anime that will change our world forever, but if you’re a fan of shojo series then I think you’ll find a lot to like. At the very least it’s a show well worth keeping an eye on, in my opinion, as the first episode easily captured my heart.

 

Feature: The Soundtrack of Yuri!!! On Ice

AUKN Banner (Ian Wolf's Feature)

“I was in a Little Chef once, and I read the menu, and it said: ‘Try one of our desserts. Go on, you only live once.’ And I thought: ‘That’s a bit of blow for the Buddhists, isn’t it?’ What a way to find out that everything you believe in is utter bollocks.” – Ross Noble

Earlier this week Yuri!!! On Ice, the hit anime series of last year – if both the Crunchyroll Anime Awards and the Tokyo Anime Award Festival are to be believed – made a slight return.

A new video (see below) promoting a forthcoming DVD and Blu-ray release in Japan was released featuring animation of Yuri Plisetsky and Otabek Altin performing a routine. It was intended to be broadcast in the show itself but never made it to air and is now being made available as an extra.

The music the characters are skating to is called “Welcome to the Madness” and is composed by Tarou Umebayashi, who was one of the main composers of the soundtrack along with Taku Matsushiba. Given this new footage it seems timely to look at the soundtrack of the anime in general (and when I say “timely”, I mean I was originally going to write about this when the anime went out, but I got distracted by other things, and thanks to this new clip I now have a decent opportunity to finally get to work on it).

Before we do, however, it is worth making a note that for once, the majority of the music for an anime has been made available in the west. It has always been an annoyance to me that so much Japanese music is not made available to legally purchase (even X Japan, the country’s biggest rock band, still haven’t released three of their five studio albums on the UK iTunes). But with Yuri!!! On Ice the entire soundtrack is available as an album, and the opening and closing themes are available as singles, released separately by their respective artists. It should be mentioned that not all of the music is available yet, because there are some background pieces not released, but most of the music is there.

Let’s start then with those opening and closing themes. The opening, “History Maker” by Dean Fujioka, certainly seems to encapsulate the series as a whole. It stands out from many other anime themes for several reasons. For starters there is the introduction played on the xylophone, which makes for an unusual choice of instrument and thus also makes the tune distinctive. Then you have the fact that the song is sung in English rather than Japanese, which again seems to be making a statement. It feels as if the anime is deliberately trying to reach outside Japan and gain an international audience by using English to attract foreign viewers. On top of this you have the unusual time signature for an OP which uses (I have been told by one of my editors, Sarah, who knows much more about these sort of things than I do) three beats in a bar rather than the standard four, making it arguably a waltz. This is fitting for a show that is about a form of dance, but on ice rather than a normal dance floor. Also, because you need two people to dance to a waltz, it makes for a possible connection between two people like Yuri Katsuki and Victor Nikiforov – although, as the opening title sequence also features Yurio, it does complicate things a bit.

Lastly you get to the sentiment of the song: “We were born to make history.” When you first listen, it sounds rather rousing, but as you watch the series progress, especially when the relationship between Yuri K. and Victor becomes ever more romantic, you then realise that the series itself is making history in its own way, by having what is almost universally considered to be a gay couple in a sport anime. The song suits the tone of the series, because it is jolly, stirring and moving.

The end theme, “You Only Live Once”, is performed by Wataru Hatano, who is one of the voice actors in the show, playing the role of Georgi Popovich, the Russian skater suffering from heartbreak after his girlfriend has left him. The song is sung in a mixture of English and Japanese, and indeed is the only track in this whole article that features some Japanese dialogue. The main chorus line is always sung in English, and the verses are mixed up in both languages. Personally I prefer the opening over the ending if we are just going on the songs themselves, but with the end animation the song seems to work better.

The majority of the music available comes from the album Oh! SkaTra!!! Yuri!!! On Ice Original Skating Collection, which contains the pieces that are used in the skating routines. When it was released it topped the Oricon Digital Album Charts, and came third in the CD charts too.

It begins with “Aria (Stammi Vicino, Non Te Ne Andare)”, or in English, “Aria: Stay Close to Me”, composed by Matsushiba. It is the classical track performed by Victor which Yuri K. later copies, which in turn is filmed and sparks the whole sequence of Victor coming to Japan to coach Yuri K. This track illustrates again a point made by the opening theme: the international nature of the show, because it is sung in Italian. Looking at the translation you see that it talks about two people who, “are blending together”.

Then we move onto the most famous of the tracks: “In Regards to Love: Eros”, composed by Matsushiba. This is the Spanish flamenco number that Yuri K. performs in all of his routines. Having watched the anime, in my head all I can think of now is Yuri skating. The other notable feature of it is that in a way it pans to the international aspect again, not only because it is Spanish music, but because there are no lyrics at all, so nothing hampers your enjoyment, regardless of where you come from. The same is true of the next piece, which is also the title track: “Yuri On ICE”, which Yuri K. performs in his free skate routine. In the anime, this is the track that Yuri gets his old friend Ketty Abelashvilli to compose for him, but in reality it is Umebayashi who composed it.

Then we move on to Yurio. First there is “In Regards to Love: Agape” by Umebayashi, which sounds more melancholy than the “In Regards to Love” track Yuri K. dances to, and arguably shows Yurio’s frustration with Victor. If Yuri K.’s pieces are international because there are no lyrics, Yurio’s track is is international because it is sung in a language that has no native speakers at all: Latin, and thus everyone is sharing in collective ignorance. His free skate track however, “Piano Concerto in B Minor: Allegro Appassionato” by Matsushiba, is a classical piece with no lyrics, performed by string orchestra and piano.

After this, we then get onto the other skaters in the show. It is also where we see a much wider range of musical styles. We start with young Kenjirou Minami and his jazz instrumental “Minami’s Boogie” used in the qualifying rounds, and then we move onto the Cup of China. We have Yuri K.’s old friend from Thailand, Phichit Chulanont, whose two pieces of music, “Shall We Skate?” and “Terra Incognita”, are tracks from a soundtrack of a fictional film, one in English and the other in an unspecified language. Chinese skater Guang Hong Ji performs to instrumentals: string track “La Parfum de Fleurs”, and then “The Inferno”, from a fictional action movie soundtrack. Then heartbroken Russian Georgi performs to the English song “A Tales of Sleeping Prince”, a sad track sung by an R&B singer; followed by American Leo de la Iglesia with “Still Alive”, which features a bit of rap in it. His song is also in English, but as he is American it does feel less significant.

Following on from this, we get to the final of the Grand Prix. The first track is “Intoxicated” sung in English, performed by the Swiss skater Christophe Giacometti, followed by Christophe’s free skate classical instrumental piece “Rapsodie Espagnole”. Next is the Korean skater Seung-gil Lee, beginning with “Almavivo”, a Spanish number with mambo elements; followed by Czech skater Emil Nekola and “Anastasis”, an electronic piece from a fictional sci-fi film; then the Italian Michele Crispino and “L’homme Armé” a fanfare from another fictional soundtrack, and then Crispino’s free skate track “Serenade for Two”, a ballad sung in English. After this is the egotistical Canadian Jean-Jacques Leroy and his own “Theme for King JJ”, which you cannot help but find infuriatingly catchy; followed by his slow free skate piece “Partizan Hope”. Then comes Otabek, starting with “Samarkand Overture”, an instrumental piece that pays tribute to a city in Uzbekistan, a country bordering his homeland of Kazakhstan; and then his free skate piece, a rearranged version of the second movement of Ludwig van Beethoven’s 9th symphony, with an added chorus singing in German.

Last are the two pieces for the final exhibition skate at the end of the series, the already mentioned “Welcome to the Madness”, and the finale to the album, “Duet: Stay Close to Me”, a version of Victor’s original theme, but with two singers now, and skated to by both Victor and Yuri K. Thus the album ends with a piece of music that bring the central couple together at last.

While I did say that the album has an international bent to it, the most commonly performed language across the tracks is still English. No surprise as English is the dominant language across the world, but still it shows that the anime is trying to reach out. Then it is mixed with Italian, German and Latin, as well as plenty of instrumental tracks. We also see a wide variety of genres of music played including classical, modern orchestral music, Latin American pieces, jazz, rock and pop.

Listening to the album, and appreciating it alongside the anime, the main theme that seems to run through the entire thing is diversity. You have not just the diversity of musical styles and languages, but you then have the diversity of the cast. It is a series set across different countries and featuring competitors from across the globe. Then there is the already heavily discussed diversity in terms of sexuality. Because of this, the joy with a soundtrack like this is that you will be able to find at least one track on it that you really like, one you will be able to enjoy again and again.

For me, my personal favourite tracks would be “In Regards to Love: Eros” for its role in the story; “Minami’s Boogie” for its swinging, fun sound; “A Tales of Sleeping Prince” for being the most emotional track; “Theme for King JJ” for being a guilty pleasure (the character is annoying but the tune is catchy); and the final “Duet: Stay Close to Me”, for the way it unites Yuri K. and Victor.

All of the tracks are available to download from iTunes.

Details of We Are X Steelbook release announced

Manga Entertainment have revealed the details and artwork of their release of rockumentary We Are X, about Japan’s biggest rock band X Japan.

The Blu-ray Steelbook cover features artwork depicting the band’s frontman, drummer and pianist Yoshiki, drawn by Italian-born American comic book artist Becky Cloonan, who is most famous for being the first woman to draw DC Comics’ main Batman series of comics.

The release also features the following extras:

  • An eight-page booklet.
  • A fan video of the song “Born to be Free”.
  • Live video performances of the songs “Forever Love” and “Kurenai”.
  • Extended interviews with all the current members of X Japan.
  • Deleted scenes.

The Steelbook, which is the first Manga Entertainment’s Mondo x SteelBook® line, is scheduled to be released on 22nd May. A DVD release is also out on the same day. The soundtrack to the film is out now on CD and download – and on the first week of its release it topped the UK Rock & Metal Chart, came third in the UK Soundtrack Albums Chart, and 27th in the main UK Albums Chart – making the soundtrack the first X Japan album to chart in this country. It also came fourth in Japan’s Oricon Albm chart.

Click here to read Anime UK News’s review of the film.

Finder, Volume 8 Review

Copyright: Finder no Mitsuyaku © 2016 Ayano Yamane

WARNING: This article covers an adult title and may cause offense. May also contain spoilers from earlier volumes.

“A photograph is neither taken nor seized by force. It offers itself up. It is the photo that takes you. One must not take photos.” – Henri Cartier-Renoir

There will some people who will be annoyed by the latest volume of Finder, but not strictly because of the contents inside the book.

Among those who will be annoyed are Digital Manga Publishing, who in 2015 went to all the effort to re-release the entire series via crowdfunding, which they did successfully, bringing out all seven volumes that had been previously been released in English, and then they ended up losing the entire licence to Viz Media who have now published the latest volume under their SuBLime label. This in turn leads to another annoyed group: people who will be frustrated that the new cover sticks to SuBLime’s house style, and thus doesn’t fit in with the rest of the books released by DMP under their June label. You also other changes, like changes of staff. However, new translator Adrienne Beck seems to have taken over the reins from Sai Higashi perfectly well. However, we can only really judge when we get access to the volumes DMP have already published as opposed to a brand new book.

However, these issues are merely cosmetic. Once you get into the book itself you see that SuBLime have taken the effort to try and produce a good product, as the eighth volume of Ayano Yamane’s yaoi crime series features bonus side stories and a colour poster. On the down side, in the review copy I was given one of the pages is nearly cut off a bit too much (e.g. part of the “u” in “you” is missed of the page). It doesn’t affect the story really and again it is a cosmetic issue, but it is a sign that when it comes to printing the book you do need some care.

The eighth volume of Finder again continues to follow the relationship between freelance journalistic photographer Akihito Takaba and crime boss Ryuichi Asami. This time, Takaba goes undercover in a club run by one of Asami’s subordinates, Shu Sudo, in order to find a woman who has gone missing. Takaba finds the woman, but learns that she grew up with Sudo and she drugs Takaba.

When Takaba wakes up, he is bound up and attached to crane in a remote warehouse. Sudo has kidnapped him, because he is fed up of Takaba being so close to Asami all of the time, and so plans to kill him using a knife to cut his throat, but not before having his own wicked way with him in the process. It is not long however before the cops show up to arrest Sudo, while Asami is lurking in the darkness protecting Takaba. Takaba and Asami return to their apartment and… well you can guess what they do… but when Takaba wakes up from a nightmare concerning the events that have just happened he finds that there is a blackout in the apartment. Then suddenly a bunch of armed men burst in to try and take both Asami and Takaba down.

Now, clearly this series is not for everyone. There will be people who will find some of the sex scenes objectionable because they are non-consenting and thus are arguably rape scenes. Not only that, but Sudo is also using a knife to threaten to kill Takaba, and thus there is blood in the scene too. However, there are plenty of other sex scenes in the volume that are less of an issue, between Asami and Takaba themselves. Even after writing a series which this year turns 15 (it has taken two-and-a-half years for this volume to be published following the last one), Yamane is still capable of writing some good stuff.

Aside from the erotic side of things, there is still plenty of actual action in this crime-driven story. When the apartment is invaded, Asami gets his gun out to deal with the attacks while Takaba arms himself with a frying pan. There is still plenty in the story to thrill you.

While there will be debate about whether DMP should have lost the license or not, we should be glad that the story is still accessible in English and that the tale itself has not lost anything that makes it enjoyable. But if you are still annoyed by the fact the cover style differs from the rest, then don’t worry, because SuBLime are going to re-release the earlier volumes too, with some extras of their own, with the first volume scheduled for July.

 

Title: Review of Finder, Volume 8
Publisher: SuBLime
Genre: Action, Boys' Love, Crime,
Author(s): Ayano Yamane
Type: Manga
Original vintage: 2002
Format: Book (digital edition available)
Age rating: Mature (+18)
Length: 216 pages

Score: 8/10

Fairy Tail Collection 13 Review

Warning: Review contains episode spoilers

“Hans [Christian] Andersen slept in this room for five weeks – which seemed to the family AGES!” – A note in Charles Dickens’s house.

Last time the Fairy Tail wizards were trying to find the pieces of a magical clock, while all the time battling against the Legion wizards working for the Zootopia Church. However, by the time Fairy Tail manage to collect the pieces, they learn too late that this is actually the one thing that they should NOT do.

The pieces are part of a gigantic magical device called the Immortal Clock, which, when activated, will release a spell called “Real Nightmare” that has the power to alter the perception of time and cause chaos across the world. They also learn of the identities of the people who are responsible for all this troublemaking – the Dark Guild Oracion Seis – or rather, the reformed Dark Guild Neo-Oracion Seis.

The guild, consisting of among others the poison Dragon Slayer Cobra, old Sir Erigor of Esienwald who now refers to himself as Grim Reaper and controls storm magic, and Midnight who now calls himself Brain II, have been responsible for the attacks on churches. Except that it is not the buildings they have been attacking, but celestial wizards protecting the clock. They have been manipulating everything to suit their own ends, including which ones of Fairy Tail’s wizards end up facing them in battle. To top it all off, Neo-Oracion Seis has another member called Imitatia, a wizard capable of impersonating people. The person she has been imitating all this time is Michelle Lobster, Lucy’s supposed relation, who takes Lucy and Natsu prisoner.

Natsu is locked in Zootopia’s prison, while Lucy is taken to the Immortal Clock, because for it to work it must be controlled by a celestial wizard, and she is to be forced to make it go. The rest of Fairy Tail, and later the previously tricked Legion wizards, end up having to try and bust Natsu out of the nick and free Lucy from her plight.

After this is all over, there then comes the matter of some other important guild business. Makarov decides to make Gildarts the new master of Fairy Tail, but before he does so, Gildarts goes away on another trip leaving just two instructions: allow Laxus back into the guild, and make Makarov guild master again.

The other important matter is that over the past seven years (during which many of Fairy Tail’s wizards went missing) Fairy Tail has now become the worst ranked guild in the land, with the new top guild being one called Sabertooth, which has two Dragon Slayers in it: the White Dragon Sting and the Shadow Dragon Rogue. The fastest way to reach the top is to enter into a competition called the Grand Magic Games tournament, which Makarov agrees to, chiefly because of the vast prize money. The problem however is that the likes of Natsu, Gray, Erza and Lucy are all seven years behind mastering the magic abilities, with only the worst wizards making any progress in that time.

Thus they need to make progress over the next three months, but then Lucy is summoned by Virgo to the celestial spirit world which is in danger, taking several other wizards with her. As a result, time that could be used for training might be getting wasted.

In this collection, one of the main attractions is the difference in tone between the two story arcs that appear in it. The first is dark, menacing, and contains its fair share of conspiracy in the Zootopia Church. You also have the subject of betrayal when you discover Michelle’s true identity, but this becomes even more so when you discover that not all the members of Neo-Oracion Seis are who they appear to be, with their memories being manipulated. The story does however have a nice pay-off with the relationship between Lucy and Michelle being fully explained.

The second story arc appears to be jollier, with it seemingly about a contest between wizard guilds, although we have only just started the arc. There is, as seems obligatory with long-running anime series like this, a beach episode, but also we start to learn more about the dragons as well.

One other major factor to be highlighted in this second arc is that it is also arguably the last arc. We are now coming to the end of the first series of Fairy Tail, which ended in March 2013 and then went away for a year. There are only two more collections in the first series left to go, so it is interesting to see how this conclusion builds up.

This time, all the extras in this collection are just on the second disc. There are episode commentaries, trailers, interviews with Todd Haberkorn and Newton Pittman (the English dub voices of Natsu and Gray), and textless opening and closing. This includes new pieces of music, “Break Through” by Going Under Ground for the opening; and my personal favourite of the two, “Kimi ga Kureta Mono” by Shizuka Kudo.

Title: Review of Fairy Tail, Collection 13
Publisher: Funimation (via Anime Limited)
Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy, Fantasy, Shonen
Studio: A-1 Pictures, Satelight
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2009
Format: DVD
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 12
Running time: 275 minutes

Score: 7/10

Archive: Review of Gurren Lagann Ultimate Collection

On 1st April 2007, Gurren Lagann debuted. To mark its 10th anniversary, we have republished our review of All the Anime’s Ultimate Edition boxset which was first put on sale in 2014. The series has since been re-released as a Collector’s Edition exclusive to Zavvi (details here). Sections in italics (except the top quote obviously) specifically concern the Ultimate Edition boxset.

“‘Space’, it says, ‘is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist, but that’s just peanuts to space, listen…’” – The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams.

Past reviews of this anime, including on this website, frequently say that Gurren Lagann is not perfect. In response to this, I reference the following true story. When Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life won the 1983 Grand Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival it was seen by the film director Henry Jaglom, who claimed that it was the best thing Python had ever done. In response Terry Gilliam said to him: “No, there’s great bits in there, but there’s crap in there as well.” Jaglom replied: “No, that’s why it’s great, because the crap is there to balance the greatness.”

This is how I feel about Gurren Lagann. OK the humour is not the most sophisticated, the plot is perhaps not that original, and the animation of one episode was so shoddy that it led to one of Gainax’s co-founders, Takami Akai, having to resign because of the way he handled the criticism. However, when you look at the way that it was made as a whole, the story that was created, the characters that were portrayed, and the sheer scale of the entire project, it all combines into what is probably one of the greatest anime of all time.

People also said at the time that you “shouldn’t believe the hype”. I didn’t believe the hype, because I was unaware of any hype. This was because Gurren Lagann was one of the very first anime I had ever watched, and when it was first shown to me back when I was in the University of Teesside Animation and Comics Society back in 2007, I had never heard of it before. I knew very little about anime at all, but when I watched it I thought: “Yes, that just sums it up. This is one of the best things I have ever seen.”

It was because of Gurren Lagann that I am became interested in anime. Without it I would not be here reviewing stuff for this website, which in turn would mean I would not be reviewing manga for MyM Magazine, which was my first regularly paid job. This was my gateway show. Of course, a single piece of work cannot sum up an entire art-form, but if you wanted to encourage people to take an interest in anime, this would be an ideal title to show.

Now I realise that at this point some people may be rather annoyed that I haven’t actually started reviewing this collection yet, so let’s start.

This “Ultimate Edition” of Gurren Lagann has been in the pipeline for some time. All the Anime announced their plans to release the series back in June 2013, and eventually said this collection of just 2,000 sets would be released in June 2014. However, several problems have meant it has not come out until four months later. This of course is a big deal, not just for the fans but for All the Anime too.

For a six-disc Blu-ray box set with an RRP of £149.99, consisting of the entire TV series, both films (never released in the UK before), the OVA “Parallel Works” (also making their UK debut), a hardback art book and various other extras, this release needed to be perfect. If they messed this up it could ruin the entire company’s future reputation. Have there been any problems – well, there have been some complaints.

In some collections, and I have to report this is true with mine, the glue used on the third Digipack tray is loose and thus it slips around the box. In my opinion this is nothing major and it is not the fault of All the Anime, but of the people who put the box together and All the Anime have made complaints to the manufacturers. Other people have complained about images freezing in Episodes 5, 7 and 10, and some talk about a skip in audio. The company has since issued this statement saying that: “we had to switch in the DVD footage as the best solution since no re-supply was possible in this case. Otherwise, you would have had 9 seconds, 13 seconds and a momentary image freeze with ongoing audio in its place. Not ideal. These are the only instances and as you can tell they are not over any crucial moments, so whilst annoying it doesn’t impact the overall viewing pleasure & quality of watching Team Gurren on your big TV.”

Some people, including on our own forums, have expressed complaints about these cock-ups, especially given how major a release this was for them. Some have been put off by All the Anime altogether; others are complimenting them about their response to the problem. For me personally, I haven’t noticed anything major that disturbs my pleasure from this collection, and I would rather have this series available on Blu-ray, in Region B, that it not be available at all.

If you are unfamiliar with the story, Gurren Lagann is set in a post-apocalyptic future, in which humanity has been driven underground, living in isolated villages. The central character, Simon (pronounced “See-mon” in Japanese), works as a digger, using his conical drill to dig holes to expand the size of the village, as well as to find his own treasure. These bits of treasure include a rather small drill-like key known as a “Core Drill”, and later on some kind of large face. Simon’s friends consist of a shades-wearing “mole-pig” creature called Boota, and a troublesome guy named Kamina. Kamina, normally seen wearing a pair of trademark pointy specs, dreams of going to the surface where he once went as a kid, but no-one else apart from Simon believes him. Things all change however when a gigantic mecha crashes through the village ceiling and chaos ensues.

Kamina starts to fight it, with Simon wanting to hide away, but then a buxom girl named Yoko comes down from the surface with a big rifle and starts firing at the mecha, which she tells the guys is known as a “Gunmen”. Simon comes to realise that the big face he has found is actually that of a small Gunmen and his Core Drill is the key to activating it. Together they use their big-faced Gunmen, which Kamina christens “Lagann” and appropriately enough for Simon it uses drills as a weapon to defeat the Gunman attacking the village. Simon also uses the Lagann to help Kamina, Boota, Yoko and himself to escape to the surface of the world, now a barren wasteland.

Simon and Kamina learn from Yoko that the humans on the surface are constantly attacked by a race of creatures known as the “Beastmen”, who serve a man known as the “Spiral King”. To fight back, Kamina steals his own Gunmen, which he names “Gurren”, and eventually comes up with the idea that Simon’s mecha should combine with his. Amazingly Kamina’s idea works, with the combined “Gurren Lagann” seemingly being stronger than anything else.

With this humanity begins to fight back against the Spiral King, with Simon and Kamina gaining more followers. These include Leeron, a camp gay mechanic from the same village as Yoko; Rossiu, an intelligent boy who originally came from a village where they worshipped an old Gunmen as a god; two young and excitable children from Rossiu’s village called Gimmy and Darry; and a group of Beastman hunters known as the Black Siblings: eldest brother Kittan and his three sisters Kiyoh, Kinon and Kiyal. Together they continue to collect more mecha and fight against the Beastmen, with their most common foe being the shark-toothed Viral of the Human Eradication Army.

As the story progresses, we encounter comedy, tragedy and love in equal measure. The mecha become bigger, as do the battles and the danger. The story itself extends over a period of years. We see the characters, Simon amongst them, growing up but still encountering even more terrible dangers, which not only threaten humanity, but the whole of the Earth.

As stated already, there are several reasons why people might be put off Gurren Lagann, whether it be errors made in this box set or the quality of the series in general. But the positives by far outweigh the negatives. The first thing to mention is the way Gurren Lagann combines so many elements. There is comedy, drama, tragedy, action, romance and science-fiction. It works a bit like the “Gurren Lagann” mecha itself, in that one genre will combine with another to make the show more powerful.

It works brilliantly, and also rather strangely. You will be watching a sequence where there is a huge battle going on, and there is fighting, chaos, carnage and death – the whole scene is full of fear and tension, and while this is all happening, little Boota is hiding away, seeking shelter from all the horror and the hurt, hiding away… in Yoko’s huge tits. You get the feeling that this is what a mecha series would be like, if it was being filmed by the Carry On team.

This is most clearly demonstrated in the sixth episode which is set in a bathhouse. For most of the episode Kamina, Simon and Gimmy constantly try to get a glimpse of the ladies who are also bathing. In this episode there is one scene in which Gimmy sticks his finger up Simon’s arsehole, another in which you see Gimmy totally naked, and in the end Yoko’s bikini flies off Barbara Windsor style.

When this episode was first broadcast in Japan it had to be cut, but the “Director’s Cut” version is all the collections. You also have the original broadcast version of the episode as one of the extras in the “Ultimate Edition”. However, I think that this is one of the best moments in the series, as this is humour that we British can relate to. I feel that it is also important to state, given recent news events [i.e. the then recently introduced UK laws on cartoon pornography], that I feel that there is nothing wrong with the “Director’s Cut”, including the depiction of the naked Gimmy, whose penis is visible in the episode and in some of the other “Ultimate Edition” exclusive features. A person should not feel pressured into thinking that just because you are seeing a picture of a naked child that this automatically makes you some sort of suspect sex offender. Everyone in the world has been seen naked by at least one person, and you cannot and should not criminalise the act of just seeing a person naked, whether they are fictional or in real-life – if you did you’d have to arrest an awful lot of midwives who had just delivered new-borns.

The second reason for why Gurren Lagann is so great are the characters. The main characters especially are brilliant for varying reasons. Simon starts off as being timid, wanting not to fight and at times wishing to return home, but as the story progresses he overcomes obstacle after obstacle. Simon matures and develops into a stronger character. Things really start to happen when Simon encounters the character of Nia, who becomes his love interest and helps Simon to overcome some of the major tragedies that has recently had to face.

Kamina is one of the best anime characters, in my personal opinion. Acting as mentor to Simon, he is the Obi-Wan Kenobi to Simon’s Luke Skywalker. However, Kamina also has the added factor of being possibly the most over-the-top character in anime. He has some of the best lines I have heard in an anime series. How can you not like a character who says things like: “Don’t believe in yourself. Believe in me! Believe in the Kamina who believes in you!” or “Reject common sense to make the impossible possible”, and, “Who the hell do you think you are? Isn’t your drill the one that will pierce the heavens, the earth, and through to tomorrow?”

There are also lots of other elements that combine to add to the greatness. While the animation in the fourth episode is admittedly poor, to the point where it cost the jobs of two staff at Gainax, elsewhere it is brilliant. The character design, the landscapes, the mecha and 3D animation neatly fit together to create a believable setting. Plus there is the soundtrack. The opening theme song, “Sorairo Days” by Shoko Nakagawa, automatically acts as a hook. The end pieces – “Underground” by High Voltage, “Happily Ever After” by Shoko Nakagawa, and “Minna no Peace” by Afromania are also fun. But probably the best is “Rap is a Man’s Soul” by Spontania. I’m not a rap fan, but even I like this. There is also “‘Libera Me’ from Hell”, a combination of rap and classical. The soundtrack should be credited to the composer Taku Iwasaki.

But the best reason by Gurren Lagann is so good is because it is so big. It starts of small, with Simon in his village with his Core Drill. But his Lagann has a big face, which combines with Kamina’s large Gurren. Later they combine with other mecha, and take on bigger enemies. Kamina has his big glasses and a massive passion for what he believes in. Yoko carries a gigantic gun and has plenty of room in her bosom to support Boota. Then the mecha themselves get bigger and bigger. They get so big it seems almost impossible to talk about their size without having to go into bold block capitals for added emphasis. The whole series is so big, brash and loud that it is the sort of show that you want to project on the biggest screen you can find and shout at those passing by to stop whatever they are doing right now and just watch this!

While the series itself is great, we need to turn our attention to the matter of this particular collection, apart from the sliding Digipack and the issues regarding freezing images. Appropriately enough, for such a big series there is plenty extras and bonus material to keep you entertained. Both the “Ultimate Edition” and the standard Blu-Ray edition contain the following extras: Yoko Goes to Gainax!, a behind-the-scenes documentary presented by Marina Inoue, the Japanese voice-actress who provides the voice of Yoko; a collection of early 3D test animation taken from the second half of the series; an animated storyboard, which features the original illustrated storyboards played over the entire 15th episode; and clean opening and closing title sequences, which include the animated music video which is used as the ending for the 16th episode (the compilation episode).

Out of these extras, my personal favourite was the 3D test animation. This is mainly because it features some ideas that did not appear in the final cut of the anime. For example there are sequences in which Nia is riding on Gurren Lagann while they are fighting some mecha that in the end she does not encounter in the anime. The only problem is that none of the written text is translated.

When it concerns the extras that are just on the “Ultimate Edition”, these are plainly obvious as soon as you open the box set. One of these is a hardback 112 page art book, containing designs of the characters, mecha and landscapes. If you are keen on your art this makes for a rather useful reference work. You also get an art card, signed by the “El Presidente” of All the Anime (and the man who has had to deal with all the complaints) Andrew Partridge, which displaying the number of your release (in my case No. 816 out of 2,000). You also get, as previously stated, the original broadcast/censored version of the sixth episode (the one in which you don’t see Gimmy sticking his finger up Simon’s bottom).

But the really big extras are two discs containing anime previously unreleased in the UK: the two Gurren Lagann films – Childhood’s End and The Lights in the Sky Are Stars – and the Parallel Works OVA collection, which are on the fourth disc along with the final episodes.

The two films mostly contain old footage from the original TV series, but also include new material that sometimes gives more background information on the series, and sometimes tries to make the series bigger than it already was. Childhood’s End tells the story up to the battle between the Four Generals of the Spiral King. The Lights in the Sky Are Stars starts briefly with the Battle of Teppelin and then tells the second half of the story.

There are plenty of differences between the two films and the original series however. In Childhood’s End you learn more on how the Spiral King came to be; the contents of several episodes are significantly abridged, mainly the encounters Simon and Kamina have with new characters (Kittan, Rossiu etc.), and rather than the Four Generals attacking separately, three of them gang up on Simon and his followers in a single, climactic battle.

In The Lights in the Sky Are Stars, which in my few is the better of the two films, you see how civilization developed quickly after the Battle of Teppelin, and significant changes to the battles that take place in space. For example, certain characters which are killed in the series remain alive in the film. This seems to be an excuse for the creators to make more mecha, even bigger and more powerful, ultimately creating the final Gunmen which so large that even entire galaxies are dwarfed by it. Given how big Gurren Lagann already is this just knocks the series sideways.

The Parallel Works are a series of short stories with no spoken dialogue, set to music from the original soundtrack. The stories vary wildly in terms of plot and animation style, and most have no relation to the original anime. Stories range to a European medieval retelling of the story with Simon as a knight rescuing a Nia maiden; a steampunk wild west setting with Viral as the hero; a nude Gimmy stealing people’s clothes by sticking fingers up people arseholes; how Kittan got his Gunmen; a surreal sequence in which Gimmy and Darry find a series of strange doors leading to alternative worlds (my personal favourite); and a story with Kiyal as a magical girl. Some of these stories are funny, some are interesting artistically, and others help build the context of the series more. Like with the other extras, the written text is not translated which is annoying in some of the stories, but for most of the xx?, it is about the animation, music and mini-stories, which are made more interesting the lack of any speech.

To sum up, I think the reason I like, and indeed love Gurren Lagann is because that not only can I not imagine a similar programme being made in this country, but I also can’t conceive of a programme being made on such a scale ever again. Simply being so big in terms of the setting, it’s impossible to think of a way that you can top that. While some parts of Gurren Lagann are arguably not original, when it comes to scale it seems to have dwarfed everything before it, and I can’t see anything topping it while maintaining a similar level of quality. It is only fitting that such a big show should get such a big box set. I forgive this series for the faults it has in it. I feel sorry for All the Anime for the problems it has faced during its production and for all the delays it has had.

It is hard to for me to write up a clear view about Gurren Lagann without getting emotional. Yes, I can understand why some people are put off by it, and all the hype that goes along with it, and many people will be angry with the fact this release is not 100% perfect. But Gurren Lagann has never been 100% perfect. Since it began people have complained about it, and people will always complain about it. I don’t think you could ever have a 100% perfect collection of Gurren Lagann. Look at the extras they might have included but didn’t: when Beez Entertainment brought out the series, they had things like the soundtrack and various patches and props that you could use for cosplay purposes like a lighting-up Core Drill. Also, what about episode commentaries or specially made documentaries about the series? The other thing you have to remember is that more Gurren Lagann stuff is always being made. A stage play of the anime has been made, so a future release might have something about that.

Of course, this was always going to be a problem – for an anime so huge it’s truly impossible to include everything good about it in one box set. I know there are issues of cost and licensing, plus for some the idea of making an even bigger collection is daft. You couldn’t do that, it’s just plain common sense. But to quote Kamina, I think we should reject common sense to make the impossible possible.

Title: Gurren Lagann: Complete Series Ultimate Box
Publisher: Anime Limited
Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy, Drama, Mecha
Studio: Gainax
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2007
Format: Blu-Ray
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 15
Running time: 986 minutes

Score: 10/10

Ghost in the Shell live-action movie: What the critics think

Reviews for the long-awaited live-action Hollywood remake of Ghost in the Shell are in, and the reaction is mixed.

Most critics agree that the film directed by Rupert Sanders looks great, and that while Scarlett Johansson is a controversial choice to play Major Motoko Kusanagi she handles the part well. However, there are also a few who say the film itself lacks substance. Many critics have complained that the film has “too much Shell, not enough Ghost”. The majority of reviews appear to have given the film three stars out of five.

Below is a selection of some of the comments from the UK press about the movie.

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The Telegraph: Purists may not want to hear it, but she’s [Johansson] ideal at the conceptual side of the role. The unusual disconnect between Johansson’s intelligence and her coolly dispassionate looks has been exploited before, most brilliantly in Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin. Here she is both ghost and shell – a pair of soulful eyes, welling with memory and confusion, stranded inside a gorgeously supple action figure. – Tom Robey (4 stars)

iNews: Sanders’ live-action version is remarkably faithful to Oshii’s animated classic, to the point where several shots are lifted directly from the original. Plot-wise, there have been a few compromises, like over-explaining what the title means and adding an emotional backstory. But this is otherwise a largely respectful remake that does full justice to the source material. – Matthew Turner (4 stars)

The List: This is fantastic sci-fi for the 21st century: smart, exciting and absolutely stunning (with cityscapes and images that put one in mind of Blade Runner and, now an influencer itself, The Matrix) and featuring strong set-pieces. – Angie Errigo (4 stars)

The Guardian: It is a spectacular movie, watchable in its way, but one which – quite apart from the “whitewashing” debate – sacrifices that aspect from the original which over 20 years has won it its hardcore of fans: the opaque cult mystery, which this film is determined to solve and to develop into a resolution, closed yet franchisable. – Peter Bradshaw (3 stars)

Metro: While visually staggering and better than cynical anime fans are perhaps expecting, it’s a streamlined, lesser version which struggles to go beyond its already deep-rooted cult appeal. If you like flashy sci-fi films with a few GCSEs, you’ll find something to enjoy, but this is neither the success or disaster anyone perhaps wanted it to be. – Adam Starkey (3 stars)

NME: Whatever your take on the whitewashing controversy, Ghost in the Shell is no masterpiece. It’s another entertaining but slightly frustrating origin story with one eye on creating a franchise. There’s substance here, but it doesn’t match the film’s glorious style. – Nick Levine (3 stars)

The Independent: The movie is as much of a hybrid as its lead character. It combines high-minded postmodern philosophising with very generic, often very banal, thriller elements. – Geoffrey MacNab (3 stars)

Empire: So heavily derivative it doesn’t feel like anything new, and there’s little depth beneath that slick surface. But it’s solid and attractive, at least, with a retro appeal to its cyberpunk stylings. – Dan Jolin (3 stars)

Radio Times: A clunky finale that echoes an episode of Robot Wars (with a piece of hardware that could have been made by A-level students) reveals where Sanders has veered off track. Its bluntness at times means Ghost in the Shell probably won’t go down as a classic, but it does keep the cogs turning and if the ticket sales warrant it, there’s ample scope for a sequel to flesh out this fast and furious fembot. – Stella Papamichael (3 stars)

Den of Geek: Fans of the original manga and anime, who expect something as thought-provoking as the original, may be disappointed that the movie spends more time on gun-fu, chases and lingering shots of buildings than on fully exploring the ideas it raises. As a live-action, glossy evocation of the original Ghost In The Shell, however, Sanders’ film is well worth seeing on the big screen. – Ryan Lambie (3 stars)

Digital Spy: Utterly, unquestionably gorgeous to look at, but at heart a fairly bog-standard futuristic action movie, GITS is all Shell with barely a Ghost of anything inside. – Ross Fletcher (3 stars)

Financial Times: The main plot questions — “Can a cyborg have human feelings?” and “Might this one, named Mira, have human memories too?” — are sci-fi riddles that have become riddled with age and cinematic overuse. Worse: Scarlett Johansson herself has done this alien-being stuff so often (Her, Lucy, Under the Skin) that her casting seems criminally lazy. – Nigel Andrew (3 stars)

Daily Mirror: Beneath the glossy exterior there’s not much spirit to be found in this curate’s egg of a sci-fi action thriller. A hard working Scarlett Johansson stands at the centre of the spectacular visuals, but even the Avengers star can’t bring the soulless storytelling to boil. – Chris Hunneysett (2 stars)

FACT Mag: The best thing you can say about Ghost in the Shell 2017 – beyond crafting nostalgia for Oshii’s original film – is that it has inspired many to speak out about Hollywood’s diversity problem. If the prospective audience stays home and Paramount Pictures learns from this experience, there will be more than a basis for the Majors and Motoko Kusanagis of the future to be played by Asian actresses – regardless as to what Oshii may think. – Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy (no rating given)

The Spectator: Ghost in the Shell is the Hollywood live-action remake of the 1995 Japanese anime of the same name and it’s set at a time in the future when, it would appear, the world is populated by blandly one-dimensional characters. Evil is perpetrated by our old friend, Corporate Evil Man — yes, still — and everyone communicates via dialogue so stilted and ham-fisted it makes you die inside a little. That said, at the media screening I attended we were all given a free bag of high-end crisps, so it wasn’t two hours totally wasted. (I do really like crisps, high-end or otherwise.) – Deborah Ross (no rating given)

Mobile Suit Gundam Movie Trilogy Review

“The condition of man… is a condition of war of everyone against everyone.” – Thomas Hobbes.

The original Mobile Suit Gundam series that ended in 1980 was not a success. In fact, the series got axed. It was only afterwards when big sales of toys based on the series and repeats of the show indicated that the series had an appeal – and sure enough, Gundam has been around ever since.

One of the other factors that help to cement the success of the original series was a trilogy of three compilation films. The first, simply known as Mobile Suit Gundam I debuted in March 1981. This was followed by Soldiers of Sorrow in July 1981, and finally by Encounters in Space which came out almost exactly a year after the first movie. For the first time, these films are now available to buy, although they are only available via All the Anime’s own website, and there are only 500 copies. However, it is not just the location and number of copies which limit this collection. You can only buy it on Blu-ray, you can only watch it with subtitles as there is no dub, and there are no extras at all.

Also, remember that these are compilation films. These three movies mainly consist of material from the TV series, which is already available to buy on Blu-ray and DVD in the UK.

For those unfamiliar with the series, it takes place in year Universal Century 0079, and humanity has expanded from Earth and is now living in various space colonies called “Sides”, under the rule of the Earth Federation. One Side however, Side 7, has rebelled, declaring itself the Principality of Zeon and an independent nation. Thus a war has begun between the two sides that after eight months has killed half the human population and ended in a stalemate after eight months.

The Federation’s newest weapon to fight back against Zeon is the “Gundam” mobile suit. A young boy named Amuro Ray is caught up in a battle when he finds it and pilots the Gundam himself. This results in him and other civilians being drafted into the Federation’s army in the warship White Base. Amuro ends up fighting against the might of the Zeon forces, in particular the “Red Comet” Char Aznable, who has his own private reasons for fighting the war – namely his desire to eliminate the Zabi royal house who rule Zeon and in turn tried to kill his family. However, Amuro ends up battling his own personal demons, and finds himself slowly evolving into the next stage of humanity, the “Newtype”.

The first of the three films covers Amuro’s first battles in the Gundam up to the death of Garma Zabi; the second film continues from there and ends with White Base’s arrival and departure from the Jaburo base; and the third film deals with the final battles in space with Amuro gaining his Newtype abilities.

The main reason for getting this box set is to see the new material that is included in these films. These include making some elements more realistic than they were in the TV series, and more details about some of the battles.

However, at £34.99 it seems that you are paying too much for so little that is actually new. Most of the stuff in the films appears in the original TV programme, and at least in that you get a choice of sub or dub. This collection therefore is really for the completists. It is for that die-hard core of Gundam lovers who want to embrace all the aspects of the show.

Therefore, if you’re already a fan of the series and this is something missing from your collection then here is the opportunity to finally get what you want. If you’re a more casual fan however, best stick with the TV version and get the full, unabridged story.

Title: Review of Mobile Suit Gundam Movie Trilogy
Publisher: Anime Limited
Genre: Action, Mecha, Military, Sci-fi
Studio: Nippon Sunrise
Type: Movie
Original vintage: 1981
Format: Blu-Ray
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles
Age rating: 12
Running time: 413 minutes

Score: 5/10

One Piece, Collection 16 Review

Episodes 373-396, may contain spoilers.

A man’s face is his autobiography. A woman’s face is her work of fiction.” – Oscar Wilde.

This collection marks several landmarks in One Piece: it sees the end of the “Thriller Bark” arc and the start of “Sabaody” arc; we witness the official addition of the ninth and currently final member of the Straw Hat Pirates; and as there will be 781 episodes of the anime broadcast by the time this review is published, it means that with this collection we pass the half-way point of the entire anime adaptation.

We begin with the Straw Hats finishing their duel with Gecko Moria on Thriller Bark, with Monkey D. Luffy being able to regain his strength to return the shadows stolen by Moria to their original owners. This means that 1,000 people, including Zoro, Sanji, Nico Robin and Brook, can now safely live under the sun’s rays again. However, there is little time to celebrate as Nami recognises another terrifying figure who makes his appearance: Bartholomew Kuma, another of the Seven Warlords.

Kuma has been given the job of killing Luffy. Everyone tries to stop him, but Kuma has the powers of the “Paw-Paw Fruit” which allow his hands to reject anything he touches, as well as the ability to warp instantly from one place to another. He also reveals himself to be a type of robotic weapon called a “Pacifista”, made by the world’s greatest scientist, Dr. Vegapunk.

Kuma uses his powers to create a high-pressure bomb that devastates the whole ship, with only Zoro still being able to fight Kuma. Zoro asks for his life to be taken instead of Luffy’s, but in exchange Kuma uses his powers to make Zoro feel all the pain that Luffy felt in his battle with Moria. Kuma then departs and Zoro collapses from the pain, while Luffy ends up being perfectly fit. The Straw Hats then rest for a while, with Luffy inviting Brook to join the crew. Brook agrees, in order to fulfil his previous crew’s promise of reuniting with Laboon the whale, and thus the Straw Hats end up with nine pirates. During this time we also learn that Blackbeard has been made a Warlord and that Ace is in grave danger.

After a small bit of filler, mainly consisting of a flashback of Brook’s backstory and an encounter with an old enemy, we return to the main story. After crossing a dangerous current which includes a sea filled with waterspouts, the Straw Hats reach the Red Line, meaning that they have sailed halfway around the world. The issue now is how to cross it. Then the Thousand Sunny is attacked by a huge sea monster with Luffy defeats, but the monster vomits up two individuals: a talking starfish named Pappagu, and his master Carie, a mermaid who keeps getting caught by all sorts of monsters.

Carie learns that her fishman boss has been kidnapped by Macro, who works for a group called the Flying Fish Riders. The Riders plan to take him to the Sabaody Archipelago, which holds a slave market. Sabaody is also the only accessible route for pirates to cross the Red Line, so Luffy and his crew agree to help. Things soon go wrong however. Firstly the identity of Carie’s boss is someone known to the crew – someone who once helped to make Nami’s life a misery. Then there is the problem with the leader of the Flying Fish Riders, Duval, who is desperate to kill Sanji – because it was Duval’s sketchy face that appeared on Sanji’s wanted poster.

After finally dealing with this they make their way to Sabaody itself, which, while on the surface seeming friendly, is home to all sorts of shady business. For starters, there are 11 “Supernovas” on the island, these being pirates with bounties with over 100,000,000 berries on their heads. Two of them are Luffy and Zoro, but there are other pirates on Sabaody too, such as the “Surgeon of Death” Trafalgar Law. There is also Sabaody’s brutal use of slavery, and the power of the World Nobles, also known as the Celestial Dragons. These descendants of the founders of the World Government are so powerful that if a pirate harms them, an admiral will come down to punish the wrongdoer. It is not long before the Straw Hats end up in trouble on the archipelago.

As said at the beginning, this collection is important for being a landmark in several ways. The main one of these is that Brook is now confirmed as a Straw Hat Pirate, and we now have the full crew (at the time of writing). What we have therefore is the completion of what is arguably the best ensemble cast of characters in anime. With Luffy, Zoro, Nami, Usopp, Sanji, Chopper, Robin, Franky and Brook all finally together, we can enjoy the whole crew having fun and fighting it out among themselves. It is also interesting to see the reappearance of some old characters and the introduction of some new ones, with Trafalgar Law in particular playing an important role in the story later on, although he doesn’t say much in this collection.

Another plus point has been the pacing of the story. Although it was a tad perplexing as to why they ended the Thriller Bark arc in this collection rather than the previous one, this collection does end at a nice dramatic point in the story. The filler itself is not too bad either, nor is it too long. This is probably down to the fact that the two story arcs in this collection are among the shortest in the One Piece canon. Not only is the current story paced well, but we are given knowledge of a future storyline involving Ace; a plot that those who are familiar with One Piece will know counts as probably the most dramatic in the entire series.

There are however still some issues with the show, chief among these being the animation. The computer animation is still slow and clunky. Also, some of the normal animation looks a tad off. There is one short scene in which Zoro drinks a glass of water that looks a bit shoddy.

However, this aside, this is still one of the better collections, with the story building up to the next major battle. It is all looking good so far.

 

Title: Review of One Piece, Collection 16
Publisher: Manga Entertainment
Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy, Fantasy, Shonen
Studio: Toei Animation
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 1999
Format: DVD
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 12
Running time: 563 minutes

Score: 8/10