Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin III – Dawn of Rebellion Review

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Ian Wolf’s Review

The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.” – Albert Camus

The third episode in the OVA series detailing the events prior to the original Mobile Suit Gundam series begins to show how one of anime’s greatest antagonists began to develop a more ruthless streak to his nature.

This instalment begins with a short summary of the events of the past two episodes. When the second episode ended Casval and Artesia Deikun, now living under the names Edouard and Sayla Mass, had learned of the death of their mother. The two have gone their separate ways, with Sayla remaining at her home and Edouard leaving Texas Colony in the company of Char Aznable, a man who looks almost identical to him. The only difference is the colour of their eyes.

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The duo are leaving Texas Colony to begin military training in Loum. On the way to the spaceship taking them there Edouard spots that people are spying on him, while Char is stopped at customs for carrying an antique gun. Edouard convinces Char to swap clothes with him to avoid his problem, meaning that it would be Edouard who misses the flight while Char can board. However, Edouard correctly predicts that Zabi allies are up to something: the spaceship explodes, killing Char, who the allies of Zabi believe wrongly to be Edouard. Edouard meanwhile takes up his friend’s identity, dons a pair of shades to disguise his eyes – claiming that his sight has been affected by cosmic rays – and begins his new life as “Char Aznable”.

Edouard, or Char as we should probably now call him, excels in his class to the annoyance of one classmate, Garma Zabi, heir to the Zabi throne and whose importance is clear to all; he clearly stands out in the class because of his purple hair which he keeps messing around with. However, the two do eventually become close after Char helps Garma during an exercise. Later on, an Earth Federation ship crashes into Zeon, sparking more riots and demands of independence from Earth. Char uses this as a chance to increase his power by getting Garma and their fellow cadets to launch an attack on a Federation Barracks.

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Among the positives of this episode are that we get to grips with the Char Aznable that most Gundam fans will now recognise. We see him wearing his trademark visor with the overhead strap for the first time. We also see some of the events which lead to the increasing tensions between Zeon and Earth. The end of the episode even features a segment concerning Amuro. In terms of negative points, we see very little of Sayla and some of the animation is of dubious quality. For example, when Char flicks away a flunky of Garma’s, the character seems to not move at all, and instead the other man is just shrunk to indicate how far backwards he has travelled.

However, as with the previous collections distributed by Anime Limited, the most impressive thing about this set is the amount of bonus material you get (although most of it is in Japanese). On the discs there is an audio commentary, trailers and video of the debut screening of the second episode. Elsewhere you also get the wonderfully illustrated presentation case, a book covering the storyboards, another book covering the cel art, a third booklet covering the episode, and one thing that was not mentioned when the OVA was released: a clipping of the actual film reel, containing four cels of footage from the episode (in my case it depicted Dozle). It is wonderful that we are able to get such impressive collector’s editions these days.

Score: 8 / 10

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Anime Quick Information

  • Title: Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin III – Dawn of Rebellion
  • UK Publisher: Bandai Visual Japan via Anime Limited
  • Genre: Action, Drama, Mecha, Military, Sci-fi
  • Studio: Sunrise
  • Type: OVA
  • Year: 2015
  • Running time: 68 minutes

Aldnoah.Zero – Season 1 Review

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Aldnoah.Zero is an original anime (as in not based on a manga, light novel or game, a rare thing really!) that was created by Gen Urobuchi of Madoka Magica, Fate/Zero and Psycho-Pass fame.

In 1969 explorers on the moon found an ancient hyper-gate that connected to Mars, leading to eventual colonisation of the planet and the official creation of the Vers empire. On Mars the discovery of more ancient technology, specifically a perfect energy source named Aldnoah, led to the Vers empire leaping ahead of Earth technologically. In 1999 war on Earth was declared by Vers, a war that resulted in the hype-gate exploding and taking a large chunk of the moon with it. The resulting damage to Earth, referred to as “heaven’s fall”, resulted in a ceasefire where Earth began to gather itself together and the Vers Imperial Army, now unable to get back to Mars, stood by in large orbital space stations referred to as “Sky Castles”, surrounded by debris from the moon.

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That is how this story starts. It is a little overwhelming at first, though you soon catch on to everything. The Princess of Vers decides to head to Earth in the name of peace but she is assassinated, causing war to break out between Earth and the Imperial Vers army, who soon descend to the planet and begin attacking, easily wiping out Earth’s lesser evolved mech suits with their far superior (and Aldnoah-powered) suits (note that in this world, mechs are referred to as “Kataphracts”). This leads to Gundam 101, as a bunch of students end up piloting suits and bettering their opponent, surprising the experienced soldiers whom they end up travelling with around the world as they head to a base. The lead characters on the good side are Inaho Kaizuka, an emotionless genius student, and the Princess of Vers, Asseylum Vers Allusia, who, as it turns out, isn’t dead. She soon finds out that her own people engineered her attempted assassination and so joins the Earth soldiers in order to contact the higher-ups at Vers to cause a ceasefire. Sorry if that seems spoilery, but this all happens with the first episode or two… The two leads begin to have feelings for each other, being pretty much the only two who just see a fellow human staring back at them, rather than a member of the enemy race.

As for the “Orbital Knights”, they are mostly your classic aristocratic snobs who look down on the filthy Terrans and have no problem taking territory by force. The only real exception, and undoubtedly the most interesting character in the series, is Slaine Troyard. He is from Earth, but after crashing onto Vers he was rescued by the Princess and taken in as a lowly servant, fiercely loyal to the Princess that saved him. Throughout the series he teases going to each side of the war, unsure of his loyalty to anything other than the Princess, but even when he finds out she’s alive, he is caught between the members of Vers also loyal to her, the Vers who tried to kill her and the Earthlings; he is technically one of them, but one who has spent so long in the company of the Vers empire that he has a hard time trusting the others. The very last scene of this season is a cracker, with Slaine in the middle of an impossible situation, and seeing what he does was great TV. Thumbs up for the cliffhanger.

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Both voice casts do a fine job, so no matter your language preference, you’ll be happy. The opening theme is “heavenly blue” by Kalafina, and the ending themes (it has two, and switches between them rather randomly) are “A/Z” and “aLIEz”, both by SawanoHiroyuki[nZk]:mizuki (which is a mouthful!). I also feel that I have to mention the background music by Hiroyuki Sawano, which is great. It really sets a lot of the action scenes up well. The animation is good. Although I’m not a fan of mixing CGI with traditional animation, Aldnoah does do it with a good bit of flair, and blends the scenes well enough that I didn’t even notice after a few episodes.

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One of my few complaints is that the 12 episodes are spread across four discs, with three episodes per Blu-ray. Given four episodes per DVD, let alone Blu-ray, is pretty old hat nowadays, this seemed really odd. So odd that I have no doubt it was something out of Anime Limited’s hands, so I won’t harp on about it too much. Also of note is that Japanese with English subs is the default when the discs start and you have to select the English language track through the set up menu. Extras are the usual clean opening and endings, plus “Count to A/Z”, a behind the scenes look at the production and promotion of the anime, only available in Japanese with subtitles.

Overall this is a satisfying mech anime, the start of which won’t take anyone by surprise. It takes a few different turns and leads to a great ending that will leave you wanting more.

Score 8/10

Anime Quick Information

Title: Aldnoah.Zero
UK Publisher: Anime Limited
Genre: Action, Sci-fi
Studio: A-1 Pictures
Type: TV series
Year: 2014
Age Rating: 15
Running Time: 275 minutes

Sword Art Online II – Part 4 Review

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Ian Wolf’s Review

Warning: may contain spoilers.

“One must have a heart of stone not to read the death of Little Nell without laughing.” – Oscar Wilde

The end of the second TV series of Sword Art Online is one that certainly tries to get your tears flowing. Whether it does all depends on how sentimental you are.

With Asuna the main character in the “Mother’s Rosario” arc, the first episode of this arc sees her new friend Yukki introducing her to the Sleeping Knights guild. The guild is planning to disband in a few months, but before they depart they want to get their name on the Monument of Swordsmen, a black stone which back in the bad days of SAO listed the players and which ones had died. Now it lists the names of the first people to defeat the bosses on each level.

The problem is that they want to get the names of all six guild members on the monument, and the only way they can do it is to defeat the monster without the help of any other guilds. Asuna decides to assist them. After they leave for the night, Asuna finds herself forcefully disconnected by her mother, who is still annoyed by the amount of time she is playing her games and wants her to change schools. Asuna’s deadline for dealing with all her issues is coming up fast.

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Back in SAO, Asuna and the Sleeping Knights begin their mission and on the way there she spots members of another guild devoted to beating boss monsters. The Sleeping Knights fail at their first attempt, but Asuna correctly deduces that the other guild was spying on them and preparing to defeat the monster before them. They quickly return to the battle site, only to discover more guild members waiting for them. Yukki begins attacking them when the other guild’s reinforcments arrive. Luckily for Asuna, help arrives in the shape of Kirito and Yui who block their path, while Klein attacks from the rear. This gives Asuna time for her and friends to enter the boss room and complete their mission, but during the battle something odd happens: Yukki refers to Asuna as her “Big Sister”. Yukki does this again at the Monument of Swordsmen, and when Asuna points this out to her, Yukki logs off and runs away.

With Kirito’s help, Asuna finds out where Yukki is in real life: she is in hospital, attached to a “Medicuboid”, a medical full-dive machine. When Asuna sees Yukki in the real world, she comes to understand why the guild is disbanding: the guild members all met in a virtual hospice and Yukki herself is estimated to have three months to live as she is dying from AIDS. With this revelation Asuna tries to give Yukki the best time possible before she passes away, and Yukki in turn provides Asuna with the motivation she needs to confront her mother.

This main feature of this collection is the character of Yukki and the revelation that she has AIDS. It is a big shock to see an anime dealing with such a heavy subject – possibly the most frightening disease in the world. Not surprisingly, Yukki does die of her illness in the last episode, leading to a particularly notable final scene. Back in the virtual world Yukki gives Asuna her Original Sword Skill, the “Mother’s Rosario” in the arc title, and as she dies the rest of the Sleeping Knights, then Kirito and his friends, and then all the other players in the game turn up to pay their respects as Yukki passes away.

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Now, there are two ways you can look at this scene. You can be saddened and moved to tears as Yukki dies, leaving behind both her old and her new friends, and marvel at the huge and noble crowd that pays their respects to her, including other players she had defeated in the game; or, you can think that this is incredibly melodramatic and oversentimental.

Reki Kawahara, the original author of the books, is frequently criticised for being a poor writer. For example, if there is a baddie in Sword Art Online, they tend to always be the vilest person imaginable with no redeeming features, and often come across as borderline rapists. In the case of a dying character Kawahara not only gives the character an incurable illness, but the scariest illness in the world. In the UK, you cannot think of AIDS without thinking of John Hurt voicing an advert in which the word “AIDS” is carved into what looks like a gravestone.

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Plus, while it is arguably commendable that Kawahara is highlighting AIDS, the massive crowd near the end somewhat ruins it. When she is dying with Asuna it is sad; when her guild mate arrives it is sadder; when Kirito and his friends turn up you reach your emotional breaking point; when just about every other player in the game turns up you think: “Oh my God, it’s amazing to see so many people pay their respe… hang on… this is way too much!” This is the equivalent of Little Nell’s death scene being attended by every single customer The Old Curiosity Shop ever had. If Little Nell’s death made Oscar Wilde laugh, Yukki’s death would have had him rolling on the floor, wetting himself in hysterics.

In terms of extras, you have the guide book, textless opening and closing, web previews, and two Sword Art Offline previews.

Overall, the first half of this series has been good, but the endings of both the first arc and this final arc were frustrating. The good bits are balanced out by the bad. This is not the end of the series however. There is still one game written about in the novels that has yet to be adapted: UnderWorld, an AI simulation where time flows differently to that of the real world. Plus there is a fifth game that doesn’t appear in the books. This is Ordinal Scale, the subject of the forthcoming Sword Art Online movie to be released next year.

Score: 6 / 10

Anime Quick Information

  • Title: Sword Art Online II – Part 4
  • UK Publisher: Anime Ltd.
  • Genre: Action, Death Game, Drama, Fantasy, Sci-fi
  • Studio: A-1 Pictures
  • Type: TV series
  • Year: 2014
  • Running time: 120 minutes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8/10

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

Love Live! School Idol Project Season 2 Review

Love Live! School Idol Project Season 2 Review

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Honoka Kousaka and the members of µ’s have successfully saved their school, Otonokizaka High! The girls try to go back to their normal school lives but their peace doesn’t last long when a second Love Live! is announced. Given a chance at redemption, all the members of µ’s must pull together, give it their all and sing their hearts out to claim their victory. However, with the graduation of the third years drawing close, the future of µ’s grows increasingly uncertain, a fact that weighs heavy on the hearts and minds of all the girls.

Love Live! School Idol Project is a franchise that continues to take the world by storm, and after watching the first season of the anime, it wasn’t hard to see why. The first season was not without its issues though, however minor they may be. So, with that, I am overjoyed to report that the second season improves on the the first in almost every way and is a spectacular experience that I won’t be forgetting any time soon.

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As much as I loved the first season of Love Live, I did have one criticism and that was the story. It wasn’t completely lacking, there was an attempt to have a plot, but it was very underwhelming. At best, the story of the school’s closure felt like a reason to get all the members of µ’s together, rather than a story you actually cared about, and often disappeared into the background. This was highlighted by the fact that the announcement the school was saved didn’t even feel like a big deal. Granted, this was very understandable; after all, it had to introduce and establish nine different characters and their relationships. Since the first season got all the character introductions out the way, the story in Love Live! Season 2 is given the spotlight and easily outdoes its predecessor, having a plot that is almost as great as the already fantastic characters.

This time, the story is centered on the Love Live! event, a school idol competition, and the show remains focused on this throughout. Not that the show doesn’t spend time on other things, but the story is very much at the forefront here, with every episode at least being partly dedicated to moving the plot forward in some way. However, what really makes it truly special is just how emotional it can get. The first season did attempt to be emotional at times, and granted it worked quite well, but Season 2 is on a completely different level. I found there were multiple episodes where I was fighting back the tears, with the biggest tearjerker being a particular episode set on a beach. I won’t spoil anything, but needless to say, if that gut punch of an episode doesn’t make you at least well up, I’m not sure what will! I think a show making me feel so emotional is quite a rarity; I could name all the shows that have done on one hand, so that speaks volumes about just how effective both the story and characters of Love Live are. 

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Despite the fact the story has been put front and center this time around, that doesn’t mean that the characters have suffered because of it. The characters were definitely the best thing about the first season and they are equally excellent here. A small complaint about the first season was that, due to the short length of the show, not all of the characters really got a time to shine, and this is an issue that the writers took no time to fix here. Almost all of the characters that I felt got lost in the shuffle last time get their moment to shine here, including some fantastic episodes focused on Nico and Nozomi. However, the best character-focused episode, and one of the best episodes from both seasons, is the Rin-centred Episode 5. Of all the characters from the first season, Rin was the one I felt got short-changed the most, so having an episode all about her was wonderful, and it naturally follows on from a small scene from Season 1 and greatly expands upon it. The chemistry between the colourful cast of characters is back here in full force and ultimately remains the most powerful draw of the series as it creates some wonderful comedic moments and is generally a ton of fun, making Love Live an absolute joy to watch.

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As with their re-release of Love Live! Season 1, Love Live! Season 2 contains both the English and Japanese audio tracks and both casts do an absolutely superb job once more. All of the English and Japanese voice actors return from the first season and it’s honestly hard to pick standouts from either cast as they all do so well. Despite how good the voice acting was before, it is topped here by an emotional couple of episodes towards the end which sees all the voice actors on the absolute top of their games. Of course, it goes without saying that the music is also just as fantastic as in the first season. Again, I think that the amount of enjoyment you’ll get out of Love Live! will likely depend on how much you do like the music, but, if you do like J-Pop, you’ll find a lot to love here. The OP, “Sore wa Bokutachi no Kiseki”, is just as great as the opening from the first series, and the ED, “Donna Toki mo Zutto”, is also enjoyable, once again being sung by different arrangements of µ’s based on the episode.

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Animation is once again handled by Sunrise, of Gundam and Gintama fame, and they continue to do a really spectacular job, with the show continuing to be incredibly colourful and energetic. The exaggerated facial expressions that I loved from last time also return in spades, giving us such gems as Umi’s now infamous poker face. The slightly awkward CG animation during the performance scenes is still ever-present, however, and isn’t really an improvement over the last season, which is a little disappointing to see. However, CGI aside, Love Live! continues to look great.

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In Summary

Love Live! School Idol Project Season 2 is the ideal sequel series. Not only does it take the weakest part of the first season and turn it into one of its biggest strengths, it also includes everything that made the original so fantastic to begin with. It will make you laugh, it will make you cry, but, most of all, it will make you fall in love with Love Live! all over again.

9/10

Directors: Takahiko Kyogoku
Format: PAL
Number of discs: 2
Classification: U
Studio: MVM
DVD Release Date: 20 Jun. 2016
Run Time: 325 minutes

Tokyo Ghoul √A Review

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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.

kamisama d (2)

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.

kamisama g

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