Complex Age #1 Review

Complex Age volume 1
Despite being someone who doesn’t cosplay at all, it’s a hobby that I have a lot of respect for. All of the time, effort and money that people pour into making these costumes in order to become their favourite characters is certainly interesting to me, but not a lot of media seems to tell stories about cosplayers (that I’ve personally seen, anyway). So, perhaps to right that problem, we have
Complex Age by Yui Sakuma, which gives a realistic and down to earth look at what it means to balance being a cosplayer and an ordinary adult life.

Our story revolves around Nagisa Kataura, a 26 year old office worker who loves cosplaying in her spare time but chooses to keep it secret from her parents and coworkers. The synopsis on the back of the book implies that the story is about Nagisa deciding “what’s more important to her, cosplay or being ‘normal’?”, but that isn’t really correct for the first volume. The first five chapters of the volume (there are six chapters in total) focus on Nagisa dealing with her low self-esteem after meeting someone who can cosplay her favourite character far better than she can.

Nagisa loves cosplaying as Ururu from the fictional Magical Riding Hood Ururu anime series, which is supposedly a massive hit with females. She is a bit of a expert when it comes to all things cosplay and can sew up her costumes extremely quickly, never even dreaming of compromising on quality, but unfortunately this leaves her with a somewhat judgemental personality towards the hobby – especially when she sees other fans dressed as Ururu at conventions. When Nagisa makes a snide comment at some fellow Magical Riding Hood Ururu fans about how cosplay isn’t just a game and then walks away from a group photo opportunity, Nagisa’s friend Kimiko gets frustrated and orders Nagisa to create a costume for someone else as means of forgiveness for her rude behavior. When Nagisa is later properly introduced to the person she’s been working on the costume for, Aya, Nagisa begins to understand that cosplaying isn’t just about being able to copy the character perfectly.

In the final chapter of the volume Aya, who has become good friends with Nagisa and Kimiko, asks why Nagisa keeps her cosplaying a secret from her family and workmates. It’s here that the story feels like it’s finally coming into what it should have been from the start, but it’s cut short by the end of the volume. Now I feel like I’ve been left hanging for the next installment. That’s not to say the arc we started with was a bad one, because it wasn’t and I really enjoyed it, but it’s obviously not as important as what’s to come next and that’s a shame.

Story aside, what’s on show in this first volume is well done. Mangaka Yui Sakuma captures the feeling of conventions, cosplayers, and the general mindset of those who like anime and manga very well (with a nice amount of comedy slipped in). Nagisa and her friends are genuinely nice characters and very relatable, especially in one scene where Nagisa is working out if she can afford to attend to an event and is subtracting the costs of the new anime boxset she wants, costume materials, and the general cost of living. This is not a cheap hobby to have and I definitely fall into the pitfall of being distracted by shiny collector’s editions like poor Nagisa! I feel that Sakuma has worked hard at the little things to create a series that could be rather special.

This volume of Complex Age opens with some colour pages which quickly warm you to the art. Sakuma has gone for a pastel inspired style that looks really nice in colour, and throughout the book the artwork continues to captivate. The shading has been handled extremely well and adds a lot of detail to every panel. The end of the book is filled with designs and info for characters from Magical Riding Hood Ururu, which brings the series to life and helps connect us with the show that Nagisa loves so deeply.

Publisher Kodansha Comics have done a wonderful job with the release, which is bigger than your average volume of manga in both width and height. The extra space helps to emphasize the artwork. My best comparison for its size, that I own, is Viz Media’s release of the Tokyo Ghoul manga, which looks to be the same when I held them together. The Wolf Children manga from Yen Press matches up pretty closely as well. For those of you who may be unfamiliar with cosplay and the many different terms associated with it, Kodansha have put together a “Cospedia” in the back of the book alongside their usual translation notes. Between the Cospedia and the translation notes I never found myself lost with the many new terms, so hats off to Kodansha for a job well done there. This volume of Complex Age also comes with the original one-shot for the series which tells a similar (but very different) story to what we now have, so it’s well worth a read.

Overall I’ve come away from Complex Age rather impressed. The story has been well thought out and approached respectfully, and the artwork is simply wonderful to look over. Cosplay is a subject that generally isn’t covered that well, at least not as a main subject matter, so it’ll be interesting to see where the story is taken from here. My only issue is that the story we’re led to believe we’re getting doesn’t even begin until the end of the volume. That said, I’m more than happy to stick around for what’s to come and I’m willing to bet almost everyone else will be too. Highly recommended!

Score: 8/10

Manga Quick Information:
Title: Complex Age
Original vintage: 2014
Mangaka: Yui Sakuma
Published by: Kodansha Comics
Genre: Drama, Slice of Life, Seinen
Length (page count): 208

Attack on Titan: The Movie Part 2 Review


Attack on Titan the Movie Part 2When I reviewed the first part of the
Attack on Titan live action movie I came away from it intrigued to know more about the story and the world it presented us with. Sure, the movie had some flaws, but overall I was looking forward to seeing part 2. However, having now watched it I don’t think my feelings are quite the same as they once were.

As a general note, this is a review for the second part of the live action movie so there are some spoilers for the first part.

This movie picks up just after Eren, who had gone out of control after transforming into a Titan, is saved by Mikasa. Eren has been captured and chained up due to the chaos he caused at the end of the first movie. His transformation ability throws whether he’s human or Titan into question, and whether he’s a risk to humanity.

Ultimately Captain Kubal decides that Eren must be killed, and despite protests from Armin and others in the Survey Corps (who feel he could be a tremendous aid in sealing the hole in the outer wall), the order is given to shoot Eren. However, before Kubal’s squad is able to kill him, a new, seemingly intelligent Titan drops into the prison to capture Eren (killing numerous Survey Corp members in its path) and quickly flees the scene with the boy in tow. When Eren next wakes he is greeted by Shikishima, who explains that he rescued our hero from the Titan and brought him to safety. The Titan apparently escaped, which Shikishima suspiciously glosses over, but Eren never questions this further. Instead, after a “philosophical” exchange about how Shikishima wishes to change the world, Eren decides to fight alongside him and use his newfound power for good (starting with blocking the hole in the wall). Will the two, combined with the Survey Corps, be able to make a difference?

Attack on Titan the movie 2 screen 3
As this whole movie is a bit of a mess and full of plot holes I need to warn you now that it’s unlikely to make much sense from this point onwards. From what I can piece together, in this world the government experimented on humans to change them into a stronger form. The government succeeds in their pursuit but it’s not long before everything goes horribly wrong (because don’t it always?). Not only does the first transformed human (which later comes to be known as a Titan) turn on the scientists, other humans begin transforming without warning and wreaking havoc all over the world. The remainder of humanity comes together to build up the giant walls to protect themselves. With little land, room, and food available inside the walls, humans had to coexist peacefully to preserve what was left of the human race – something that the government was seemingly aiming for all along.

Eren appears to have the ability to transform into a Titan due to his father experimenting on him as a child (perhaps he wanted to bring down the walls and go outside?). This is conveniently revealed through a dream sequence. It’s also mentioned that Eren has an older brother, but this is only talked about for a single line and then never resolved. On top of that, do you remember the big bomb that I talked about from the first part? The one that meant nothing but Titans could apparently survive beyond the outer wall? Yeah, that plot point wasn’t mentioned during this movie whatsoever, which is not surprising but would have been nice for consistency’s sake.

Attack on Titan the movie 2 screen 2
Even if we leave the plot holes aside, this movie is full of issues regarding continuity and convenience factors. The entire movie is set within the area that was invaded by Titans in the first part of the film yet we rarely see any beyond a few select scenes. They’re often briefly mentioned as being in the distance but even though human activity is meant to attract them, they never pose a problem for the group. Likewise, many important characters are protected from fatal injuries/mishaps because of convenience, like my personal favourite, Hans (the woman who creates the Vertical Maneuvering Equipment the group use). She really should have died a few times over. On the flip side though, any characters who aren’t classified as important are simply killed off without a second thought. It’s a mess of a story and very difficult to put any emotional investment into because you’re never given a reason to care.

The characters overall aren’t handled too badly, as long as they’re either Eren or Armin. Eren, Mikasa and Armin all get their time to shine and are a good mix of personalities that make for a somewhat interesting group. Regrettably Mikasa loses some of her fearless attitude from the previous movie and instead stumbles about wishing to know if Eren is safe or not, and even when she discovers that he’s fine this behaviour doesn’t really improve. However, Armin is much better than I found him in the original Attack on Titan series, so perhaps it’s not all bad. The rest of the Survey Corp members are good enough but don’t stand out. While Hans and Shikishima are the best characters on offer here they’re also laughably stupid if you take them too seriously – but then so is the movie itself. All of the actors do a fine job in their roles though, so at least I can say that the characters aren’t being let down by those playing them.

Attack on Titan the movie 2 #1 screen
There isn’t a great deal on offer here in terms of soundtrack. The vast majority of tracks are reused from the first movie and even the new stuff isn’t really memorable because its usage is either badly timed or overshadowed by the action on screen. Animation for the Titans also falls into the category of being ineffective as although the normal Titans are done well, the human-Titans, like Eren, just look like Power Ranger monsters. They’re not scary at all.

This release comes to the UK thanks to Animatsu and is on both DVD and Blu-ray. This is a subtitle only release and there are no extras to speak of on the disc.

Considering all of the above, I’m now left in the sad position of not being able to recommend this movie at all. Part 1 seemed like the story had potential and it was genuinely scary at times, but part 2 had so many problems that I’m not even disappointed – just sad. I’m sad because of wasted potential and wasted time on my part because these movies could have easily been so much more. The Attack on Titan live action movie is only worth your time if you have nothing else in the world to watch, and even then your time is better spent elsewhere.

Score: 2/10

Quick Information

  • Title: Attack on Titan: The Movie
  • UK Publisher: Animatsu
  • Genre: Horror, Drama, Action.
  • Director: Shinji Higuchi
  • Year: 2015
  • DVD/Bluray Release Date: July 25th 2016
  • Run Time: 83 minutes
  • Classification: 15

Platinum End Chapter 9 Review

Platinum End

Ian Wolf’s review

Platinum End © 2015 by Tsugumi Ohba, Takeshi Obata. SHUEISHA Inc.

“There’s an ‘A’ bomb in Wardour Street. They’ve called in the army, they’ve called in the police too.” – The Jam

The ninth chapter of Platinum End sees hero Mirai continue to worry about whether or not he should attempt to kill someone.

It begins with serial killer Misurin, under the influence of Metropoliman’s red arrow, dumping her latest victim on the top of a large tower. She attracts the attention of the media and the local police, but she is able to deal with them with her own red arrows. Nanato and Mirai finally decide it is time to act and stop them.

In order to do this, Nanato has used his background working for an apparel company to get both himself and Mirai outfits to do the job. Nanato has a gigantic suit that was designed for the defence force, while Mirai has a rather fashionable suit that was designed to be used in motorsports, complete with a facemask with which to disguise himself. They then fly off to the tower with Mirai still unsure about using his lethal white arrows to kill Metropoliman, secretly preferring to use his red arrows instead. When they get to the tower, Nanato confronts Misurin, but she has something prepared for him: a bomb.

This chapter appears to be mainly setup for what appears to be a big battle between Mirai and Metropoliman. There is plenty of action, but this is just the build-up for something much bigger.

Therefore it seems that the main reveal for this chapter is the new costume that Mirai is given. His all-in-one suit made out of a special material, complete with hood and mask, gives Mirai a kind of cyberpunk look to him.

Score: 7 / 10

Title: Platinum End
Original vintage: 2015
Mangaka: Tsugumi Ohba (story) Takeshi Obata (art)
Published by: Viz Media
Genre: Action, Death Game, Drama, Fantasy, Supernatural
Age rating: 18+
Length (page count): 68

Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works Part 2 Review

fate UBW part 2 cover DVD

This review will contain spoilers for Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works Part 1

With his contract to Saber ripped from him by Caster’s Rule Breaker Noble Phantasm, Shirou is now officially out of the Holy Grail War, but he refuses to let Rin continue to fight on alone. Although badly injured and not standing a chance against the other masters and servants, he tails Rin and her servant Archer to the location where their battle with Caster is taking place. Little do they know that Archer has his own agenda and a secret that will change their lives forever.

The second season of Unlimited Blade Works picks up right from where the first season left off, but despite there seemingly being no break in time between them, there are a few obvious changes in atmosphere and production. Luckily, the animation is not one of them.

Firstly; there’s a shift of focus from both Rin and Emiya, to just Emiya. Somewhere between seasons Rin has stopped being the assertive, powerful and competent mage she was introduced as; now she’s mostly a side character to make way for Shirou Emiya’s arc, which is the entire focus for this season. Despite the sudden jump in power and ability that Emiya has gained between seasons, he still remains the weakest link in the series and sadly his story development in these 13 episodes does not help.

The main conflict is this: Shirou Emiya wants to be a hero of justice, a man who saves all lives at the cost of his own without sacrificing anyone else, which is of course impossible to do as not everyone can be saved and some might not even want to be. Archer shows up as a result of these ideals taken to the extreme; he shows Emiya that the only thing that clinging to these flawed ideals will do is make him an emotionally and mentally broken man, cursing the day he was born and wishing to undo everything. Emiya is shown exactly what the fruit of his labour will bring, and how unhappy it’ll make him and those around him.

So what does Emiya do? He decides to continue holding onto these ideals just as before. Why? Because… I don’t know, he’s got nothing else better to do, apparently. I’m not saying that I did not watch what happened, I’m saying that there’s no solid reason for Emiya to continue down this path. Despite the fact that Emiya and Archer talk for three episodes straight about what the ideals are, how flawed they are, why they bring about destruction and why they must be nipped in the bud, and then again just before the final battle, Shirou decides to do what is equivalent to a child sticking his fingers inside his ears and shouting ‘la la la I can’t hear you!’ when a parent tries to tell them off. Instead of repeating the same conversation over and over we could have had Emiya pointing out a more positive outlook on Archer’s memories, focusing on those who are living instead of the hordes of corpses we keep getting shown (which horribly is mostly piles and piles of black people) or Emiya recognising that just knowing his future is enough to change things like other time-travelling narratives tend to suggest. But we get nothing; we’re not presented any decent, strong upside to Emiya continuing down his route; he comes to the conclusion that because in this very moment he feels no regrets and he still likes the idea of a hero of justice, he’ll continue on. Instead of accepting his limitations and changing his unnatural view on life into a healthy one, it falls to the people around him (mostly Rin) to help him not become the broken man he might turn into.

What a horrible message to land on, and what an awful position to put the poor girl in; Shirou can monologue all he wants in this show but nothing warrants this dim-witted attitude. If the show painted it as a terrible tragedy, it could have been a sad but effective continuation of Fate/Zero. A man’s sacrifice for the one boy he could save ends up turning him into someone just like him but worse; a man who wants to save everyone but ends up only bringing death. Sadly, the series wants us to think he’s being ‘noble’ – sorry, I’m not sold.

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The other reason these episodes differ from the first set is that, despite the first season trying very hard to tie itself with Fate/Zero whilst also maintaining the bridge for new fans to hop on by introducing new magical terms and techniques clearly, these batches of episodes give up on both entirely. They do try in the beginning with two episodes deviating from the visual novel to give backstory to Caster, and Illya has her own episode to wrap up her arc (abruptly, but it still tries) with links to the tragic end her parents had in the prequel, but from then on no attempt is made to clue the audience in on, for example, what Gilgamesh’s Ea (large black sword) is, or what makes Saber come to an emotional closure in episode 22 when all she’s done for the past few episodes is stand around and watch Emiya fight. Even the reveal of important Servants’ identities are blurted out and swiftly explained in throwaway dialogue with next to no impact; say what you want about Sailor Moon Crystal, despite most audiences knowing the Moon Princess, it at least they tried to make the reveal a big deal, given that it had a huge influence on the characters and the audience. Unlimited Blade Works, however, doesn’t feel the need to because, as many Type Moon fans would say, it was already covered in another route, which we don’t see here. Saber’s character arc was in the Fate route, so in Unlimited Blade Works she takes a back seat. This would be understandable if you were playing the video game and went through one route straight to the next but we haven’t. At best the audience knows next to nothing about her and won’t care much, at worst the Fate/Zero fans will desperately want to know why the poor girl ends up being a pawn for the Emiya family.

This is where we reach the true problem of Unlimited Blade Works; it’s not an effective adaption of Fate/Stay Night. (I’m going to deviate a bit to explain why, but bear with me…)

Adapting a story from one medium to another has been done many times over; from book to film, from comic to TV series, from video game to big screen, etc. And yet there’s no one sure way or foolproof equation for adapting from one to the other seamlessly and without error; each story and every medium has its own pros and cons to consider when adapting, and that’s without taking into consideration the fan expectations. For example, when adapting a book you have to consider its mountains of text; the detail that went into the world building, the characters’ inner monologues and descriptions of locations. For video games it’s the interactive element; how do you get around the player immersion and present the story just as effectively without a controller involved? Visual novels have a combination of these strengths and weaknesses, especially Fate/Stay Night which had three routes with their own character focus and stories to tell; there were pages and pages of dialogue and the player was experiencing it all from Shirou’s point of view.

So when adapting the story, especially from a text-heavy medium to a more visual one such as television or cinema, you have to consider the following;

Who is the adaptation being made for?

The obvious answer seems to be ‘for fans’ but that’s where a lot of more niche attempts such as Vampire Academy and the more recent Warcraft film fail to break bank, because an adaption can’t just be for a small minority. You can’t expect everyone who loved the original story to cross over to the new medium to experience it again in a new way. For example, the first Star Wars film has probably been seen by an extremely large majority worldwide; however, not every person who has watched the film has gone on to read the books, or to play a video game version of it, or to listen to the radio drama. Having an audience follow the story in the same medium (film, in this case) is a big ask in itself, but asking them to pick up a comic book would be a stretch. So despite fans wanting it to be for them, the answer is that it has to be for a general audience; the more people (whether they liked the original story or not) that come to see the new, more accessible version, the better. Aim broader and hope the fans of the original will follow suit.

How much of the story do you adapt?

Again, the temptation is to answer ‘all of it’ but sometimes it’s just not logically possible; a scene where characters think of a scheme then talk to their opponent to fish information can work wonders written down, but visually it’ll be incredibly boring. Trying to cram an entire video game backstory into one movie will only result in being incredibly rushed and making little to no sense. The Harry Potter franchise split the last book into two films to avoid this problem, while Game of Thrones is a TV series spreading each book across its own season because George RR Martin knew squeezing each book into the restricted time of a movie would be intolerable.

Does the adaptation work on its own?

Imagine if The Lord of the Rings movie did not have the opening scene explaining all the different rings, why the ‘One Ring to Rule Them All’ has a special pull to it and the villain’s motivation for wanting it. Imagine if you had to read the book first before watching the first film to understand what’s going on; not only would you be incredibly confused and frustrated, but the movie trilogy would have nowhere near the amount of fans it has now. Luckily, The Lord of the Rings explains its mythology, the world and character motivations clearly, so non-book-readers can understand the story and become attached to the characters without needing prior knowledge.

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Now that all that information is laid out, let’s put these questions to Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works.

Who is the adaptation being made for?

This adaptation fails to pick an audience and stick with it. At first it was Fate/Zero fans, then it wanted newcomers, and then Fate/Stay Night fans. Aiming for everyone is fine but you have to remain consistent, which this adaptation does not. Where it matters most (the approach to the climax and the actual climax itself) it’s clear it sits firmly in the ‘fans only’ club and no one else applies. Which is a shame considering how welcoming the opening episodes were (remember the first two double-length episodes?)

How much of the story do you adapt?

Because of the nature of the three routes, adapting just the one with no additional material from the other routes would be detrimental to anyone outside of the game fans. In the Visual Novel, Fate served as an intro, Unlimited Blade Works was middle ground, and Heaven’s Feel is the final conclusion. Studio ufotable did include some anime-exclusive scenes to help connect the dots when it needed to for the side characters and villains but it does not take cues from any other route. Which is why Saber is mostly cast away and does not get a fitting continuation from her development in Fate/Zero, why Sakura disappears after episode 8 and is not seen again until the Epilogue, why Shinji gets away with his horrible actions and seems to learn nothing as a result in the end, and the less we think about Kotominei’s final unfulfilling moments the better. The 2006 Fate/Stay Night anime was flawed but at least it did try to add depth with arcs for all the characters, giving weight to the right moments and padding out the revelations (such as the connection between Rin and Sakura) to make the story more than just Shirou and Saber’s love. It didn’t always work but at least it tried to be its own story, without relying on outside knowledge to support its weight.

Does the adaptation work on its own?

The answer is a resounding no. The anime falters at deviating from the source material to make the big character reveals and emotional payoffs work. The world building is hastily explained at best or just ignored at worst; as previously mentioned most characters outside of Shirou and Rin are half baked or not developed at all, and the main conflict by itself is not deep, interesting or resolved strongly enough to carry itself through all 26 episodes.

Before we wrap up let’s throw in a few positives. The animation is still really good; it’s not as polished as the first half but it still glimmers with effort. The same can be said for the action scenes; although they rely a lot on recycled set pieces (the Unlimited Blade Works desert world and Gilgamesh’s glowing sword powers) but they’re well-choreographed regardless. The score by Hideyuki Fukasawa also packs a punch; Type Moon fans will get a kick out of the new version of Emiya’s Theme especially. The new opening theme by Aimer, ‘Brave Shine’, sounds very different to the previous opening; like an early 00s rock anthem. Kalafina return with the ending ‘Ring Your Bell’, which sounds like part 2 of ‘Believe’, using similar chords and chime sounds but with a more uplifting vibe to the song.

DVD extras are sadly restricted to clean opening, closing and promo trailers. The OVA ‘Sunny Days’ (animating the alternative ending to the original game route) is not included here.

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Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works had a great start and heritage to work from with all the right elements to make it a superb masterpiece, but instead its poor writing and rigidity in deviating from the restricted POV of the original Visual Novel shackled it before it could take off. It all looks and sounds impressive but in the end, the dialogue and main character who never learns turned the whole journey into wasted noise. It’s for fans of the original game only, I’m afraid.

Score: 5/10

Anime Quick Information

Director: Takahiro Miura
Number of discs: 3
Classification: 15
Studio: MVM
Release Date: 25 Jul. 2016
Run Time: 312 minutes

Yona of the Dawn Part 1 Review

Yona of the Dawn Part 1 (Eps 1-12)

Screen Shot 2016-07-20 at 20.50.45

“Upon her sixteenth birthday, the cheerful Princess Yona intended to tell her doting father of her love for Su Won, but her life was turned upside down after witnessing the man she loves cruelly assassinating her father. Heartbroken by this painful betrayal, Princess Yona fled the palace with her loyal servant Hak. Now, she will take up the sword and the bow on a quest to gain new allies and protect her beloved people. “

Yona of the Dawn_1

Yona of the Dawn is a good old-fashioned (but none the worse for it) fantasy adventure-quest in which the betrayed heroine, forced to flee for her life, seeks out the descendants of the four legendary dragon warriors who once made a sacred vow to protect her ancestor. It’s also a coming-of-age story as Princess Yona, having led a sheltered existence in her father’s palace, has to learn how to survive on the run and in the wild. And, because it’s based on an ongoing shoujo manga by Mizuho Kusanagi, there’s a central triangle of childhood friends: Yona, Hak of the Wind Tribe and Lord Su-Won, Yona’s cousin. Or is it more of a reverse harem as the doughty 16-year-old princess gradually acquires more handsome young men in her entourage?

Everything about this anime series has a traditional feel to it, from the character designs (faithful to the original manga) through the stirring orchestral score by Kunihiko Ryo. And yet it has a certain charm, good humour and narrative flair that keeps you watching. Yona makes for a likable, sympathetic heroine and her struggles to learn to become stronger and adapt to life on the run are very relatable. General Hak (aka the Lightning Beast) is the stern, gruff-natured (but loyal and warm-hearted) bodyguard that most heroines would yearn to have at their side – although he’s constantly teasing Yona (a clever tactic as this distracts her from feeling sorry for herself, even when they’re in desperate danger.) But by the end of Part 1, the quest is only half underway and it’s by no means certain that Yona will achieve her aims, find all four dragon warriors and regain her kingdom.

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I first watched this series when it streamed in 2014 on Crunchyroll and genuinely enjoyed following it from week to week. So how does it stand up to a second viewing – and does the addition of a US dub do it justice? And what makes it stand out from other similar series?

Thanks to a tight script and slick direction from Kazuhiro Yoneda, the pacing of the story is good; even though the quest proper doesn’t get underway until Episode 8, it never slackens, letting us get to know Yona and Hak better as they flee the treachery at court and face life on the run together. Comedy chibi moments lighten the tension and show us a different side of the main characters. And the legend of the Four Dragon Warriors is irresistible; even though the Kingdom of Kohka (based on Korea?) never existed, Mizuho Kusanagi has crafted a story that has all the atmosphere and appeal of an authentic historical adventure. Although Su-Won’s treachery – and Yona’s feelings about his act of betrayal – is not explained here, he is not portrayed as a one-dimensional villain. There are hints at complex motivations for his actions which will be further explored in Part 2.

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The US dub has Monica Rial as the heroine with excellent support from Christopher R. Sabat as Hak and Micah Solusod as the duplicitous Su-Won. At times Monica Rial veers into the shrill and strident, especially when Yona is being teased by Hak, compared with Chiwa Saito (Homura in Puella Magi Madoka Magica) who makes a more convincing sixteen-year-old heroine. Chris Sabat easily matches Tomoaki Maeno (Tenga in Kiznaiver) as snarky yet charismatic bodyguard Son Hak. The US dub script works well on the whole, with only a few jarring moments (“Hey, you guys!” doesn’t sit well with me in a fantasy context.)

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The opening for the episodes is unusual (these days) in that it’s an orchestral piece, “Akatsuki no Yona”, which showcases the atmospheric pentatonic theme Kunihiko Ryo has created for the central character. This opening was so widely liked that when the second set of episodes aired, many fans were disappointed to hear it had been replaced with a more conventional opening song. The mysterious animation here shows the legend of the dragons, whose relevance is explained later on, before a montage of moments from Yona’s imminent flight. The ending song “Yoru” is a rather undistinguished sentimental ballad from vistlip.

This BD/DVD combo release is the first Funimation series to be officially issued in the UK on R2 by Anime Limited. Extras include commentaries on Episodes 4 and 8, Promotional Videos (TV Spots, BD/DVD trailers, Promo videos), Textless Opening and Closing title sequences. The edition reviewed here is the Blu-ray which delivers excellent picture quality and sound, as well as easy navigation.

In Summary

With epic battles, nail-biting cliff-hangers, dragon warriors and sympathetic, relatable main characters, Yona of the Dawn is one of the most enjoyable fantasy anime to be released in long while. I’m looking forward to Part 2!

Score 8/10

Classification: 15
Studio: Funimation
DVD Release Date: 25 July 2016
Run Time: 300 minutes

The Heroic Legend of Arslan Part 1 Review

The Heroic Legend of Arslan Part 1

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Prince Arslan is the heir to the kingdom of Pars, a strong nation that sits at the heart of the trade route connecting the East and the West. When the neighboring nation of Lusitania begins to invade Pars, the naive and timid Arslan is soon thrust into his maiden battle, a battle that goes horribly wrong when the Parsian army falls for a Lusitanian stratagem which leads to Ecbatana, the Parsian Capital, being occupied by Lusitanian forces. With the help of his loyal warrior and friend Daryun, he barely manages to escape with his life and goes into hiding. Soon, Arslan, aided by his allies, makes plans to retake the kingdom of Pars and to find his father, King Andragonas III, who went missing after the invasion.

The Heroic Legend of Arslan is a 2015 anime adaption of the 2013 manga series by Hiromu Arakawa which, in turn, is an adaptation of the long- running and popular Japanese novel series by Yoshiki Tanaka. Whilst I do think that Arslan has its merits, the first half of this Action-Fantasy show leaves a lot to be desired, despite its stellar presentation.  

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The real root of the issue here is that there really isn’t a whole lot going on, both in terms of its story and characters. If you read the synopsis for the show, you’ve gotten almost as much story as you do from watching the show itself. After the initial 5 or 6 episodes which set up the world, introduce the characters and execute the premise, the story starts to meander and doesn’t really do anything of significance, mostly just showing Arslan and his allies in hiding or on the run from the Lusitanian soldiers. A lot of it feels like padding and can be rather tedious in some places. However, there is a revelation towards the end of this half of the show that could make for a compelling plot development going forward but it’s revealed too late in the game for it to have any real impact on the story in the first half. After said reveal, Arslan definitely feels like it has the potential to head in a far more interesting direction, so hopefully the second half lives up to that promise. Despite the lack of an interesting story, I was still thoroughly entertained and kept watching mostly due to some really fantastic action sequences. The best of these appear at the beginning, with the initial battle between Pars and Lusitania and the invasion of the Parsian capital of Ecbatana being the highlights of the entire first half for me. These are very well animated with a good blend of traditional 2D animation and some above average CGI animation that really makes the action stand out.

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The characters of Arslan are, for the most part, just as lacklustre as its story, with a couple of exceptions. The first would be the titular Arslan; whom I found to be an instantly likable lead, mostly because he’s one of the most genuinely pure-hearted characters we meet, and has a real charisma about him that really makes you want to root for him and his noble goals. The second is Gieve, a charming bard who’s a really lovable rogue. Apart from those two, literally every other character in the show is just kind of dull. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that they all lack personality, but they just aren’t developed enough to really make me care for them. This isn’t helped by a lack of screen time for most of the cast in the first few episodes, with the action predominating and some characters like Farangis not being introduced until later in the story. The main antagonist, Silver Mask, whilst having more of a personality than many of the others, is mostly just a two-dimensional, clichéd villain, which is a real shame because I think a more morally ambiguous villain could have made for a really interesting dynamic going forward.

The Heroic Legend of Arslan is a co-production between Liden Films (Terraformers, Berserk (2016), Aiura) and Sanzigen (009: Re: Cyborg, Black Rock Shooter, Arpeggio of Blue Steel) and they have created a really fantastic looking show that stays true to the manga it was based on. As mentioned before, the action sequences in Arslan are definitely the best thing about it, thanks in no small part to the excellent animation, which has some of the best-looking CGI I think I’ve seen in an anime and works well with the 2D animation, not sticking out like a sore thumb unlike most other shows.

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If there is one other department I must highlight as being amazing (apart from the visuals) it would have to be the original score. Composed by Taro Iwashiro, the spectacular soundtrack really stands out and helps to create a magnificent atmosphere. Despite the soundtrack, one thing I can’t really say I was overly fond of was the OP song, ‘oku no Kotoba de wa Nai, Kore wa Bokutachi no Kotoba’ by UVERworld, as I really didn’t think it fits a show like Arslan. Universal’s release of The Heroic Legend of Arslan comes with both a Japanese and English audio track. The English dub is all around pretty good, although I can’t think of anyone who was particularly outstanding. The cast includes some notable voice actors such as Aaron Dismuke (Fullmetal Alchemist, Cat Planet Cuties, Blood Blockade Battlefront), Ricco Fajardo (Seraph of the End, Fairy Tail, Prince of Stride: Alternative) and Jerry Jewell (Baccano, Evangelion 3.33, Shiki).

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As well as the first 13 episodes of The Heroic Legend of Arslan, Universal’s Limited Edition release is packed to the gills with extras, both on disc and physical. On the disc, you get trailers, TV spots, clean versions of both the first and second opening and closings (which is a little strange considering the second OP and ED aren’t featured on any of the episodes in Part 1) as well as the Short Comedy of Arslan, a short chibi comedy spin-off. In terms of physical extras, not only does Arslan feature a high quality rigid box, you get an 80 page, full colour art book, with character profiles and translated interviews with the creators of the show, 12 gorgeous artcards, 4 collectable character cards and a map of the Kingdom of Pars, which when flipped over doubles as a game board and includes tokens featuring characters from the anime. It’s a really fantastic set that fans of the show will absolutely adore.

In Summary

Whilst the action and sheer spectacle seen in The Heroic Hero of Arslan will keep you watching, the mostly bland characters and overly simple story will do little to hold your interest, even if it looks and sounds spectacular.

7/10

Director: Noriyuki Abe
Format: PAL
Number of discs: 2
Classification: 15
Studio: Universal Pictures UK
Release Date: 25 Jul. 2016
Run Time: 284 minutes

Ping Pong: The Animation Review

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“Table tennis is like an atom. To the ignorant it is merely microscopic and insignificant in existence, but to the dedicated, it is intricate in design and the building block to everything we know.” – Matt Hetherington

The Rio Olympics is just around the corner, while Tokyo is hosting the games in 2020. Sport is thus on many people’s minds so it seems the right time for Anime Limited to release Ping Pong.

Now, as we all know, sports anime these days to tend to attract a certain fan base – namely fujoshi who will try to make the series gay. This is a lot harder to do with Ping Pong, partly because the series has actually been around a lot long than you might expect, way before this fad. Although the anime came out in 2014, the original manga was released in the mid-1990s and there was a live action film released in 2002. Thus, it came out before the “fujoshi sports” series we now know were created. However, even with the challenging artwork, as you watch there is the odd moment where things do turn in that direction.

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Ping Pong follows two students who became childhood friends after bonding over table tennis, but both have distinctive personalities. One is Makoto Tsukimoto, who is ironically nicknamed Smile because he seems emotionless. As a child he was often bullied and called a robot because of this. His friend is Yutaka Hoshino, nicknamed Peco, who is loud, joyful and something of a glutton. Together they play for the same school club.

The boys then learn that a nearby school has brought in a Chinese player named Kong Wenge, a transfer student booted from the national team and desperate to return. Smile and Peco visit his school and meet him, where Kong plays and thrashes Peco to love, giving Peco’s confidence a knock. Meanwhile back at the club, the coach Jo Koizumi sees that Smile has great talent but lacks the drive to win. Thus Koizumi begins to train Smile personally.

They then take part in a major tournament, alongside Wong and the members of the elite Kaio school. These include Ryuichi “Dragon” Kazama, the greatest player around, and Manabu “Demon” Akuma, a childhood rival of Peco’s. In the tournament things begin to flesh out: Smile loses to Wong, but Smile’s potential as a robotic, ping pong winning machine is visible to Koizumi. Peco’s defeat to Akuma is so shocking to him that he loses interest in the sport and starts to slack off.

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As the story continues, we witness Smile’s training becoming more intense, slowly becoming seemingly unstoppable to those around him. Meanwhile Peco undergoes a great decline, one that almost kills him, before trying to redeem himself by attempting to train again at the possible cost of his health.

Let’s start by looking at the most obvious way this show stands out from the crowd: the artwork. If you are coming into this series expecting to see the usual pretty bishonen boys, you can forget it. Ping Pong’s animation is a lot rougher, harsher, manlier and aggressive. There are no cute curves, but instead it features sketchy lines. The ping pong balls are not drawn as perfect circles, but are either rather roughly drawn, bit-by-bit, or are computer-animated as perfect spheres. When you compare it to not just other sports anime but anime in general, it stands out. The animation looks a lot more expressive. It looks as if it has been done by someone who is saying to themselves: “It doesn’t need to look pretty – you just need passion.” We all like animation that looks neat, but something different is needed to stir things up a bit.

There is also evidence of this in the opening and closing sequences. The opening titles, which feature the loud, rocky “Tada Hitori” by Bakudan Johnny, features a range of animation styles in it. Some look relatively normal, but others look like they have been done in pencil. The end sequence, featuring the calmer music of Merengue’s “Bokura ni Tsuite”, features more pastel colours.

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If you are someone who is into the more fujoshi side of things though, there are some moments that still might attract you. There are little elements that still might suggest, even though there was no clear market at the time of its original creation, a slight whiff of the homoerotic. For starters, there are very few women in the series. The main female characters are the elderly Obaba, who runs the table tennis dojo where Peco first played Smile and who later trains Peco after his decline; and Yurie, who is in a troublesome relationship with Kazama. Also, there is an episode on Valentine’s Day where Smile is out doing his normal training, when Koizumi jokingly says that Smile should be his Valentine’s Day date. OK, the age gap is way too big so it feels totally dodgy, but there is a little bit of something there.

This collection has plenty of extras: two episode commentaries, episode previews, various Japanese and American trailers, textless opening and closing, TV shorts and promotional videos are included.

Ping Pong is a series that stands out from the crowd. It certainly deserves to be watched simply because it does something different.

Score: 9 / 10

  • Title: Ping Pong
  • UK Publisher: Anime Limited
  • Genre: Coming-of-age, Shonen, Sport
  • Studio: Tatsunoko Production
  • Type: TV series
  • Year: 2014
  • Running time: 275 minutes

Future Diary – Part 2 Review

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This review will contain spoilers for Future Diary – Part 1

The game to win the title of God is still afoot, and all major players seem to have their eye on eliminating Yuki Amano first and foremost. How does Yuno Gasai attempt to fix the problem? Drugging, kidnapping, stripping and chaining Yuki inside a large abandoned building, setting up traps around them so no one can get in, and waiting it out until all the other players have kicked the bucket. Yuki’s friends plan on rescuing him and getting Yuno far away from him as possible, but our pink-haired psychopath has other ideas which come into full view once the remaining players start dropping one by one.

In the review for the first half of Future Diary I barely mentioned the infamous Yuno, and there were reasons for that. One of them is mostly due to spoilers. Granted; the nature of her being utterly insane is not a spoiler as it’s very clear from Episode 1, but the way she gradually deteriorates over the first half of the series is. There have been series in the past that toy with the idea of a protagonist being a crazy love-struck borderline-abusive person but normally it’s played for laughs and eventually disregarded, or the ‘craziness’ aspect of said person’s character is ‘fixed’ in some fashion or another by the power of love (normally from the opposite sex). Future Diary plays with the latter early on when Aru Akise says that Yuki is Yuno’s only hope to maintain her grip on reality. But Future Diary doesn’t hold onto that for too long and instead goes full throttle with the logical path a crazy person in love with a clueless other half would take: straight up kidnapping and drugging them against their will. This happens just at the end of Part 1, and Part 2 picks up right afterwards.

In a surprising twist, Yuki finally realises that Yuno’s threats about killing others weren’t just a bluff and promises to never go near her again. In another series this would be the turning point for their relationship, with Yuno getting what she deserves (imprisonment or electric chair) and poor Yuki finding a way to move on from his traumatic experience. But of course, this is not what happens, for this is Future Diary where the writing quality is poor and cheap shocks take precedence over actual character development. So despite what happened to him, in the next episode Yuki ends up questioning whether to trust Yuno AGAIN when things get rough, and falling right back into her devilish grip. And it doesn’t stop there; in Episode 19 Yuki goes through a traumatic event that shakes him to the core, and results in the next episode completely changing his personality and motivations, making grand speeches and offing other players like his psychopathic girlfriend. It comes completely out of nowhere and feels really shoe-horned in as if he’s been replaced by a completely different character. Granted; brushing with death every day as he has over the past few episodes would cause a mental strain and eventually snap him, and if the series spent time weaving it into his past actions to see him slowly devolving it could have been a really tragic turn for the hero, but they don’t do that at all. It’s also incredibly rage-inducing when Yuki goes back and forth between whether to trust Yuno or not; there are at least four scenes where he says “You’re insane!” to her over these batches of episodes, like it’s the first time he’s seen her for what she is; dude, if you haven’t accepted it by now than you deserve to be stabbed by the pink-haired teen.

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The same whiplash effect also affects the plot and side characters. In a violent game such as this, where all players are meant (for the audience) to have an equal chance of winning, sudden story twists and ‘gotcha!’ moments are to be expected. Future Diary loves the execution of them but refuses to do the groundwork needed to make them work. There are plenty of scenes where a character suddenly pops out a major story twist that alters the course of the game or results in someone dying, but they come at the cost of making no sense within context, completely changing a character’s motivations or personality; having characters forget their powerful diaries within the moment, or sometimes all at once. None of the big twists have been built up over time or are particularly clever; rather they’re just ideas that the writers have thrown at the wall and gone with whatever’s stuck, without thinking about the lead-up. It’s all for shock value, and it ranges from groan-worthy to outright laughable.

Going back to Yuno; having her sent to jail and/or the electric chair would be suitable punishment for her crimes but in some odd way it’s a good thing she isn’t because she is, by far, the best character in the show. She’s the most active player and unlike the rest of the cast and plot she’s the most consistently written, having a clear arc across the series. There’s a reason her face is the most recognisable; yes, her wacky actions and bloodlust play a part, yet nevertheless out of all the characters, she’s the best written by leaps and bounds. There are plenty of twists and turns that she brings and then the plot throws back at her; however, they work because it’s clear that the writing from day one has been leading up it. Yuno also has the most volatile personality, so she is able to do wilder things to keep the plot moving without coming across as being out of character.

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While her character is handled steadily, the way the show (and other characters) treat her is not; it constantly flip flops between painting her as an irredeemable villain and victim of circumstance, while also one minute trying to sell her connection to Yuki as ‘true love’ and the next a horrible relationship that can only end in disaster. It doesn’t help that by the end the show turns itself on its head to try and make her awful actions forgivable. The ending itself, while providing a conclusion to the show for the majority of the side characters and the main plot, will most likely be widely disliked. It wants to have its happy and angsty cakes and eat them too, but can’t seem to get a solid balance to please everyone, much like the tonal imbalance of the show itself. The additional OVA that expands on the ending (Redial) is sadly not included in this set; in fact, the only extras are the clean opening and closing.

Future Diary belongs on the thin line between ‘so bad it’s good’ and ‘just pure trash’; its mileage will vary depending on whether you have the patience and sense of humour to put up with inconsistent tone, wild plot developments that come out of nowhere and badly written characters. Future Diary is a lot of things, but boring is definitely not one of them.

Rating: 5/10

Anime Quick Information

Title: Future Diary
UK Publisher: Manga Entertainment (Kaze)
Genre: Psychological Thriller, Action, Romance, Horror
Studio: Asread
Type: TV Series
Year: 2012
Age Rating: 18
Running Time: 325 minutes

Haikyu!! Season 1 Part 2 Review

Haikyu!! DVD When I reviewed the first part of Haikyu!! Season 1 I was pleasantly surprised with what I found. Coming from the position of having not really watched any sports anime and not being greatly interested in sports itself, generally speaking, but Haikyu!! impressed me. Watching only 13 episodes of a series didn’t necessarily guarantee that the series would continue to hold my interest though, so I’d been keen to get my hands on Part 2. Now, thanks to Animatsu, the second half of the season has been released in the UK and I’m pleased to report that I’m still a big fan of Haikyu!! – and here’s why.

This review does contain spoilers for the first part of Haikyu!! Season 1, so if you haven’t already watched it, then stop reading right now.

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As we rejoin the Karasuno High volleyball team, our cast are gearing up to take part in their first major tournament of the school year. All 12 episodes of the second half are centered around this tournament, but that’s by no means a bad thing. With new members and a renewed determination to make Karasuno’s team the best it can be, can the boys turn the tide in their favour and advance through the preliminaries to the championships of this tournament? Regardless of the outcome, we’re in for some truly exciting matches!

In the first tournament match the nerves are high and Karasuno are paired against a team with an incredible blocker. The team begins to wonder if they’ll ever be able to score any points against the mighty giant, and with Karasuno’s ace, Azumane, having faced a crushing defeat against this same blocker in the past, will he buckle under the pressure?

Haikyu4I won’t say too much more about the matches as telling you the results would take away from your enjoyment of watching them for yourself. Instead, let’s talk character development! Despite taking place almost entirely within volleyball games, these episodes actually develop our team a great deal. When I reviewed the first set of Haikyu!! I mentioned that I didn’t feel as if I knew all of the characters particularly well – what they’re afraid of, what makes them tick, etc. – but that no longer holds true. Thanks to these later episodes, I now feel that I know the whole cast really well. The only one we don’t see much more development for is our short star, Hinata, but as the whole point of Part 1 was to develop Hinata,  this isn’t a massive loss. I feel much more content now that I know the cast better and can truly get behind each one.

It’s also worth noting that the characters on the opposing teams are very well developed throughout these episodes. A few of the rival team members either have past ties to those in Karasuno or just simply have their own problems and feelings toward volleyball. As they play against Karasuno, they grow considerably – both as characters and volleyball players.

The only major disappointment character-wise right now is the lack of focus on Kiyoko Shimizu, who is one of the managers of the Karasuno team. Throughout the second half she’s very often seen and not heard, and I wouldn’t have missed her had she disappeared completely for these episodes. I can only hope that she gets more attention next season, otherwise I really do wonder what her purpose is beyond being a female character (of which there are almost none in Haikyu!!).

Putting my previous comments aside, I do have to give some respect to the fact that a couple of episodes did, very briefly, shed some light on the Karasuno girls’ volleyball club! No, I didn’t know there was one either, and no, they don’t stick around for the rest of the season. I am, perhaps far too optimistically, hoping that we’ll be seeing more of the girls’ team in the second season of Haikyu!! as it would be nice to have some properly established female characters. I’m not saying that there have to be girls in this show, or that it’s terrible and failing without them, because at the end of the day this is an anime about a boys’ volleyball team. I just don’t appreciate that Haikyu!! keeps adding female cast members and then giving them no focus. Either include them or don’t. It’s just a waste of our time otherwise.

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The animation for the second half of Haikyu!! holds up well with Production I.G clearly being at the top of their game. The matches are fluidly animated and their overall flow is captured convincingly. The studio have a knack for finding just the right angle to truly capture a shot and it really sucks you into the game. The level of drama and tension is very high in this half of the season and I think a less competent studio would struggle to show it as well as Production I.G have.

Where the music is concerned, things also stay pretty strong. The soundtrack overall is not as noticeable as it was during the first half but when it’s present, it’s always great. Composers Asami Tachibana and Yuki Hayashi should be very proud of their work here. The second opening (“Ah Yeah” by Sukima Switch) and ending (“LEO” by Tacica) are both quieter affairs when compared to the previous themes but work well for the tone of these episodes. The lyrics are also interesting, with the opening sounding as if it was written with Hinata in mind and the ending obviously heavily based on Kageyama’s feelings (the animation focuses almost completely on him). The cast of voice actors are also good, although there are so many that I couldn’t even begin to point out the better examples!

Haikyu5Haikyu!! Season 1 Part 2 includes the final 12 episodes of the first season across two DVDs or a single Blu-ray. Despite reviewing the first set as a Blu-ray, this set is a DVD so I’m not sure how the Blu-ray release holds up to having so much stuffed onto one disc. The only extras of note are the clean opening and ending videos and a couple of trailers, otherwise there is nothing to report. It’s also worth noting that this is a subtitle-only release as Haikyu!! does not have a dub.

Overall Haikyu!! continues to be an excellent shonen series that really draws the viewer in. I’m looking forward to the second season (which can be streamed on Crunchyroll) and the third season which will be aired in Japan in October. What we have here is a series to be remembered for quite some time, and now I truly understand why its fanbase is so huge.

Score: 8/10

Anime Quick Information

Title: Haikyu!!
UK Publisher: Animatsu
Genre: Comedy, Drama, School, Shonen, Sports
Studio: Production I.G
Type: TV Series
Year: 2014
Age Rating: 12
Running Time: 291 minutes

Haikyu!! Volume 1 Review

Haikyu!! Volume 1Since being given the chance to review the first half of the Haikyu!! Season 1 anime, I’ve been eagerly awaiting the release of the original manga by Viz Media. As I mentioned back when I reviewed the anime, I am not much of a sports person but there is something special about this series that keeps me captivated. I wanted to find out if the manga would have the same hold on me and I’m happy to say that it does.

Haikyu!! is a Shonen Jump series that follows the story of Shoyo Hinata, who, inspired by a legendary player know as ‘the Little Giant’, wishes to become the best volleyball player ever. His major problem is the fact that he’s fairly short, but with determination and some amazing jumping abilities he’s hoping to overcome the wall before him. For most of his time in junior high, Hinata is the only member of the school’s male volleyball club, but after convincing some of his friends to join him, Hinata gets to take part in a tournament for his final year. In the first match Hinata’s team is put against the favourites to win and there he meets Tobio Kageyama, a king of the court with amazing reflex abilities but an inability to work well with his teammates. After Hinata’s team is beaten solidly by Kageyama’s, our young protagonist vows to someday surpass Kageyama and defeat him in their next game.

Hinata then starts the first year at Karasuno High, the school where his idol, the Little Giant, played volleyball. However, when Hinata goes to join the club he runs into Kageyama, who is also attending the school, and discovers that the two must now work together on the same team! Will the former rivals be able to put aside their differences and work together for the good of the Karasuno team?

The answer to this question, at least for as far as we get in Volume 1, is definitely not. Hinata and Kageyama are told by their three senior club members (Daichi Sawamura, Koshi Sugaware and Ryunosuke Tanaka), that they must prove that they can work as a team before they’re allowed to set foot on the court. Not only do they have to show real teamwork, they’ll also be playing in a match against two other newcomers to the club. If they lose, Kageyama will never be allowed to play his favourite role as a setter in the sport.

This first volume is home to seven chapters and doesn’t reach the conclusion of the decisive match of the Karasuno first years. It does, however, firmly set in place the relationship between Hinata and Kageyama. The two are rivals in every sense of the word but they also have a lot in common. Even within just seven chapters they begin to change one another for the better. It’s actually quite impressive to see how much the characters grow in such a short space of time, and Haruichi Furudate proves a very good mangaka in the way their development is handled.

Of course you can’t have a Shonen Jump title without a healthy dose of action scenes, which Furudate also delivers on. Haikyu!! is packed full of incredibly well drawn action scenes, such as when Hinata is playing his match in junior high and even when he’s simply just practising with Kageyama. The characters feel truly alive, just as if – although you’re looking at static drawings – you’re actually watching them run around the court. Every scene has been well thought out in the effort to keep the reader truly immersed in this world – and it works beautifully.

Production I.G have been working on the anime adaption and I originally thought that some of the stylistic choices were down to them, but that simply isn’t quite true. The studio are doing a wonderful job with the anime but Haikyu!! is just as special in its original form as a manga. The comedy, action and overall brilliance is all at the roots. That said, I definitely miss the wonderful anime soundtrack and while reading this volume of the manga I had the first opening and ending themes looping in my head! The anime also delivers slightly better with the comedy, but the manga’s efforts are by no means bad. More than anything I just need to spend more time with it.

My only other thought regarding the first volume of the manga vs the anime is that the anime gives us more time with Daichi, Koshi and Ryunosuke early on so you get to know them faster. In the first volume of Haikyu!! we’re introduced to them but they’re quite heavily pushed aside in favour of development for Hinata and Kageyama. I’m sure the second volume will solve this issue but for now I’m a little disappointed as I really like those characters and wanted to see more of them this volume.

It’s worth noting that you don’t have to know anything about volleyball to enjoy Haikyu!!. The sport is fairly easy to pick up but the series is also good at explaining the more complex elements as they come around. It’s never enough of an information dump to be intimidating and more little bits of info here and there to slowly build your knowledge (and not be bothersome if you already know plenty about the sport!). Too many series fall into the pitfall of overloading the reader with expositions but I’m really pleased that Haikyu!! strikes the balance nicely – something I also praised the anime for.

Having watched the anime and now reading the manga, I can see why Haikyu!! is so popular in Japan and why it has such passionate fans. The characters have boundless energy and thus so does the person experiencing the story, whether it be thanks to the manga or the anime. I think the anime is probably the better entry point to the series but the manga is still a solid read.

With Viz Media aiming to release a volume of the manga every month (at least until January 2017 judging by the release dates we currently have), I’m looking forward to spending a lot more time with Haikyu!!. I cannot recommend this series highly enough for shonen fans as it’s just great fun with some wonderful artwork and a strong cast of characters. Like Naruto, One Piece, Bleach and other Shonen Jump titles, Haikyu!! truly belongs in everyone’s manga collection.

Score: 8/10

Manga Quick Information
Title: Haikyu!!
Original vintage: 2012
Mangaka: Haruichi Furudate
Published by: Viz Media
Genre: Comedy, Drama, School, Shonen
Age rating: Teen
Material length: 190