Heavy Object Part 1 Review

In the distant future, the nature of combat has changed. Wars are no longer fought with human combatants but instead with Objects, massive spherical tanks, impermeable to standard weaponry and armed to the teeth with the very latest in destructive firepower. However, all of that stands to change when Qwenthur Barbotage, a student studying Object design, and Havia Winchell, a radar analyst, are suddenly plunged into a battle of unwinnable odds when a plan goes awry. With nothing but basic equipment and their wits, the duo scramble to save themselves as well as the lives of their fellow soldiers from certain doom at the hands of an Object, changing the world’s perception of the behemoths forever in the process.

Normally, when you think about the mecha genre in anime, your mind generally jumps to shows like Mobile Suit Gundam, with giant humanoid robots tussling it out with each other with giant laser swords and the like. Honestly, it’s really quite disappointing just how rare it is to find a show that doesn’t fit into those preconceived expectations of what a mecha anime is. Enter Heavy Object, an adaptation based on the novel series from author Kazuma Kamachi, creator of A Certain Magical Index and A Certain Scientific Railgun, which might be the first entry into the mecha genre I’ve seen that I can call fresh in quite a long time.

Although the two series are very, very different in most regards, when it comes to the general premise of each episode, the most obvious comparison that comes to mind is Metal Gear Solid, to the point where I’m certain the first three episodes being set in Alaska had to have been some sort of reference to the first entry in the illustrious game franchise. Each short arc tends to centre around Qwenthur and Havia sneaking around a variety of locations, on stealth missions attempting to take out these nigh indestructible Objects on their own. It’s this general premise that made me really like Heavy Object, because whilst it is still a show all about mecha, the majority of the running time isn’t spent on watching the protagonists’ mecha dispatching Grunt mecha in increasingly similar and trite scenarios, but instead has the two lead characters having to think on their feet in order to save the day. Nothing against the likes of Gundam of course, but it is just really refreshing to see a mecha show that differentiates itself a bit from what everyone else is doing. The whole series also is just generally a lot of fun to watch, which is mostly due to two very likable and energetic leads, as well as a light tone and a genuine sense of adventure that is conjured up via the globetrotting nature of the series, as our protagonists go from the icy tundras of the Antarctic to tropical locales such as the Oceania or even naval battles in the Mediterranean.

One of the only real downsides to Heavy Object is whenever it tries to squeeze in attempts at ecchi comedy because it doesn’t work, as it rarely does. Any and all attempts at jokes of this nature fall flat, offering nothing really new or funny, and just being quite cringe inducing. There’s also this off-putting recurring gag (?) where Qwenthur and Havia’s superior, Frolaytia, seems to reward the duo’s efforts with a peek up her skirt, or the promise to stomp on one of them for sexual gratification. It didn’t really affect me too much, but I could certainly see it making some people uncomfortable.

The only other lacklustre element comes from the characters in general. Although they are fun and likable, as I mentioned, they are painfully lacking in any sort of depth. You can call Qwenthur the ‘Heroic One’ and Havia the ‘Pervy One’ and not be oversimplifying their characters at all. Havia does become a bit less of a coward later on in the series, and he does get one nice moment of character at the tail-end of one of the episodes, but neither of the pair ever receives anything really substantial. The only character who does receive anything of the sort is the Frolaytia, who gets a backstory at the end of this first half, that is surprisingly dark considering the tone of the rest of the series, but does work in fleshing out her character. I can only hope that the other main characters receive the same kind of treatment in the show’s second half.

There is also something of an attempt at a romance between Qwenthur and Milinda, the pilot of an Object in possession of the nation that Qwenthur and Havia fight for, but it’s incredibly half-hearted and barely even worth mentioning. Qwenthur and Milinda rarely have any screen time together, and when they do, the chemistry between the two is incredibly sparse. Again, perhaps this element will gain more focus during the show’s second half, but I’m not holding my breath.

Animation for Heavy Object is a joint effort between JC Staff (A Certain Scientific Railgun, Toradora, Azumanga Daioh) who handle all the 2D animation and SANZIGEN (The Heroic Legend of Arslan, Black Rock Shooter, BBK/BRNK) who focus on the 3D elements. Working together, the pair manage to create a fairly good-looking show, with some very impressive looking CGI that doesn’t look out of place like the majority of CGI in anime tends to.

Funimation UK’s release of Heavy Object contains both the Japanese audio as well as an English dub track, and, overall, I was very impressed with the quality of the dub. Led by Justin Briner (My Hero Academia, The Heroic Legend of Arslan, Drifters) and Micah Solusod (Brother’s Conflict, Blood Blockade Battlefront, Soul Eater) as Qwenthur and Havia respectively, I think the two have a lot to do with how instantly likably the characters come across, which helps carry the whole show. The supporting cast also includes some good performances from the likes of Morgan Garrett, Alexis Tipton and John Michael Tatum.  

Keiji Inai and Maiko Iuchi both provide music for the series, which seems to alternate between a traditional orchestral score, electronic, almost dubstep-like music, and heavy rock, which make for a pretty great and varied soundtrack. The opening for Heavy Object is “One More Chance!!” by ALL OFF, which I was a huge fan of. It manages to combine heavy metal and J-Pop, which you wouldn’t really think would work well, yet it manages to be infectiously catchy. The ending is a softer sounding track, but is still really enjoyable, although I’m not sure exactly how well it fits with such an action heavy show.

Extras included on this release include a clean OP, a clean ED, trailers and commentary tracks.

In Summary

As long as you can put up with a bit of less-than-stellar comedy, the first half of Heavy Object delivers a large dose of unique and incredibly fun mecha action.

Title: Heavy Object Part 1
Publisher: Funimation (via Anime Limited)
Genre: Mech, Action, Military, Sci-fi
Studio: J.C. Staff, SANZIGEN
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2015
Format: Blu-Ray
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 15
Running time: 300 minutes

Score: 8/10

No-Rin Review

Idol-obsessed farm boy Kousaku Hata is devastated when his favourite idol and dream girl Yuka Kusakabe unexpectedly announces her immediate retirement at the peak of her career. Taking the news hard, Kousaku spirals into a depression, locking himself in his room, which his fellow students at the Tamo Agriculture school try to bring him out of. On the day that he starts attending classes again, Kousaku gets an unexpected surprise as his beloved idol, under the guise of Ringo Kinoshita, transfers into his class. Taking advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, Kousaku decides to get close to Ringo, and uncover the reason for her early retirement.

No-Rin, a 2014 anime adaptation of the series of novels by author Shirow Shiratori, is a show that I suspect has the potential to be extremely polarizing. This might kind-of go without saying, given that comedy is normally very divisive, but No-Rin’s particular brand of sex-based humour is something that I could almost certainly see people turning their noses up at, or totally dismissing out of hand, and I wouldn’t blame them. Whether it be a character being lovingly nicknamed as ‘Tits McGee’ or a lengthy conversation about the phallic nature of Egg Plants (and that’s just Episode 1!), the comedy present isn’t exactly what you’d call highbrow, but I suspect it is the brazen and unrepentant sex jokes that made me love it a whole lot.

Yes, as much as it might make me sound as mature as a twelve-year-old schoolboy, I had a lot of good laughs whilst watching No-Rin. The gags I mentioned before are just the tip of iceberg when it comes to how far No-Rin seems to push the boundaries, and I was really taken off-guard by how far it goes at times, with some quite raunchy jokes that I dare not spoil here. Needless to say, it’s the biggest draw the series has, and if the humour doesn’t sound like your kind of thing, I’d very much advise you to stay far away. However, if it does sound like something that you might like, I could recommend it on the comedy alone.

However, despite the big focus on comedy, No-Rin actually tries to do a little bit more by throwing in a bit of romance too, which, whilst a good attempt, isn’t really too successful. Although I think that the protagonist Kousaku and Ringo have some good chemistry together and there are some genuinely sweet scenes sprinkled throughout, the way the show itself approaches romance and the less comedic elements in general, needs some work. The biggest fault is the fact that all the jokes seem to dry up whenever there is any kind of character or relationship development. I don’t just mean in the moment itself, which would be fine, but in the slightly more character-focused episodes, the jokes aren’t anywhere near as frequent as in the other episodes. This is especially noticeable in the last two or three episodes, where the comedy almost fades out entirely. Granted, I think that actually giving the characters a little bit of backstory and depth is good and might be worth losing a few jokes for, as it is an area that most comedy anime seem to totally avoid, so I have to give it props for that. However I just wish we could have had the best of both worlds, with a few more serious moments whilst not sacrificing the comedy. Another trap that the series falls into is that the ending is inconclusive and rather unsatisfying, but such is the danger of adapting from ongoing source material.

No-Rin’s animation is handled by Silver Link (Fate/Kalied liner Prisma Illya, Watamote, Yurikuma Arashi), who, as far as I’m concerned, might just be one of the most underrated anime studios currently active. Whilst they may not have the unique and distinct style of Shaft or the insane levels of detail of Kyoto Animation, their work is always high quality, and has a ton of energy behind it, and No-Rin is no exception. I also really love how the animation occasionally switches style giving it a lot of visual diversity. From an old school video game to a manga, even an impromptu tribute to Sailor Moon, Silver Link certainly cram in a whole host visual styles, making No-Rin a visually interesting series to say the least.

Funimation UK’s release of No-Rin comes with both and English and Japanese audio, and I’m quite a big fan of the dub for this series. Austin Tindle (Is This a Zombie?, Gonna Be the Twintail, Attack on Titan) voices the lead Kousaku, and does so with boundless enthusiasm, imbuing the role with the energy needed to make a lot of the gags work. In stark contrast to Tindle’s energy, Jad Saxton (Fairy Tail, High School DxD, Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid) delivers an excellent low key performance as the nigh emotionless Ringo. The supporting cast is also great, including some relative newcomers such as Lynsey Hale (Seraph of the End) and Derick Snow (Prince of Stride: Alternative) as well as some more established voice actors such as Caitlin Glass (Full Metal Alchemist) and Morgan Garrett (Love Live Sunshine).

Music for the series is provided Akiro Matsuda (Sound! Euphonium) and Tomoki Kikuya (Hidamari Sketch), who deliver some pretty great and memorable tracks that do a good job of capturing the general atmosphere of the series. Similarly, the OP, ‘Himitsu no Tobira Kara Ai ni Kite’ by Yukari Tamura and the ED, ‘Mogitate Fruit Girls’, by Yukari Tamura and Kana Hanazawa, who are part of the Japanese cast, also capture the tone of the series, both being full of energy.

Special features on Funimation’s release include commentaries, promo videos, commercials, a textless OP and ED and trailers.

In Summary

No-Rin won’t be for everyone, but I loved its rather unique brand of crass humour and high energy animation. Even if the romance aspect falters a bit, it doesn’t stop it from being a brilliant, side splitting comedy.

Title: No-Rin
Publisher: Funimation (via Anime Limited)
Genre: Comedy, Ecchi, Romance
Studio: Silver Link
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2014
Format: Blu-Ray
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 15
Running time: 300 minutes

Score: 8/10

Show By Rock Review

Cyan Hijirikawa has always regarded herself as nothing more than an ordinary girl in a mediocre world. She has great talent and skill at playing the guitar, but can never muster up the the courage to join her school’s light music club. However, after she decides to play her favourite rhythm game, she is suddenly sucked in and finds herself in a new world called Midi City, where music reigns supreme. Not all music is pure though, and an evil plan is in motion to engulf the whole city in darkness.

Adapted from the iOS and Android rhythm game developed by Geechs in conjunction with Sanrio, Show by Rock is a disappointing effort from the usually great studio Bones, that, whilst far from awful, is underwhelming at best, especially when compared to the studio’s prior work.  

At its heart, Show by Rock is attempting to be a music-based comedy show, and the reason I wasn’t a huge fan of it is because it isn’t particularly great at being either. Comedy, of course, is incredibly subjective, so whilst some may get a kick out of the humour here, it did absolutely nothing for me. I’m not sure I could put a fine point on what made the jokes fall flat, I’m usually quite the fan of physical comedy, which is essentially the show’s bread and butter, but I could count on one hand the amount of times I even so much as smirked, never mind laughed, throughout the 12 episodes, which is a huge sticking point in a comedy anime.

I could probably excuse the lackluster comedy if the series worked well as a pure music series, but even then it’s just plain mediocre. Take away the techno-fantasy setting, and you’ve got a paint-by-numbers plot that seems to lack any real momentum. There’s rarely anything interesting happening story-wise, as a typical episode mostly consists of the bands playing gigs or songwriting, with some melodramatic character stuff thrown in here and there. The whole fantasy element to the plot rears its head on occasion, but mostly stays in the background, as more focus is placed on the whole band thing instead, at least until the last couple of episodes. I feel that some kind of split between band show and action show might have worked better, or at least made it a little bit more interesting and fresh. This is teased a little bit in Episode 1, when we see Cyan defeat a monster with music, but this is something we don’t really see again until over halfway through. The one thing I will say is that I was never really bored at any point, and in a general sense it’s fairly entertaining, but it all just feels rather hollow, the kind of thing you’ll forget almost as soon as you’ve seen it.

As you might expect, the music itself plays a very important role and it’s yet another area that Show by Rock just fails to deliver on. Although it may be a little unfair to compare to other, much more popular shows, the only other music anime I’ve really seen are the KyoAni classic K-On and the global mega-hit Love Live! School Idol Project, which are both series I adore. Of course, there are a multitude of reasons why I love both of those, but the music is definitely part of it, with there being some genuinely great and catchy tracks that have worked their way into my regular music rotation. Even off the top of my head I could hum you some ‘Fuwa Fuwa Time’ or ‘Snow Halation’, but there’s nothing anywhere near that quality in Show by Rock. It’s all just kind of bland and none of it stands out as being something I’d really want to hear again.

One huge misstep in the music department is that Funimation decided to dub over all the music with English voice actors and it doesn’t work at all. Going back to the other shows I mentioned earlier, both of those have really good dubs, and I think part of the reason why they’re good is that they switch to the Japanese voice actors whenever there’s music. It’s fairly obvious that songs written in Japanese are probably going to sound better in the original language, but I guess the folks over at Funimation thought otherwise. Either way, the English lyrics are just plain cringe-inducing, and whilst the voice actresses are pretty good at singing, it just doesn’t sound right. I think a nice option would have been a choice between the English dub with English songs and English dub with Japanese songs, but sadly such an option is lacking.  

The choice to dub over all the songs in English, making it a less than preferable language choice, is made all the more disappointing by the fact that this actually isn’t a bad dub, music aside. Funimation pulled in some pretty great voice actors such as Caitlin Glass (Maki from Love Live!), Monica Rial (Tsubaki from Soul Eater), Alexis Tipton (Musubi from Sekirei) and Vic Mignogna (Edward from Fullmetal Alchemist) to name a few, and they’re all excellent here, with the possible exception of Monica Rial’s occasionally annoyingly high-pitched turn as Moa, so it just makes it all the more sad that the changes to the music hurts what is otherwise a very solid dub.

Despite having some issues with the insert songs performed by the bands, I thought the background soundtrack from composer Yasuharu Yakanashi was actually pretty good, being quite rock-infused, as you might expect from the show’s name. As for the OP, ‘Seishun wa Non-Stop!’,and ED, ‘Have a nice MUSIC!!’, they are both performed by the in-universe band formed by our protagonists, Plasmagica. I have mixed feelings about both because, whilst I generally can’t stand either of them in English, the Japanese versions are actually pretty enjoyable.

As well as music itself, a key element to making a great band anime comes from the band members themselves, but even then, Show by Rock’s cast is really nothing outstanding. Granted, the characters are probably the best thing about this show, perhaps barring the animation, but given I haven’t really had many nice things to say about it up to this point, that isn’t really saying a lot. The band consists of four members, Cyan, Chuchu, Moa and Retoree, and of the four, Chuchu is the only one I’d say is given any kind of depth, which comes in one of the best episodes of the series. The others are pretty fun to watch, but lack any kind of development at all, really. There are small things, such as Retoree wanting to make friends, and doing so via the band, but given she’s part of the band to begin with, and is already friends with the other band members before Cyan joins, it’s kind of moot. Then there’s Moa, who is an alien, a fact that is just about the only thing we learn about her, that genuinely adds nothing to either her character or the plot, and is never mentioned again after around the half-way point. That said, there is still some fun chemistry in the group, but everyone is just kind of forgettable.

If there is one thing I will give the series, it’s that it’s really good looking and well animated. Produced by Bones, who are responsible for hit shows such as Fullmetal Alchemist, Ouran Highschool Host Club and Soul Eater, Show by Rock is really colourful and vibrant, which is the kind of aesthetic that I tend to go for, although it might not be for everyone. An element of the art I instantly fell in love with was with Masaru Oshiro’s character designs, which are pretty unique and incredibly cute. Despite the fact that the animation is probably the strongest part of Show by Rock, even that comes with a caveat, this time being CGI. Now, for once, my complaint isn’t that the CGI looks bad, per se, in fact it’s actually quite high quality, but I don’t think it’s implemented well at all. Instead of blending the CGI with the traditional 2D animation, there are whole sequences rendered entirely in 3D, with a totally different art style to the rest of the series. It’s jarring and gives the show a pretty disjointed feeling, as it often switches back and forth from the CG to the 2D multiple times within an episode. Also, despite the quality of the CG, I actually think the character designs for the 3D sections, which feature anthropomorphic versions of the characters, are just plain ugly. 

Funimation UK’s release of Show by Rock is a no-frills affair, coming with a couple of audio commentaries and nothing more, even missing the usual clean opening and closing.  

In Summary

Whilst it can be fun sometimes, Show by Rock offers about as much depth in its story and characters as a puddle, and is largely just bland, forgettable and, ultimately, disposable.

Title: Show By Rock Season 1
Publisher: Funimation (via Anime Limited)
Genre: Music, Comedy
Studio: Bones
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: 12
Running time: 300 minutes

Score: 5/10

Owarimonogatari Volume One Review

Who is Ougi Oshino? That is a question that has been on the mind of almost every fan of the long running Monogatari franchise, ever since the character’s first appearance back in Monogatari Second Season. There have been a few hints and clues about her (or him?) but the identity of the character remains one of the biggest mysteries that the show has yet to solve. However, that all looks as if it’s about to change. Owarimonogatari is the seventh entry in the monstrously popular series, that starts to shed a little more light on Ougi Oshino as well as delving into the backstory of series protagonist Koyomi Araragi and the events that shaped him.

Owarimonogatari starts off with the two episode arc Ougi Formula, which sees Ougi and Araragi trapped inside a classroom by an apparition. Working together, the pair quickly deduce that the room is an oddity created by a traumatic memory from Araragi’s first year of High School, when the former class president, Sodachi Oikura, trapped him and the rest of his math class in a classroom until they found out who was responsible for leaking answers for an exam. In order to escape from the classroom, Araragi must find out who the culprit is, something he and his class failed to do two years ago.

This opening arc is a brilliant start for the series, and is a fairly unique arc as far as Monogatari is concerned. The episodes are firmly planted in the mystery genre, which is something that the franchise has rarely dabbled in before, and I think it works really well. The mystery element does a great job of reeling you in quickly and keeping you engaged throughout. My only real complaint with how the mystery is handled is that I don’t really think the viewer has a lot of time to try and figure out the mystery for themselves, or is presented with many clues to do so. I often feel part of the appeal of mystery shows is to try and figure it out yourself, however, given the limited number of episodes, I think it can be forgiven. Story aside, these two opening episodes also do a great job of showcasing the fantastic visuals of Monogatari and why they’re so important. The majority of this episode is just Ougi and Araragi talking in a classroom, with some flashbacks thrown in for good measure. In the hands of almost any other studio besides Shaft (Madoka Magica, March Comes in Like a Lion, Nisekoi) this would have been incredibly boring, yet the visuals here are unlike anything you can find outside of the series as whole, and are downright mesmerising. It’s legitimately quite hard to tear your eyes away from the screen.

Following up on Ougi Formula is Sodachi Lost, another two episode arc, which continues on from where Formula left off, with Araragi confronting Oikura, who after being wrongly accused of being the one to leak the test answers and leaving school, returns after a long period of absence. Upon reuniting for the first time since their first year in High School, Sodachi immediately starts to berate Araragi, claiming she despises him for not recognizing the origin of his happiness. After the confrontation, Araragi confides in Ougi and determines that the key to Sodachi’s hatred of him lies in a shoe locker, back in his old middle school.

Whilst the unique, mystery-centric theme that ran through the first arc is still here, it is far more downplayed this time, focusing instead on the characters, as you’d expect from your more standard Monogatari story. Despite the name of the arc being Sodachi Riddle, I think that Araragi himself comes away with the most added depth in this arc, as we see flashbacks into his past. This is something we haven’t been shown before, with pretty much all of the arcs, aside from the currently unreleased (well, in the UK anyway) Kizumonogatari, being focused on the female protagonists, so to finally witness our male protagonist getting fleshed out is fantastic. I think fans who have read the Kizumonogatari book will especially love the connection to the opening inner monologue, where Araragi says friends will ‘lessen his intensity as a human’, as we see the direct cause of that here. As well as adding depth to Araragi, these episodes deliver a better introduction to Oikura too, although she gets far more attention in the following arc.

The third and final story arc on Part 1 of Owarimonogatari is Sodachi Lost. Whilst this arc is probably my least favourite of the arcs, that doesn’t mean it’s bad at all, I just don’t really think it shines as brightly as the preceding arcs. The biggest reason for this is that the first of the three episodes feels a lot like filler. All that happens in the entire twenty minute episode is that Araragi goes to Oikura’s house from school. That’s it. In twenty minutes. This is something that could have easily been accomplished in half the time, causing the episode to drag.

However, once you get past Episode 5, the next two episodes are sublime. This is the final arc in what you could call a loose trilogy that started in Ougi Formula, and it is certainly a satisfying wrap-up. Once again we dabble in mystery territory, in a much bigger way than the previous arc, Sodachi Riddle, and this is far better executed than Ougi Formula. This time around, the main mystery of the arc is presented at the end of Episode 2, giving you time between the episodes to try and figure out the solution yourself, as well as delivers plenty of clues before the solution is ultimately given to the audience. The only real issue I have with the story is the wrap-up, which feels a little too neat. Given that we never see a certain character outside of this arc, and this takes place before a lot of the events in Second Season, it’s kind of a given that said character was going to disappear before the end, or it would have created continuity issues.

Character-wise, it’s in this arc that Oikura gets a ton of depth and development, and she is pretty much the sole focus of the arc. It’s incredibly well executed, and it turns what was initially an unlikable, mean spirited character into one that you genuinely feel for, which is a pretty great accomplishment considering Oikura herself has only been in a handful of episodes (although I’d expect nothing less from Monogatari at this point). The only real disappointment, that goes for all three arcs, is that whilst Ougi appears in all of the stories, we still don’t get too much more information on her, despite her starting to take center stage a little more. I can only assume she will play a bigger role as the franchise goes on.

Although I did touch upon it earlier, I still feel the need to stress how amazing the visuals in Owarimonogatari are. The animation is the best that it’s ever been, and is still so uniquely Shaft, while incorporating other art styles, most notably a short sequence whose designs are clearly inspired by the Powerpuff Girls. This is Ken Naito’s third outing as an art director for the franchise, and he continues to do an amazing job.

As you’d expect if you’ve seen a Monogatari anime before, the Japanese voice acting here is absolutely stellar, and it’s no exaggeration to say it’s a large part of what makes the show work as well as it does. Hiroshi Kamiya and Kaori Mizuhashi, who voice Araragi and Ougi respectively, pretty much carry the entirety of the first arc alone, and then in other arcs we hear other familiar voices such as Yui Horie, Chiwa Saito and Kana Hanazawa. Marina Inoue, who voices Sodachi, is also excellent, and a good addition to the cast. Kei Haneoka returns for the third time to score the series, and creates a pretty great and memorable, soundtrack. Across the seven episodes in Part 1, we are treated to three separate openings, one for each arc, and they are all visual treats, as well as having some pretty good songs behind them. My favourite was probably ‘mathmagics’, performed by Oikura’s voice actor, but they’re all good in their own ways. As for the ED, Sayonara no Yuke, I found it largely forgettable, and the series has seen far better EDs.

MVM’s subtitle only release is, as as usual, fairly lacking in the extras department, featuring a clean version of all the openings and the ending.

In Summary

Whilst it isn’t perfect, this first half of Owarimonogatari delivers three unique and compelling arcs and introduces a fantastic new character, as well giving Araragi some much needed fleshing-out, all whilst maintaining that wonderful Monogatari charm.

Title: Owarimonogatari Volume One
Publisher: MVM Films
Genre: Mystery, Supernatural
Studio: Shaft
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2015
Format: Blu-Ray and DVD (DVD version reviewed)
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles
Age rating: 12
Running time: 175 minutes

Score: 9/10

Claymore Review

In a world where mankind coexists with a deadly race of demonic predators known as Yoma, a young woman named Clare works on behalf of an organisation that trains young female Yoma halfbreeds into warriors. These warriors are named Claymores after the gigantic swords they carry on their back, and although they are shunned by humanity, they are deemed a necessity. After a routine mission killing Yoma in a small village, Clare meets Raki, a young boy who lost everything in a Yoma attack, and decides to take him under her wing, despite her dangerous line of work.

Claymore, based on the manga  of the same name by Yagi Norihiro, is a series that I feel occasionally gets treated a little bit unfairly. With its protagonist wielding a large sword, the supernatural medieval setting and elements of tragedy, comparisons with the massively popular 90s classic Berserk are pretty inevitable, and that is a high standard that it simply cannot live up to. When you nix the comparisons, however, and take it on its own merits, Claymore is still a very enjoyable show with a lot to offer.

Despite the fact that I did end up liking Claymore a lot, I’ll be the first to admit it doesn’t really offer a brilliant first impression. Going by the first four episodes alone, you wouldn’t be blamed for thinking that the whole series is going to be a somewhat formulaic affair, with each episode not having much more to it than Clare going to a new place and killing a few Yoma; rinse and repeat. Whilst these initial episodes do offer important nuggets of world building and lore, such as how exactly Claymores work and the rules of the organisation they work for, there isn’t really a whole lot to them. This changes from the fifth episode onwards, however, which is where the story really starts, or at least, where it starts to get interesting. Whilst the general focus is still on monster slaying, it’s from here where they start varying the situations and upping the ante which prevents things from getting stale. Also aiding in keeping things fresh are the variety of creature designs for the more powerful Yoma, known as awakened beings. To put it plainly, the designs for the awakened beings are really cool- looking and unique, which is something I really appreciate.

As you might imagine with a central premise based around killing monsters, Claymore is incredibly action-centric, which is a bit of a double- edged sword. On the one hand, the fights on display here are excellent, with a ton of memorable and bloody battles that will probably be the main draw of the series for most viewers. On the other hand, I think that there is such a thing as too much action, so when you’re watching the episodes back-to-back, all of the action can get a little bit draining. There are a few episodes where the pace slows down a bit, and we get a break from all the fighting, giving us insight into the characters’ histories and their motivations for becoming Claymores, but these are few and far between.

One thing I did like about Claymore was the ending. As many anime fans know, adaptations of ongoing manga or novels can often suffer from unsatisfying endings due to the source material carrying on past the anime, not leaving much room for closure, but this isn’t really the case here. Well, it sort of isn’t, anyway. Although the anime’s ending is incredibly open, I feel as if the main through-line of the series had a somewhat satisfying conclusion. It isn’t perfect, but given that the manga didn’t end until seven years after the series, I think the writers did the best they could with what they had.

Claymore’s protagonist, Clare appears stoic and rather dull at first but from Episode 5 onwards, we find out a lot more about her and her motivations for becoming a Claymore. This adds some depth to her character as well as making her more likable. Unfortunately, Clare is just about the only fleshed-out character in the whole show.

The supporting cast largely consists of Clare’s fellow warriors, but they are all rather forgettable, being mild variations on ‘badass action girl’ and not a whole lot else. We do get some brief insight into these characters, but it isn’t much. Given that there are 26 episodes, and the insane amount of action, I think it’d have been nice to have seen some of the more drawn-out battles shortened in order to give some supporting characters like Helen or Deneve a bit more backstory or development.

Of all the characters in Claymore, there was only one that I actively disliked, and that was Clare’s companion Raki. I find it somewhat hard to pinpoint exactly what I disliked about him, but I think a lot of it may have been down to the awful performance of his English voice actor, Todd Haberkorn. This is somewhat surprising to me, because I know Haberkorn is actually a good voice actor, and I didn’t mind him at all in others shows I’ve heard him in such as Sword Art Online and Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood, but here he just comes off as incredibly whiny and obnoxious, and his voice just grates on my ears. Thankfully, he’s only in about half the show, disappearing whenever Clare has to go off and fight Yoma, but when he was on screen, he did nothing but irritate me. Another complaint I have about Raki is his relationship with Clare. Despite only knowing her a short amount of time, he quickly becomes borderline obsessive over her, which just doesn’t feel natural given that the two characters haven’t exactly been together long, and have very little in the way of chemistry.

Todd Haberkorn’s rather atrocious turn as Raki aside, the rest of the English dub for Claymore is very solid, with an almost exclusively female cast full of great actresses you’ll likely recognize. Among the cast are Cherami Leigh (Digimon: Digital Monsters, Fairy Tail, Psycho Pass), Caitlin Glass (Baccano!, Love Live!, Danganronpa: The Animation), Jamie Marchi (Free!, High School DxD, Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt), Monica Rial (Assassination Classroom, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Full Metal Panic) and, possibly my all-time favourite voice actress, Laura Bailey (Persona 4: The Animation, Code Geass, K-On, Soul Eater). As well as a great voice cast, I also found Masanori Takumi’s score for the series to be brilliant, combining traditional orchestral arrangements with some kick-ass hard rock and metal tunes when the action gets going, that really pumps you up. The only real let-down, musically speaking, comes from the rather forgettable opening and ending tracks: ‘Raison D’etre’ by Nightmare and ‘Danzai no Hana~Guilty Sky’ by Riyu Kosaka.

Animation for Claymore is handled by a favourite studio of mine, Madhouse, who have produced many excellent shows such as The Tatami Galaxy, Death Note and HaNaYaMaTa. Whilst Claymore isn’t one of their most distinctive or unique looking productions, the animation here is still great, and it really comes into its own during the action sequences. Anime Limited’s release of Claymore is the first time the series has been available on Blu-ray in the UK, after being previously released on DVD only by Manga Entertainment. Being produced just before the era of HD anime, this Blu-ray release in an upscale, meaning that it doesn’t look quite as nice as new anime, but still looks quite a lot better than the DVD release before it, despite some banding issues when things get dark.

As per usual for Anime Limited, this new release of Claymore on Blu-ray is a treat for collectors. As well as coming in a high quality rigid box with a gorgeous digipak and art cards, this release also includes a 100 page artbook, full of character art, backgrounds, and, my personal highlight, art of all the Yoma that appear in the show. On-disc extras are also plentiful, including numerous commentary tracks by the English dub cast, as well as interviews with the Japanese staff, TV spots and, of course, a clean opening and ending.   

In Summary

Claymore is not a show without its faults, but the excellent action sequences, top-notch animation, and awesome soundtrack more than make up for any shortcomings it may have, and is well worth a watch.

Title: Claymore
Publisher: Anime Limited
Genre: Action, Fantasy, Shounen
Studio: Madhouse
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: 650 minutes

Score: 8/10

Winter Season 2017 – First Thoughts and Impressions

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

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

Demelza:

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

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

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

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

Ian Wolf:

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

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

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

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

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

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

IncendiaryLemon:

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

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

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

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

Sarah:

ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Dept.

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

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

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

Rui:

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

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

MARGINAL #4 key art

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

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

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

Cold Cobra:

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

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

The Heroic Legend of Arslan Part 2 Review

Contains spoilers for The Heroic Legend of Arslan Episodes 1-13

After finding refuge from the Lusitanian forces in the fortress of Peshawar and reuniting with his allies Kishward and Bahman, Crown Prince Arslan, along with his small party, soon find themselves embroiled in a new conflict between brothers Prince Rajendra and Prince Gadhavi, who are warring to determine who will succeed their father as the king of Sindura. Realising that an alliance would boost his numbers and help him to retake back the Parsian capital, Arslan soon agrees to aid Rajendra. However, standing in the way of Arslan and the throne are villainous double-crosses, spies and countless battles. The young prince has come a long way, but will he fall at the final hurdle?

The Heroic Legend of Arslan Part 2 is the latter half of the 2015 adaptation of Hiromu Arakawa’s manga series of the same name. A few months back, when I reviewed the first half of Arslan, I felt fairly lukewarm about it, having complaints about both the story and characters. However, since then I have actually warmed up to this show a fair bit, and having finished it, I can safely say my overall impression is largely positive.

Since it had been a while since I watched the first half, before embarking on the second half, I went back and rewatched the initial 13 episodes to refresh myself before moving on to the remainder of the series and I found myself enjoying it a lot more the second time around. In my review of the first half, my big complaint about the story was the fact that it didn’t really go anywhere and was rather meandering, and whilst I think that in terms of progress alone, not a lot does happen, the second time around, I really came to appreciate the politics within the series. Not only does Arslan show the politics between the warring kingdoms of Pars and Lusitania, but also the internal conflicts and struggles for power, which I found to be very enjoyable to follow. This focus on politics continues into the second half of the series, and is just as entertaining as it was in the first half, as we see the conflict between the various leaders within Pars debate whether Arslan is right in wanting to free all the slaves, as well as a power struggle amongst the Lusitanians as the Arch Priest Bodin battles the king’s brother, Guiscard, for power. It isn’t all just politics though, as we also get a lot of action in this half of the series, a fair bit more than in the first 13 episodes, and it’s just as good as it was before. Not only do we get some fantastic large scale clashes on the battlefield, but we also get a few sublime one-on-one confrontations, the best of which comes in the penultimate episode as we see Daryun take on Prince Hilmes.

If I had to pick one major flaw in the plot in Arslan Part 2, it would have to be with the whole Sindura storyline. Whilst it isn’t a bad arc in terms of pure entertainment value, packing in great amounts of the politics and action that I love about the series, it is ultimately utterly pointless in the grand scheme of things. After the arc ends, the characters are in an identical place to where they were when it began, and almost nothing has been gained nor has the story progressed in any manner. All that we get out of the 5 episode arc is a new character joining Arslan’s party, Jaswant, who is incredibly dull, and barely gets a few minutes of screentime after the Sindura story is finished. This entire story could have been cut with no real great loss to the overall plot, and I think the show would have been much better for it. Only adding to my annoyance at this pointless tangent, is that the ending of the show is inconclusive. Yes, there is a short sequel series, which I can only assume finishes off the story, but if the Sindura arc had just been excised, they could just as easily have finished it here.

Another big complaint I had in my review of Part 1 was with the characters, and unfortunately, my opinion hasn’t really changed. Even in this second half, we still see very little in terms of character arcs for most of the main cast. The exception to this is the titular Arslan, as we watch a fairly naive young boy turn into a suitable ruler who learns from his experiences on campaign. Barring that, the rest of the cast lack any kind of real depth or development. The biggest offender is Daryun who is entirely defined by his loyalty to Arslan. Admittedly, Daryun is somewhat of an exception, as the rest of the characters are at least likable and some, like Gieve and Narsus, are actually rather fun. In terms of new characters that show up in Part 2, my favourite is probably Alfreed, a tribe girl who is insistent on marrying Narsus. Not only is she instantly likable, she has some good chemistry with both Narsus and Elam, which adds some levity to what is otherwise quite a serious show. Another new addition is Jaswant but, as noted earlier, he is such a non-presence, he is barely even worth a mention.

Animation and music are consistent with the first half of the series, and, as before, I was quite impressed with both of those elements. Liden Films and Sanzigen continue to create some breathtaking battles that blend together traditional 2D and CGI animation, and the score by Taro Iwashiro is as great as ever. From Episode 14 onwards, we hear a new opening song from Nico Touches Walls (who provided the brilliant second opening song for Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood) which is quite good, and is probably on a par with the first opening, which, much like the show as a whole, grew on me upon revisitation. 

The English voice cast also remains quite stellar, and is, in my opinion, preferable to the Japanese. Not that there is anything wrong with the Japanese audio at all, but with a high fantasy series such as this, I simply think that the English language is more fitting considering the European inspired setting. Both the English script and voice cast do a fantastic job, with the kind of dialogue and inflections you’d expect from film and TV series in this genre outside of anime, and it really helps with the immersion. Leading the cast as the titular Arslan is Aaron Dismuke, whom you may know as Alphonse from the 2003 version of Fullmetal Alchemist. There are also good performances from Jerry Jewell, Ricco Fajardo and Christopher Bevins.

Universal’s release of The Heroic Legend of Arslan Part 2 is just as jam- packed with high quality physical extras as the first part was, including 12 art cards, character cards, a double-sided poster and a 100 page booklet, which contains character information, artwork and interviews with the creative staff.

In Summary

Whilst the conclusion to The Heroic Legend of Arslan may not be perfect, mostly due to 5 episodes being wasted on a rather pointless side story, I found myself enjoying this second half, and the series as a whole due to the excellent action sequences, as well as the engaging political aspect.

©2015 Hiromu Arakawa, Yoshiki Tanaka • KODANSHA/ “LEGEND OF ARSLAN” Project Committee,MBS. All Rights Reserved. Packaging Design © 2016 Universal Studios. All Rights Reserved.

Title: The Heroic Legend of Arslan Part 2
Publisher: Universal Pictures UK
Genre: Action, Fantasy
Studio: Liden Films, Sanzigen
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: 300 minutes

Score: 8/10

Sakura Trick Review

I have a confession to make: I love yuri. Whilst it isn’t my intention to make myself sound perverse, I think it’s incredibly important to acknowledge my fondness for all things yuri, or Girl’s Love as it’s sometimes called, when reviewing Sakura Trick, just so you know I’m coming at this from a place of huge bias. Sakura Trick is based upon the 4-koma manga series by Tachi, and is probably the most well known and popular yuri series to come out in recent years, and has accumulated a sizable fan base since it first aired in 2014. Is there more to this series than just girl-on-girl action though? In short; yes.

In case you’re not aware, Sakura Trick is about best friends Yuu and Haruka who have just started their freshman year in High School. Although they’re in the same class, they’re given seats at opposite ends of the classroom and Haruka quickly gets jealous of Yuu making new friends. To remedy this, the pair decide to do something in order to deepen their bond that they wouldn’t do with anyone else and they end up sharing a kiss in a vacant classroom full of sakura petals. After that one kiss leads to many, they quickly realise that their friendship will never be the same again.

Despite the fact that my overall opinion of Sakura Trick is generally positive, the biggest issue I do take with it stems from the relationship between the two leads. It’s certainly not bad, in fact I’d say it’s downright adorable, however the problem is that it doesn’t feel as if there’s any kind of growth or arc for their relationship. Right at the beginning of the series, the two girls are already very close friends, and even after they share the first kiss, I can’t help but feel nothing really changes in the grand scheme, other than the fact that they sneak off to kiss now and again. There’s no real build-up to the two becoming a couple, in fact they share their first kiss about 10 minutes into the first episode, and after that, there isn’t really any turbulence or struggle in the relationship either, at least, not until right near the end, but by then, it’s too little, too late. I’m not trying to say there has to be some sort of drama for a relationship to be good, but there definitely could have been more done in this  department to make it a little more interesting. Only compounding this matter is the fact that there is an interesting relationship in the show, it’s just not between the two main characters. Yes, two other girls, Shizuku and Kotone, also have a secret relationship, albeit one with a bit more going on in it, as it’s revealed that one of the girls’ parents has already arranged for her to get married. Honestly, I think that alone has enough potential to carry a show, but it’s largely in the background and is rarely mentioned. It’s really frustrating because I genuinely think that this is a brilliant idea, yet it’s just squandered. If this idea had been applied to Yuu and Haruka’s relationship, it would have made the series infinitely better, in my opinion.

Now, despite the fact that I just spent a whole paragraph complaining about it, I actually did end up liking Sakura Trick quite a bit. This is mostly because of the characters who are a likable bunch and have some great chemistry together which produces a lot of great comedic moments. It’s not exactly laugh-a-minute, but there’s a decent amount of jokes that managed to make me laugh a surprising amount. Then of course, there’s the inclusion of all the yuri scenes, which is probably going to be the most divisive element of the whole show, and could make or break this anime for some people. I’ll be totally honest, the yuri elements are my favourite part of the whole thing, and are very well executed. If people have read any of my reviews before, they’ll know I’m generally not huge on fan service, and whilst all the yuri here is very much fan service, it feels a lot less exploitative than a general ecchi anime, as well as appealing directly to my interests, so I really liked it. If you’re not into the whole yuri thing, I still think that there’s enjoyment to be had here, but it certainly wouldn’t be the first romantic comedy I’d recommend, and there are better examples out there, such as Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-Kun, that deliver more laughs.

Sakura Trick is animated by Studio DEEN (Fate/stay night (2006), Is This a Zombie?, When They Cry) although you might not think so at first glance. The studio is very much going out of their way here to do their best impression of Shaft (Madoka Magica, Nisekoi, Monogatari) and the general art style and direction is heavily reminiscent of Hidamari Sketch, although I’d be hesitant to call the style a rip-off, considering the fact that the director of Sakura Trick, Kenichi Ishikura, directed several episodes of Hidamari Sketch, as well as the entirety of the third series. Still, even if the style isn’t wholly original, that doesn’t make it any less of a good-looking show. I’m a huge fan of Shaft’s general style, so it’s no surprise that I absolutely love the look of this series too, with its bright colours and use of textures to really make scenes pop. I haven’t seen much of Studio DEEN’s work, admittedly, but this is probably the best-looking show of theirs I’ve watched.

MVM’s release of Sakura Trick is Japanese audio only, with English subtitles. The Japanese cast all do great, providing the group of cute girls with suitably cute voices, with the cast including voice actors such as Yuka Iguchi (Monogatari, Fairy Tail, Girls und Panzer), Haruka Tomatsu (Coppelion, Gintama, Punchline) and Hiromi Igarashi (Hellsing Ultimate, Brave Witches, High School Fleet). Music is provided by Ryosuke Nakanishi, and is a pretty decent soundtrack, but nothing too memorable. The same can be said for the OP and ED too, which, whilst serviceable, are generally nothing spectacular.

In Summary

If you like yuri, then this is absolutely a must-see, in fact, if you like yuri, you’ve probably already seen this show. Even if you’re nonplussed by yuri, I could still somewhat recommend Sakura Trick, as it’s largely enjoyable, although don’t expect anything groundbreaking or new.

Title: Sakura Trick
Publisher: MVM Films
Genre: Slice of Life, Romance, Comedy, Shoujo-Ai
Studio: Studio DEEN
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2014
Format: Blu-Ray and DVD (DVD version reviewed)
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles
Age rating: 15
Running time: 300 minutes

Score: 8/10

Anime UK News Review of 2016 – Part 2

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

Manga

punpun

IncendiaryLemon:

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

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

Demelza:

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

Complex Age volume 1

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

Sarah:

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

battle-rabbits-1

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

10-count

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

 

 

Ian Wolf:

rg-veda-cover

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

love-stage-5

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

Digital Manga

Sarah:

vanitas

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

 

Ian Wolf:

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

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

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

Light Novels

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

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

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

Ian Wolf:

legend-galactic3

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

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

Things to Come in 2017…

attack-on-titan-2

Demelza:

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

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

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

Rui:

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

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

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

Darkstorm:

yugioh-film

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

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

IncendiaryLemon:

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

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

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

Ian Wolf:

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

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

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

Sarah: 

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

 

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

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

acca

 

 

 

Anime UK News Review of 2016 – Part 1

Anime UK News Review of 2016 – Part 1

your-name-anime-banner

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

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

Anime Streaming

 IncendiaryLemon:

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

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

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

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

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

Demelza:

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

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

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

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

Sarah:

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

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

Cold Cobra:

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

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

 

 

Rui: 

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

chikyuuboueibu1

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

Ian Wolf:

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

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

yuri-on-ice-5

Speaking of sports anime, there are other series that spring to mind. The comedian Ross Noble once said: “You can have sex with a man, and that’s still less gay than rollerblading.” This year we found out something even gayer than that: an all-male cheerleading team. Cheer Boys!! on Funimation definitely tops the list of the most unintentionally camp anime ever. It was a series that made me laugh – for the wrong reasons. The problem was that it seemed to be taking itself too seriously. It claimed to be overturning prejudices – it certainly didn’t in my opinion.

A show that didn’t take itself so seriously, the return of Cute High Earth Defense Club LOVE! LOVE! was much more enjoyable in comparison: because it’s funny, you embrace the more flamboyant elements. Other returning series that were good include series two of Food Wars! and the third series of Haikyu!! In terms of brand new anime, ERASED was certainly a highlight, even if the ending was predictable, and it might be my favourite of the year if Yuri!!! On Ice fails to develop the way I hope it does.

Anime Film 

Theatrical Screening

Demelza:

your-name-pr-4When it comes to theatrical anime screenings, I haven’t had the chance to see many this year. I was gutted when Anthem of the Heart was being shown in Manchester and I was too unwell to attend, and Boruto was screened just a little too far away for me to justify the trip. However, that said, I have been able to see both A Silent Voice and Your Name this year and both are truly remarkable works of animation.

When it comes to the mass media and most anime fans, I think Your Name is the movie that stands out. It’s emotionally moving, absolutely beautifully animated and telling a story that only Makoto Shinkai could tell. Meanwhile A Silent Voice has so far only been shown at the Leeds International Film Festival and Scotland Loves Anime, so the chances that many of you have seen it are, sadly, quite slim. With a wider theatrical release planned for early next year I highly recommend checking it out as, although I am a big fan of Your Name, I think that A Silent Voice has a story that is perhaps more easily relatable than that of Your Name. Either way both stood out to me this year and are the best of the theatrical screenings we’ve been given.

Rui:

I’ve been spoilt this year and been able to watch quite a few anime titles on the big screen, with Your Name being a particular highlight due to its relatively high profile release; who would have thought I’d see posters for non-Ghibli anime screenings all over the London Underground! It helps that the film itself is very good. I haven’t yet had the opportunity to check out A Silent Voice – it’s on my list for next year – but choosing a favourite is tricky. Being forced to sit and watch a film quietly in a cinema is a different experience to watching at home, and the lack of distractions means they’ve all left a strong impression on me as a viewer.

Surprisingly, the most fun film screening experience I’ve had this year was probably the first two Kizumonogatari films, which I saw at last month’s Leeds International Film Festival. It’s surprising because I was quite excited about them several years ago when they were originally announced, then over time my interest in the ongoing Monogatari series began to fade as my favourite characters stepped aside to let (mostly) less interesting ones have their time in the limelight. I knew that one character I wasn’t all that interested in at all was likely to have a major role in Kizumonogatari, too, and went in expecting little more than kinky fan service and stunning animation. Suffice it to say that my expectations were surpassed. If you’ve ever liked any part of the Monogatari series at all there’s probably something to enjoy in Kizumonogatari.

Darkstorm:

I was very fortunate to see a preview screening of Your Name back in October, and as per my review I highly recommend it if you haven’t seen it already. It’s fantastic that more anime films are getting recognised and screened in the UK; but one must not forget that earlier in the year we FINALLY got a screening of Studio Ghibli’s last movie (for now): When Marnie Was There. I saw this with friends and we all walked out of the cinema with smiles and tears in our eyes, it’s a delightful little movie that is now out on DVD and Blu-ray; it doesn’t have Miyazaki’s name on it but it’s certainly worth your attention.

Anime DVD/Blu-ray

IncendiaryLemon:

Much like the brand new anime that came out in 2016, the releases that hit home video in the UK this year were also of incredibly high quality, being just as hard to narrow down to a single title. In fact, it was so difficult for me, I decided to pick a handful of titles rather than just one, because honestly, I think I love all of these shows in equal amounts, and they’re so wildly different to each other, I don’t think I could really pick just one.

HaNaYaMaTa (Manga Entertainment, DVD and BD)-Full Review

Along with When Supernatural Battles Become Commonplace (which is also excellent), HaNaYaMaTa is probably one of the most overlooked titles this year. It’s certainly not going to be for everyone, but the brilliant visuals from Madhouse and the charming cast was enough to win me over, making it one of the best Slice of Life series I’ve seen.

Love Live: School Idol Project Season 2 (MVM Films, DVD and BD)Full Review

Whilst the first season of Love Live was great, it was its follow-up that really cemented the franchise as a favourite of mine. Its more focused story led to some incredible emotional moments that put me on the brink of tears multiple times throughout and further developed its memorable and lovable characters, as well as having a brilliant J-Pop soundtrack.

No Game No Life (MVM Films, DVD and BD)-Full Review

Switching things up a bit from the other two recommendations, No Game No Life is a thoroughly enjoyable series, mostly due to its wonderful premise, about a world where all matters of conflict are settled through games rather than violence. This makes for a very unique anime as the protagonists Sora and Shiro try to conquer the world through a plethora of different and varied games. Add in a healthy dose of comedy, some very striking visuals from Madhouse, and a nice but affordable Collector’s Edition from MVM, and it’s a series I can’t recommend enough.

Assassination Classroom (Anime Limited, DVD and BD)-Full Review (P1, P2)

Another series high on the fun factor is Assassination Classroom, in which a classroom full of high school students attempt to kill their teacher, Korosensei, who threatens to destroy the planet if he’s not dead by the time the class graduates. Much like No Game No Life, this is another series that works almost entirely due to the fantastic premise, which provides a lot of mileage as we see the kid’s increasingly elaborate attempt killing the nigh invincible Korosensei. I was also quite a big fan of the relationship between Korosensei and the students, which is probably the most interesting element, as, despite being a strange tentacled creature with near godlike powers, he’s actually still a great teacher too.

The Tatami Galaxy (Anime Limited, BD)-Full Review

This was without a doubt the most unique anime I’ve seen all year, perhaps the most unique anime I’ve seen ever. The distinct visuals are like nothing I’ve ever seen in a show before and are just gorgeous, however the show is more than just a pretty face, having a very intriguing plot that will certainly make you think, and a good amount of sheer bizarre and surreal humour that was right up my alley.

Cold Cobra:

This year has seen several high-quality special edition releases that certainly deserve pointing out, mostly from Anime Limited. Although it was a bit out of my price range, “most amazing looking release of the year” award has to go to their Fullmetal Alchemist Ultimate Edition release, which came in a large resin model of the “The Gate” from the series, plus had a large artbook as well.

transformersMy personal favourite releases of the year are two restored versions of two classics from my late teens and childhood, respectively. They are Outlaw Star (from Anime Limited again!) which was a great restoration of the old footage and came in a lovely looking box with plenty of extras. The second is The Transformers: The Movie – 30th Anniversary Edition (from Manga), which not only was amazingly restored, but came with a nice complement of extras and two viewing ratios on two separate Blu-rays. There have been many more releases I’ve brought and/or reviewed over the year, but they stick out in my mind the most.

Rui: 

Universal Pictures UK are my unexpected heroes of the anime industry for 2016, mainly due to their special edition Heroic Legend of Arslan releases which are absolutely stunning. That’s not to say that their Seraph of the End releases aren’t as good; it’s just that Arslan is one of my favourite shows of the last few years and I still can’t believe my luck that it got such a lavish local release. The Tatami Galaxy from Anime Limited is also one of the crown jewels of my UK DVD/BD collection; at last the series has been given a release without the (minor, but annoying) glitches of the DVD edition. I can’t believe that there’s still no DVD/BD at all in the US!

arslance1

Darkstorm:

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

Sarah:

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

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

Ian Wolf:

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

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

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

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

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