Fairy Tail, Collection 10 (Ep. 109-120) Review

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“As the poet said, ‘Only God can make a tree’ – probably because it’s so hard to figure out how to get the bark on.” – Woody Allen.

It has been nearly two years since the last Fairy Tail collection was released on DVD in the UK, previously brought out by Manga Entertainment. Now All The Anime (Anime Limited) has brought the series back, which is a relief – particularly as we were partway through a storyline, so either people have been waiting over 18 months to see the end of it, or have had to import the US release and are thus perhaps not tempted to get this. Thus, not only is it a brave move for All The Anime to bring it back, but there is a need to recap where we have left off.

At the Fairy Tail guild, eight of the wizards are taking on the “S-Class Wizard Promotion Trail”, each assisted by another wizard in the guild. This is on Tenrou Island, an island with a gigantic tree with another island on top of it. The island is home to the grave of Mavis Vermillion, the founder of the guild, and the current task is to be the first to reach the grave. However, as the task has unfolded a dark guild named Grimoire Heart has attacked the island, using a group of seven powerful wizards including Zeref, the wizard who caused massive destruction around the world 400 years ago. The last collection ended with various wizards fighting their own battles, the current head of Fairy Tail Makarov being knocked out, and Celestial wizard Lucy being put to sleep by the wizard she is meant to be helping, the chronic alcoholic tarot user Cana.

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Moving on to the actual episodes in this collection, Lucy awakens from her sleep only to be attacked by a dark wizard who controls people using a voodoo doll, while fiery Natsu and his feline friend Happy are in the battle with another wizard who can manipulate time, and sword-and-armour-changing Erza and water manipulator Juvia deal with someone who makes blades seemingly out of light. Meanwhile, Cana attempts to find Mavis’s grave, where in the flashback we learn that one of the reasons she is so keen on obtaining an S-Class rank is because when she does she will reveal her identity to her father, who happens to be another one of Fairy Tail’s wizards. As the episodes roll on, Lucy, Natsu, Erza, ice-maker Gray, young Wendy and others attempt to battle against the Grimoire Heart wizards, and upon meeting the head of the guild discover that he happens to have a connection to Fairy Tail as well.

The first thought concerning this collection is simply the fact that it is good to see it released in the UK again. Being away for so long you’d suspect that no-one would touch it, as British distributors would assume that most British anime fans would just go for the American release. However, we should praise All the Anime for at least giving it a go.

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It is also good just to see the episodes again. If you haven’t watched it since the last British release it is probably worth dipping into at least the last collection again, but it is worth it as the things that make Fairy Tail good are still there, such as the great action sequences and the fun characters.

The last collection was notable for having a few errors. This time around there are fewer things to complain about. Scene selection doesn’t seem to be a problem anymore and the subtitles appear to be fine. You still have some annoying things, like the ads that pop up when you load the DVD that you cannot skip through, promoting Funimation’s shows that are released by other companies in the UK (namely Karneval and Dragon Ball Z, both of which are Manga Entertainment releases).

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Funimation do, however, provide a nice selection of bonus features in this collection. There is the textless opening and closing, including the new themes: “Hajimari no Sora” by +Plus, and “Glitter (Starving Trancer Remix)” by Another Infinity (both of which are good). There are also two episode commentaries, a selection of trailers, and documentary “Marketing a Fairy Tail”.

This collection of Fairy Tail has been fun, thrilling and exciting. It’s good to see it back.

Title: Fairy Tail
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: 300 minutes

Score: 8/10

Streaming review of Yuri!!! On Ice, Episodes 1-8 (Crunchyroll)

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“Galocher – to kiss with tongues.”
“La galoche – an ice-skating boot.”
– Definitions from Petit Robert, France’s most popular dictionary.

It seems that in France ice skating and kissing go hand-in-hand (I know neither of those definitions involves hands, but it feels weird referring to it as “foot-in-mouth” because you keep accidentally thinking of “foot-and-mouth” which is a very different area), so perhaps many a French fujoshi and fudanshi may have been watching in awe last week when they (kind of) got what they finally wanted – a sports anime where the central characters were both gay and in a relationship, as indicated by what has probably become the most talked about scene in anime this year. But to reference another gay icon, Kenny Everett: “I’m giving away the plot! Go and see it – it’s all done in the best possible taste!” Let’s stick to the chronology before we get to the big moment.

The “Yuri” in the title is a bit confusing. Firstly, it is not “Yuri” as in “lesbian manga”, this is guys we are talking about – and it’s guys in the plural as there are two Yuris. The first is 23-year-old Japanese figure skater Yuri Katsuki (who for the purposes of this review we shall refer to as Yuri K.), who is pretty talented in his sport but recently has been in a slump. He doesn’t cope well under pressure and as a result has slipped down the rankings. The other Yuri is a Russian figure skater named Yuri Plisetsky (later referred to as Yurio), a 15-year-old with natural talent and a punk-like attitude. This is made clear at the end of one tournament when Yurio finds Yuri K. hiding in the gents, upset, and tells Yuri K. to quit the sport.

Yuri K. does unofficially leave figure skating, distancing himself from his coach and returning to his hometown where his family run an onsen. During this time, Yuri K.’s hero, 27-year-old Victor Nikiforov of Russia, wins his fifth consecutive Grand Prix Final. Yuri K. decides to visit his local skating rink, where he performs Victor’s winning routine in front of the rink’s owners (and his childhood friends) the Nishigori family. His performance is perfect, but there is one problem: the triplet children of the Nishigori family record Yuri K.’s performance, then post it online, and the whole thing goes viral.

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The fallout from this is pretty dramatic. While Yuri K. tries to relax in the family springs, he gets an unexpected visitor – Victor Nikiforov – who saw the clip and was so impressed that he demands to be Yuri K.’s new coach. As a result Victor moves in and makes the shock announcement that he is having an ‘off’ season. When the press track Victor down, Yurio then arrives on the scene and tries to take Victor back to Russia, because Victor has promised him that he would coach him for his senior debut. To sort out the problem, a contest is held at the rink and whoever does the best out of the two will be coached by Victor. Yuri K. wins with a routine based on the theme of “Eros”, and thus Victor does become Yuri K.’s coach, with both Yuris promising that they will win the next Grand Prix.

Thus Yuri K. and Victor begin their competition, facing off against fellow Japanese competitors and challengers from overseas. After qualifying to represent Japan in the Grand Prix, their first assignment is in China where Yuri K. is able to perform under huge pressure. Despite his nerves, he is able to skate wonderfully, to the delight of the crowd and Victor especially, which leads to the big scene referred to earlier, which occurs at the end of the seventh episode. After the end of his routine, Victor and Yuri K. rush to each other, arms open wide, and as a close-up indicates, with their lips very close together. However, just before you see anything, Victor’s arm blocks the sight of it, although the reactions of just about everyone watching the event in the stadium and at home seem to indicate that what actually happened was that these two guys kissed – and as if that is not enough, the next assignment will see the duo in Russia taking on Yurio.

Obviously the main talking point of Yuri!!! On Ice has been the kiss scene, but before we talk about this, let’s look at the ups and downs of the show so far. Dealing with the negative points to begin with – first, there is annoyingly little explanation of how figure skating works. One of the problems with sports anime is that it often covers sports that many people don’t know the rules to, and thus they have to explain what certain things are: this is down in Haikyu!! and more recently All Out!!, but Yuri!!! On Ice (which at least does come top in the list of the sports anime that overuse exclamation marks) don’t explain what all the fancy jumps are, which for me has always been one of the major put-offs of any of these sports in real-life. It would be nice if the show explained the scoring system or told you what a “Salchow” is – for anyone wondering, it’s a jump where you start off from the back inside edge off one foot.

Another issue comes from the fact that much of the time rather than getting on with the plot, you are seeing all the other competitors doing their routines, which again is a problem given the lack of explanation in some of the terminology. All you can really judge the characters by is their passion as explained in their internal monologue, and whether or not they fall down at any point. As a result, you kind of care less for some of the minor characters because often you don’t know what is going on.

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On the plus side, there is the overall quality of the animation, as well as the impressive soundtrack – not just the opening and closing music, namely “History Maker” by Dean Fujioka and “You Only Live Once” by Wataru Hatano – but also the incidental music, such as the tracks the skaters perform too. But for me, the main plus point is the diversity. Anime is often a closed shop when it comes to characters of different ethnic backgrounds, but Yuri!!! On Ice is able to make up for this. Not only is the central relationship between someone from Japan and someone from Russia, but we also have characters from China, Thailand, Switzerland, Canada, Italy, South Korea, Kazakhstan, the Czech Republic, and the main American skater is Hispanic. Perhaps this is not surprising given the director of the series, Sayo Yamamoto, is the same woman behind Michiko and Hatchin, which is set in Latin America.

If you want a more detailed argument, you are probably best reading the posts on the AUKN forums by our reviewer IncendiaryLemon, who dropped the series after six episodes, and editor Rui. I can assure you it is about ten minutes of your life you will never get back (sorry guys).

But now it is time to finally discuss the key moment. The one that has got so many people talking over the past week: the scene at the end of the seventh episode in which all the evidence suggests that Yuri K. and Victor kissed. If you look at some of the social media websites, in particular the more American-dominated ones like Tumblr, you will see post after post explaining how, even though you never actually see the kiss, it definitely happened.

You can see people drawing lines behind Victor’s arm showing that if it wasn’t there you would have clearly seen the two kissing each other; you can look at the claims that the reactions of everyone watching the moment are a clear indication that nothing other than a kiss would have proved that shocking; you can even examine the claims that the show references actual real-life gay figure skaters: namely footage of a young Victor shows him wearing the same outfit as Johnny Weir, an openly gay American skater who has reportedly faced much prejudice in his career, which I find amazing – in the sense of finding figure skating to be a homophobic sport, when it comes across as one of the glitziest, showy, camp sports around. These are people dressed in sparkly suits, dancing around and in Yuri K.’s case being taught by a ballet teacher. To a figure skating layman like me, if you were to ask me about homosexuality in figure skating, I would have said that I was less surprised that openly gay Weir was facing discrimination and more amazed at the fact that Torvill and Dean were married to each other. The only sport I can think of as being camper is an all-male cheerleading squad (I can’t watch Cheer Boys!! without regrettably sniggering).

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However, despite all this and all the support that this scene has, my reaction has been one of frustration. Part of this is partly due to my own background – I’m pansexual and have been in a long-distance relationship with a genderfluid American for six years, as of 1st December. As someone who is pansexual, a fudanshi, and a fan of all these sports anime that appeal to someone of my personal tastes, I’m frustrated at the fact you don’t see the actual kiss yourself, on screen. You go by everyone else’s reaction. Because you don’t see the kiss, you still have that tiny seed of doubt in your head that the kiss didn’t actually happen. I’m 99.999% sure the kiss did occur, but that 0.001% is horribly getting to me. I don’t want to go by what everyone else sees – I want to see what is actually going on, and share in the reaction of the characters at the same time as them.

One of the problems is the pressure to accept that the kiss just happened. Thanks to Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and the other social media outlets, you sometimes get the feeling that if you say that the kiss didn’t happen the immediate reaction is fans will accuse you of homophobia, or will say that you wouldn’t feel like that if it was a straight kiss or perhaps a lesbian kiss. One article I’ve read concerning Yuri!!! On Ice was on Anime Feminist where Amelia Cook writes:

“Since the episode aired I have seen raw, vulnerable reactions from LGBTQ+ fans openly stating how deeply it affected them to see queer subtext made text, how they hoped it would be seen by young people who aren’t yet old enough to feel comfortable with their identities, how much seeing such a moment would have meant to them at that age. Why on earth would anyone in our fandom actively seek to reduce such an impact?”

Well, maybe it is because of my age (I’m 30), or maybe it is because I’m British and our country has had a troubled history concerning gay rights – yes, we now have gay marriage, but it wasn’t until the 1960s that homosexuality was legalised; it wasn’t until 2003 when Section 28 which banned teaching anything positive about homosexuality in schools was finally lifted; in Northern Ireland there is a big row over a Christian bakery refusing to bake a pro-marriage cake for a gay couple, bringing up debates on gay rights and freedom of speech on both sides – but I don’t think we have reached that far yet. Yes, it has made a great impact, but the impact is still a little short for me. Mind you, in terms of gay rights we Brits are still further ahead than the home countries of the main characters. Japan only recognises same-sex partnerships in some areas and with no legal standing, while Russia’s negative attitude towards gay rights is pretty well known. Cook also writes:

“Victor’s arm obscuring where his lips meet Yuri’s cannot possibly be an artistic decision; either we see them kiss or there was no kiss. Disagree? Prove it. Never mind that obscuring a kiss is completely consistent with the show’s storytelling style so far, leaving deliberate information gaps and inviting viewers to read between the lines. Pics or it didn’t happen.”

I’m sorry, but I genuinely don’t think we’ve reached that point yet where simply implying that a gay kiss happened means the characters are certainly gay. That is a future step, the one beyond, that the next wave of anime might take us. But what Yuri!!! On Ice can do is take the next immediate step and actually show an on-screen kiss, uncensored, beyond all doubt, showing that these characters are definitely a gay couple. Now it should be highlighted that the eighth episode also features kisses, but one is of Yuri K. blowing a kiss to the judges, which, while not that romantic is certainly fun; and the other is another blocked-off kiss in which Victor kisses Yuri K.’s skating boot, which is not as exciting as flesh-on-flesh contact and thus not really any further indication of anything romantic – unless it turns out that Victor has some form of foot fetish.

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I wish to say that I bear no animosity towards anyone, in particular to Cook whose article makes many great points and I would urge people to read at their leisure. What I am trying to say is this: it is good that we seem to have a canon gay relationship in a relatively mainstream sports anime series and that these characters appear to kiss. It would be great if we could actually see those lips meet, for the characters to declare their love and their relationship openly, to rid my and indeed anyone’s mind of that 0.001% of doubt.

Let me put it this way: in a year that, let’s be honest, has been pretty shit for just about every decent human being concerned, one of the ways that I would definitely be cheered up would be to see Yuri K. and Victor do a kiss on screen. It doesn’t have to be a big kiss. It’s doesn’t have to be a galoche, it can be a simple peck. But I do want it to be one where I and everyone else in the 3D world can clearly see happening.

For me, personally, I would be ecstatic if I saw it. It would be for me, personally, not just the anime event, but the TV event of the year, because after years of being a fan of all these sports anime like Free!, Haikyu!!, Kuroko’s Basketball, DAYS, All Out!!, Cheer Boys!!, Yowamushi Pedal, Prince of Stride and so on, it would be great not to have to simply imply the characters are gay, but say that they definitely are, and that they love each other, no matter what hardships they may face.

Title: Yuri!!! On Ice
Publisher: Crunchyroll (streaming)
Genre: Shonen-ai, Sport
Studio: MAPPA
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2016
Format: Legal stream
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles
Running time: 200 minutes

Score: 8/10

Review of Scumbag Loser

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SAITEIHEN NO OTOKO -Scumbag Loser- vols 1, 2, 3 © 2012, 2013 Mikoto Yamaguti / SQUARE ENIX CO., LTD.

“Employee of the month is a good example of how somebody can be both a winner and a loser at the same time.” – Demetri Martin

Released as a single omnibus edition, horror manga Scumbag Loser is a series that seems hard to appreciate. Maybe this is the reason why Yen have released it as one large book rather than three separate volumes, because the overall feeling reading it is that if the volumes were individually released the chances of stopping after the first volume would be much greater.

Perhaps one issue it is has is the unappealing central character, the “scumbag loser” in question. Masahiko Murai is a high school student who is pretty lower down in terms of popularity in his class. The only positive quality he seems to have is that he has a very good sense of smell, but this is outweighed by the fact that the smells he likes are usually unappealing. For example, the first thing he is seen smelling is a pair of girl’s knickers.

Murai is also obsessed with people he considers to be losers and trying to prove that is above what he calls the “biggest losers”. In his class the biggest loser is the ugly and smelly Yamada, but things then suddenly change when Yamada announces that he has a girlfriend, which in Murai’s mind means that he is now the biggest loser, something that he cannot handle. Thus, he falsely claims to have a long-distance girlfriend, and picks the name Haruka Mizusawa, a girl he knew five years ago. But then, to his horror, he finds that Haruka Mizusawa has transferred to his class – and she does indeed claim that Murai is her boyfriend, completely unprompted. The reason why Murai is filled with horror? Mizusawa died five years ago.

After school, Murai and Mizusawa meet up. Murai asks Mizusawa to actually be his girlfriend, and promises that he will do anything to keep the relationship going. Mizusawa, who appears to have a sadistic streak complete with a menacing grin, demands that from now on she wants Murai to introduce her to the “biggest losers” that he knows every Wednesday. This then begins to snowball, partly because of Mizusawa’s disturbing personality, but also because the personalities of everyone in Murai’s class, as well as those of his family, start to change dramatically.

As stated, it is a hard manga to like, primarily because the characters are relatively unappealing. The manga is called Scumbag Loser for good reason. Murai is unpleasant and unattractive, while Mizusawa is manipulative. However, as a horror manga, unpleasantness is what you should expect. The best character in my view comes later on in the story. Yumi Ookura is a wannabe pop idol who auditions for an idol group whose manager wants unappealing members. In the case of Ookura, it’s that she has no social skills. She too also becomes obsessed with Mizusawa, who also auditions for the group.

However, there are some positives to this series, the main one being the artwork. Mikoto Yamaguti’s art is suitably creepy, especially when it comes to drawing Mizusawa’s toothy grin. It kind of puts you in mind of the Titans in Attack on Titan, in that you can almost envision her eating those she torments. Plus, this smile starts to spread towards other people, making it even creepier in its sudden uniformity.

Having said this though, sometimes the artwork is not so great. The “Mature” rating of Scumbag Loser mainly comes from the violence as there is a fair amount of blood spilt in this manga. Whenever there is nudity or a sex scene, what are seen as the rudest parts (i.e. the groins and the nipples) are always obscured – sometimes in odd ways. For example, there is a scene where Mizusawa and Ookura’s idol group entertain some fans sexually, so they have their buttoned-up shirts unfastened and opened so you can see part of their breasts, but not fully so the nipples are covered. However, at some angles it feels like the shirt is covering so little that you feel that the nipples are almost on the sides of the boobs rather than on the front.

Scumbag Loser is a hard manga to get through: the length, the characters, the plot make it a bit of a slog. The artwork in some areas does make it enjoyable, but sometimes when you are reading through the book it feels that it just isn’t worth it.

Title: Scumbag Loser
Publisher: Yen Press
Genre: Horror, Psychological
Author(s): Mikoto Yamaguti
Type: Manga
Original vintage: 2012
Format: Book
Age rating: 18
Length: 600 pages

Score: 4/10

Geeks, Otaku & Weeaboos: The language and range of fandom

“Those of us who are geeks, OK, real geeks, who earned our geekhood at school through sweat and loneliness and wedgies will no long stand idly by and watch our geekly identity taken from us be people who think geekhood is nothing more than wearing cute glasses and an asymmetric fringe – particularly not when they are the very people who gave us the wedgies at school!” – John Finnemore

While I’ve been having many of the ideas for this piece for some time, the main impetus for writing this feature comes not from an anime, but from the new series of stand-up comedy show Dave Gorman: Modern Life is Goodish.

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In the first episode of the new series, starting on Dave on 8th November at 22.00, Gorman deals with the subject of guilty pleasures, fandom and why he is not a geek when loads of other people mistakenly think he is. When discussing fandom, he talks about those annoying groups of fans that seem to suck the joy out of a subject you might have an interest in, or as he calls them: “extractor fans”.

I would advise everyone to watch the episode, but for those of you living outside the UK and are unable to access the episode, here is a quick explanation. Gorman claims that “extractor fans” fall into three groups:

  • “I can’t believe you’ve never heard of…” – e.g., someone who is outraged by the fact you haven’t heard of a particular thing and then show off that they know all about it.
  • “Unless you like them as much as me, then you’re not a real fan of…” – e.g., annoying completists, which if you are an anime fan is troublesome because that also means the expense of importing expensive stuff from Japan.
  • “I don’t like them now everyone else likes them…” – e.g., people who hate anything once it becomes mainstream.

Now we in the anime community have our own group of annoying fans: “weeaboos”, or “weeb” for short. If we go by Wiktionary, their definition of weeaboo is: “A non-Japanese person (especially one of Caucasian ancestry) who is obsessed with Japan and behaves in a stereotypically Japanese manner.” For some people it is considered a useful term, pointing out when certain fans are being infuriating or ignorant, and perhaps should educate themselves more on the subject of Japan and its history. People must be aware that no country is perfect, and must acknowledge what they have done wrong as well as what they have done right. However, for other people the term “weeaboo” is a xenophobic word. To quote one of AUKN’s editors when I was drafting the article: “it tends to be rolled out to trash any fan who doesn’t display a cool dismissal of anime’s Japanese roots in certain communities, discouraging people from learning Japanese or engaging with the wider fan community across the world.”

Recently, I feel that the term “weeaboo” is now being misused, and no longer being used to describe annoying fans like many people do currently. I have seen on social media people calling anime fans “weeaboos” because they happen to like a popular anime. Anime-loving extractor fans are now calling people weeaboos because they like the most popular series around such as One Piece, Naruto and Sword Art Online.

One example I’ve found is a Tumblr post where an anonymous person says: “How can I tell if I’m a weeb?” The person responding says: “Easy. What is the first thing you think when you see this?” Then they post this picture.

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And then adds: “Thought so. Weeb.”

If this is a joke it is a rather pathetic one. What this person seems to be saying is that if you know that this hat is worn by Monkey D. Luffy, the main character in One Piece, that makes you a weeaboo and thus an annoying fan. That hat belongs to the lead character in the single most popular manga series ever made. Loads of people are going to recognise it because it is such a famous show. It is like accusing people of being annoying fans of all things American because they recognise a large stack of blue hair belongs to Marge Simpson, or you are annoying Anglophile because you know who says: “Don’t tell them Pike!” Knowing who wears that hat doesn’t make you a weeaboo – it means you have a basic working knowledge of anime and manga.

Mind you, it should be acknowledged that the snobbery can be reversed. If you are only into mainstream shows and think people who are into niche anime are being pretentious, then you are just as annoying the people who are only into the obscure stuff and shun the popular.

It saddens me to see such a term being misused, but at the same time I know that this sort of thing is inevitable. Language is constantly evolving. Words change and gain new meanings. Take the word “gay”. It used to mean “happy”, then it meant “homosexual”, and now some people use it to mean “rubbish” or “uncool”. Similarly the word “geek” had a very different meaning. A geek was originally a performer at a freak show – normally someone who bit the heads off live chickens.

The problem comes down to how you define something or someone as being geeky, something which again is dealt by Gorman. As he says, if you have seen Star Trek, that doesn’t make you a geek, because Star Trek is such an incredibly popular programme, but, “If you go to Star Trek conventions and speak Klingon”, that makes you a Star Trek geek.

Another term that has problems when defined is “otaku”. In the west, we use it to mean an anime fan, but in Japan the term is used to mean someone who is obsessive, and it doesn’t just refer to anime or manga. You can be an otaku about any subject. The term is also an insult, popularised by Akio Nakamori who is famous for his deeply-critical views on pop culture and people attending conventions. Later Tsutomu Miyazaki, dubbed the “Otaku Murderer” by the Japanese media, who would go on to make the term even more negative. Given this, “otaku” seems less of a synonym for “fan” or “geek”, and closer to our British term “anorak” in its negativity.

In terms of a solid definition, I would recommend this piece from Tofugu, dealing with the term’s origins, controversy and meaning. Here, they claim that otaku focus on the following:

  • Sharing information.
  • Possessing their passion – examining it in every detail.
  • Going further by creating their own works: costumes, fiction, art, etc.

The article also differentiates between an “otaku” and a “maniac”. The latter are “spectators in their obsession” and want to collect things, whereas the former, an otaku, combines both the physical and the intangible. They want the action-figure and to learn more about the series in question. They want the homemade, derivative products too. As a result, I would say a “maniac” is closer in definition to “anorak” than “otaku” is. After all, you don’t tend to hear about train-spotters making their own creative projects. The only example I can think of is the co-creator of the British adult comic book Viz Chris Donald who collects full-size train stations, one of which he turned into the world’s most geographically remote restaurant.

Having examined all these terms, I think it is possible to try to define and rank fandom terms more accurately. Thus I present…

The Wolf Scale of Fandom

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On this scale – which let’s be honest I have named after myself mainly as a way of inflating my own ego – the higher your rank, the more obsessed you are with your subject and normally the more weird you appear to be to those outside the fandom. As this is brand new, it won’t be perfect, so I would encourage debate to improve the scale in any way possible.

I would also argue that the following scale can by used on any form of fandom. This is not just applied to subjects normally considered geeky like comic books or anime, but anything. A sports fan who has an obsessive knowledge of their favourite team is just as passionate as someone who is into sci-fi. You can be an otaku about western comics as much as an otaku on manga.

-1 or 0 Hater or Disinterested

People in this rank either dislike or have no interest in the subject in question. Thus, there is little to say about this rank.

1 – Fan

The entry level. This, going back to Gorman, includes people who have watched a particular show and like it, but don’t feel the need to go beyond any level of deeper devotion. For example, the Star Trek fan Gorman refers to in his programme. No-one generally thinks of fans as being weird.

2 – Geek

This is where things start to get interesting. How do we define a geek? There are many ways, but having started this feature by talking about one comedy show, I would like to reference another one. My preferred definition of geek is taken from this sketch from BBC Radio 4’s John Finnemore’s Souvenir Programme.

Thus the central elements of being a geek should be:

  1. You should, “know loads and loads and loads about it”.
  2. You should be, “a bit weird about it.”
  3. You can’t like it all.

Going by this definition, a “geek” is mostly concerned with knowledge. A geek should we willing to put the hours into their subject, to the point those outside the fandom think that you becoming a bit too obsessed. However, this is not proper obsession yet. You also need to have your own opinions. If you just like everything in your fandom then you have not been looking hard enough. I know there are certain anime and manga that I don’t like. To give one example, Cardfight!! Vanguard, which in my view is way too commercial in comparison to Yu-Gi-Oh!, which at least began as a manga before the trading card game version took off.

However, it is easy in your hatred to stray into extractor fan/weeaboo territory. You need to have a valid reason for hating something, and if you become involved in an argument with some you should not resort to any form of snobbery. We need civilised debate. People are not going to get anywhere if people suddenly accuse you of being a weeaboo because you happen to favour dubs over subs. In fact, I suspect that if you call someone else a weeaboo, then it is you yourself that are the weeaboo.

3 – Nerd

Here we start to see more practical applications being used. If the “geek” ranking is mainly concerned with knowledge, it is the “nerd” that starts putting that knowledge to some kind of use.

Think of the classic computer nerd. Here they have taken their knowledge of computers and use it to improve the design and functionality of the next generation of computers, gadgets and so on. To use an analogy, the nerds are like the people who work backstage on a film, TV show or play. They are the people who make the stars look good, getting the action caught on camera, perfecting the lighting and sound and so on.

The end result is a product that people want. At the same time, they tend to shun the limelight. They are too busy working on the next big thing to concern themselves with other projects. This therefore makes them weirder than geeks in my opinion, because a nerd will probably be too busy working to go out and have a normal social life. They would either be too busy making something or learning something new.

This is also what separates the nerds from otaku. Otaku spend their time sharing information. The nerd is alone, busy working on their projects. They are misers of knowledge, reluctant to share what they know if others unless it is worth their while. Think a nerd will share what they know if you for free? Bah humbug! Give them an incentive like a job in which they might earn money from their nerdiness and then they may progress.

4 – Anorak

If the thing that moves you up to “nerd” is the practicality, then the thing that moves you up to “anorak” is the weirdness.

For those living outside the UK, an “anorak” is normally defined as someone who obsessed with their hobbies and often being boring to those not part of their fandom. The term is most associated with train-spotters, wearing unfashionable waterproof anoraks while indulging their passion.

The key thing that moves you from “nerd” to “anorak” is you yourself moving. If the nerdy Scrooge is trapped inside with all of his knowledge, then the anorak is the newly reformed Scrooge who is willing to be friendlier after his spiritual visitation. The anorak moves away from their work and takes it elsewhere, making it public, often to the derision of passers-by. If the train-spotter is proud to wear their anorak and be humiliated, then the cosplayer should be proud of their outfit as they walk down the street, as well as the sports fan who’s painted their body in their team’s colours when going to an away-game.

In fact, not only should the reaction be one of weirdness, but possibly one of hostility. If you know that you are angering people then that probably means you are doing something right. The anorak should expect to be insulted. They should walk towards the gunfire, but they should also be ready to fight back. They know how to ignore the haters, or even better are able to come up with a way of fighting back.

5 – Otaku

As mentioned before when talking about Tofugu’s article, an “anorak” is close to a “maniac”. To reach “otaku” they not only must be collecting information, but also to be making their own stuff.

The otaku takes their passion, and with their expert knowledge change it into something they want, and then they share it with others. They share their ideas, art, stories and more. The otaku becomes a figurehead of the community, respected by others around. Not necessarily liked, as an otaku can be a divisive figure and it is only right that geeks may not like said otaku, but a figure that people know about and at least have an opinion on.

6 – Otaking

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This last rank is purely hypothetical as there is currently no otaking.

This term comes from the anime Otaku no Video. For those who haven’t seen it, the central character, Kubo Takeshi, becomes an otaku and his obsessions take over his life. He eventually becomes annoyed by people’s prejudices towards otaku and thus decides to overturn them by becoming the greatest otaku of all, the “otaking”, which he does by setting up a garage kit business which slowly becomes a multi-million yen company. His ultimate plan is to set up an otaku-themed amusement park where otaku all around the world can indulge in their passions without fear, and thus slowly make everyone in the whole world otaku.

While this anime may be a flattering portrayal of otaku, it is mixed with a live-action mock documentary called Portrait of an Otaku which shows otaku in a negative light, and thus production company Gainax got criticism from the otaku community when it was released in the early 1990s.

The “otaking” (if you prefer “otaqueen” or some other gender neutral term, I’m not fussy) is thus a lone position. There can only be one. The otaking must be able to turn the public to their side and join them. In effect, the otaking is a world dictator, with the masses all joining in with that otaking’s passion, whether it be manga, sci-fi, sport or whatever.

Thus, the person who is closest to the rank of otaking is the one with the largest following of any sort. Therefore, in terms of who is the closest to becoming the otaking at the moment, to once again reference Dave Gorman from an earlier episode of Modern Life is Goodish: “I’m gonna go… with the Pope.” The Catholic Church currently has 1.27 billion members, so currently Pope Francis probably has the largest loyal following. You could also argue that the president of China, currently Xi Jinping is even closer as the country has a population of 1.33 billion, but membership of the Communist Party of China is just shy of 89 million, so it is probably safe to assume his following is less committed. You might even consider the General-Secretary of the United Nations for the role as so many countries are members of the UN, but again there is the question of actual support for the person in the role, which at the time of writing is currently in transition.

This then raises the question of where I would consider myself in the ranking. Obviously I’m being subjective, but I personally think than when it comes to anime and manga I’m somewhere between “anorak” and “otaku”. There are certain bits of knowledge I am still lacking in, such as not speaking Japanese. I’ve never even visited Japan at the time of writing. However, I believe my writing does help count towards the area of making my own works. I certainly suspect I will become more humiliated and hated when this article goes out.

To conclude, I would like to thank all the writers who I have used as sources and in particular Dave Gorman, who just for clarification is not a geek – well, he admits he could be a geek geek, but hopefully you know what I mean.

Dave Gorman: Modern Life is Goodish is on the TV channel Dave, and airs at 22.00 on Tuesday nights. The previous three series can be watched in the UK on UKTV Play.

John Finnemore’s Souvenir Programme is available to download or by on CD. The first five series are available now, with a sixth series to begin on 27th December. Episodes are often repeated on BBC Radio 4 and 4 Extra.

Otaku no Video is available on a region free DVD and Blu-Ray from US distributor AnimEigo.

Yurikuma Arashi Review

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“Always respect Mother Nature. Especially when she weighs 400 pounds and is guarding her baby.” – James Rollins

It rather rare to see a yuri anime released in the UK. I, for one, don’t recall ever reviewing one before so it makes for an interesting experience. It certainly becomes more interesting when a lesbian romance series features a surprisingly high number of murderous bears.

In Yurikuma Arashi (Lily Bear Storm) the world has undergone a dramatic change. A minor planet called Kumaria exploded and the resulting meteor storm showered the Earth. The result of this was that it made the bears on Earth intelligent, man-hunting killers, and thus bloody conflict between humans and bears took place. In the end, a giant barrier called the Wall of Severance was built to keep bears and humans apart. If a bear makes its way into the human side it is shot on sight.

It is possible for bears and humans to cross from one side to the other, but in order to do so they have to go on a Severance Trial before three male bears named Life Sexy (the judge), Life Cool (the prosecutor) and Life Beauty (the defence attorney). If one agrees to the terms they can cross, which normally means having to give up on the thing you hold most dear to you.

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On the human side of the Wall, at Arashigoku High School, schoolgirl Kureha Tsubaki is in love with classmate Sumika Izumino. She also has a deep hatred of bears, her mother having been eaten by one. One day her class gets two new students: Ginko Yurishiro and Lulu Yurigasaki, who are actually both bears in disguise – admittedly not very good disguises due their habit of constantly saying “growl” at the end of each sentence.

Soon things start to go wrong for Kureha and Sumika. First, the flowerbed at school which they have tended so lovingly is vandalised; then when they tell the class rep Mitsuko Yurizono they narrowly avoid being hit by a brick. Then, worst of all, the following day Sumika vanishes.  Kureha gets a mysterious phone call asking whether her love for Sumika is genuine, and tells her to go to the school roof to prove it. She does so, rifle in hand, where she finds Ginko and Lulu in (chibi) bear form. What follows next is a Severance Trial with Ginko and Lulu in the box, the result of which appears to be some form of dream sequence in which they transform into beargirls and lick nectar from a lily growing out of Kureha’s torso, and you can’t help be feel that the lily stamens are meant to represent a penis. While this is a yuri series, the target demographic is seinen.

Anyway, after this Kureha wakes up in the nurse’s office at the school. She wonders whether what she has experienced is a dream and goes outside. There, behind the flowerbed, she discovers two bears eating a girl. She then learns that Sumika has been declared dead, but she refuses to believe it. Thus she attempts to prove that Sumika is alive, while all the time the human forms of Ginko and Lulu keep pestering her. As the series progresses, we learn that there are several humans and bears keen on Kureha’s past and future. Some are in love with her, some want her dead, and some think she is evil. The result will ultimately change the relationship between the humans and the bears.

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There is an awful lot going on in these twelve episodes. For starters there is the romance. You have the relationship between Kureha and Sumika, then between Ginko and Lulu, then Kureha, Ginko and Lulu together, and then other characters become involved too. While there is a lot of nudity, it is never full frontal and don’t see anything untoward. There is hugging and romantic relationships, but anything more physical is normally just implied, like in the stamen-licking sequence.

Another recurring theme is that of prejudice. You obviously have the whole case of the bears and humans excluding one another, but in this series “exclude” can have many meanings, even going as far as murder and execution of those who stray outside of what are considered social norms. As the series progresses, we learn that Kureha is someone who is excluded by her classmates and frequently treated with disdain, and thus Sumika is treated similarly because of their relationship. Further on in the series, we see this exclusion has been dogging her for a long time, and ultimately the series is about the bears and the humans being able overcome the prejudices of human society with the power of love.

The artwork is probably the best thing about Yurikuma Arashi, partly because of the designs used, such as the chibi bears, but also because of the use of certain visual images to deliver messages to the viewer. A frequent one is that when one of the girls begins to form a new loving relationship with one of the others; it cuts to a shot of a white lily opening and someone singing the line: “the lily opens”. As you may have gathered, “lily” in Japanese is “yuri”, so it indicates the blossoming of lesbian love. However, when it is one of the bears who develops similar feelings, the shot is of a black lily and the line sung is: “The bear opens.”

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Regarding extras in this collection, you have some episode commentaries, promos, trailers, and the textless opening and closing. Personally, I thought that the end song, “Territory”, sung by the actresses who play Kureha, Ginko and Lulu, is better than the opening “Ano Mori de Matteru” by Bonjour Suzuki. However, concerning these releases and others ones recently made from Anime Limited, I have become annoyed by the way Funimation have affected them. Namely, when you load the disc you have to sit through adverts that you can’t skip through. They must also annoy Anime Limited in some way because some of the stuff advertised is content they don’t sell. For example, the second disc advertises Michiko & Hatchin, which in Britain is released by MVM rather than Anime Limited.

The anime itself however is an enjoyable watch with many elements going for it. What would be really interesting, however, would be a release of a yuri title that is actually aimed at women.

Title: Yurikuma Arashi
Publisher: Anime Limited
Genre: Fantasy, Magical Girl, Romance, Science Fiction, Yuri
Studio: Silver Link
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2015
Format: Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack (Blu-Ray version reviewed)
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 15
Running time: 300 minutes

Score: 8/10

Review of Haibane Renmei

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“When you were here before
Couldn’t look you in the eye
You’re just like an angel
Your skin makes me cry

You float like a feather
In a beautiful world
I wish I was special
You’re so very special”

– “Creep” by Radiohead

Fantasy series Haibane Renmei (Charcoal Feather Federation) is one of the few anime series to be adapted from a dojinshi (fan work) manga. In fact, the anime superseded the original strip which was never completed.

The anime follows a group of beings called “Haibane”, angel-like people with small feathered wings who have halos made for them. We meet the main character while she is having a dream about falling from the sky. She then wakes up inside a giant cocoon, which she breaks and frees herself from. As it is custom for Haibane to be named after the events that occur in the dream before they hatch, this Haibane is named Rakka, meaning “Fallen”.

Rakka is welcomed by more Haibane, who live in the abandoned “Old Home” school inside the walled city of Glie. These other Haibane are Reki, an artist who also acts as a teacher to child Haibane; Hikari, who works as a baker; the mechanically-minded Kana; librarian Nemu who is the oldest of the group; and Kuu, an outgoing Haibane who is the youngest of the central gang.

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Rakka then learns more about the area around her and about her species: the Haibane have no idea as to who or what created them; they are forbidden to leave Glie, or even to touch the city walls; all of their clothes are second-hand; they have no money so transactions are made using special notebooks that are given to them by someone called “The Communicator”, a masked individual who is the only one who can talk to the Toga, the only group who enter and leave Glie, and even then they only communicate via sign language. Although the Haibane are a different species, the humans of Glie treat them well.

At first, Rakka gets to know more about her friends, working alongside them in different jobs and learning more about the environment around her, but things change when one of their group disappears. Rakka learns that Haibane can leave the world by taking the “Day of Flight”, when they have overcome the various trials their time in Glie has put them through and can leave the city skywards, never to return.

This is normally the fate of all the Haibane, but Rakka comes to learn that one of her main group cannot do this. There are some Haibane who have no memory of their dream inside the cocoon, and thus are born with black feathers on their wings, a sign that they are “Sin-bound”. This particular Haibane needs to remember their dream; otherwise it is impossible for them to have the Day of Flight. Rakka also discovers that some of her feathers are turning black. Could it be that she too is somehow Sin-bound?

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The main appeal of Haibane Renmei is that it clearly stands out against most of the anime releases we tend to get in the UK. This is a rather slow-moving and for the most-part genteel drama. The music alone is enough to suggest that, with the opening theme being a quiet instrumental piece. That is not to say that it is dull. There is still a fair bit of excitement in some scenes. There is the moment when Rakka’s wings hatch, which is a pretty grisly sight. There is also a big sequence in which Rakka falls down a well and injures herself. She is later saved by the Communicator, but also later gets into more trouble. You might find yourself wandering off at the odd occasion that might be a bit too slow, but overall the pacing is fine.

You will also find plenty of stuff to keep you entertaining on the DVDs as there are plenty of extras. These include textless opening and closing, trailers, commercials, various art galleries, a special version of the ending and an interview with the creators of the show.

In terms of a downside, it would be that because the original story was left unfinished we have no idea of what the true end is. However, the original creator, Yoshitoshi Abe, deliberately has elements of the story that were meant to be left for the viewer to interpret themselves. What was the exact meaning of Rakka’s falling dream, for example?

If you are getting a bit worn out by the usual anime releases you see, Haibane Renmei might make for a nice change of tone for you.

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Title: Haibane Renmei
Publisher: MVM Films
Genre: Drama, Fantasy
Studio: Radix
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2002
Format: DVD
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 12
Running time: 325 minutes

Score: 7/10

Manga review: Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid, Volume 1

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Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid Vol. 1 © coolkyousinnjya 2013

Everyone who has ever gotten drunk has probably done something they have come to regret, whether it’s making drunk texts to ex-loved ones, or accidentally buying a load of stuff online while inebriated. But these pale somewhat in comparison to inviting a dragon to come and live with you.

Miss Kobayashi is a low level systems engineer and closet otaku who, one drunken night, went up a mountain and met a dragon called Tohru, who had been attacked with a sword. Kobayashi helped the dragon and the two got talking. During the conversation, Kobayashi suggested that Tohru should stay in her flat, an offer which Tohru accepted. Now Kobayashi has to put up with co-habiting with a legendary monster in her home, but to make things easier for her Tohru adopts a human guise and decides to work for Kobayashi as her maid, although she can’t hide her dragon horns.

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Tohru has some talents. She is able to get Kobayashi to work incredibly quickly, although her hard skin makes the ride uncomfortable. If the laundry is taking too long to dry because it is overcast, a quick burst of flame towards the clouds will make a hole big enough to let the sun shine through. Tohru also has some problems though. She distrusts other humans such as Kobayashi’s work college and fellow otaku Makoto Takiya, and her cooking is terrible.

There is also the problem that soon other dragons start visiting Kobayashi. There is Kanna Kamui, ejected from the dragon realm for playing a prank; Fafnir, whose attitude to humans appears to be summed up with the word “kill”; and the oddly dressed and buxom Quetzalcoatl.

miss-kobayashis-dragon-maid-2While this title comes from the same publisher as How to Build a Dungeon, this manga is much more family-orientated. However, you still get the feeling that perhaps the “all ages” rating is not quite true. There is a brief scene where Tohru is naked, and at the beginning of the volume Tohru claims she likes Kobayashi “sexually”. Apart from those instances however, Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is pretty much suitable for all. Perhaps it is best to think of it as “PG” rather than “U”.

The main characters are what make the series work. Kobayashi has to put up with the stress of keeping Tohru and later Kanna in check, but is also free to loosen up and suddenly start debating with Makoto about the differences between Lolita fashion and maid outfits. Tohru meanwhile has so many different comic elements: trying to adjust to the human world, her love of Kobayashi, her jealous feelings toward Makoto, and then there is just her doing what to her is normal, but what Kobayashi and for that matter any human would think is bizarre – like play-fighting with Kanna, which involves a potentially massively destructive battle.

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It is certainly a jolly title and it already has built a fan base. There is currently an anime adaptation of the series in the works, so watch out for more.

Title: Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid, Volume 1
Publisher: Seven Seas
Genre: Comedy, Fantasy, Yuri
Author(s): Coolkyoushinja
Type: Manga
Original vintage: 2013
Format: Book
Age rating: All ages
Length: 150 pages

Score: 7/10

Autumn Anime Season 2016

 

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

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

IncendiaryLemon:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sarah:

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

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

classicaloid

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

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

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

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

Cold Cobra:

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

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

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

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

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

Review of One Piece, Collection 13

one-piece

Episodes 300-324, may contain spoilers.

“There is nothing so desperately monotonous as the sea, and I no longer wonder at the cruelty of pirates.” – James Russell Lowell

There is one thing that needs to be said concerning the most recently release of One Piece in the UK which is this: “About bloody time!” This collection has been delayed and delayed again. The last collection came out in December 2015, and now it looks like Manga Entertainment are trying to hurry things up as the next collection comes out in November – although don’t be surprised if this gets delayed too.

Anyway, onto the review proper, which sees the conclusion of the Water Seven arc, the death of someone held deep to the hearts of the Straw Hat Pirates, but also the welcoming of new faces.

The story resumes with the continuing siege of Enies Lobby by the Straw Hats: Monkey D. Luffy is up against CP9’s top agent Rob Lucci, the controller of a Devil-Fruit that gives him the powers of the leopard. Zoro manages to defeat another agent with the powers of a giraffe, meaning that the crew now have all the available keys to the Sea Prism Stone handcuffs currently being worn by Nico Robin, who is being led away to doom by the vile Spandam. Robin refuses to go easily however, even willing to bite down hard on the stone bridge to stop herself being dragged away. Robin is also helped by Usopp / Sogeking / Sniper King, who manages to shoot at Spandam from a great distance, and eventually buys enough time for cyborg shipwright Franky to deliver the keys and free Robin. As the attacks continue, the Buster Call to destroy the whole area begins to take place. It is therefore perfectly natural that what follows next is an episode of filler. To be exact, a return to the feudal Japan parody, focusing on cherry blossom viewing.

Following this however, we witness the finals battles between the Straw Hats and the forces of the World Government. This includes Lucci’s backstory, Luffy using his special “Third Gear” attack, a rescue from the most unlikely mermaid you are likely to encounter, and an even unlikelier escape thanks to the Going Merry, which manages to somehow find the crew and get them out of Enies Lobby. However, this is also the ship’s last action. The ship, too badly damaged to sail anymore, begins to break in two. Thus there follows what has to be one of One Piece’s most poignant scenes: Luff burns the Going Merry and the rest of the crew watch on, crying. As the ship sinks, the crew somehow hear what sounds like the spirit of the ship saying goodbye, as it finally falls into the ocean. Therefore, we witness what is arguably the first death among the Straw Hat Pirates – only it is not that of a person, but of their vessel.

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After this, the crew return to city of Water Seven. Franky gets to work building a new ship for the crew, while Usopp tries to come up with ways of returning to the crew. Luffy, though, gets an even bigger shock: the marines come to visit him, and he recognizes some familiar faces. Some are people he met a long time ago during the start of his voyages who have since grown up, but the head of the group is someone that Luffy knows all too well: Vice Admiral Monkey D. Garp – Luffy’s very own and rather violent grandfather. As if this isn’t shocking enough for Luffy’s crewmates, Garp also lets loose that Luffy’s father, Monkey D. Dragon, is the head of a revolutionary army and the most wanted man in the world. Also, although they are family, Garp is not going to let Luffy get out of Water Seven easily.

This collection is certainly better than the last edition of episodes. There is less filler overall, and there are many brilliant scenes, especially the one in which the Going Merry is sunk which is surprisingly moving. We also have major plot developments with this collection finally seeing the Straw Hat Pirates recruiting their eighth member, with Franky finally confirmed as the crew’s shipwright. This in turn leads to one of the funnier moments in the show, namely the method they try to make Franky join – by stealing his swimming trunks, getting him to run across Water Seven wearing just his open shirt, and finally Robin using her powers to sprout arms from Franky’s legs and grabbing Franky’s… well, you never see what she grabs, but what she does causes Franky a lot of pain.

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On the downside, while there is less filler, some of it is placed in really annoying places, interrupting the main plot at exciting moments. The start of most of the episodes takes too long explaining the events of the previous episode. When you add on the title sequence, sometimes you have to wait about six minutes before you actually get to new material. The CGI used to animate the ships is also poorly done, and at times the subtitles refer to different spellings of Gold Roger / Gol D. Roger.

Concerning the extras, there are the textless opening sequence, episode commentaries, and interviews with two of the English-dub cast: Brina Palencia (Chopper) and Colleen Clinkenbeard (Luffy).

In conclusion, things are looking up at we progress through the story. This is evident when you look at the cover for the next collection, which depicts a strange looking skeleton with a massive afro.

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Title: One Piece, Collection 13
Publisher: Manga Entertainment
Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy, 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: 15
Running time: 520 minutes

Score: 8/10

Review of Assassination Classroom: Season 1, Part 2

assassination-classroom

Ian Wolf’s Review

“The fighting in academia is so vicious because the stakes are so low.” – Henry Kissinger.

The second half of the first series of this comic show about students trying to murder their monstrous, tentacled teacher Koro-Sensei, begins with an entirely different sort of battle.

The first episode deals more with Class 3-E’s struggles with the rest of Kunugigaoka High School, with the boys in the class taking part in a match against the school’s baseball team, which is actually meant to be an exercise in humiliating the bottom class. The class are able to turn things around, but still manage to ignite the sinister wrath of the school’s fiendish principle Gakuho Asano.

After this they face a much more violent anger when a new P.E. teacher, Akira Takaoka, comes in to replace their current teacher from the Japanese MoD, Tadaomi Karasuma, who uses extreme violence in order to try and make the class bend to his will. But of all people, the small, androgynous Nagisa Shiota is able to put him in his place. This is followed up by troublemaker Ryoma Terasaka taking some money to help with an outside assassination attempt after it is discovered that one of Koro-Sensei’s major weaknesses is that he can’t swim.

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What comes next is the start of the main story of this collection. The final exams are approaching and Koro-Sensei motivates the students by saying that any student that gets the best overall score and/or the best score in each subject, beating every other student in the year, will have the right to shoot off one of his tentacles in a forthcoming assassination attempt. This puts them in direct competition with the best class in the school, Class 3-A, which includes the principal’s son and the school’s top student Gakushu Asano. As a result another bet is placed: whichever class performs best can force the other class to do whatever they want. Class 3-E want to go to a luxury resort in Okinawa normally saved for Class 3-A; whereas Class 3-A want Class 3-E want them to obey a contact agreeing to a list of incredibly harsh demands, including not holding any secrets from them – such as the fact their teacher is a monster that destroyed most of the Moon. The aftermath leads to more assassination attempts and even the students of Class 3-E having their own lives threatened.

As with the earlier episodes, what makes these episodes great is the ensemble cast. We get to know more about some of the minor students in this collection. Among them are Hinano Kurahashi, a lover of nature and collector of insects; Taiga Okajima, the class pervert who tries to kill Koro-Sensei using a massive pile of porn; quiet kids Ryunosuke Chiba and Rinka Hayami, who are class’s expert snipers; Kotaro Takebayashi, an anime lover who is good with computers; and Yuzuki Fuwa, a girl with a passion for shonen manga. The more established characters also grow more. The disturbing top-level student Karma Akabane matures more after he suffers a personal setback, while Terasaka’s attempt at assassination sees him mature more and changes his attitudes toward Koro-Sensei.

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The other great appeal of Assassination Classroom is the situations the characters find themselves in. For example, a group from the class have to infiltrate a hotel in order to help the rest of the class who suddenly fall ill. During this sequence we see Akabane torturing someone using mustard, wasabi and ghost peppers, while Nagisa ends up having to gain access to a party by dressing up as a girl.

Aside from the poor opening theme, “Jiriki Hongan Revolution” performed by some of the show’s cast, there are no real negatives in this collection. The extras in this collection are episode commentaries, textless opening and closing, previews, trailers, and the “Top 10 Moments” from the series as chosen by the English dub cast.

The first series has been great, so let’s hope All the Anime bring the second series out quickly.

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Score: 9 / 10

Title: Assassination Classroom: Season 1, Part 2
Publisher: Anime Limited
Genre: Action, Comedy, Non-School, Science Fiction
Studio: Lerche
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: 15
Running time: 265 minutes

Score: 9/10