Sword Art Online: Ordinal Scale Tickets Available Now

Following last week’s theatrical release of Kyoto Animation’s A Silent Voice, Anime Limited have already put gears in motion for their next cinematic anime effort. Get ready to explore a whole new world around us, because Sword Art Online: Ordinal Scale is coming to cinemas from 19 April 2017. To find your nearest screening and book tickets, please visit http://saothemovie.co.uk/.

An original story set in the world of Reki Kawahara’s popular light novels, Sword Art Online: Ordinal Scale sets aside the franchise’s trademark take on Virtual Reality to offer its own spin on Augmented Reality – the Augma. Released as a safer competitor to the infamous NerveGear and its successor, the Amusphere, the Augma is an instant hit on the market. Kirito and his friends quickly take to a new MMO designed exclusively for the Augma, Ordinal Scale, but will soon find out that it isn’t all fun and games.

Director Tomohiko Ito (Erased) returns to helm the franchise once more at A-1 Pictures (Your Lie In April), alongside the original cast, led by
Matsuoka Yoshitsugu as Kirito and Haruka Tomatsu as Asuna.

Animatsu’s In This Corner of the World Releasing June

Animatsu Entertainment’s highly anticipated drama film, In This Corner of the World will be released theatrically in the UK & Ireland on 28 June 2017, the distributor confirmed today.

From the director of Mai Mai Miracle and the producers of Millennium Actress & Tokyo Godfathers. The award-winning story of In This Corner of the World follows a young lady named Suzu Urano, who in 1944 moves to the small town of Kure in Hiroshima to live with her husband’s family. Suzu’s life is thrown into chaos when her town is bombed during World War II. Her perseverance and courage underpin this heart-warming and inspirational tale of the everyday challenges faced by the Japanese in the midst of a violent, war-torn country. This beautiful yet poignant tale shows that even in the face of adversity and loss, people can come together and rebuild their lives.

A sleeper hit in its native Japan, the independently produced In This Corner of the World grossed over $20 million and was awarded multiple accolades, including “Best Animation of the Year” and “Outstanding Achievement in Music” at the 40th Japan Academy Prize and the Hiroshima Peace Award at the 3rd Hiroshima International Film Festival.

Anime Limited & Crunchyroll Releasing Studio Khara’s Dragon Dentist

From the studio behind the Rebuild of Evangelion, Studio Khara’s two-part feature Dragon Dentist will be simulcast in the United Kingdom, Ireland and other territories, thanks to a partnership between Anime Limited and the anime streaming service Crunchyroll.

The story takes place in Dragon Country.

Nonoko, the heroine, is a newly appointed dentist who protects the dragon, the guardian of the country, from tooth cavity bacteria.
One day, amid increasingly fierce battles against the neighboring country, she finds an unconscious boy soldier from the enemy country on the dragon’s tooth. His name is Bell, and he has been “resurrected” from within the tooth by the dragon, a supernatural phenomenon that legend says occurs before a major disaster.

Bell is confused about his situation. Nonoko cheers him up and takes him on as a dragon dentist. Suddenly the two face an unexpected and tremendous explosion that gives rise to countless tooth decaying bacteria. As they face a series of fierce battles, Nonoko and Bell eventually learn to accept their fate. This fantasy adventure, created on an epic scale like never before, will keep viewers thrilled and enamoured!

Dragon Dentist will be simulcast in the UK, Ireland, Iceland, Finland, Denmark, Sweden and Norway, with the first of two episodes going live at 9:45pm on 18 February 2017. Anime Limited also confirmed all other rights to the title, with a home video release confirmed for a later date, as well as the possibility of theatrical.

Manga UK License Yo-Kai Watch Anime For May Release

Based on Level-5’s hit Nintendo 3DS video game franchise, Manga Entertainment is very pleased to announce that the Yo-Kai Watch television anime will be coming to DVD in the United Kingdom on 8th May 2017. The release is currently available to pre-order on Amazon for £19.99.

Manga Entertainment describe the story of Yo-Kai Watch, as follows:

Primary school student Keita Amano’s curiosity is as innocent as any other child’s his age. But when one day he decides to venture deeper into the forest, he encounters a small and mysterious capsule. Out from its depths comes Whisper. After 190 years of imprisonment, this ghost-like creature is glad that someone has been kind enough to set him free. He decides to reward Keita by becoming his guardian against supernatural forces. Whisper is one of many Yo-Kai that exist in the world, and provides Keita with a special Yo-Kai Watch, which enables him to see and interact with all the other Yo-Kai. Yo-Kai Watch follows Keita, Whisper and the cat spirit Jibanyan as they encounter Yo-Kai, befriend them, fix all the trouble that they so often cause, and, with the help of the watch, use the powers of previously encountered Yo-Kai to aid them. Young Keita may have been just an ordinary primary school student when he first encountered the Yo-Kai, but the many adventures that follow his discovery provide him with invaluable experiences and precious life lessons that help him grow.

The first season of Yo-Kai Watch was originally broadcast on Cartoon Network last year. The second instalments in the video game series, Yo-Kai Watch 2: Bony Spirits and Yo-Kai Watch 2: Fleshy Souls will be released in Europe for the Nintendo 3DS on 7th April 2017.

Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D’s Season 2 Collection

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When we last left our duelling heroes, the signers had overcome their differences, united and saved the world from certain destruction. Old rivalries mutually fizzled into friendships, lost characters found their true homes and every plot thread from the beginning was neatly tied in a bow. For all intents and purposes, the ending of Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D’s Season One was a perfect conclusion to the series as a whole. Given the commercial nature of the franchise however, the show must go on! Can Yusei find another reason to start up his Duel Runner and continue to play card games on motorcycles though?

The short answer is, unfortunately, no. Picking up months after the Dark Signers’ defeat, years of social inequality have come to an end with the construction of the Daedalus Bridge, connecting the once divided New Domino City and Satellite – where we now find our main heroes. Yusei, Jack and Crow spend their days renting an apartment and tinkering with their card-clad bikes in hopes of entering the World Racing Grand Prix, a team turbo duelling tournament.

Despite the obvious set-up, the second season of Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D’s almost feels afraid to commit to the event, with over twenty-five episodes passing between its first mention and the competition actually starting. The interim time is largely spent on smaller episodic stories like Jack trying to hold down a job and Yusei teaching Akiza how to ride a Duel Runner; cute stories that could be entertaining relief during larger arcs, but just come across as delay tactics here. This suspicion is intensified when our new villains start to make their move, which is at a snail’s pace and involves schemes that are frankly bizarre even for Yu-Gi-Oh! – I mean, an army of duelling robots? Frankly, it makes me wonder whether the writers actually knew what their new end-game was and were simply biding time until they figured it out.

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If you hadn’t picked up on it already, the pacing is all over the place; some arcs start so abruptly that I even had to check that I wasn’t watching discs out of order! Just when it was looking like the World Racing Grand Prix was upon us, with character introductions and even an opening ceremony, another series of standalone episodes followed, before Yusei found himself plucked from the city and into the faraway, western-themed Crash Town! Now, the Crash Town arc isn’t bad – it’s actually an enjoyable story of redemption, but its placement just strikes me as very unusual.

A plus side to the smaller, standalone episodes however, is that they gave the perfect opportunity to develop some characters who really needed a bit of a push without the distraction of an overarching narrative. It was nice to see Yusei and Akiza able to interact in a more relaxed environment, especially as the series continues to not-so-subtly tease that there may be romantic feelings.

The character who benefits the most from this extra attention though, is easily Jack Atlas. Initially introduced as a duelling celebrity in opposition to Yusei, Jack has since abandoned his glamorous lifestyle to live with his former rival, Crow, in the Satellite. Old habits die hard though and a lot of the series’ funnier moments stem from his struggles with the new reality – such as arguments with Crow over his $30-a-cup coffee habit. Jack is also given plenty of opportunities to show off his more redeeming qualities too; like when he takes responsibility for accidentally jeopardising an undercover investigation by bringing down a gang of smugglers himself. These instances would fuel me to respect Jack more, something Seto Kaiba sorely lacked in the original Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Monsters anime.

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From a production standpoint, the second season of Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D’s is largely identical to the first, right down to the occasional card misidentification in 4Kids’ English dub (the only language option on this release). The casting and performance of the voice actors is a strong point, with the exception of Eileen Stevens as the turbo duellist Sherry LeBlanc, whose awful attempt at a French accent sounds more like an impersonation of Arnold Schwarzenegger! (I don’t know who decided that the French sound Austrian either).

It is worth noting that due to 4Kids Entertainment skipping some episodes for a multitude of reasons (commonly attributed to low ratings and a need to push out Yu-Gi-Oh! ZeXal), a total of thirty episodes aren’t included in this release – including the entirety of the final story arc, effectively making this the end of Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D’s in the West (unless you watch the missing episodes in their original Japanese on Crunchyroll).

After a first season that still stands up as one of the best Yu-Gi-Oh! instalments to date, it is disappointing to report that this follow-up doesn’t live up to its predecessor’s legacy. With it struggling so much to find its feet after such a perfect finale, perhaps this serves as an example of why stories shouldn’t exceed their natural lifespan.

Title: Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's Season Two
Publisher: Manga Entertainment
Genre: Shonen, Card Game
Studio: Gallop
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2009
Format: DVD
Language options: English dub audio only
Age rating: PG
Running time: 1298 minutes

Score: 5/10

Soul Eater NOT! Complete Series Collection

Soul Eater NOT

With the majority of anime being sorted into either “action” or “slice-of-life” boxes, it’s almost expected for fans to prefer one over the other. However, the clash of steel and tender heart-throbs need not be enemies, for they can share a profound resonance – an idea at the core of Soul Eater NOT.

Rather than being a continuation of Maka Albarn’s quest to transform her partner into the ultimate witch-hunting weapon, our return to the distinctive Death City turns back the clock a bit and heralds the start of a new, more personal journey that is enjoyable to franchise veterans and newcomers alike.

Tsugumi Harudori was an ordinary fourteen year old girl in love with love until her body started changing in ways not covered by the normal remit of puberty, prompting enrolment at a special school some may find familiar – after all, I doubt many girls have to worry about their limbs transforming into blades!

Unlike the more well-known students of Atsushi Ohkubo’s main series, our protagonist’s enrolment at the DWMA isn’t as part of the action-orientated EAT (Especially Advanced Talent) class, but rather, she learns from a curriculum dedicated to controlling her powers for day-to-day living known as NOT (Normally Overcome Target). There, she quickly becomes friends with the upper class Anya Hepburn and the incredibly forgetful Meme Tatane; two meisters who land the girl in love with love in an entirely different triangle to the one she was expecting!

The relationship between weapons and the meisters who wield them has always been an important backbone of the Soul Eater franchise, but is brought to the centre stage as of this spin-off, with partnerships often treated as outright romantic unions. Tsugumi’s struggle with choosing Anya or Meme as her meister consistently feels like a genuine love triangle – with Anya’s adorable jealous pouts being icing on the cake. My favourite example of this mingling of relationships, however, is the budding partnership of Jacqueline O’Lantern Dupre and Kim Diehl.

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Introduced as recurring characters in the original series, the unconventional pair are elevated to the supporting cast of Soul Eater NOT, which delves into the origins of their partnership. The two couldn’t be more mismatched; Jacqueline is a strait-laced, rule-abiding girl who finds herself drawn to Kim, a troublemaking tomboy referred to as “The Witch of the Girls’ Dorm”. Jacqueline’s attempts to get closer to Kim and form a partnership are treated exactly the same as romantic approaches, with strategies like cooking Kim’s favourite food – which of course, has hilarious results. Unlike other anime that simply tease their audiences with subtle winks and nods, Soul Eater NOT doesn’t hide from Jacqueline’s desire for closeness being more than professional (I mean, she does dream about kissing her) and handles it in a way that is, honestly, a delightful breath of fresh air. No one questions it or runs off screaming “girls can’t love girls!” – the others don’t hesitate to jump in and help without treating Jacqueline’s feelings any differently to other orientations.

It’s not difficult to see how Jacqueline fell for Kim though; after all, she quickly outshone the main cast to become my favourite character! Perhaps the quintessential application of the “tsundere” archetype, we are introduced to her as a feared bully, but through watching the actions of those closest to her and sharing a secret with Kim and Jacqueline, it became clear that there was more to the antisocial extortionist. Before I knew it, I was charmed by both her rough thorns and the sweet flower hidden amongst them.

Soul Eater NOT isn’t all about the budding relationships though and staying true to the franchise, there is a magical threat lurking in the shadows. This side of the story is slowly drip-fed away from our principle cast in the earlier episodes, before the floodgates are blown open, leading to a shocking mid-season twist.

Unfortunately, the later episodes fail to even match that dramatic high point, with the choreography of the final fight possibly being the worst I’ve ever seen in anime. The series effortlessly made the human element of Tsugumi’s shared partnership with Anya and Meme feel natural, but the same can’t be said of the practical side. I don’t think I need to explain how a villain standing still as two people figure out how to share a halberd isn’t exactly an energetic climax.

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Potential viewers accustomed to Soul Eater‘s unique, quirky visual style may be in for a surprise with the more pedestrian, cutesy styling of NOT – an aesthetic shift with both pros and cons for the returning cast. Losing her kinetic, cartoony designs and expressions robs Patty of her identifiable charm, but the extra care and attention given to Kim and Jacqueline’s more detailed designs help breathe new life into the characters. Some characters sit somewhere in the middle though, like Maka, who is largely unchanged aside from a cuter face.

In regards to the special features, Soul Eater NOT has the usual extras you would expect from a title Funimation released state-side: textless songs, audio commentaries of two episodes and trailers intended for other markets (the curse of shared masters). The lack of a Blu-ray release was lamented when Manga Entertainment first announced the license, but having both Japanese and U.S. on-disc trailers advertise high definition releases does feel like adding insult to injury at times! Another extra is the “Soul Eater Whoops!” blooper reel compilation that failed to get even a mild chuckle out of me. Is there actually anything funny about an actor tripping over their tongue or saying obviously staged “random” lines? Bloopers work in live-action properties because there are other people there to witness and react to screw ups, but when we know that western voice-over work is usually done in isolation, that illusion is shattered.

In a way, Soul Eater NOT is a lot like a visit to the series’ Deathbucks Café; you may be served by a cute waitress and see a couple of familiar faces during your stay, but you’ll need an acquired taste to stomach the bitter coffee. While still set in the city Tim Burton no doubt aspires to vacation in, the love affair with madness being replaced with togetherness may alienate some existing fans, but “different” doesn’t always have to mean “awful”, nor does it have to mean “amazing”. If you can tolerate moe or are new to the franchise, Soul Eater NOT is a fun and sweet series, even if it won’t make the same waves as the main show.

Title: Soul Eater NOT! Complete Series Collection
Publisher: Manga Entertainment
Genre: Action, Slice Of Life, Supernatural, Yuri
Studio: BONES
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2014
Format: DVD
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 12
Running time: 300 minutes

Score: 7/10

Autumn Anime Season 2016

 

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

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

IncendiaryLemon:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sarah:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cold Cobra:

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

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

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

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

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

Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D’s Season One Review

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When most people think about Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D’s, the first image that pops into their mind may be a bright red Duel Runner with its impossibly spiky-haired rider because, after all, a lot of people simply laughed, shrugged and dismissed this series based on four words: “card games on motorcycles”. However, you shouldn’t judge a card until you’ve seen its effect and the same rings true with Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D’s.

The third television anime series based on Konami’s best-selling trading card game, Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D’s opens up with an introduction to “Satellite”, a run-down slum just a stone’s throw away from the luxurious metropolis of New Domino City. The two share a complicated co-dependence with each other, despite travel being prohibited and the clear class divide, with Satellite residents likened to vermin. Residing in an abandoned subway station with his friends, Yusei Fudo is unlike the peppy protagonists of Yu-Gi-Oh!‘s past in that he’s a stoic young man with one thing on his mind – revenge. Hailed as New Domino City’s “Master of Faster”, duelling champion Jack Atlas enjoys a celebrity lifestyle achieved through betrayal and now, Yusei wants to regain what he lost.

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Now, before we go any further, there is one important rule to remember when watching Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D’s – don’t just suspend your disbelief, but leave it at the door. There’s no point asking why a children’s card game has a place in law enforcement, is outlawed amongst poorer residents or is important enough to resolve world-ending crises – it just is. There’s no denying that the series is a glorified advert for trading cards, but we just have to embrace it and enjoy the ride.

Manga Entertainment’s first Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D’s release contains a whopping 64 episodes spread across two major story arcs – the “Fortune Cup” tournament that serves to summon all our key players to the field together for the first time, as well as their battle against the villainous “Dark Signers” and their world-ending scheme.

This time is well-spent progressing the characters at a natural pace, with long-standing disputes being resolved, allegiances changing and individuals not only questioning their place in the world – but finding it too. The result is a largely likeable cast with believable story arcs that go far beyond the expectations of children’s television, with the most striking example perhaps being Akiza Izinski.

Possessing the ability to bring Duel Monsters and the damage they deal to life shrouded Akiza in a cloud of fear, with many labelling her a “witch” and driving her to seclusion behind the mask of the “Black Rose” – a chilling persona that takes sadistic glee in punishing those who would ridicule her. Although introduced as an antagonistic figure, over the course the season we learn of the scared flower behind the thorns and bear witness to the struggle with a cult she was led to call “home”. Akiza was easily the highlight of the series for me; her duels were often just as much a psychological battle as a trading card one and the instances where her psychic powers ran wild were some of the most atmospheric and visually striking of the series; the chaotic ecstasy on her face was incredible and her more sombre, reflective moments were the most emotional.

When combined with the series’ slow pacing however, this overexposure can quickly become a double-edged sword. Leo’s hyperactive and overenthusiastic attitude may be the norm for a young boy and bearable in small doses, but when a whole four episodes are dedicated to his duel and his sister’s frankly cringe-worthy escapades in the Duel Monsters’ Spirit World (talking monkeys are involved), it can start to feel like a chore. In general, duels are occasionally stretched beyond their natural length by periods of excessive monologuing with few cards being played and repetition of flashbacks.

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Especially when taking the series’s age into consideration, I was impressed with the quality of both its 2D and CG animation. The addition of Turbo Duels (yes, the “card games on motorcycles”) adds a much-needed visual flare to duels, providing a more kinetic experience than just watching two people stand opposite each other (although those kind of duels still happen).

A few shots in the first season did look noticeably off-model and some CG movements were occasionally clunky, such as one scene when Jack Atlas effectively flops off his bike. The majority of the errors, however, were a result of 4Kids’ adaptation. On at least one occasion, the Japanese image of a card was replaced with an entirely different one, showing a Junk Synchron on Carly’s duel disk, despite the card being a signature of Yusei’s. There were a number of verbal snafus as well, with spell cards misidentified as traps on occasion and vice versa, as well as a surprising amount of misidentified monsters towards the end of the collection; which is especially unusual given that Junk Warrior has been used frequently since the very first episode.

As part of 4Kids’ now-notorious localisation process, it is to be expected that certain aspects will be toned down to match the target audience’s perceived sensitivities, but some of the edits here are borderline farcical. An example of this is when Yusei is injured following a duel and is carried away for immediate medical attention. Despite the obvious urgency from the rest of the cast, as well as visuals depicting bloodstains following his transportation and invasive surgery, the doctor performing the procedure is given lines diagnosing internal bruising! Now, I can totally get behind a world with soul-devouring trading cards, but life-threatening operations to treat internal bruising? Please.

Although the casting and vocal performances of the English cast leave nothing to complain about, the script’s over-reliance on quips can not only be annoying, but get in the way of characterisation. For example, whenever Crow duels with his Blackwing deck, you can bet that both he and his opponent will throw out any bird-related joke the writers can think of – which isn’t many, considering how many times I heard phrases like “birds of a feather”. I also wonder if one of the writers recently purchased a puppy when localising the earlier episodes and was just really excited about it, considering the number of random jokes about dogs that just felt out of place.

Ultimately, it would be foolish to simply dismiss Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D’s as a hollow product tie-in, because behind the trading cards lies an entertaining and heartfelt story that confidently speeds ahead of the series’ that came before it.

Title: Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's Season One
Publisher: Manga Entertainment
Genre: Shonen, Card Game
Studio: Gallop
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2008
Format: DVD
Language options: English dub audio only
Age rating: PG
Running time: 1536 minutes

Score: 8/10

Seraph Of The End – Collector’s Edition #1 Review

Following the international acclaim lavished on their pop culture smash hit Attack On Titan, the newly-formed Wit Studio have brought their stylish and slick animation to a brand new fight for humanity’s salvation with Seraph Of The End.

When ninety percent of humanity falls victim to a deadly plague, the remainder are herded together by vampires for their “protection” when actually, they’re treated as little more than livestock, regularly being milked for their blood like cattle. Yūichirō “Yu” Hyakuya, one of the oldest in a makeshift family of orphans, does little to hide his dissatisfaction with their current situation and often optimistically talks of a day where they will break free of their oppressor. When fellow family member Mikaela obtains a map of the vampire’s city, they hatch an escape plan and unwittingly play into the palms of a bored noble, whose performance while murdering the children would put figure-skaters to shame. Reluctantly following the pleas of a dying Mikaela, Yu makes a break for the outside world, swearing revenge on the vampires who tore his family apart.

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Four years later, Yu is trying to keep his promise as a member of the Japanese Imperial Demon Army’s renowned vampire extermination unit, the Moon Demon Company. However, a familiar face is now standing behind enemy lines – Mikaela Hyakuya.

Being an adaptation of a manga serialised in Weekly Shonen Jump’s sister magazine Jump SQ, perhaps it comes as no surprise that the story can sometimes leave the viewer with a sense of déjà vu as certain plot threads and relationship dynamics feel oddly familiar to anyone already invested in the medium, with fate pitting childhood friends on opposing sides of a conflict being a common theme seen in the likes of Mobile Suit Gundam SEED, as well as the dynamic between Yu and his superior Lieutenant Colonel Guren being similar to that of Fullmetal Alchemist‘s Edward Elric and Roy Mustang, with the two superiors curiously even sharing the same military rank.

The few similarities are only a small part of a larger narrative though; one that successfully brings fear back to the vampire race with its positioning of the oppressors. As the vast majority are depicted as adults in comparison to the human children they rule over and terrorise, this adds an additional sting to scenes of their brutality. This comes to a head with the Battle of Shinjuku, the season’s dramatic climax, which throws the young heroes head-first into a conflict that perfectly encapsulates the dread, anticipation and futility you might expect from the front lines. My only real complaint with the narrative is that the duality of Yu and Mikaela being on different sides comes across as forced, as I’m not convinced Mikaela would side with the vampires or believe that Yu is the one being misled, as the vampires don’t exactly have a solid track record of honesty and he didn’t choose to be turned in the first place.

When I think about Seraph Of The End though, the first image that pops into my head isn’t one of Yu cutting down a vampire or an emotionally-charged plot twist, but rather, a smug grin plastered across Sergeant Shinoa Hiragi’s face. Her snide and sarcastic remarks bounce wonderfully off Yu, a typical hot-headed protagonist, leading to a number of charmingly comedic interactions. This is true with most of the cast, with most of them being set up to cleverly compliment particular aspects of each other, helping to prop up the Moon Demon Company as a shining beacon of the “family” theme at the core of the series. For example, Yu’s encouragement of the timid Yoichi serves as an important early sign that there is a caring person behind the reckless bravado, while Shinoa’s thorny relationship with Mitsuba helps bring her down to a level-playing field with the rest of her squad.

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I can’t help but admire this series from a design perspective, with the Moon Demon Company’s uniform featuring a wonderful mix of green and black that, when combined with hair colours such as Shinoa’s purple, creates some beautifully striking imagery. Being from the studio behind Attack On Titan, it should come as a surprise to no one that the series has a high standard of animation, with action sequences being a notable stand-out alongside the incredibly detailed backdrops that breath eerie life into the post-apocalyptic Japan.

While the soundtrack is unremarkable for the most part, praise has to be given to the original Japanese voice cast, with Aoi Yūki‘s performance of vampire leader Krul Tepes being especially worthy of praise. Hearing a voice more commonly associated with cute and innocent roles taking on a more sinister tone works remarkably well with Krul’s slimmer frame, despite vampire rulers having the appearance of prepubescent girls being nothing new in the world of anime (Dance in the Vampire Bund for example). Out of the three other language options in this release (English, French and German), Monica Rial’s performance in Funimation’s English version comes closest in recreating Krul’s cute yet creepy charm. The rest of Funimation’s dub falls below expectations however, with frequent awkward pronunciations of Japanese names and many characters coming across as being miscast, with Dave Trosko (Guren) and Ian Sinclair (Kimizaki) being particularly notable examples, as they both sound better suited for the other’s roles. In contrast, the two European dubs have firmer handles on the Japanese pronunciation and stronger casting, with the German dub being a particular favourite of mine (although Ferid saying “Ooo-la-la!” in French cannot be missed!). The five subtitle languages using the same tracks regardless of audio option may be irksome to some, but I think we can forgive the lack of 20 different subtitle sets.

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The real magic of this release however, lies in its presentation. Being the first anime release from Universal UK, there was a lot of anticipation and apprehension around this title, but I’m happy to confirm that not only is the Collector’s Edition set exceptionally high quality, but it currently offers the best value for money in the UK industry. The presentation box is solid, sturdy and to the delight of some – completely free of logos, with the blurb and rating information being kept to an outer paper insert. The soft touch finish on the art book feels wonderful on my fingers; like a smooth rubber despite being paper!

The sheer amount of content within the Visual Guide is astounding: concept art, extensive interviews and character biographies spread across a whopping 129 pages, meaning there’s a lot of material to read through! I thought the inclusion of four Top Trumps-style cards was a really cute idea; I hope enough of these are produced to make an entire deck some day! The other physical extras, the poster and art cards, are really well made too.

There have been concerns about the box being top-loading, meaning contents is pulled out from the top of the box as opposed to the side, but I personally have no issue with this – in fact, the landscape orientation of the Visual Guide and the digi-book justifies it in my opinion. I wouldn’t mind if the box was a tiny bit taller though, as I do worry about the digi-book’s cardboard spine potentially being crushed.

Very few distributors within the anime industry have had as good a start as Universal, offering a fun action series in a package rivalling even premium releases for a fraction of the price (£39.99 on Amazon at time of writing). I really hope this series performs well for them, as I definitely would like to see more releases like this in the future!

8/10

Director: Daisuke Tokudo
Language: Japanese
Subtitles: English
Dubbed: English
Number of discs: 2
Classification: 15
Studio: Universal Pictures UK
DVD Release Date: 23 May 2016
Run Time: 264 minutes