To the Abandoned Sacred Beasts #1 Review

To the Abandoned Sacred Beasts vol 1 coverThe mangaka team Maybe first came to my attention thanks to Dusk Maiden of Amnesia. Crunchyroll streamed the anime adaptation back in 2012, and since watching Dusk Maiden, I’ve kept an eye on the team behind the manga. They’ve since been working on two currently running series called Tales of Wedding Rings (a manga that Crunchyroll simulpub) and To the Abandoned Sacred Beasts, which is being published by Vertical Comics. I’m here to review the latter.

Sacred Beasts follows the story of Nancy Schaal Bancroft, who is on a mission to kill the man who murdered her father. During a civil war between the South and the North, the northerners were outnumbered and started experimenting on humans with forbidden arts. Eventually they created Incarnates, humans that have been transformed into beasts with godlike powers but with an inability to turn back into what they once were (except for a few exceptions). With the power of the Incarnates, the war was swiftly put to an end but afterwards the beasts were met with a life of uncertainty and hatred. Due to the Incarnates being so powerful, the government wanted to bring an end to their lives, and thus a Beast Hunter came into existence.

This Beast Hunter, known as Hank, is an Incarnate who has the ability to transform between human and beast. Hank, who struck down Nancy’s father as the Beast Hunter, was previously the captain of a platoon of Incarnates during the war. At the beginning of our story Nancy seeks him out in a faraway town and asks why he had to kill her father, but their conversation is interrupted by the return of the Incarnate that Hank is currently on a mission to kill.

Nancy ends up tagging along with Hank, looking for answers as to why the Incarnate must be put down, and while the two adventure she realises that the beasts quite often have no sense of humanity left in them. It’s a sad situation because some of the beasts still show signs of who they were as humans, yet others do nothing but harm to those they’re living amongst. The story is written in such a way that we’re never lingering on the life of one Incarnate too long, and you’ll often find yourself pondering what could have been had they been left alive.

Throughout the story it’s slowly revealed that Hank has a past with each of the Incarnates he’s currently hunting down as they were all members of his platoon. It becomes clear to see that he’s not necessarily a bad guy and instead just completing a job that he believes has to be done. He’s a likeable character but perhaps a bit too aloof from Nancy and the world, yet certainly well written and easy to understand.

Nancy is a strong-spirited character. She’s not built for fighting, and prone to slowing Hank down when he’s battling an Incarnate, but she has the intelligence to make up for her lack of physical ability. For every time she might stumble in a battle, Nancy’s able to offer an interesting insight on a given situation, which redeems her character a great deal. Being the daughter of an Incarnate also puts her in a position to share opinions and perspectives that contrast with Hank’s and pave the way for some interesting conversations.

This is the first of Maybe’s work to be published physically in English and (while I’m disappointed it wasn’t Dusk Maiden of Amnesia) Vertical Comics have made a good choice. The story, as I’ve hopefully explained, is very well written, the artwork is gorgeous, and the character designs are striking. Maybe have always had a good eye for designing characters and Hank and Nancy are both well done. They’re simple designs but are brought alive by the little details, most notably the realism of their eyes and facial expressions. Backgrounds are also very detailed and remarkable. There is always a lot to see and I found that the shading was really well done to show the distinction between night and day scenes.

Action scenes are striking and packed with detail but this was never enough to confuse me as a reader. It’s always easy to work out where any character is at a given time. To the Abandoned Sacred Beasts is only the second series the team have done that is so heavily focused around action and Maybe definitely deserve some recognition for handling their battle scenes so well. It’s pleasing to see and leaves me feeling satisfied that this series has a good future ahead of it in this regard.

Overall the first volume of To the Abandoned Sacred Beasts offers a satisfying read and ends on just enough of a cliffhanger to leave you wanting to know more. Maybe have crafted an interesting story with a – so far – small but likable cast and I’m really excited to see where things go from here.

Score: 8/10

Manga Quick Information

UK Publisher: Vertical Comics
Genre: Fantasy, Shounen
Mangaka: Maybe
Number of Pages: 200

Blood-C Demonic Moonlight #1 Review

Blood C demonic moonlight volume 1

  • I’ve never watched Blood-C before. Long have I wanted to see the anime series but I’ve never quite got around to doing so. Thankfully, a handy introduction to the series finally made its way to me in the form of the first volume of Blood-C Demonic Moonlight, published by Dark Horse. This two-volume manga acts a prequel to the Blood-C anime and so far I’ve found it a good introduction to CLAMP/Production I.G’s mysterious world.

    The story is set in the year 1946 and centers around a second lieutenant of the American military, David, who’s job is to investigate “strange” incidents. These bizarre cases can range from murders that couldn’t possibly have been committed by a human, to reports of children being ‘spirited away’. During his investigations, David runs into a mysterious man known as Kagekiri, who seems to have an understanding of these supernatural occurrences. All of these incidents tie back to the Ancients: creatures that take advantage of humans as a means of feeding on them. Unfortunately, this volume doesn’t clearly explain the intents of the Ancients, simply that they’re the cause of these incidents in order to find food.

    What David lacks in knowledge is made up for with his good fighting reflexes and investigator’s intuition. While he and Kagekiri are polar opposites in terms of personality, the two make a fairly good team whenever fate puts them together. David is a caring man and shoulders the burden of being an American stationed in Japan after the war, so he, like many other Americans, isn’t treated all that well by most Japanese citizens. Despite this, however, he always does his best for the people in the towns that he travels through.

    Kagekiri is a respected priest that travels from shrine to shrine investigating any mysterious cases that the locals have been discussing. Although he’s known as a priest, he doesn’t do any of the duties that a priest would normally perform. Instead Kagekiri comes off like a bit of a carefree freeloader to others but when faced with an Ancient his personality changes drastically to a much more serious tone. Kagekiri wields a mysterious sword, which is actually just the hilt of a sword that can create a full blade through spiritual power, and hints are dropped throughout the book that perhaps he isn’t even human!

    Whatever the case may be with Kagekiri, our story overall is an interesting one. This first volume includes three different stories (one of them being split across two chapters) and it’s nice to see that David’s whole life doesn’t revolve around his being stuck with Kagekiri. The two only encounter another every few months going by the timeline of these stories. These periodic interactions keep their relationship fresh and prevents either of them getting on the other’s nerves (or ours).

    This type of episodic storytelling also leaves room for plenty of intrigue surrounding Kagekiri and offers more than enough secrets to leave you wanting more. I could see this approach to the story begin to feel stale if this were aiming to be a long running series but for a two-volume plot it works rather well. How this story links up to Blood-C is not yet all that apparent (apart from Kagekiri’s sword) but artist Ryo Haduki teases that the connection will become clear in the next volume.

    Blood-C Demonic Moonlight has been put together by CLAMP, Production I.G, and handled by Ryo Haduki. Haduki doesn’t yet have any other manga tied to his name so there isn’t anything to draw comparisons to, but regardless I’m fond of the work that he’s done here. Backgrounds and characters are drawn well and the panel layouts always fit nicely for the action scenes. The Ancients too are nicely drawn and suitably intimidating for the role they’re meant to fill.

    My only complaint in regards to the artwork is that I feel as though the action scenes were too smooth. The images are detailed and work for this type of series, but the problem is that they work too well. The characters react too precisely and methodically and the environments unrealistically favour their success, and as a result I’d frequently start to lose my connection with what was happening. The battles didn’t draw me into the world enough, nor did I ever truly believe that the cast were in real danger. It’s a difficult feeling to explain but I think saying that some scenes, even for a fantasy series like this, just didn’t feel believable enough for these characters.

    Overall I had a good time with the first volume of Blood-C Demonic Moonlight. Putting my complaints about the art aside, I’ve been drawn in by the cast and I’m hooked enough to be interested in volume two. I think that this works rather well as an introduction to the Blood-C universe, and now I really do need to actually watch Blood-C itself…
  • Score: 6/10
  • Manga Quick Information
    UK Publisher: Dark Horse
    Genre: Mystery, Horror, Supernatural
    Mangaka: Ryo Haduki
    Number of pages: 184

Toppu GP Chapters 1 & 2 Review

Review of Toppu GP, Chapters 1 & 2

Toppu GP

Ian Wolf’s review

 “What I like about a bike is that if you get it wrong, you die. See what I mean? What’s good about that is that it sort of keeps me on my toes.” – Ross Noble

 If you came across Kosuke Fujishima’s Paradise Residence, recently released by Kodansha Comics a few weeks ago, you would have seen the splendid image of a schoolgirl riding the tiniest motorbike you could imagine. Fujishima’s latest work lets him delve further into this sport.

Of course, this being a sports manga, this does lead to one particular issue: namely the inevitable attempts by people to imagine that all the guys in the series are somehow gay. Does this happen in Toppu GP? Surprisingly, I think in one way it does, but let’s stick to the story for now.

The story starts with 18-year-old Toppu Uno, about to start a race which may see him become the world’s youngest ever MotoGP champion. Before it begins, he says to himself: “Big sis, I hope you’re watching.” From then on, the entire story is told in flashback, taking place seven years earlier. Toppu’s sister, Myne, is a top 250CC biker. Toppu watches her devotedly, and is even able to tell her laps times exactly without the need of a stopwatch, but he would rather not race. He would rather spend his time making Gundam models.

Their father, who works as Myne’s mechanic and is also an inspiring novelist, manages to persuade Toppu to ride a bike too, even though he has never ridden one before. However, after some instruction, he takes to the course, with Myne motivating him more by saying that if he can complete five laps of the track and come out first, she will buy him another model. Can he come out on top at the end of his very first race?

Kodansha released the first two chapters together, which considering the pacing of the plot makes sense as you do have Toppu’s first race told over the course of both of them. There is a fair amount to enjoy, such as the relationship between the three main characters, and there is some humour thrown into the mix as well when we find out what happens at the end of the race. The artwork however does look slightly wrong in some places. For example, at times it looks as if  people’s dark trousers are blending in with the bike tyres.

But there is plenty to keep the reader interested, primarily due to the use of the flashback. We know that something has happened to Toppu’s sister. The first and most obvious conclusion is that Myne has been in some form of motorbike accident, cutting short her career or perhaps even killing her, but we don’t know for sure yet. It will be interesting to see how it plays out.

But as it is a sports series, we do end up back at the same issue: whether the fujoshi and fudanshi will somehow find an angle that will turn this somewhat innocent series into having those homosexual overtones. When you first read it, it seems like there won’t be any. After all, the only regular characters so far have all come from the same family, and the only possible relationship would be between father and son, wrong in all sorts of ways.

Then I realised something. Something that not only makes this series one for the fujoshi community, but one that could arguably make it more gay than possibly any of the other sports series around: leathers! Every single person on the circuit is dressed in protective suits, made out of possibly the kinkiest, most stereotypically homosexual material around. What this manga now gives us is a reason for the more fetishistic cosplayers to experiment a bit. Safe to say, we can probably expect to see some big shiny helmets coming soon.

The third chapter comes out on 24th June.

Score: 8 / 10

Title: Toppu GP
Original vintage: 2016
Mangaka: Kosuke Fujishima
Published by: Kodansha Comics
Genre: Action, Coming-of-Age, Drama, Sport
Age rating: 13+
Material length: 57

 

TOPPU GP © Kosuke Fujishima/ Kodansha Ltd.

Tokyo Ghoul √A Review

Tokyo Ghoul Root A_Ltd Ed Blu-ray_3D

This review contains spoilers for Tokyo Ghoul.

After enduring torture at the hands of Jason, Ken Kaneki decides to embraces his ghoul half and consume the body of his tormentor. Despite his friends coming to his aid, it’s too late, Kaneki is a changed man and no longer wishes to turn back to the quiet life at the coffee shop. Instead he’s decided to turn his back on them and join the Aogiri Tree, much to Touka’s dismay. But with the CCG drawing ever closer to eradicating the One Eyed Owl and Aogiri Tree, will Kaneki ever find a place in this world?

On paper Tokyo Ghoul √A looks like a seamless continuation of the first season; the opening episode plays out like the long-overdue season finale that we should have seen at the end of Tokyo Ghoul with Kaneki closing the door on his human life, choosing to embrace his ghoulish nature. Plot-wise the two stream perfectly together; however, it slowly becomes clear after the first episode that the two are not so joined at the hip, and not just because the animation budget takes a hit for the first few episodes.

Tokyo Ghoul Root A_3

For the first season, even though we had several ghouls and humans hogging the spotlight and receiving character development, the main voice of the series was Kaneki. We heard his inner voice and saw things from his perspective; he was the audience surrogate whom we watched suffer and learn to adapt to his new ghoulish ways. In Tokyo Ghoul √A we no longer hear his inner voice and because he joins one of the more aggressive (near antagonistic) ghoul groups, he’s no longer the proxy of the audience, he distances himself from the others as well as us, therefore the narrative is shared amongst cast members we’ve already met as well as a few new additions. This change obviously has its pros and cons. The positives are mostly reserved for the cast that carry on from the first season that get more time in the spotlight, especially the human characters that have more of a say as to why they want to eradicate all ghouls. Their actions are not waved away or forgiven but given relatable motives via how they view of the world, adding to the ‘shades of grey’ view point that Tokyo Ghoul excels at. The negatives first appear early on with Kaneki as he continues to grow and go through some serious mentally challenging situations; having his inner voice would have added more of an emotional punch, similar to the heart-breaking scenes we endured for the season finale of Tokyo Ghoul, but sadly it’s lacking here so it’s an emotionally colder series as a result. The other side effect lies with the newer characters that were either introduced in the last episodes of season one or beginning of √A; the series tries to cram in their tragic backstory into a handful (or sometimes just the one) scene in an episode to make the audience feel sympathy for them, and just before they’re fatally wounded, killed, or written off the show. It happens enough times to be noticeable and frustrating to sit through; you can’t expect us to feel sorry for a character suffering a life-threatening wound after one scene explaining how horrible their life was, when we got several episodes in the first season revealing in great detail why each ghoul has to do the things they do to survive.

Tokyo Ghoul Root A_9

Tokyo Ghoul shook a lot of fans during its initial run due to its graphical bloody gore, and its intimate showing of it. That’s also changed in √A; of course by now the shock of seeing such bloodshed has worn off, but instead of trying to up its game to the point of having overblown blood everywhere like some series to maintain its ‘edgy’ appeal, √A instead goes for a broader spectrum of gore, showing the brutality of fight scenes (of which there are more) and having the cast gasp at Kaneki’s new ‘taste’ for flesh. This may disappoint some audiences but this was the best way to go; going for more outrageous blood fountains and eating flesh carnage would have eventually worn out its welcome or worse, turning it into a comical exploit, rather than the horrific action it’s meant to be.

The first season also left the audience with many unanswered questions; the nature of each ghoul’s personal attacks and why some are stronger than others just being one. Does √A answer all questions left hanging? Not only does it not, but instead adds more. The biggest early example is what a Kakuja is – the ghouls act like it’s a ghastly thing to turn into, and the audience with no manga knowledge can gather that it’s a somewhat nastier version of a typical ghoul – but how so? Why does it happen? How did it come to be known in the first place? There’s also the whole backstory of the One Eyed Owl, and the numerous characters such as Armia showing up in the last few episodes, apparently being CCG’s ace member, but we know nothing about him and why he ends up taking the last scenes of the series that had next to nothing to do with him. As a result, the overall conclusion of the series fails to tie up all the loose ends it opens in the first place. There are a few OVAs tied to the series (currently not out in the UK) that may or may not help remedy the situation, but it seems that the series left things open in hopes of a sequel…which is currently up for debate. Manga fans will have plenty of reasons to feel smug by the end of the series, is the best way to describe it.

Tokyo Ghoul Root A_8

Yutaka Yamada returns to provide the score for the series and seems to favour inserting random English songs into the soundtrack. Credit where it’s due; the English is mostly very good, however for the first half of the series every episode ends on a different English song, often out of the blue and tonally doesn’t work with the scene, strange addition indeed. New opening song ‘Incompetence’ by Muno is backed by a very artsy animation, with accompanying strange lyrics and a voice that sounds like a cross between Kate Bush and Bjork, however the song lacks compared to the soul-screaming ‘unravel’ the first season had. Luckily there’s a stunning acoustic version of said song that’s played out during the final scenes of the √A. Ending theme (The Seasons Die Out, One After Another ) is provided by Amazarashi, it’s very different to People In A Box’s efforts, being far more uplifting musically and lyrically but it works extremely well, especially as the series builds towards the climax.

Blu-ray extras include commentaries for episodes 1, 7 & 12, Japanese and US trailers for Tokyo Ghoul √A, textless opening, and trailers for other anime – it has the same problem as the first season; advertising series only currently available in the US (however one series Black Butler: Book of Circus has JUST been licensed for UK so it’s not as bad).

Tokyo Ghoul Root A_1

Tokyo Ghoul √A is no doubt still an engaging show with splendid action, relatable characters and intriguing ideas, but its overall progression and ending will leave behind mixed emotions. Ken Kaneki’s emotional journey has reached a conclusion but there’s still many questions left unanswered. It’s not a simple case of ‘read the manga’ ending; the anime tried to conclude it admirably but mostly failed to bring in all the meat from the original source material, so has to settle for making do with what it could. Tokyo Ghoul, both seasons, are a worthwhile watch overall and worthy of any anime fan’s collection, but what ultimately you take from the end of it will depend on whether you need all questions answered and endings to be fully settled when the credits roll.

Score: 7/10

Anime Quick Information

  • Title: Tokyo Ghoul √A
  • UK Publisher: Anime Limited
  • Genre: Horror, Drama, Action, Fantasy, Supernatural
  • Director: Shuhei Morita
  • Studio: Studio Pierrot
  • Type: TV series
  • Year: 2015
  • DVD Release Date: 13th Jun. 2016
  • Run Time: 288 minutes
  • Classification: 15

Parasyte: Part 2 Review

Parasyte: Part 2

This review contains spoilers for Parasyte: Part 1

After the death of his mother at the hands of the parasites, aliens hell-bent on the extinction of mankind, 17-year-old Shinichi Izumi, along with his own parasite named Migi, starts hunting the horrific creatures. Before long, Shinichi finds himself embroiled in an all-out war between humans and parasites to save humanity and put an end to the invasion and restore peace to the Earth.

Director Takashi Yamazaki returns to give us Parasyte: Part 2, the conclusion to the live action adaptation of Hitoshi Iwaaki’s popular manga series which improves and builds upon the foundation laid by the first film.

While I was a fan of the story in Parasyte Part 1, it’s hard to deny that the sequel is certainly an improvement. With the first film, the scope felt very small, with the conflict centered around Shinichi and a small group of parasites, whereas here, the story feels much larger featuring a lot more parasites and focused more on the war that was teased at the end of the first movie. That being said though, I actually think that, whilst the increase in ambition is admirable and enjoyable, you can really start to feel the restraints of the budget in places and I don’t think it quite lived up to my expectations. We only really get one scene where we see two large forces of both species take each other on, and even then we don’t ever get a major human-on-parasite action scene, and it’s mostly just a slaughter rather than a battle, so I found that a little disappointing. However, I still don’t think that makes it entirely bad; I actually think I prefer the story here because it tries to do more, even if it doesn’t entirely succeed. Much as in the first film, the heart of the plot is two opposing species fighting for dominance but I had the exact same issue here as I did with Parasyte: Part 1 as we still only see a single parasite that isn’t just a bloodthirsty monster, so it makes them hard to empathise with, despite the film’s best attempts. Perhaps my biggest gripe with the story is that there is one large question that goes unanswered: what are the parasites? We know that they come from space but, apart from that, we get nothing. Considering that “Why were the Parasites created?” is right there on the back of the box, I’m really disappointed this wasn’t explored.

As well as the story, I also felt that the action here was handled much better than in the first film. Not that it wasn’t done well in the first film, but the action felt much more frequent and effective here, which is great considering how enjoyable these sequences are. These action set pieces serve to show off the film’s special effects, which are just as gross and disgusting yet incredibly impressive, as in the first film.

The biggest refinement in Parasyte: Part 2 is its characters. In Part 1 the characters were definitely its weakest point, so I was delighted to see the sequel improve them. I think this is mainly through a greater emphasis on the relationship between Shinichi and his love interest Satomi, which develops nicely throughout the film. Nevertheless, Ryouko Tamiya, the antagonist from Part 1, is still by far the most interesting character, being the only parasite trying to make peace with humans and seeing how the relationship between her and her child manages to change her character is really great.

The acting in Parasyte: Part 2 is, like in Part 1, still pretty good. Shota Sometani returns to star as the protagonist Shinichi. In my last review, I praised his performance seeing as he spends a lot of time talking to Migi, a parasite who is attached to his hand, who is entirely CGI, and he really takes it to the next level here. He has a scene with Migi towards the end of the film that manages to be incredibly emotional and is legitimately impressive considering what Sometani actually had to work with.  A new addition to the cast as Kuramori is Nao Omori (a name that fans of Japanese cinema will recognize as the titular Ichi in the Takashi Miike’s infamous film Ichi the Killer) who is fantastic, giving a very memorable performance, considering he has a fairly minor role.

Naoki Sato returns to compose the music and provides another fairly average soundtrack that gets the job done but is nothing memorable.

Animatsu’s release of Parasyte: Part 2 features a making of featurette as well as 2.0 and 5.1 Japanese audio options.

In Summary

Although it doesn’t hit the mark in every way, Parasyte: Part 2 is still a marked improvement over its predecessor, developing its characters, amping up the action sequences and increasing the breadth of the story.

8/10

Director: Takashi Yamazaki
Classification: 15
Studio: Manga Entertainment
DVD Release Date: 6 Jun. 2016
Run Time: 117 minutes

Yu-Gi-Oh! Season 5 Review

Yu-Gi-Oh! 5 

Yu Gi Oh cover

Ian Wolf’s Review

Warning: may contain spoilers

“Well, as L. P. Hartley said: ‘The past is a foreign country. They do things differently there.’ That was the opening of The Go-Between, which was a book. For anyone listing to a repeat of this show sometime in the near-future, a book was a kind of multi-layered Kindle thing.” – John Lloyd

In this final collection of the anime series whose original manga spawned the world’s biggest trading card game, there are many things worthy to note, but for me the most surprising thing is that – after having to go through quite a lot of stuff that has been poor – at the end of it all, I am glad to have watched it.

Yu Gi Oh 1

 

This fifth collection is split over three story arcs. The first, “Grand Championship” begins with Mokuba inviting Yugi, Joey and Rebecca to take part in the Kiba Corp. Grand Championship, which will see 16 of the world’s best Duel Monsters players take part in a knock-out tournament, where the winner will face the current world champion, who is Yugi. They all agree, so they and their friends travel to the venue, a new theme park constructed by the Kiba brothers, but things soon go wrong as it seems that one of the competitors is keen to sabotage the contest. Seto Kiba, who is too busy organising the event to take part in it, soon believes he has tracked down the culprit: the Germanic Zigfried Lloyd, who is actually taking part in the contest under a false name, and whose accent seems to be a cross between Maximillion Pegasus and a rejected extra from ‘Allo ‘Allo!

The second arc is more interesting, mainly because it never aired in Japan, even though it was animated by the same people. The “Capsule Monsters” arc begins with Yugi’s grandfather away on archaeological trip. Meanwhile Joey wins tickets to travel to India, so he, Yugi, Tristan and Tea come along for the trip. However, their small plane crash lands in the middle of the jungle. Everyone survives, and the gang bump into a man named Dr. Alex Brisbane, an archaeologist who was working with Yugi’s grandfather, who has mysteriously disappeared. Alex leads the gang to a pyramid that they were both excavating, and while inside it they come across a room with a strange map-like floor. When they step on it, they fall through the floor and into a fantasy world, with strange devices on their arms and belts with cylindrical holsters on them. As they journey through this land, they touch strange rocks that free monsters that contain creatures from Duel Monsters. They are able to capture these monsters in capsules and journey through the land in order to return home, guided by a masked man who claims to be Alexander the Great – who unlike Zigfried, doesn’t have an accent, even though we definitely know where he comes from. Even if they don’t know what a Macedonian accent sounds like, Greek would have probably done. Either do all the accents, or none of them.

 

Yu Gi Oh 2

Saving the best till last, the final arc, “Dawn of the Duel”, is not just the best arc of the collection, but probably the best of the whole series. Yugi, with all the Millennium Items and the three Egyptian God cards, plans to travel to Egypt to finally solve the mystery of the Pharaoh’s past. The night before he and the gang travel though, Yugi is burgled by Rex and Weevil, but they are in turn stopped by the evilly possessed Bakura, who takes back some of the items including the Millennium Ring and leaves the rest to Yugi. Bakura then tries to kidnap Mokuba, and has a duel with Seto which he quits before the end, leaving Seto the Millennium Eye and telling him to travel to Egypt too.

When Yugi and the gang arrive in Egypt they meet up with old friends, including Marek, who lead them to the Pharaoh’s tomb, with Bakura not far behind. Shadi, the guard of the Millennium Items, tells Yugi to hold up the Egyptian God cards to an old tablet depicting him. When he does, the Pharaoh’s spirit leaves him and returns to Ancient Egypt, where he finds himself having to relieve history; working with servants including a high priest who looks like and is named Seto, and having to deal with the original Bakura, who has also travelled back in time. In the past, he came from a village that was destroyed by the Pharaoh’s father, who created the Millennium Items, and wants revenge by enveloping the world in darkness. Yugi and his friends meanwhile, with Shadi’s help, enter the Pharaoh’s mind using the Millennium Key, and begin a journey that sees them travel to the past too. Soon afterwards, Kiba also arrives at the tomb, and using the Eye also travels back, where he learns about the origins of the Blue-Eyes White Dragon. While in the past, Yugi has to try and find the source that helped the Pharaoh save Ancient Egypt previously, namely the Pharaoh’s real name.

Yu Gi Oh 3

Finally, after all this, it is discovered how the Pharaoh can finally be laid to rest after 5,000 years trapped in the Millennium Puzzle: he must lose a duel against a worthy opponent. The series thus ends with one final duel against the Pharaoh’s toughest opponent, the person to whom he taught everything: Yugi.

Having reviewed all five seasons of the series, certain things have kept recurring and annoying me. The fact there are no extras at all, no subtitles, poorly placed scene selections, dodgy accents in the voice acting, characters overreacting to things that make the situations more unrealistic, and so on. More stuff came up in this collection, such as the addition of a US age rating at the top left-hand corner of the scene at the start of and during the second half of the episodes as of the “Capsule Monsters” arc onwards. It is not surprising perhaps, that I did end up thinking that it was better to watch Yu-Gi-Oh! while playing a drinking game, which I did again, drinking beer when certain key-words and phrases were uttered. I won’t list the full results this time around, save to say that terms such as “Millennium”, “Egyptian God” and “Dark Magician” are good ones to go for.

However, I’m still glad I watched this series. This is partly due to the final arc, where everything starts to fall into place concerning the Millennium Items and the Pharaoh’s past. For once, we can ignore the whole trading card game for the majority of the story, and even when it does come up, it is interesting as Yugi is forced to duel on his own, without the Pharaoh’s help. The final arc is surprisingly moving, in particular the final showdown between Yugi and the Pharaoh, as you witness how the series ends. Whether it is a happy or sad ending depends on how you react to the main characters.

Yu-Gi-Oh! is a series that has many faults, but when it stops being about the game itself, and you focus on the characters, in particular the friendships between the central gang, in a strange way, it seems worth it. At times joyous, at times sad, at times ridiculous, it is still understandable that this anime has had the unexpected impact that it had.

Score: 6 / 10

Anime Quick Information 

  • Title: Yu-Gi-Oh! 5
  • UK Publisher: Manga Entertainment
  • Genre: Action, Adventure, Gaming, Fantasy
  • Studio: Studio Gallop
  • Type: TV series
  • Year: 2000
  • Running time: 17 hours, 20 minutes
  • Classification: PG

Kamisama Kiss Season 2 Review

Kamisama2 cvr

It’s not easy being a human and a Land God – but seventeen-year-old Nanami Monozomo is doing her best to do a good job. After all, she owes so much to Mikage, the kami who passed his role and shrine on to her before disappearing. With the shrine, Nanami also inherited Mikage’s fox-familiar, the beautiful but disdainful Tomoe…but as they have grown to know each other better, it seems that they have developed feelings for one another. Strong feelings. And it isn’t good for a yokai to fall in love with a short-lived mortal, as Tomoe already knows to his cost.

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When Nanami is summoned to the gathering of the gods at the Divine Assembly at Izumo Shrine, it’s her chance to become accepted – but things don’t go as planned, right from the start. She is awarded the tricky task of ensuring the gateway to the Netherworld (Yomi) stays shut by the presiding god of Izumo, Okuninushi. Thank goodness she has Mamoru, the adorable little monkey/monkey-boy familiar given her by the wind god Otohiko. Because her kindly heart means that she risks everything by entering the Netherworld to help a young man Kirihito, little realizing that she may never be able to escape. And even if she does, rescuing Kirihito will create unforeseen repercussions that she could well come to regret.

Back home, Nanami encounters a little tengu boy, Botanmaru, in desperate need of help. He’s come looking for the missing heir to Mount Kurama as he may be the only one who can dispel a terrible miasma which is spreading over the mountain. The patriarch of the tengu, the Soujoubou, is seriously ill. But where is the runaway heir? Of course, he turns out to be none other than Nanami’s classmate and pop idol, Kurama. But can Kurama be persuaded to leave his glamorous life and return to his remote mountain roots?

A series like this could so easily have failed to transcend its shoujo stereotypes (instead of beautiful boys, there are beautiful yokai, kami and shikigami). Yet Nanami’s indomitable (yet likable) character, the diverting (sometimes terrifying) range of creatures and gods from Japanese mythology that she encounters, and, above all, the will they, won’t they? nature of her relationship with Tomoe makes this a very watchable anime.

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Two main story arcs are resolved in these twelve episodes – but the third overarching plot which creates such a tantalising and dramatic opening to the series (showing us Tomoe in his original wild fox spirit form on the rampage with another yokai, Akura-Ou) is still evolving, suggesting (one can but hope!) that another series will follow. There are plenty more volumes to adapt. Mangaka Julietta Suzuki has said that the manga will come to a close this summer (2016) so – fingers crossed! – we may still get a final TV season. (Although there is a four-episode OVA set in progress 2015-16, but it’s not been made available for the UK market. Yet. Pretty please, MVM?)

 

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The series is visually appealing with character designs faithful to the mangaka’s originals and gorgeous eye catches (when they’re as striking as this, they don’t seem an anachronism). Director Akitaro Daichi brings all his experience from Fruits Basket and he was also responsible for the script and storyboarding in some episodes; is this why it all flows so well as a narrative?

The US dub script is witty and, on the whole, an excellent option to the original (although the reference to the wind god Otohiko as ‘he/she guy’ is not the most sensitive of translations.) The US cast seem to relish their roles, with stand-out performances from Tia Ballard (Nanami) and Michael J. Tatum (Tomoe), Tia Ballard beautifully capturing Nanami’s wide range of feelings. The original cast are as convincing as ever, of course, with Shinnosuke Tachibana (Medici in Sekko Boys) as Tomoe and Suzuko Mimori (Umi Sonoda in Love Live) a delightful Nanami.

One of the pleasures of this immensely likable series is the music, – and not only the soundtrack by Toshio Masuda (Naruto) which is especially effective when underscoring the suspenseful supernatural elements. Every now and then an OP comes along that’s not only charming and catchy but boasts wittily choreographed animation that fits the song perfectly. “Kamisama no Kamisama (God of God)” (sung by Hanae, who sings all the Kamisama Kiss songs) is one of the best I’ve come across in a long while. (Although the metaphor of being spun around in a washing machine is er…unusual.) The Ending “Ototoi Oide” (Come Another Day) is a quietly reflective song, showing the main characters thinking about those dear to them. There’s an insert song in Episode 6 for the tengu turned pop idol Kurama (as in the first series); kudos to Sean O’Connor who sings (once more) very convincingly in the dub. I don’t often like the US equivalents (naming no names) but – personally – I think he makes a better alternative here to Daisuke Kishio as a singer.

Extras include two commentaries by the US cast, textless songs and a US trailer.

Irresistibly charming and fresh, Kamisama Kiss maintains a delicate balance between humour (Nanami and Tomoe disagree, usually quite violently), heartache (Nanami and Tomoe think longingly about each other) and supernatural peril (the Netherworld, evil yokai, angry tengu), all of which combine to make this an engaging watch. Recommended.

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The US dub script is witty and, on the whole, an excellent option to the original (although the reference to the wind god Otohiko as ‘he/she guy’ is not the most sensitive of translations.) The US cast seem to relish their roles, with stand-out performances from Tia Ballard (Nanami) and Michael J. Tatum (Tomoe), Tia Ballard beautifully capturing Nanami’s wide range of feelings. The original cast are as convincing as ever, of course, with Shinnosuke Tachibana (Medici in Sekko Boys) as Tomoe and Suzuko Mimori (Umi Sonoda in Love Live) a delightful Nanami.

One of the pleasures of this immensely likable series is the music, – and not only the soundtrack by Toshio Masuda (Naruto) which is especially effective when underscoring the suspenseful supernatural elements. Every now and then an OP comes along that’s not only charming and catchy but boasts wittily choreographed animation that fits the song perfectly. “Kamisama no Kamisama (God of God)” (sung by Hanae, who sings all the Kamisama Kiss songs) is one of the best I’ve come across in a long while. (Although the metaphor of being spun around in a washing machine is er…unusual.) The Ending “Ototoi Oide” (Come Another Day) is a quietly reflective song, showing the main characters thinking about those dear to them. There’s an insert song in Episode 6 for the tengu turned pop idol Kurama (as in the first series); kudos to Sean O’Connor who sings (once more) very convincingly in the dub. I don’t often like the US equivalents (naming no names) but – personally – I think he makes a better alternative here to Daisuke Kishio as a singer.

Extras include two commentaries by the US cast, textless songs and a US trailer.

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Irresistibly charming and fresh, Kamisama Kiss maintains a delicate balance between humour (Nanami and Tomoe disagree, usually quite violently), heartache (Nanami and Tomoe think longingly about each other) and supernatural peril (the Netherworld, evil yokai, angry tengu), all of which combine to make this an engaging watch. Recommended.

Score: 8/10

Anime Quick Information 

  • Title: Kamisama Kiss Season 2
  • UK Publisher: MVM Films
  • Genre: Fantasy , Comedy , Romance , Shojo , Supernatural
  • Director: Akitaro Daichi
  • Studio: TMS Entertainment
  • Type: TV series
  • Year: 2015
  • DVD Release Date: 13th Jun. 2016
  • Running time: 300 minutes
  • Classification: 12

KonoSuba Season 1 Review

What if, when you die, you were given the chance to be reborn in another world tasked with defeating a demon lord? This is the choice that the shut-in main character of KonoSuba: God’s Blessing on This Wonderful World, Kazuma, must make after he pushes a pretty girl out the way of an oncoming tractor (that he saw as a massive truck) and dies from shock. A pretty (but rude) goddess named Aqua greets Kazuma in the afterlife and informs him that if he should decide to go to this other realm, he may pick one item to go with him: whatever he desires. Our hero decides that the best possible solution to this problem (and out of spite towards Aqua’s lack of caring) is to simply take the goddess with him. And so begins the unfortunate – I mean, brilliant – adventures of Kazuma.

As Kazuma soon discovers in this new world, nothing in life is that simple. After joining the guild in the starting town he’s landed in, Kazuma finds out how unfair his new reality really is. His stats (like those you’d find in an RPG), apart from intelligence and luck, are below average, which doesn’t offer him many choices for his life as an adventurer. Meanwhile Aqua has brilliant stats, apart from intelligence and luck, and can choose any job she’d like, even one of the highest: Arc Priest. Could things get any worse for Kazuma? Well, yes, things could definitely get worse. As he and Aqua attempt to take on many quests around the city they all end in failure. To make matters worse, their party is soon joined by an Arch Wizard, Megumin, who can only fire off her magic once a day; and a knight, Darkness, who can’t even hit a target standing still (and really enjoys being hit by enemies…). This party truly isn’t a useful one and, try as he might, Kazuma just can’t get away from the trio of idiots.

At its core KonoSuba is a comedy centered around the trials and tribulations of adventurers, showing that life is perhaps not as easygoing as it would be in an RPG. Even if this isn’t a video game, Kazuma manages to pull many links between the two and his extensive knowledge does come in handy. As a viewer it’s great to watch the similarities, especially with quests and the useless party members (I mean normally we’re only stuck with one, but Kazuma has three to deal with!) and the anime does nothing but amplify this feeling. I’m a massive JRPG fan, which is something I’ve probably mentioned in previous reviews. If I’m not watching anime or have my head stuck in a book, I’m off in some far off world with sword in hand, ready to slay some evil monster – because someone has to, right? It’s a genre of video games that I appreciate a lot and KonoSuba captures the feeling and tropes of fantasy worlds extremely well.

Almost every episode of the anime features an “emergency quest” of some description that Kazuma and friends are dragged into helping with. Half the time these quests have come into play because Kazuma or one of his ‘helpful’ party members have angered some evil monster, but there are some more random quests to balance things out. My personal favourite is the Cabbage Quest. This quest involves defeating and rounding up a flying hoard of cabbages, yes cabbages, that are flying toward the city. If this were a video game it would be a pretty low level quest and the type you just can’t be bothered completing, which KonoSuba knows and plays with wonderfully by having Kazuma make numerous comments about how he wishes he could just go back to bed. The series manages to make fun of every aspect of a JRPG that you possibly could in some fashion or other, and I quickly fell in love with the somewhat quirky humour on offer.

The series is made up of only 10 episodes, which is a shame as I was left wanting just a little bit more. However, it is worth noting that a second season has now been confirmed to be in production. Earlier episodes fare better in my favour as early on, each episode would include two different, but often linked, stories, whereas later we’re stuck with just one. This isn’t a bad thing on average but it does mean there were more episodes that I disliked by the end of the series’s run than those that I liked – although every single episode had something going for it. It’s rare for me to seriously sit down and watch a comedy of any sort, it’s not really my thing, but KonoSuba had me eager to view the latest episode every week purely because of how much fun I was having. I think there is something special here and I’m glad that I decided to give it a shot.

Animation has been handled by Studio Deen and leaves me with mixed impressions. Overall the show looks pretty cheaply made, and although certain scenes are quite impressive, the first few episodes just look awful. The animation was not even slightly consistent from scene to scene where the characters are concerned and they often looked horribly off-model. KonoSuba is a really colorful fantasy world but early on, the environments are fairly bland. It wasn’t until the fourth or fifth episode that Studio Deen got a handle on the quality. I’d imagine that the quality would be especially jarring to anyone who had previously seen the artwork for the light novel source because it’s much better than what Studio Deen provides. Thankfully KonoSuba isn’t the type of show that requires wonderful animation (even if it would have been nice) and gets by just fine even with its oddities, but potential viewers should definitely take note that this won’t be winning any awards for its art.

Music for the series has been provided by Masato Kouda, who also worked on the soundtracks for Magical Warfare and Maria the Virgin Witch. I wouldn’t say it’s the kind of music I could listen to away from the anime but played along with the show it works wonderfully, highlighting the dramatic moments only for the bubble to be burst. It’s neither a bad soundtrack nor an amazing one, but I’d say it generally works really well. No complaints in that regard here.

I can’t say that I have any complaints regarding the cast of voice actors either. Our cynical hero Kazuma is voiced by Jun Fukushima (Shinsuke Chazawa in Shirobako, Shoukichi Naruko in Yowamushi Pedal), who I’d previously not paid much notice to but felt provided a really great performance here. Kazuma is a very passionate character and it’s key that his VA can swap between his distrusting, cynical attitude and that of his more laid-back nature, which Fukushima does wonderfully. Aqua is handled by Sora Armamiya (Toka Kirishima in Tokyo Ghoul, Akame in Akame ga Kill!) and, like Fukushima, manages to balance Aqua’s split personality quite well. The goddess goes from being on top of the world to being crushed by her debts on a daily basis and it’s brilliant to see someone express that so clearly. Rie Takahash (Miki Naoki in School-Live!, Dorothy in Maria the Virgin Witch), who plays Megumin, and Ai Kayano (Shiro in No Game, No Life; Kyouka in Fairy Tail), who plays Darkness, are both fitting for their characters as well. They’re perhaps not as impressive as the actors playing Kazuma and Aqua, but given the roles they’re voicing, I’m certainly pleased with the result.

By the end of KonoSuba I’d fallen in love with the story of these hopeless heroes. I find myself excited for the second anime season and am hoping that someone will license the light novels. I even enjoyed the show enough to watch the earlier episodes twice through! There may have been some teething problems with the animation and some of the jokes just weren’t funny, but I think overall this was a pretty memorable comedy. It definitely gained a new fan in me. If you want to check the series out for yourself then you can find it streaming on Crunchyroll.

Title: KonoSuba: God's Blessing on This Wonderful World Season 1
Publisher: Crunchyroll (streaming)
Genre: Comedy, Fantasy, Adventure
Studio: Studio Deen
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2016
Format: Legal stream
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles
Running time: 250 minutes

Score: 8/10