The Girl from the Other Side: Siúil, a Rún Volume 1 Review

“If you ever meet with an Outsider, you mustn’t touch them…because their touch will curse you.”

An ash-blonde little girl in a white smock has fallen asleep gathering flowers in a dark forest. A male creature of darkness – horned, beaked head, tall and garbed in black  – looms over her. The little girl wakes and…

In most stories, this encounter would not end well. But when the sinister creature speaks, his words are filled with gentle chiding and we see that he has come to protect the little girl Shiva, not attack her. A walk to the nearby town – utterly deserted – enables the unlikely pair to gather food and water before they return to their house. We see their domestic routine and learn that the little girl, Shiva, is waiting eagerly for her auntie to come and collect her. Her companion, whom she calls Teacher, is courteous and caring and reads to her (she’s too young to know how) from a book which tells about the God of Light banishing the God of Darkness who came to be known as the Outsider. He reminds her gently that he cannot – must not – touch her, or she will become an Outsider too. And then the story shifts to reveal knights searching the forest for a little girl. Their orders are blunt: “Kill it.”

This is the first manga by Nagabe to be translated into English and it makes for a very strong debut. Like The Ancient Magus’ Bride (also published in Mag Garden) it exudes a powerful and seductive feeling of Otherness; even though the subtitle is Irish the atmosphere evoked by the wonderful dark, grainily-textured art and the fairytale setting is more Northern European Grimm than Celtic (the knights’ armour) and the tall, slender tree trunks bring to mind the illustrations of Danish fairy tale artist Kay Nielsen. Nagabe is especially gifted at story-telling without words, making the most of the contrasts of black and white in some striking and genuinely disturbing sequences.

Nagabe delivers a believable and unsentimental portrait of a young child and Shiva’s relationship with Teacher is touchingly portrayed. We do not know who – or what – he is, except that is obviously one of the feared Outsiders. What we do see is his fatherly concern for his young charge – faced with trying to protect her not just from the Others but from the humans who have abandoned her as well.

And what of the subtitle: Siúil, a Rún? It’s an Irish folksong, sung by a woman lamenting the departure of her lover who’s gone to the wars. Wikipedia tells us that it can be translated as, ‘Go, my love!’  Will it be significant? It’s too early to say…

The edition from Seven Seas is attractively presented with two colour plates at the start and includes two 4-koma extras. Adrienne Beck ‘s sympathetic translation captures the archetypal fairy tale tone of voice perfectly.

At the end, we are promised that Volume 2 of  ‘A tranquil fairy tale about those human and inhuman’ is coming soon. But this volume ends on a nail-biting cliffhanger which is far from tranquil. The Girl from the Other Side is an unsettling yet strangely beautiful manga that will haunt you long after you’ve finished reading.

© nagabe / MAG Garden

Title: The Girl from the Other Side: Siúil, a Rún Vol. 1
Publisher: Seven Seas
Genre: Supernatural
Author(s): Nagabe
Type: Manga
Original vintage: 2016
Format: Book
Age rating: All Ages
Length: 180 pages

Score: 9/10

Yona of the Dawn Part 2 Review

Some spoilers ensue…

Crimson-haired Princess Yona, the only child of murdered King Il of the kingdom of Kouka, is on the run from the forces of her cousin Su-Won, who has killed her father and seized the throne. She is the reincarnation of her ancestor, the heroic Crimson Dragon King, and is searching for his four loyal Dragon Warriors, also reincarnated, to help her take back the throne from her usurping cousin (and unrequited crush). This quest is proving a harsh lesson in reality for the sheltered princess, not least as she comes to hear – incognito, of course – from her impoverished countrymen that her dearly loved father’s pacifist policies have resulted in widespread misery beyond the capital city. But Yona is made of stern stuff and determines to play her part in bringing about reform and righting injustice. She resolutely practices bowmanship and refuses to be treated like a princess by her entourage.

But what of new King Su-Won? In spite of cultivating the outwardly gentle, tea-drinking aesthetic persona that has deceived Yona and the rest of the court, the young king is out to unify his crumbling kingdom. In Episodes 15-16, the focus shifts to Su-Won and we see – through the eyes of bored and dispirited General Lee Guen-Tae of the Earth Clan – that the new king might yet prove to be a force for good and a man worthy of his loyalty.

Yona is helped by the White Dragon Kija to locate the Blue Dragon, whom she names Sinha, then the search for the remaining two dragons continues. But the Green Dragon, Jae-ha, proves frustratingly elusive and as Yona and her friends enter the port city of Awa, they soon learn that the citizens are living in fear of its brutal governor and his men. Encounters with pirates and human traffickers will test Yona to the limits of her endurance – but also help her to grow in self-confidence and maturity. By Episode 24, Yona and her four dragons entourage return to consult Ik-su, the high priest oracle, to seek his advice… and that’s where the anime version ends, leaving us, as the French so aptly say, sur notre faim. Viz Media are now bringing us the original manga by Mizuho Kusanagi in their Shojo Beat list but with only 4 volumes out in English at the time of writing and 23 so far in Japanese, it’ll be quite a while until we even catch up with the end of the TV series (Volume 8) and venture into new territory.

Much of Part 2 of Yona of the Dawn is taken up with the Awa arc, an important development for Yona in that she is shown as determined to conquer her own fears and put right some of the wrongs that have come about through her late father’s policies. Thanks to Kazuhiro Yoneda’s slick direction, the story-telling throughout is traditional but no less exciting for that, and there’s a light but refreshing use of humour as well. The creative team and the voice actors ably engage our sympathy with Yona and her followers, and it’s difficult not to get drawn in and care about what becomes of them. I recommend this series as a great watch for younger anime fans (it’s a 12) for (as with Bodacious Space Pirates) it delivers a sympathetic, relatable but self-confident young heroine. And even though there’s a little light flirting (and a great deal of joshing) the emphasis is very firmly not on ‘who will Yona pair up with?’ but ‘how will Yona get her kingdom back?’ (There’s also a great older woman role-model in pipe-smoking Pirate Captain Gigan.) However, this traditional quest may not appeal to viewers looking for more edgy fantasy fare. And it’s frustrating that the series stops just as it’s getting really interesting, proving especially tantalising with all the plotlines left unresolved. There are three OVA in Japan but these have not been made available to watch so far. Will there be a third season? Or will we just have to go and read the manga (as yet unfinished too!)?

The Funimation US dub makes a good alternative to the original Japanese cast, with a lively script. In my review of Part 1, I mentioned that Monica Rial has a tendency to veer into the shrill at times but here she brings a greater vocal range to the part, ably showing how Yona is growing up and changing. Both Junichi Suwabe and Joel McDonald convince as Jaeha, the charming lady-killer, and it’s a shame we only get to hear Josh Grelle and Hiro Shimono in Episode 24 as Jeno.

The stirring orchestral Opening Theme “Akatsuki no Yona” (Yona of the Dawn) by Kunihiko Ryo (eps 1-14) is replaced by the upbeat electronic J-pop “Akatsuki no Hana”  (Flower of the Dawn) sung by Cyntia. The gentle first Ending Theme “Yoru” (Night) by vistlip is also replaced from Episode 15; “Akatsuki” (Dawn) by Akiko Shikata features a solo on the erhu, the oriental two-stringed violin whose expressive sound has come to be associated with China. (Jae-ha is seen playing the erhu in these episodes.)

This Funimation R2 release of Part 2 comes on Blu-ray and DVD with both the English dub and the original Japanese track with English subtitles. Extras include Episode 16 & 24 Audio Commentaries, Promotional Video & TV Spots, Textless Songs and Funimation Trailers.

In Summary

Yona of the Dawn is a traditional but genuinely likable, watchable fantasy quest series with – a big plus-point, these days – a self-possessed, sympathetic heroine whose adventures should appeal to viewers of all ages.

Title: Yona of the Dawn Part 2
Publisher: Funimation (via Anime Limited)
Genre: Fantasy, Adventure
Studio: Pierrot
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: 12
Running time: 300 minutes

Score: 8/10

Review of DRAMAtical Murder

Aoba lives with his grandmother Tae and works part-time in a junk shop in the Old Residential District on Midorijima, an island divided in two. An entrepreneur, Toue Konzern, has converted the other part of the island into Platinum Jail, an exclusive luxury resort. Aoba and his AllMate AI pet dog, Ren, navigate their way through the various turf wars taking place on the island until they are both propelled into the dangerous online game ‘Rhyme’ set in a virtual world. This unleashes another personality buried deep within Aoba, ruthless and possessing a dangerous psionic power. Aoba’s peaceful life begins to crumble around him as sinister strangers seek him out and those closest to him go missing.  What lies buried in his past that is triggering these events – and how can he solve the mystery without harming those he holds most dear? But as Aoba and his friends are invited to enter the futuristic paradise of Platinum Jail, it becomes apparent that the answers to the mysteries in his past – and the other Aoba – can only be solved by walking into enemy territory and confronting Toue Konzern.

DRAMAtical Murder (2014) is based on a popular Japanese BL visual novel from Nitro+CHiRAL, the company famous (infamous?) for their adult-rated BL series like Lamento and togainu no chi. A lot of artistic talent goes into the creation of these games, with high-end character design and top-notch voice actors. Not surprisingly, they are very popular in Japan, inspiring cartloads of doujinshi and special cafe events and, inevitably cute and collectable merchandise! The manga that have come out based on these series have been less successful, and – like this anime TV series – they don’t portray anything of a sexual nature other than the occasional smooch. It’s also significant that DRAMAtical Murder was made before the recent phenomenal success of Yuuri!!! On Ice which, one hopes, along with the charming film Doukyusei (not yet available in the UK) will make it possible for more Slice of Life, character-based BL stories to be told well in anime and reach a wider audience. DRAMAtical Murder most definitely ain’t Slice of Life, placing itself firmly in the cyber science fiction category, allowing for the presence of AIs, virtual reality and altered minds.

So, yet another anime series based on a popular visual novel, only this time the male protagonist has the choice of several very different male partners. The main challenge is to gently tease the audience as our hero meets each of his potential love interests (could this be The One?) but – in the interests of creating a satisfying drama – the writers may well opt for a path that diverges from the one the viewer personally favours. This can result in a bland, unsatisfying storyline as nothing is ever properly resolved. Touken Ranbu, another recent series based on a popular otome game, almost imploded under the weight of characters that the writers felt duty-bound to introduce so as not to offend any fans by omitting a few. And when watching such a series, there’s always the nagging feeling that the creative team are writing solely for the existing game-playing fans. However, that isn’t really a problem here as the writers have produced a self-contained story that – after a few initial hitches – delivers the goods: it actually resolves the issues that it sets up at the beginning. And how many anime series do that?

Who is Aoba? Why does he suffer from immobilizing headaches and loss of memory? We get to learn more about him in his interactions with the various men he gets embroiled with in his search, ranging from his tattooed childhood friend Koujaku, through IT genius/hacker Noiz to strong, silent, bike-riding activist, Mink. All of the men he encounters have tragic back stories which lend them greater depth and interest as Aoba learns the truth about them. One of the deepest and most philosophical conversations occurs in Episode 4 with Clear, the mysterious gas-mask wearing, umbrella-carrying stranger who insists on calling him ‘Master’. In fact Aoba’s interactions with Clear deliver some of the most touching moments in the series as he comes to realize that Clear is probably not human… but would really like to be. Kudos to this series, as well, for the depiction of Tae, Aoba’s dynamic and feisty grandma, who knows more about the sinister goings-on in Platinum Jail than at first she is willing to share. We need more feisty grandmas!

When I first watched DRAMAtical Murder weekly on Crunchyroll I was rather underwhelmed, but returning to it (some early animation quality issues resolved) I was pleasantly surprised. As science fiction, it’s not very original, but the issues it explores about identity and consciousness through Aoba, Clear and Ren are compellingly and relatably done.  DRAMAtical Murder relies on a street-smart grunge to lend it some authentic street-cred, hence the different gangs like Morphine, Dry Juice and Benishigure with their tags, allegiances, tattoos and territories. Oddly enough this gives it a slightly old-fashioned feel, as if it’s trying a little too hard to combine the gritty realism of togainu no chi with a futuristic VR gamer-vibe. However, the character designs are attractive and the comic potential of the AI AllMate pets is milked (but not too much) alternating between the cute (little blue doggie Ren with his protruding red tongue) and the distinctly eccentric Beni and Tori birds belonging to Koujaku and Mink respectively.

Music is by Yuuki Hayashi (who has recently provided some fine soundtracks for My Hero Academia, Kiznaiver, Haikyu!!) and delivers here an appropriately futuristic palette of electronic sounds and tracks (synthesized and guitar) to enhance the futuristic world of Platinum Jail and Rhyme. A nice touch is the retro game music vibe that accompanies the teasing game clues Aoba receives. Nevertheless, it’s Hayashi’s understated and subtle theme for piano and strings which underscores some of the more emotional scenes that is by far the most effective.

The Opening Theme “Slip on the Pumps” (frankly not my favourite) and main Ending Theme “Bowie Knife” are by rock band GOATBED and are notable mostly for their unintentionally funny lyrics. There are also four different Ending songs for each of the other main characters: “BY MY SIDE” by Kanako Itou (Ep. 7) for Koujaku; “Felt” by Seiji Kimura (Ep. 8) for Noiz; “Lullaby Blue” by Kanako Itou (Ep. 9) for Clear and “Soul Grace” by VERTUEUX (Ep. 10) for Mink.  These play over a sequence of luminous and attractive character stills.

A US dub script by George Manley flows more colloquially than the subtitles (although with some questionable choices) and the delivery by the voice cast is way too variable in quality. Veteran VAs like Greg Ayres as Clear and Andrew Love as Mink deliver but, disappointingly, in the crucial main role of Aoba, Gabriel Regojo just hasn’t got the range or the charm that the excellent Atsushi Kisaichi brings to the role.  I’d recommend the Japanese cast every time.

The inclusion of the unaired 30 minute OVA “Data_xx_Transitory” is a bonus that will make this Animatsu set very attractive to BL fans as it includes slightly more edgy material (and is probably what earned this set the 15 certificate in the UK). My own feeling is that it doesn’t really add that much to the story as it’s a tad repetitive (and, if it’s only taking place in Aoba’s mind, suggests a rather more masochistic personality than the one we’ve been shown throughout the episodes).

The DVDs are reviewed here – but the set on sale from Manga-Animatsu is a Blu-ray/DVD combo comprising 5 discs. The only extras are Clean Opening and Endings and four trailers.

In Summary

DRAMAtical Murder works rather well as a sci-fi mystery adventure with sympathetic main characters, luminous backgrounds and an attractive, versatile soundtrack. If you’re a BL fan, however, there’s very little to get excited about as it’s all (bar the OVA) very chaste.

Title: DRAMAtical Murder
Publisher: Manga Entertainment
Genre: Science Fiction, Action, Adventure, BL
Studio: NAZ
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2014
Format: Blu-Ray and DVD (DVD version reviewed)
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 15
Running time: 300 minutes

Score: 7/10

Review of Battle Rabbits Volumes 1-3

Kokoryuu Kaguya’s high school life takes a turn for the unexpected when he’s struck by a bolt of light while waiting for a bus. Then he’s accosted by Mao-chan, a pink-haired, rabbit-eared girl who claims to be from the moon. Next minute, he’s fighting for his life against a murderous ogre that’s taken over the body of one of his fellow high-schoolers. It’s only then that Kaguya undergoes a life-changing transformation. Later, Mao explains to him that he – like her – is one of the Battle Rabbits, a force established to defend humanity from the ogres. Kaguya realizes that his father was killed by just such an ogre.

Battle Rabbits is the new manga from Yuki Amemiya and Yukino Ichihara (Ameichi), whose first major collaboration, 07-Ghost, won many admirers (including me). 07-Ghost was made into a 25-part anime TV series (still available on Crunchyroll) and ran to 17 volumes. So I had great hopes for their new series (originally published in Zero Sum, the magazine that has also brought us Loveless, Saiyuki and Karneval). However, as with Bisco Hatori’s new series, Behind the Scenes, sadly, those hopes have not been fully realized. The problem? The story is presented to the reader in full-on, ‘hit the ground running’ fashion – not a bad thing, in itself, if it can be fluidly delivered. But it’s all over the place. The concept of Battle Rabbits who come from the Moon to protect the Earth is wonderfully daft and the sight of the dashingly handsome warriors with their cute bunny ears is distinctly moe. Mao, the bunny girl Battle Rabbit who becomes Kaguya’s companion, even – annoyingly – says ‘desu’ at the end of every sentence. Are Ameichi gently sending up the whole fantasy action genre?

Volume 2 is a distinct improvement on the first. Kaguya learns more about his role as the bearer of the golden Rabi-Jewel and is put through a harsh shounen-style training by Battle Rabbits Earth Force Defense Commander Hijiri who, it seems, has been watching over him for some time. We get to see Kaguya’s difficult and painful childhood, which makes him a more sympathetic protagonist, but by the end of the volume, the golden Rabi-Jewel cracks in battle and it seems as if his life is over. Which is when he finds himself on an endless staircase (very familiar to readers of 07-Ghost) talking with a black-garbed, fair-haired man wielding a death-scythe. Yes, to all intents and purposes, it’s Frau. Is all finished for Kaguya before he’s achieved his aims, protected the earth and avenged his father?

Volume 3 brings answers – not as straightforward, of course, as Kaguya (and the struggling reader) could wish. Unfortunately, it becomes clear that neither the two mangaka nor their editors were sure which direction was right for the story and the downside of this is their failure to build up Kaguya as the viewpoint character. Too many needless digressions into other characters are annoying when the main character has not been given enough time to let us relate to him (a large part of this volume is taken up with the backstory of another battle rabbit and his little sister). This exudes a rather tired vibe, as if the mangaka were being forced by their editor to take the story in directions they hadn’t intended. A major plot twist occurs in the very last pages which seems promising after all the digressions and confusing background material piled up in the preceding pages. And more names from 07-Ghost are tantalizingly yet frustratingly dropped into the mix. I suspect that there’s a lot of foreshadowing embedded in the text but because of the clumsy way that the story is being revealed, it just adds to the confusion.

Battle Rabbits looks good; the character designs are attractive and distinctive and the action scenes are thrillingly (if sometimes confusingly) depicted. The translation by Jill Morita flows smoothly and each volume of the Seven Seas edition boasts two glossy colour images. Ameichi’s quirky sense of humour is allowed to show through sometimes with some cute chibi designs and one 4-koma strip per volume.

So why the disappointment on this reader’s part? Well, it’s difficult for any writer to follow up on a very successful title and 07-Ghost was deservedly very successful in the josei fantasy/action field, inspiring a 25-part anime series. However, 07-Ghost was set in a fantasy world with a dark, compelling and well-developed mythology/belief system and Battle Rabbits labours under the disadvantage of being set in the present day. This ought not to present problems (Harry Potter, after all, is set in the real world too) but instead of this being helpful, the story has to keep stopping to explain the many fantasy elements that intrude – and the whole warriors from the Moon set-up ends up feeling awkward and underdeveloped. There are allusions to Japanese moon mythology: the rabbits, Tsukuyomi (the Japanese moon deity), Kaguya’s name (as in the recent Ghibli film The Tale of Princess Kaguya, in which the moon princess visits the earth) but much more intriguing yet frustrating are the appearances of familiar names from 07-Ghost. Will these characters make more than a brief appearance? There’s only one more volume to go as the series was brought to an abrupt end, presumably because it didn’t do well in reader polls in Zero-Sum.

In Summary

Battle Rabbits is drawn with all Ameichi’s considerable skill and flare but the story it tells is all over the place and lacks focus. Nevertheless, if you loved 07-Ghost, you’ll definitely want to give it a try.

Title: Battle Rabbits
Publisher: Seven Seas
Genre: Fantasy, Action, Josei
Author(s): Ameichi
Type: Manga
Original vintage: 2015
Format: Book
Age rating: T 13+
Length: 180 pages

Score: 7/10

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.

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.

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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.

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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!

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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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Ouran High School Host Club Review

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*** This is an edited/revised version of our original reviews of Ouran High School Host Club which deals with the content of the series: story; script; music etc. posted to celebrate the new Collector’s Edition (as yet unseen) from Anime Limited.*** 

‘Maybe you’re my love!’

Studious Haruhi Fujioka has won a scholarship to the prestigious Ouran Academy which caters for the sons and daughters of elite Japanese families. Desperately searching for somewhere quiet to study, Haruhi stumbles upon Music Room 3 – and the dazzlingly good-looking members of the Ouran Host Club. Inadvertently breaking a horrendously valuable vase, Haruhi is told that the only way to pay the Host Club back is to become a host and entertain the young ladies of the Academy. There’s one slight flaw in the plan which Tamaki Suou, the ‘king’ of the Host Club, hasn’t quite realized: Haruhi is a girl. But when was gender confusion ever an impediment to a good story in anime and manga? One thing is certain: Haruhi’s presence will change the lives of the six privileged young men and maybe her own, too – and, in the process, afford viewers many hours of genuinely engaging and amusing entertainment.

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Based on Bisco Hatori’s witty 18-volume manga, Ouran takes shoujo manga stereotypes and wickedly satirizes the hell out of them. So we have the inevitable swimming pool episode, the beach episode (swimsuits and muscles galore!), the high school ball at which the best female dancer will receive a kiss from Tamaki, and even an ‘Alice in Wonderland’ dream-fantasy. Add in plenty of themed cosplay, so that the boys can charm the young ladies of Ouran Academy with their good looks and romantic compliments, and you have all the ingredients for an engaging watch that charms as well as amuses the viewer.

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Ouran is, above all, the story of a likeable – yet very atypical – heroine, whose off-screen comments on the antics of her fellow hosts is often a weary, ‘Oh, good grief.’ As well as the magnanimous (yet oh-so easily wounded) Tamaki (the one who dreamed up the idea of running a Host Club), there is cool, calculating Kyoya Otori who looks after the finances. Then there are the identical twins Kaoru and Hikaru (first years, like Haruhi) who like nothing more than to cause mischief – and the tiniest seventeen-year-old ever encountered in anime, the blonde, cake-loving, bunny-hugging Hunny (little pink flowers dot the screen whenever he appears) with his constant companion, the strong, silent Mori. In fact, true to its shoujo roots, Ouran is bursting with flower imagery: from red roses and cherry blossom, to the white lilies that appear when Haruhi encounters the forceful girls of the Zuka Club at the all girls’ school, Saint Lobelia’s Academy. But it takes Renge, a raving otaku who jets in from Paris to claim Kyoya as her fiancé (because he resembles her favourite character in a dating sim) to first label each of the Host Club members. Kyoya is the megane, Hunny is the Boy-Lolita type, the twins play up to the girls’ fujoshi tendencies by acting out steamy twincest moments, etc. etc.

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Another target for satire is the wealthy students’ utter lack of knowledge about ordinary life. When sent to buy coffee, Haruhi astounds them all by returning with a jar of instant ‘Hescafe’: a complete novelty. “Isn’t that where the beans have already been ground?” enquires one customer innocently. And the boys constantly refer to Haruhi – in her hearing – as a commoner, without even realizing that this might be construed as hurtful or insulting.

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If Ouran were just a series of parodies, its freshness would soon pall. However Bisco Hatori, whilst having fun at the characters’ expense (especially poor Tamaki, whose grandiose ideals are so often deflated) also invests them with believable and sympathetic back stories. So we gradually get to learn more about what makes them all tick. Haruhi learns from one of the girls that the twins have changed since he/she joined the Host Club. “Because of you, the twins are having fun.” And she, the hardworking honours student, also begins to open up and enjoy herself. Perhaps, as the opening song suggests, there may even be the possibility of falling in love? Tamaki is certainly very smitten with Haruhi – although, being Tamaki, he confuses his feelings of romantic attraction with those of a father for his daughter. Suddenly the ‘king’ of the Host Club starts acting very paternally towards the newest member, trying to protect her from prying eyes and amorous advances. The independent and self-contained Haruhi finds this behaviour extremely irritating indeed; she already has a father! (And thereby lies another tale, as the Host Club soon find out…)

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Faithful to the manga, both in content and in Kumiko Takahasi’s character designs, Ouran looks superb. We get frequent amusing glimpses inside ‘The Theatre of Tamaki’s Mind’ and manga-style captions and thought bubbles often give insights into what’s really going on in the characters’ heads. The prestige Ouran Academy itself is a grandiose vision of pastel-coloured architecture based on famous European buildings (the clock tower looks uncannily like Big Ben) and its lofty halls are filled with crystal chandeliers.

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As well as looking good, Ouran sounds wonderful, with excellent casts in both the US dub and the original Japanese version. Caitlin Glass makes a believable and likeable Haruhi, although Maaya Sakamoto makes her a little sweeter and less world-weary in tone. Both Mamoru Miyano and Vic Mignogna excel as Tamaki, delightfully conveying his volatile shifts of mood, one moment capricious and full of himself, the next insecure and wounded, sulking in a corner. Add to this an inventive and tuneful orchestral score that makes use of the catchy opening song ‘Sakura Kiss’ to great effect (if you recognize one of the more dramatic themes, it’s because composer Yoshihisa Hirano was also responsible for the score for Death Note.)

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In 2006 when the anime series was made, Bisco Hatori had not finished the manga, so the ending here differs and is in some ways less satisfying than the mangaka’s more developed conclusion. But this shouldn’t in any way detract from the viewer’s enjoyment.

Anime Limited have brought out a new Blu-ray Collector’s Edition, filled with goodies: a 32-page booklet and 2 sticker sheets inside. The extras comprise: Actor & Staff Commentaries, Ouran High School Host Club Manga Pages Presented by Viz Media, Outtakes Parts 1 & 2.

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We should point out here that, even though we’ve yet to see this brand-new Collector’s Edition, Anime Limited have confirmed that they have used the new Funimation Blu-ray materials and there should be no issues of image stretching as encountered by some viewers with the original DVD release back in 2008.

In Summary

Ouran High School Host Club might be based on a shoujo manga, but it should appeal to any anime viewer, male or female, who’s looking for a light-hearted comedy with a wicked sense of humour and sympathetically drawn characters. The ideal series for sharing, maybe? Highly recommended.

 

Title: Ouran High School Host Club
Publisher: Anime Limited
Genre: Comedy, Romance, Shoujo, Slice of Life
Studio: BONES
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2006
Format: Blu-Ray
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 15
Running time: 625 minutes

Score: 9/10

Nobunaga the Fool Part 2 Review

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Episodes 14-24  

The warriors of the Western and Eastern Star battle on to determine who will be the Saviour King to rule them all and to bring about the coming of the Holy Grail. Jeanne Kaguya d’Arc, cursed on the Western Star for hearing voices and being a witch, has fled to the Eastern Star with Leonardo da Vinci and allied herself with Oda Nobunaga. But after Jeanne is captured by her onetime Western Star compatriots, Nobunaga sets out to win her back. King Arthur sends the mighty Alexander and his forces to attack the Eastern Star and Nobunaga finds himself on the losing side. Jeanne begins to doubt whether he really can be her Saviour King after all…could he be the King of Destruction instead?

Another (not entirely dissimilar in concept) anime Drifters has just begun streaming, also featuring Oda Nobunaga among other famous warriors taken from history but adopting a more Berserk-influenced, grimdark tone – and playing with its illustrious cast with much more imagination than in this anime.

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The character designs are attractive and the concept of pitting heroes from Western and Eastern history and mythology against each other is, if not very original, intriguing. So why doesn’t Nobunaga the Fool work? The glaring problem is the writing. The characters may look attractive but they are one-note and impossible to relate to (except, possibly, the conflicted Mitsuhide). They spout wooden dialogue. And the US dub is much, much worse than the subtitles; Clint Bickham usually turns in a better script than this. I hoped, as the action shifted to the Western Star, that with the introduction of new characters, such as Alexander, Cesare (Borgia, not to be confused with Caesar) and Machiavelli (female), matters might improve, but they are just Villains. They are Bad.

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The writers also seem to have it in for Jeanne d’Arc who is subjected to some unnecessarily gratuitous torture scenes (hence, I guess the 15 rating). Jeanne could have been an interesting, multi-layered, proactive warrior, but here she’s just the voluptuous poor victim girl, whose main role seems to be needing to be rescued. (The project that this was a part of also spawned a play and – apparently – an online novel in Japan. You have to hope that more care was lavished on the writing, especially the dialogue, for these than on the anime.)

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So, if the characters are mostly unlikable cyphers, what about the famous mecha? Again, the CGI (used for the mecha battles) combines uneasily with the 2D backgrounds and character designs. And it’s hard to care about the outcomes of the mecha duels when the characters inside the machines come across as little better than machines themselves. If only as much care had been lavished on the script as on the colourful artwork for stills and landscapes.

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New Opening Theme “Breakthrough” by JAM Project sounds too bland for a series about warriors battling inside giant mecha with a deeply inappropriate tinkly intro which also features on the menu and sounds more suited to a romantic comedy. (Check out the brilliant OP for Drifters “Gospel of the Throttle (Kyouhon REMIX ver.)” by Minutes Til Midnight to see how it should be done.) New Ending Theme: “RAN” (蘭; Orchid) by ASUKA is quite inoffensive but, again, just not right.

Extras comprise textless Opening and Closing songs and four trailers.

In Summary

I had hopes – given the involvement of Original Creator Shoji Kawamori (Vision of Escaflowne, Aquarion) – that this series might improve in the later episodes, but this is not the case. Perhaps if I had been unaware of his involvement, the expectations might not have been so high and the resulting disappointment less great.

Title: Nobunaga the Fool Part 2
Publisher: MVM Films
Genre: Action, Drama, Mecha
Studio: Satelight
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2014
Format: Blu-Ray and DVD (DVD version reviewed)
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 15
Running time: 300 minutes

Score: 4/10

Nobunaga the Fool Part 1 (Episodes 1-13)

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“Will you find your own way or will you be pulled by the winds of the Dragon Vein Vortexes?” Leonardo da Vinci to Jeanne Kaguya d’Arc

Jeanne Kaguya d’Arc (the one who hears voices) is whisked away on a space ship by Leonardo da Vinci and Admiral Magellan from their home, the Western Star, to the Star of the East. There she sees in the carefree young warlord Oda Nobunaga (nicknamed ‘the Fool’) the potential to be her long dreamed-of Saviour King, the one who has haunted her dreams. But as if Nobunaga doesn’t have enough troubles dealing with the other warlords vying to take control, back on the Star of the West (ruled over by King Arthur) one Julius Caesar has also set out to conquer the Eastern Star and to gather the Sacred Treasures that will enable King Arthur to find the Holy Grail. Or something.

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‘Samurai warriors battle giant robots in a war of epic proportions.’

So proclaims the poster for this release – and that’s exactly what it is. No more, no less. Famous Japanese warriors (mostly) from the Warring States Era line up against famous historical figures from a far wider time period representing the West: King Arthur, Leonardo da Vinci (who plays a leading but ambiguously manipulative role) Julius Caesar, Brutus, Magellan, Hannibal… and Jeanne Kaguya d’Arc (Kaguya, one assumes, after Princess Kaguya who travelled from the moon to earth in the Japanese legend). Leonardo da Vinci crosses to the Eastern Star, bringing Jeanne, technological wizardry and a set of Tarot cards which he makes Jeanne draw from time to time and which seem to influence the events (and the episode titles as well): ‘The Fool’, ‘The Lovers’, ‘The Wands’ etc.) rather as, in Vision of Escaflowne, a ‘fate alteration machine’ and heroine Hitomi’s pendant influence what happens to the protagonists. Although forced to dress as a young male retainer, Ranmaru, Jeanne shows little of the feisty warrior nature you’d expect from ‘the Maid of Orleans’, blushing like a love-smitten schoolgirl around her crush, Nobunaga. Eventually, Nobunaga finds himself facing a formidable rival: Julius Caesar, who has allied himself with some of Nobunaga’s enemies and also has designs on Nobunaga’s sweet-natured sister: Princess Ichi. 

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Original Creator Shoji Kawamori has a truly formidable and amazing CV: having created The Vision of Escaflowne and Aquarion, not to mention many of the Macross outings and designed mecha for innumerable other anime series, including Transformers and the Nirvash for Eureka Seven. It was difficult, therefore, given his impressive creative background, not to expect great things from Nobunaga the Fool – and he certainly delivers mecha in plenty. But in spite of all the energetic battles, with and without mecha, something is missing. The whole premise (famous historical figures from East and West battle for supremacy) must have seemed a blast at the time but somehow the people fail to come to life, remaining two-dimensional in the least complimentary sense of the word. A whole bundle of ingredients are thrown into the mix: fan service; mecha; attempts at humour that misfire; magical jewels; prophecies… And the ghost of Escaflowne haunts proceedings but without the musical genius of Yoko Kanno and Hajime Mizoguchi to enhance the drama, not to mention the flaccid pacing and some tired, predictable plotting, it’s a lacklustre affair. The characters are not endearing; Nobunaga often comes across as an arrogant, petulant adolescent with a big mecha, and Jeanne Kaguya d’Arc mopes around, sighing (inexplicably) over him.

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The Sentai US dub is one to avoid. The dub script is awkward and even unintentionally funny in places. And the performances!? Scott Gibbs is, to be fair, not really any worse than most of his fellow actors in the dub but I expected better from the voice of Mikorin in Nozaki-kun! Of the original cast, Mamoru Miyano seems, at least, to be having fun in his swashbuckling portrayal of Nobunaga.

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The music, by experienced composer Masayu Yokoyama, is perfectly adequate (although I wonder if he was required to work with a temp track taken from Escaflowne for the battle sequences?)  He’s done far better with Arakawa under the Bridge, Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans and many more. The best music/image moments come with the stirring OP#1: “FOOL THE WORLD” by Minori Chihara  and the beautiful concept artwork (harking back to Aquarion) for the ED which hints at an early vision of what the story might have been rather than the pedestrian version they ended up with.

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In Summary

It’s a little sad when the best one can find to say about an anime series is that the artwork in the ED is truly gorgeous! But Nobunaga the Fool is disappointing, especially given the talents of the team working on it.

Title: Nobunaga the Fool Part 1
Publisher: MVM Films
Genre: Action, Mecha, Fantasy, Science Fiction
Studio: Satelight
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2014
Format: Blu-Ray and DVD (DVD version reviewed)
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 15
Running time: 325 minutes

Score: 6/10