Erased Volume 1 Review

Last March I started watching Erased, a mystery story that was being adapted by A-1 Pictures. Over the course of its airing many anime fans took notice of the series and by the end of its run we were all very engrossed in the story and how it would turn out. Fast forward a year and the manga is now being brought to English thanks to Yen Press, and I’m here to give my thoughts on it.

For those of you who don’t know, Erased tells the story of Satoru Fujinuma, who is a fairly ordinary guy to the average eye. He’s a published mangaka but struggling to pen his next hit, so he’s also working part-time as a pizza deliverer guy. However, Satoru has a special ability that randomly triggers when someone around him is in danger. This ability sends Satoru back in time to a key moment before a fatal incident occurs – how far back depending on the situation. Once in the past, he must focus on what is going around him in order to solve the incident at hand before time will move forward normally again. If he misses the obvious fix then time loops round again and places Satoru back at the beginning to relive the scene over and over again.

Usually this ability never sends Satoru back more than a few minutes, but after someone close to our hero is brutally murdered, he’s sent back eighteen years to when he was a child in elementary school. At the time many children in the neighborhood were being kidnapped and murdered, including a classmate of his: Kayo Hinazuki. Remembering the incident, Satoru vows to protect Kayo and discover the connection between the murder in the present day and the disappearance of the children so many years ago. With so much on the line, can he figure it out or will be forced to relive these days forever?

Now I’m someone who likes a good mystery story, so when Erased came along I was more than happy to give it a shot. Apart from the fact that the series doesn’t outright explain Satoru’s abilities very well, or even why he has them, the story at hand is a good one. Even for someone like me, who has watched the anime through to the end, it’s not obvious who the kidnapper is, which so far has made revisiting the story enjoyable. There are just enough hints and revelations to keep readers on their toes and it’s easy to find yourself considering the numerous possibilities as the story unfolds. It’s a series that really makes you think and that’s the real charm it has going for it.

This volume might be labelled as Volume 1 but actually it’s an omnibus that includes the first two volumes that were released in Japan. This is a good way of releasing the series in the west as the first volume doesn’t really drag you into the mystery as well as it could. It’s not until the end of the first volume that Satoru is sent to the far past, and as the real meat of the series takes place during this period, I’m glad that we had a second volume included to read through.

A problem that I do have with the manga though is sadly quite a big one. My complaint lies with the artwork itself, which spends the majority of its time looking very disjointed. Characters’ heads are drawn at too sharp an angle, so they look much more pointed than they should. There are a few scenes where a character’s hair is blowing in the wind and not once does it look natural. Instead the hair looks very flat and, as with the faces, far too rigid in design. The artwork completely ruins any attempts the series makes in conveying emotion as the expressions never feel like they fit, and throughout the two volumes the eyes of our cast look completely empty – almost dead to me. Sure, pupils are drawn okay but they’re just black circles with almost no highlights to speak of. The other problem with the eyes is that, on the whole, they’re not circular enough and often drawn to a point (I think you can see where I’m going with this). It all makes for a very jarring experience.

Initially I wondered if the issues with the artwork came about because the manga was older (not that there is anything wrong with old manga!). I honestly didn’t know. However, it turned out that Erased was first published in 2012 in Japan, so it’s not actually old at all. After that I wondered if maybe mangaka Kei Sanbe was just inexperienced, but with numerous titles to their name that appears to not be the case either. Erased ran in Japan from 2012 until 2016 and a part of me hopes that the artwork will improve in time, but I’m not willing to bet on it. It’ll be disappointing if the art doesn’t improve, because the anime of Erased was very emotional, and to lose that depth due to the artwork would be a crying shame.

Overall I liked Erased enough as an anime to continue the manga for now, but I do think the manga is a hard sell for others who perhaps weren’t big fans of the anime or haven’t seen the series at all before. If you like the sound of the story then I recommend checking out the anime, but if you can overlook the artwork then the manga isn’t a bad starting point. The Erased manga is by no means bad, it just isn’t quite as good as I was hoping it would be.

Title: Erased Volume 1
Publisher: Yen Press
Genre: Fantasy, Mystery
Author(s): Kei Sanbe
Type: Manga
Original vintage: 2013
Format: Book (digital edition available)
Age rating: Teen
Length: 384 pages

Score: 6/10

Review of Re-Kan!

“I see dead people – behind my girlfriend’s back.” – Matt Kirshen

Hibiki Amami is a very friendly girl who is about start her first year at Hanazuka Public High School. On the way to her first day at school another student, tsundere Narumi Inoue, spots her walking across the road – or rather, trying to cross the road as some sort of invisible force is dragging her back. Inoue helps Amami, and when she looks down at Amami’s leg she sees it has hand prints on it. A reflection in a nearby mirror reveals some sort of ghostly figure crouching down by the leg.

The answer to what is going on is this: Amami has a sixth sense (in Japanese, “re-kan”) and is able to see dead people, ghosts and all kinds of spirits. She has been able to since birth and inherited the ability from her mother Yuuhi, who died when Hibiki was born. Hibiki was thus raised just by her father Asahi, a man so easily frightened that his hair turned white with fear shortly after he met Yuuhi.

Hibiki Amami, on the other hand, has become incredibly friendly with all the ghosts she has met, helping those spirits in need, providing them with offerings when needed. These spirits range from Hanako, a girl who haunts the girls’ toilets at the school; the Roll Call Samurai who died of hunger and begins protecting Amami as soon as she fed him; a perverted cat who is constantly trying to look at girls’ panties; the Earthbound Spirit who is bound to a sign in the town’s park; and the trendy (for the 1990s) Kogal Spirit who gets friendly with Amami after possessing her in an attempt to making peace with her mother.

While Amami is perfectly friendly to these ghosts, Inoue is utterly petrified of them or anything supernatural. Despite this, Inoue ends up being placed behind Amami in class and thus comes into close contact with spirits that at first only Amami can deal with – the spirits also including that of Inoue’s grandmother who is constantly following her.

Soon however, Amami and Inoue make friends with other people in their class who become involved with Amami’s supernatural escapades: there’s Kana Uehara, who runs a supernatural blog and is able to see the ghosts whenever she photographs them on her mobile phone; Uehara’s childhood pal Kyoko Esumi, an ex-delinquent who used to beat up troublemakers near to where she lived; Makoto Ogawa, a seemingly normal girl apart from her huge collection of scary zombie dolls; and Kenta Yamada, an overly-cheerful boy who is often on the rough end of Esumi’s anger – a fact not helped by the fact that his older brother is a cop who once had a “thing” for her.

The most noteworthy thing about Re-Kan! is that, although it is a comedy, it is possibly one of the saddest comedies around. Because all the stories involve ghosts, many of whom are recently departed, often the stories are about helping the ghost get into heaven. This often means interacting with their still-alive family and friends before the ghosts bid them a final farewell. These are pretty dark subjects for a comedy show.

Most of the actual comedy comes from Inoue’s over-the-top reactions to anything ghostly, or Yamada’s general idiocy which normally sees him get clobbered. However, the comedy often ends up coming second to the tragedy. Nowhere seems to refer to Re-Kan! as being tragicomic, but to me that is the best description for it.

Most of the action is focused on the characters and it is the ghosts who make for the more interesting viewing, especially in the later episodes as a rivalry appears to develop between the Roll Call Samurai and the Kogal Spirit for Amami’s affections, but all the way through there is good stuff from the duo, especially the way they relate to Amami. One of the best sequences is Amami making some knitted gifts for her ghost friends, the oddest of which is a knitted lavatory seat cover for Hanako.

The artwork, however, is slightly peculiar, and you can tell it is just by the cover of the DVD/Blu-ray. The odd thing is that although Uehara and Esumi’s hair covers one of their eyes, you can still see the eye that covers it. I don’t know if there is a technical name for it (if there is let me know), but this seems to be a thing that is happening pretty frequently in anime: namely, that if something blocks a character’s face, the face will still be visible and thing that is blocking it either disappears or has no affect. For example, in Haikyu!! the net will suddenly have a huge hole in it if the character is directly behind it, or in Free! if Rei Ryugazaki’s in profile, the bit of his glasses frame that would normally cover his eyes suddenly vanishes. For now, I’m referring to this as “face space”, but as I said, if there is a proper term for it, let me know.

The contents of collection are limited. There is no English dub, and the only extras are textless opening and closing, but neither of them, “Colourful Story” and “Kesaran Pasaran”, both performed by the voice actors who play Amami and Inoue, are that memorable.

Re-Kan! is a decent enough series, but remember that it is not a laugh-a-minute show. But it will vary from viewer-to-viewer. What do you re-kan? (Sorry, couldn’t resist making the pun)

Title: Review of Re-Kan!
Publisher: MVM Films
Genre: Comedy, Supernatural
Studio: Pierrot+
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2015
Format: Blu-Ray and DVD (DVD version reviewed)
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles
Age rating: 15
Running time: 325 minutes

Score: 6/10

Review of The Ghost in the Shell: Deluxe Edition

“Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts… A graphic representation of data abstracted from banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding…” – William Gibson

The new Ghost in the Shell film, made in America and to be released at the end of March, has already attracted plenty of comments. Most of this commentary is along the lines of: “How come they cast Scarlett Johansson as Major Motoko Kusanagi? This is whitewashing and racist!” or “*sigh* Oh no, not another attempt by the Yanks to make an anime adaptation.”

What is it with Hollywood and their seeming inability to adapt anything that isn’t American properly, especially when it comes to anime? Personally speaking, I have no problem with us in the west adapting stuff from Japan for our own audiences. Take The Seven Samurai – that was turned into a film set in the Wild West, and became The Magnificent Seven, a perfectly good film. The difference, however, is that they clearly changed the location and thus casting American actors in the roles was perfectly fine. The new Ghost in the Shell film fails to do this, at least from what we currently gather. It would be fine if they had set the film in the USA and changed the entire cast, but they haven’t. They still got Japanese actors to play other parts, including major roles, like Takeshi Kitano playing Chief Aramaki. If they can cast a Japanese actor as Aramaki, why not cast one for the Major? I don’t think I’m qualified to say if this is racist or not (excuse my cowardice), but I do feel that it is wrong.

If there is at least one good thing about the new film, it is that it gives everyone a chance to re-evaluate the original work. Manga Entertainment is re-releasing the films [[and the Stand Alone Complex TV series]] on both DVD and Blu-Ray on 20th March, and now Kodansha Comics have released “Deluxe Editions” of the original manga, in hardback and, for the first time, printed in the correct right-to-left unflipped format.

For those who are unfamiliar with the story, it takes place in the fictional floating Newport City in Shinhama Prefecture, and begins on 5th March, 2029. By this point in time, technology has become so advanced that people are able to possess “cyberbrains” that allow their bodies to interact with various networks. People can also gain various forms of prosthetics and even complete prosthetic bodies. The problem with all this technology is that you can be hacked and made to do things by whoever controls you.

The action follows Public Security Section 9, group of ex-military officers and members of the police who investigate crimes that normally involve the hacking of cyberbrains. They are led by Chief Daisuke Aramaki, who everyone always comments looks a bit like a monkey, while most of the main work is done by Major Motoko Kusanagi, who has undergone full-body prostheses.

There are some individual cases in this manga, but there is also the overriding case involving “The Puppeteer”, a criminal who is hacking into humans to commit a wide range of crimes. Major Kusanagi and Chief Aramaki attempt to get the bottom of these cases along with the other members of the team, including Batou, who is recognisable by his cylindrical cybernetic eyes; and Togusa, one of the few members of the team not to have any cybernetic enhancements. All the time, Kusanagi believes she able to solve the cases because of what her “ghost” is telling her, but what is her ghost? Is it a soul? Can someone so mechanical have a soul?

If you are confused by the plot, don’t worry: everyone seems to get confused by the plot of Ghost in the Shell. It and Akira are two of the most cyberpunk manga/anime around, and two of the hardest to get your head around. It is made even harder by the inclusion of loads of notes in the margins of the pages. If you turn to the back of the book, it even gives you a note of caution saying: “This book contains a great number of margin notes and commentary. If read alongside the narrative, this may cause confusion and interrupt the flow of the story, so it is recommended that they be enjoyed separately.” You know when some people tell you to read a book twice because you might miss all the hidden references and jokes in it? With Ghost in the Shell you have to read it twice to make sense of everything.

Also, because it was written in 1989, it has dated badly in some places. This is a story with all kinds of futuristic technology, but also one in which the Soviet Union still exists. There also appear to have been some problems with translation. At one point, a Tachikoma (an intelligent tank) says to Kusanagi: “We demand the use of use of natural oil!” It is odd that this error has occurred, especially when you compare it to Dark Horse’s release of the manga in 2004, which has the line correctly written as: “We demand the use of natural oil!”

Where Ghost in the Shell really stands out, however, is the artwork. Now, it should be mentioned that the quality of the art does vary. For example, sometimes it looks like Batou’s eyes are a bit out of place. But on the other side, especially when you get to the colour pictures, the artwork looks brilliant. The shading and the details all look wonderful, and the characters are also great in colour, especially Kusanagi. This does lead to one of the issue that some readers might have, which is that creator Shirow Masamune is someone who is also known for doing erotic art, and thus a few of the outfits worn by the female characters may be a bit too revealing for some tastes. Put it this way: it appears that in Masamune’s vision of the future, nurses are more than willing to wear uniforms that show off their sexy knickers.

However, arguably the fact that you are not seeing something even sexier is worse. A quick bit of research is enough to show you that Kodansha have made some changes. At the beginning of the third chapter, we see a swimsuit-clad Kusanagi on holiday on a boat. We see her jumping into it with two women already on board, also in swimsuits, waiting for her. At least that is what you see in the Kodansha version. If you read the 2004 Dark Horse version, you see that Kusanagi and the other two women are in fact naked. Not only are they naked, the two women already on the boat are having sex, and Kusanagi is about to join in, which she does in the Dark Horse version. What then follows are two pages of a raunchy, lesbian threesome, in colour – at least in Dark Horse’s copy.

In Kodansha’s “Deluxe Edition”, a title which should at least imply that it includes all of the manga, they not only put clothes on the women and moved the characters so they sit separately rather than making love, they removed two entire pages of the book. Now, if they were doing this because they were trying to make the manga more accessible to the public by getting it down to a 16+ rating for example I can at least understand the reasoning even though I would disapprove. Yet Kodansha’s version still has a 18+ “Mature” rating. If the manga is still being aimed only at adults, why censor anything? It serves no purpose.

When I was writing up the conclusion to this review I was going to argue that while there are many reasons to not buy Ghost in the Shell – including the varying quality of the art, some errors made in translation, the difficulty in understanding the plot, the fact that it is not the most feminist story out there in the way some women are depicted, and also the issue of it dating badly in certain places – it was still worth investing in. After all, it is a rare release of a hardback manga, it is now finally in the correct right-to-left format, the wonderful quality of the colour pages outweighs some of the dodgier segments, the chance to see the earliest origins of one of the most famous characters in all of manga, and then there is the biggest reason of all – it gives you a chance to enjoy the Major as she should be enjoyed, before Scarlett Johansson has any chance to potentially spoil things.

However, the censorship tipped me over the edge. Not only are there all the other issues, but Kodansha made this stupid decision to cut out a bit of the story. Yes, it doesn’t add anything to the plot, but the fact they felt the need to do this is just wrong, especially when it serves no purpose at all. This has made me so angry as to change my view, to get rid of my defence of this new book. I originally want to say “read it before the Yanks ruin it”. Kodansha have already ruined it for me.

The worst manga I have ever reviewed is Cardfight!! Vanguard, which I principally hated because it was too commercial among other reasons. Only the artwork prevented me from giving it a 1 out of 10. I think The Ghost in the Shell: Deluxe Edition may well tie with it. The only things saving it are the colour artwork, and that it’s in hardback, it’s unflipped and the Major is so iconic as a character. However, publishing a book in hardback is not a difficult thing to do; the unflipped nature of the manga is just something we now expect, unlike back in 2004 when flipping was more commonplace; and removal of the sex scene also removes another major aspect of Kusanagi as a character, in that this scene clearly proves she is also an LGBT character.

In conclusion, you can cope with it being flipped. Save your money and get the older, paperback Dark Horse version instead.

Title: The Ghost in the Shell: Deluxe Edition
Publisher: Kodansha Comics
Genre: Crime, Cyberpunk, Sci-fi
Author(s): Shirow Masamune
Type: Manga
Original vintage: 1989
Format: Book (digital edition available)
Age rating: 18
Length: 352 pages

Score: 2/10

Mikagura School Suite – The Complete Series Review

So, see if you can follow me on this one. Mikagura School Suite is an anime based on a light novel series by the band Last Note. that was itself based on their own Vocaloid-assisted songs. Now not being full acquainted with the music scene in my own country, let alone Japan, I wasn’t actually sure what that meant, apparently it just means Last Note. (who have a full stop at the end of their name just to annoy people who use auto correct grammar) wrote the songs via a computer program, including the vocals being done by said program, and released them. They then wrote a light novel series “based on the songs” (which is odd because songs are short and don’t really open themselves up well for novelisation) then these light novels were adapted into this 12 episode anime series. Got that? Good.

The series at its heart is a light-hearted slice of life-style comedy, but with weird and super-powered things happening around the place. Slice of weird life? Anyway, our lead character is Eruna Ichinomiya, a hyper-active young girl who seemingly falls in love with pretty much any woman she sees, whether it be on her portable gaming system (that is clearly just a PSP, but you know, rights issues etc), in her head, or in real life. It’s nice that the fact the lead is a lesbian is not pointed out as weird or perverse, nor is it played up to give horny real-life teens some … imagery, it’s just… she’s your classic over-the-top horny teen who happens to like girls. It’s a rare act of maturity, in a series that’s anything but mature! Anyway, she has trouble picking a high school to attend until her cousin shows her a pamphlet of Mikagura Academy, featuring attractive student Seisa Mikagura in it, so that immediately “inspires her” to sign up for it. After a surreal test which includes a floating, talking cat (which doesn’t seem to phase her much) she is accepted.

What Eruna doesn’t realise, however, is that the school has a strange set- up: every student has to join a club and each club battles the others in over-the-top shonen-style battles with powers based on whatever club they’re a part of. Accommodation, food and other things are based on what club you’re a part of and where that club stands in the school rankings. During the battles each participant has three hearts appear above their head; once all three are destroyed, they lose. It’s like a weird Dragon Ball-esque version of Mario Kart’s battle mode. As amusing and occasionally really well animated as these fights are, they aren’t the focus of the show, and for a while in the middle they just don’t feature at all.

The focus of the show is seeing Eruna going from someone only interested in the fantasy girl on her not-PSP dating sim to slowly gathering a large group of friends that she loves hanging out with. That’s really the main story. There is a storyline about Eruna’s ancestors and hidden powers locked away and so on, but it isn’t given any real importance. Some of the friends she gathers have backstory, even tragic backstory, that adds a little to them, but once again it’s never really necessary, often being created so they can have a quick fight before going on to the next comedic adventure. Her group includes: previously mentioned stoic shut-in Seisa who slowly comes out of her shell; Otone Fujishiro who is similarly anti-social but quickly comes around; smiley and bubbly Himi Yasaka of the Calligraphy Club; Eruna’s perverted cousin Shigure Ninomiya and Kyoma Kuzuryu of the Art Club, who is blunt and intimidating, but nice when you get to know him. There are a few more, mostly from the Drama Club, but I’d be here all day.

The Opening is “After School Revolution” in which the music and lyrics were done by Last Note. themselves, but the performance comes from a trio known as Hōkago Rakuen-bu. There are three Endings, either done by all three Hokago Rakuen-bu or just one member of the trio, which are After School Stride for Episodes 1, 9, 10, 11 and 12, Paradise Fanfare for Episodes 2-7, and Naked Candy for Episode 8. Why a 12 episode series needed three endings I can’t tell you, but I guess given the origin of the series can be traced back to a band writing songs on a computer, it makes a sort of sense. The English dub is as accurate as you can get, the FUNimation cast do their best to match the over-the-top shouty rants that somehow don’t sound as bad when they’re done in Japanese, but in English… it tends to get old – and loud – fast. Still, several of the voice actors, some of whom also acted as directors or in script adaptation, appear in a set of episode commentary tracks for Episodes 9 and 10, which is a nice change from the usual clean Opening, Ending and trailers you normally just get (which are present here as well, for the record).

In summary, Mikagura School Suite is a perfectly fine distraction. For 12 episodes you get plenty of humour and crazy over-the-top reactions, plus you occasionally get a good super-powered fight thrown in. However, there are obviously many better examples of this kind of school-based slice-of-life comedy out there, so maybe this is for diehard fans of the genre who love to watch and collect them all, rather than someone dipping their toes into this part of the anime world for the first time. If you’re in it for the action you’ll be disappointed, but one look at the title and box art should have told you what you were getting! To sum it up, the show is fun in parts, slow in others, making it a solid show to watch; just don’t buy it expecting it to blow you away, instead buy it to have something to relax to for a few days.

Title: Mikagura School Suite - The Complete Series
Publisher: Funimation (via Anime Limited)
Genre: comedy, slice of life, action
Studio: Doga Kobo
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2015
Format: Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack (Blu-Ray version reviewed)
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 12
Running time: 300 minutes

Score: 7/10

Review of Brothers Conflict

World-famous adventurer Hinata Rintaro is newly engaged to successful fashion designer Miwa Asahina, so to give them some privacy, Rintaro’s daughter, Ema Hinata, decides to move in with her soon-to-be-step-brothers, all thirteen of them. Inside the huge mansion full of people, Ema finally feels like she has the family she can turn to; however for the boys all they see is the one person they have been looking for to spend the rest of their lives with…

From the looks of the cover art and screenshots, with the boys all having crazy anime hair plus the description of the series above, it would be easy to write off all thirteen brothers as one-dimensional trope-ridden characters who only serve as cheap love interests for the heroine and the audience to latch onto. However, whilst calling them all ‘one-dimensional’ wouldn’t be entirely incorrect, arguably it’s the brothers themselves that are the strongest element of the series.

First of all, you can’t deny that there isn’t a lack of variety in eye candy and due to the diversity of personalities, it’ll be easy to find at least one male that an audience can get behind or perhaps represent a type they like. Want a hard-working calm man who happens to be an excellent cook? Ukyo is the man of your dreams. Fancy some brothers that are very close, similar to the twins Hikaru & Kaoru from Ouran High School Club? Feast your eyes on Tsubaki and Azusa. Do you like Christian Grey from the Fifty Shades series but wish he was a young teen pop idol instead? Look no further than Futo.

Secondly; the brothers do act like they’re a close-knit family by taking fun jabs at each other, encouraging one another at their jobs and, of course, all having the romantic capacity of an old-school Disney princess – they don’t just like Ema, they fall head over heels in LOVE and want to spend the rest of their lives with her!

Thirdly; it also helps that not all thirteen brothers are the same age; it would have been easy (also lazy) to have them High School age but they actually range from 31 to 10 (the youngest one is kept out of romantic race… for the majority of the time) and they all have different jobs, from the down-to-earth doctor to the dream-job game designer. This creates opportunities to not only stay away from the typical school environment, but also for the heroine to spend time with each brother individually (as they all have different schedules), learn about their specific passions and give each male time to shine on their own. Due to the nature of the genre and shortness of the series however, some brothers get more screen-time than others and a few fail to get any quality time with the heroine. For example, it seems weird that Yusuke, a boy who has apparently known Ema for several years before the start of the series, never gets the opportunity to truly confess his feelings. This counts double for the tenth brother Iori, who is easily forgotten about due to having the same silver hair as his brother Tsubaki and being shoved into the background from the start. Lastly, there’s no denying that the story is very rudimentary and predictable, and comes with a truly terrible script. But thankfully, at the best of times, the script crosses the line into hilariously awful territory, so we get golden scenes of cross-dressing Hikaru practically trolling his helpless brothers which always provide a laugh, random dream scenes where the brothers have laugh-out-loud proclamations of love for Ema, and some frankly poor but hysterical lines, my personal favourite being: “I’ll protect you from the ultra-violet rays…with my lips!” (That’s from the English dub, but the original Japanese line is not far off from that either).

The object of their affections is, of course, the heroine Ema who plays as audience surrogate. Normally in these reverse-harem situations the main girl is the self-insert and therefore lacks personality, which works fine in video games where dialogue and actions are decided by the player, but they never cross over well into other fiction where the choice is gone. Ema is not as bland as, say, the heroine from Amnesia (whom you could replace with a googly-eyed sock puppet and not notice the difference); Ema does have SOME urgency and character of her own, however small. She works hard at her exams to get into the college she’s passionate about, loves video games and expresses interest in helping around the house.

However, when it comes to the interactions with the boys, and their individual confessions of love, any semblance of personality goes completely out of the window. It doesn’t seem like it at first; in Episode 1 she accuses perverted monk brother Kaname of ‘being a tease’ when he puts the moves on her, but from then on she merely acts as the ‘nice girl’ card-carrying character to the brothers and does nothing outside of blushing and remaining silent when the boys proclaim their love. If they kiss her she just lets them, and despite the swooping music and cheesy-as-hell dialogue from the boys, in the very next scene or in some cases next episode (if the confession was at the end of one) Ema and the other brothers continue as if nothing has happened; the status quo hasn’t changed and Ema stays oblivious to the boys’ painfully obvious affections. This kills any sort of romantic tension or drama that the series could have carried because Ema just acts so stilted and ignorant throughout it all.

This plays out in part with the ‘dates’ the characters go on; Ema is taken to a video games arcade, a fun fair and other colourful places, but the most we see of it is the beginning of the trip, and then fast forward to the end where the boys proclaim what a good time they’ve had… shame the audience never actually gets to see it or any possible development of chemistry. Then there’s the time scale over the course of the series; easily a year flies by throughout Brothers Conflict (e.g. Episode 10 takes place in the summer, whereas Episode 11 is at the end of January) but it doesn’t feel like it because the scenes feel so small, and the aforementioned lack of tension isn’t carried over, so nothing feels consequential or meaningful in any capacity. So, for instance, you have a weird situation where a boy confesses to Ema that he loves her in January, then the next episode takes place in the Spring, and only then does she finally do something to address it. I can’t imagine many people happily waiting at least 4 months+ for the object of their affections to finally get their act together and tell them yes or no.

Ema isn’t the worst thing about the series however; that honour goes to her pet squirrel Juli. He’s Ema’s constant companion and she just so happens to have the ability to communicate with him, so the audience hears Juli ranting over the boys fighting over her, as well as supporting Ema. However, his dialogue ranges from annoying to unfunny to sometimes offensive in places. Thankfully, the anime gently phases him out towards the halfway point, but every now and then he pops back just as the audience has forgotten him to remind us he’s still around, or worse, the anime gives him a human form (no, really).

Extras are plentiful and spread evenly across the discs; the given clean openings/closings and trailers are there but also commentaries for Episodes 9 and 12 plus 2 OVAs (Christmas and Valentine’s specials) plus an extra episode where the boys get a hold of a magic lamp. So if you do invest in the series you’ll be please to know that you’ll get everything that’s been animated and commercially available in one complete set, which is more than can be said for other, bigger franchises.

It’s important to note my review is based upon the DVD version of the series, which was cancelled not long before the eventual Blu-ray release of the series was confirmed, so my feedback on the animation quality may not truly reflect what the Blu-ray edition has to offer, however I cannot imagine it being any less lazily animated. Brains Base has done great work in the past (Penguindrum and Innocent Venus to name just two) but they really phoned it in for Brothers Conflict. From still backgrounds with lips barely moving filling up whole dialogue scenes, characters having backs turned to camera to save on animating more than one set of lips (in the Valentine OVA one character barely has a shoulder in the frame, so the brothers are practically talking to someone OFF camera), both opening animations take place on a plain white background and the first closing song animation is made up mostly of clips from the show. It wouldn’t be surprising if the previously mentioned abrupt dates were cut to save on animating anything stressful. The character designs are nice and mostly easy on the eyes, especially the heroine who does look quite pretty in several scenes, but they all barely move; this is not a great representation of Brains Base’s work.

The music score is provided by Takeshi Nakatsuka who compliments the rom-com vibe of the series with a soundtrack that varies from heart-pulling strings to comical jazz. “BELOVEDxSURVIVAL” is a serviceable pop/rock opener by Gero, with the OVA opening song “MY SWEET HEAVEN” by the same artist being near-identical to the first opening. But if you want to cringe in your seats or just burst out laughing, watch the ending themes “14 to 1” for the series or OVA ending song “I Love You ga Kikoenai”, both by Asahina Bros + Juli. Yes, it’s the Japanese cast of the brothers and the squirrel singing terribly cheesy pop about loving the main girl. It’s as terrible as it sounds.

Despite being a silly harem story the English dub does have a lot of high calibre male talent from the likes of J. Michael Tatum, Kyle Hebert and Vic Mignogna lending their voices to bring the rom-com scenes to life. Even Colleen Clinkenbeard tries her best to make the female lead as interesting as possible despite the script not always reflecting it.

Brothers Conflict is tricky to recommend because it swings back and forth between ‘so bad it’s good’ to ‘just bad’, sometimes within the same scene. If you want a safe purchase, a definitive ‘good’ example of a male harem then the likes of Fruits Basket and the already mentioned Ouran High School Club are better examples to put money towards. However, if you have a good sense of humour, thrive in potentially hilari-awful series and are happy to take the cons/pitfalls of the genre, then Brothers Conflict has a lot of laughs to offer.

Title: Brothers Conflict
Publisher: Funimation (via Anime Limited)
Genre: Harem, Romantic Comedy,
Studio: Brains Base
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2013
Format: Blu-Ray and DVD (DVD version reviewed)
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 15
Running time: 300 minutes

Score: 5/10

Ian Wolf reviews We Are X

“To create some kind of art, I don’t think you should be in a normal mental state of mind. It’s a war.” – Yoshiki, X Japan’s drummer, pianist and composer.

As this is an anime website, it is probably best to start with something that most people here may be familiar with. Chances are that if you are familiar with the rock band and “visual kei” pioneers X Japan, it is because of their work connected with Clamp’s manga X. The 1996 film version used the band’s song “Forever Love” as their theme and in 1993 a series of short films was made featuring artwork from the manga set to the music of X Japan. More recently, in 2011 they composed and recorded “Scarlet Love Song”, which was used as the theme for the anime film version of Osamu Tezuka’s Buddha.

If you are wishing to know more about any connection between X Japan, Clamp and Tezuka however, then this film may not be for you as there is no mention of it. However, don’t let that put you off. First of all, this documentary film, We Are X is brilliant. Secondly, now is a better time than ever to look at this band, who are releasing their first album in over 20 years in March to coincide with a concert at Wembley.

We Are X tells the story of X Japan primarily through the band’s frontman Yoshiki, who plays the drums, the piano, and is the principle composer of the band’s songs. The backdrop for the film is a concert at Madison Square Gardens in October 2014, and it tells of the band’s origins, successes, failures, break-up and reunion. Perhaps the best comment on the band is made by Gene Simmons of Kiss who says that if the band was from either the USA or the UK, “they might be the biggest band in the whole world.” Among other notable names featured in the film include late Beatles producer George Martin; co-founder of Marvel Comics Stan Lee; other rock musicians from the west including Wes Borland (Limp Bizkit), Richard Fortus (Guns N’ Roses) and Marylin Manson; and other Japanese rock bands such as MUCC, Ladies Room, Luna Sea, Dir En Gray and Glay.

The best way to sum up X Japan is this: if Spinal Tap were real, they would be looking at X Japan and be exclaiming: “How come their drummer’s still alive?!” Whereas some musicians perform music about love or sadness, with Yoshiki his music appears to be about pain, and he has gone through a lot of pain both emotionally and physically. When Yoshiki was ten his father committed suicide; two more members of the band died by their own hand – bassist Taiji hanged himself after he was put in a cell over an air-rage incident, while lead guitarist hide’s death was reported as suicide at the time, although Yoshiki believes the death was a result of a drunk misadventure while doing a neck stretching exercise; the band broke up for a decade after the singer Toshi was brainwashed by a cult; the London concert that is happening in March was meant to happen last year, but had to be postponed after the guitarist Pata had to be rushed into intensive care; and Yoshiki himself has so many physical injuries it is a miracle he can still perform. Years of constant head banging while drumming has resulted in a deformed neck bone, so he has to wear a neck brace while performing otherwise his neck might snap. Also, he has such bad asthma that he needs oxygen tanks backstage because he has so little air in his lungs while performing, and is often on the verge of death during gigs.

The film details the struggles they had previously trying to break into the English-speaking world, with a failed attempt to make an English-language album back in the 1990s when the band itself was going through some trouble.

This is something that it has to be said is still true today. If you include the forthcoming sixth album, only three of X Japan’s six studio albums are legally available to download via iTunes. The other three albums are not available over here, and the only way you can get them is to import the CD or record from abroad. Also, while certain aspects of modern Japanese culture like anime are popular, Japanese music is not often appreciated. Visual kei is a rather obscure movement in the west and most people don’t know about it. I think the biggest way of showing the lack of attention to any music from the Far East, is that most people are only aware of one single song, and that’s “Gangnam Style”, which is more famous for its comic dancing than the actual music.

But what makes me really angry is that while the film has been recognised by some organisations such as the Sundance Film Festival, it hasn’t been recognised by other more notable institutions. I thought We Are X was bound to be nominated for an Oscar, namely “Best Documentary”. In the end, the only Oscar it was considered for was “Best Song”, and it failed to become a nominee. Not only that, but two of the songs in that category both come from the same film, La La Land. How is it fair for one film to be nominated twice in the same category? Mind you, this is the same category that in 2014 thought that the best song in all cinema that year was “Let It Go” from Frozen, so arguably you could say they dodged a bullet there.

However, X Japan certainly deserve to be better known, simply because they were the first heavy metal act to make it big in Japan, and to a mainstream audience. It is thanks to them that other rock and metal bands were able to make it. Plus, like X Japan, other Japanese rock bands have occasionally had the odd brush with anime too – examples include The gazettE, who provided music for Black Butler, and Buck-Tick whose music has been used in shows like Trinity Blood, xxxHolic and Shiki.

If there is a downside to the film, it would be that I question the need for there to be subtitles whenever any of the Japanese people in the film speak English. Most of the time they seem to be speaking perfectly well.

We Are X will premiere at Picturehouse Central, London, on 28th February, and then be shown nationwide on 2nd March for one night only, with encore screenings. It will also be a special version of the film to be shown at 17.00 at Wembley Arena on 4th March, prior to their concert there at 20.30. The film will be released On Demand, on DVD and on Blu-Ray on 1st May. The soundtrack to the film is out on 3rd March on CD and as a download.

Title: We Are X
Publisher: Manga Entertainment
Genre: Documentary, Music
Studio: Passion Pictures
Type: Movie
Original vintage: 2016
Format: Blu-Ray
Language options: Mixed Japanese and English (Japanese parts are subtitled)
Age rating: 15
Running time: 95 minutes

Score: 10/10

No-Rin Review

Idol-obsessed farm boy Kousaku Hata is devastated when his favourite idol and dream girl Yuka Kusakabe unexpectedly announces her immediate retirement at the peak of her career. Taking the news hard, Kousaku spirals into a depression, locking himself in his room, which his fellow students at the Tamo Agriculture school try to bring him out of. On the day that he starts attending classes again, Kousaku gets an unexpected surprise as his beloved idol, under the guise of Ringo Kinoshita, transfers into his class. Taking advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, Kousaku decides to get close to Ringo, and uncover the reason for her early retirement.

No-Rin, a 2014 anime adaptation of the series of novels by author Shirow Shiratori, is a show that I suspect has the potential to be extremely polarizing. This might kind-of go without saying, given that comedy is normally very divisive, but No-Rin’s particular brand of sex-based humour is something that I could almost certainly see people turning their noses up at, or totally dismissing out of hand, and I wouldn’t blame them. Whether it be a character being lovingly nicknamed as ‘Tits McGee’ or a lengthy conversation about the phallic nature of Egg Plants (and that’s just Episode 1!), the comedy present isn’t exactly what you’d call highbrow, but I suspect it is the brazen and unrepentant sex jokes that made me love it a whole lot.

Yes, as much as it might make me sound as mature as a twelve-year-old schoolboy, I had a lot of good laughs whilst watching No-Rin. The gags I mentioned before are just the tip of iceberg when it comes to how far No-Rin seems to push the boundaries, and I was really taken off-guard by how far it goes at times, with some quite raunchy jokes that I dare not spoil here. Needless to say, it’s the biggest draw the series has, and if the humour doesn’t sound like your kind of thing, I’d very much advise you to stay far away. However, if it does sound like something that you might like, I could recommend it on the comedy alone.

However, despite the big focus on comedy, No-Rin actually tries to do a little bit more by throwing in a bit of romance too, which, whilst a good attempt, isn’t really too successful. Although I think that the protagonist Kousaku and Ringo have some good chemistry together and there are some genuinely sweet scenes sprinkled throughout, the way the show itself approaches romance and the less comedic elements in general, needs some work. The biggest fault is the fact that all the jokes seem to dry up whenever there is any kind of character or relationship development. I don’t just mean in the moment itself, which would be fine, but in the slightly more character-focused episodes, the jokes aren’t anywhere near as frequent as in the other episodes. This is especially noticeable in the last two or three episodes, where the comedy almost fades out entirely. Granted, I think that actually giving the characters a little bit of backstory and depth is good and might be worth losing a few jokes for, as it is an area that most comedy anime seem to totally avoid, so I have to give it props for that. However I just wish we could have had the best of both worlds, with a few more serious moments whilst not sacrificing the comedy. Another trap that the series falls into is that the ending is inconclusive and rather unsatisfying, but such is the danger of adapting from ongoing source material.

No-Rin’s animation is handled by Silver Link (Fate/Kalied liner Prisma Illya, Watamote, Yurikuma Arashi), who, as far as I’m concerned, might just be one of the most underrated anime studios currently active. Whilst they may not have the unique and distinct style of Shaft or the insane levels of detail of Kyoto Animation, their work is always high quality, and has a ton of energy behind it, and No-Rin is no exception. I also really love how the animation occasionally switches style giving it a lot of visual diversity. From an old school video game to a manga, even an impromptu tribute to Sailor Moon, Silver Link certainly cram in a whole host visual styles, making No-Rin a visually interesting series to say the least.

Funimation UK’s release of No-Rin comes with both and English and Japanese audio, and I’m quite a big fan of the dub for this series. Austin Tindle (Is This a Zombie?, Gonna Be the Twintail, Attack on Titan) voices the lead Kousaku, and does so with boundless enthusiasm, imbuing the role with the energy needed to make a lot of the gags work. In stark contrast to Tindle’s energy, Jad Saxton (Fairy Tail, High School DxD, Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid) delivers an excellent low key performance as the nigh emotionless Ringo. The supporting cast is also great, including some relative newcomers such as Lynsey Hale (Seraph of the End) and Derick Snow (Prince of Stride: Alternative) as well as some more established voice actors such as Caitlin Glass (Full Metal Alchemist) and Morgan Garrett (Love Live Sunshine).

Music for the series is provided Akiro Matsuda (Sound! Euphonium) and Tomoki Kikuya (Hidamari Sketch), who deliver some pretty great and memorable tracks that do a good job of capturing the general atmosphere of the series. Similarly, the OP, ‘Himitsu no Tobira Kara Ai ni Kite’ by Yukari Tamura and the ED, ‘Mogitate Fruit Girls’, by Yukari Tamura and Kana Hanazawa, who are part of the Japanese cast, also capture the tone of the series, both being full of energy.

Special features on Funimation’s release include commentaries, promo videos, commercials, a textless OP and ED and trailers.

In Summary

No-Rin won’t be for everyone, but I loved its rather unique brand of crass humour and high energy animation. Even if the romance aspect falters a bit, it doesn’t stop it from being a brilliant, side splitting comedy.

Title: No-Rin
Publisher: Funimation (via Anime Limited)
Genre: Comedy, Ecchi, Romance
Studio: Silver Link
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2014
Format: Blu-Ray
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 15
Running time: 300 minutes

Score: 8/10

Konosuba: God’s Blessing on This Wonderful World! Light Novel Volume 1 Review

When the anime adaption of Konosuba first aired back in Winter of 2016 I was intrigued by the cast of characters and its setting but I wasn’t convinced that I’d really enjoy it. However, by the time I sat down to review the series, I’d fallen in love with it and hoped someone would license the light novels. Fast forward a year and now the first volume of the light novels has been released thanks to Yen Press, and I’m revisiting this wondrous world in text form to explain why you should give it a shot.

The series follows the adventures of Kazuma Satou, who wakes up in the afterlife having died saving the life of a girl. He meets with a goddess known as Aqua, who offers him three choices:

1. To be reborn as a human.
2. To live in heaven.
3. To be transported to a fantasy world where he’ll retain all his memories and can take one item with him, to help him live out his life to the fullest.

Kazuma chooses choice number three, but while considering the item he could bring with him he suddenly realises that perhaps the best thing to do is take Aqua herself! Surely a goddess would give him a much better shot at defeating the demon king that plagues this world? Well, little does he know that this is a terrible decision. Upon arrival in this new world, Kazuma makes his way to the adventurers’ guild, where he can register as an adventurer and take on quests. Sadly Kazuma’s dreams of being a mighty hero are quickly crushed when it’s revealed that, apart from Luck and Intelligence, his stats are terrible. On the other hand, all of Aqua’s stats are amazing apart from her Luck and Intelligence, which are simply dreadful.

Not to be deterred from his new life, Kazuma decides that he and Aqua should take on a quest that requires the two to kill five giant toads in three days. Unfortunately this doesn’t quite go to plan the first time around, so Aqua advertises for some new party members to help balance things out. This advertisement attracts the attention of Megumin, a powerful wizard who specialises in explosion magic. This all seems great at first but Megumin’s powerful image is soon shattered when it’s revealed that she can only fire off one blast of explosion magic per day! Worse still, once she has unleashed her magic she becomes unable to move and an easy target to attack. When the team is then joined by a Crusader, Darkness, who’s unable to hit a single target and loves to be hit, it seems life is going from bad to worse for poor ol’ Kazuma. Will he ever make use of this useless party?

Now I’ll be the first to admit that this story sounds fairly generic and like something we’ve all read before, especially considering that it’s technically a ‘character is transported to a fantasy world’ plot. That said, there is some real charm to the Konosuba cast and the various situations they find themselves in. For example, back in Japan Kazuma was a high-school shut-in who loved nothing more than to spend his time playing video games, so he’s stumbling through this world thanks to his gaming knowledge – and it’s great fun to watch this unfold. It also means that the series can comfortably take jabs at common video game tropes and make you smile by doing so.

One of my favourite parodies comes thanks to the “Cabbage Quest”. When I reviewed Season One of the anime, this quest was one of my favourite moments in the series, and that also rings true for the light novel. The quest involves Kazuma and co. rounding up flying cabbages (for some reason all fruit and veg in this world appears to have the ability to move around) and our hero comments about how this is such a low level quest that you’d ultimately want to skip it in a game. Being an avid JRPG player, the whole quest brought a smile to my face and left me excited to see what other quests the team would take on next.

Perhaps what’s most important for Konosuba is that Kazuma is an utter failure. He’s not someone who’s been transported to this world and become rich and famous; no, he struggles to make ends meet every single day and has no special powers to speak of. Aqua, Megumin and Darkness all have the potential to be overpowered characters but thanks to their flawed personalities or skills they’ve also been firmly grounded. Despite how flawed they are, the party works well together and it’s hard to imagine Kazuma working with anyone but these three idiots (although he would have an easier life if he could at least ditch Aqua).

Having watched the first anime adaptation of Konosuba (and what has aired of Season Two) prior to reading the original light novel, it’s difficult not to compare the two works and judge how the novel holds up against the anime. Although this first volume is quite short (only 160 pages), it covers quite a lot of the story we’ve been given in the anime. This volume was adapted into about 5 or 6 episodes of the first season of anime (and that’s after they skipped a shorter arc in the book, which was briefly told later in the anime), but surprisingly the anime didn’t rush anything. In fact, compared to the light novel, the two tell the story in a similar manner. This is great because I love this world and I’d hate to recommend the book or the anime to someone and have them miss out on something that the other did. Although that said, I do think the anime handles the cabbage quest better, simply thanks to the whole sequence being animated.

Konosuba is by Natsume Akatsuki and for the most part is well written. The series was originally a web novel (although according to the afterword some sections have been rewritten) and, like the early works of Reki Kawahara and his Sword Art Online series, this is fairly obvious. It’s not that the writing is bad, it just doesn’t feel quite up to the standard of Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? or Re:Zero, which are perhaps the best series I can compare Konosuba to. For example, a lot of words are repeated quite often instead of being substituted for something better. Ultimately though, Konosuba is a comedy and its writing doesn’t have to be perfect for the jokes to come off well. I have confidence that, in time, the writing will improve to the point of its roots no longer being noticeable.

The series has been illustrated by Kurone Mishima and the images scattered throughout the book are all really clean and well drawn. For such a short volume there is quite a lot of art on offer, including colour pages and a big character profile section at the start of the volume. Considering that at least three of the illustrations feature Megumin, who happens to be my favourite character, I was satisfied with the offerings. I think Mishima knows which scenes of the story are best to bring to life, such as when Aqua is eaten by a giant frog and only has her leg sticking out of its mouth…

Overall the first volume of Konosuba makes for a good read. It’s a short enough book that I finished it within a couple of sittings, but that also gives it an advantage against the other longer fantasy series on offer right now. The world and the cast are a fun combination and the comedy has translated well into English. While Konosuba has been one of my favourite anime series for a while, I think the light novel might also become a firm favourite. I’d definitely recommend it for fantasy or video game fans. You’ll find a lot to like here in our kooky collection of characters.

Title: Konosuba: God's Blessing on This Wonderful World! Volume 1
Publisher: Yen Press
Genre: Comedy, Adventure, Fantasy
Author(s): Natsume Akatsuki (Author), Kurone Mishima (Illustrator)
Type: Light Novel
Original vintage: 2013
Format: Book (digital edition available)
Age rating: 13+
Length: 162 pages

Score: 8/10

Yona of the Dawn Part 2 Review

Some spoilers ensue…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Summary

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

Title: Yona of the Dawn Part 2
Publisher: Funimation (via Anime Limited)
Genre: Fantasy, Adventure
Studio: Pierrot
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2015
Format: Blu-Ray and DVD (Blu-Ray version reviewed)
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 12
Running time: 300 minutes

Score: 8/10

Review of Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions – Heart Throb

“Paging Mr. Delusional. You’re wanted at the front desk.” – ‘Johnny Delusional’ by F.F.S.

Things are going perfectly normally for Yuta Togashi. Well, as normal as they can be when his delusional girlfriend has now moved into his flat.

Chunibyo Rikka Takanashi is still being her odd self: wearing her eye patch to cover the eye that has a gold contact lens in it, which she believes controls her magic powers; wearing Heelys; fighting with an umbrella; and supposedly being able to open train doors simply by thrusting her arm at them when the train arrives at the station. Rikka parents are away, hence the reason why she is currently living in Yuta’s place. He is looking after the flat while his parents are away working in Jakarta.

Most of the episodes in this second series are stand-alone stories, continuing to focus on the characters in the “Far Eastern Magical Napping Society – summer thereof”, including Rikka’s fellow long-haired chunibyo Sanae Dekomori; ex-chunibyo Shinka Nibutani, who is still desperately trying to escape her past; and the incredibly sleepy Kumin Tsuyuri.

Across the series we see Yuta date Rikka at an aquarium where she has fun with dolphins and makes several references to H. P. Lovecraft; Yuta end up having to dress as a magical girl after getting a lower test score than Rikka; Shinka attempt to run for Student Council President by successfully convincing Sanae that she was her chunibyo idol and Kumin challenge another school to a napping competition.

However, there is also a new addition thrown into the mix. Rikka gets a visit from a chunibyo from another school: someone claiming to be a “magical devil girl” called Sophia Ring SPS Saturn VII, although her real name is Satone Shichimiya. She was a friend of Yuta’s back in middle school. Indeed, it was she who inspired Yuta to become a chunibyo in the first place. After a rough start, Satone becomes friends with the rest of the gang, although Rikka is worried that Satone will take Yuta away from her and becomes jealous. As the story progresses, we realise that Satone does in fact still have some feelings for the boy she still refers to as “Hero”.

The second series still has plenty of the features that made the first one so enjoyable, the main one being comedy. There are plenty of comic moments in the show, mostly visual. These range from Shinka making Sanae gag by making her eat cheese, Yuta managing to pull off his magical girl look, and Kumin trying to get her friends ready for their competitive napping. There are also some funny scenes caused by anticipation. For example, there is the way that Shinka’s chances of becoming Student Council President are horrifically scuppered by Sanae, who thinks she is being helpful. Then there are some odder moments, such as when Yuta discovers that Rikka has spent all of her allowance in a few days meaning she has to survive on almost nothing for a month, which leads to Yuta disciplining her by spanking Rikka.

The artwork is also great, especially in the “battle” scenes in which Rikka and her friends believe they are in a fantasy world and are using gigantic weapons to duel. The visual aspects in these scenes are wonderful, giving it a true fantasy feel while also mocking it.

Satone’s appearance in the series brings a new element to the show, creating a love triangle between her, Rikka and Yuta, although deep down you know that the relationship between Rikka and Yuta is not going to falter. She is still a fun character, nevertheless, but I am saddened by the fact that Makoto Isshiki has seemingly taken a back seat in this series. Most of the series sees him getting new jobs and trying to win over Kumin, but in the end a guy falls in love with him. I must confess that the way that a gay guy is just plonked into the show for comic relief did make me feel uncomfortable – although not as uncomfortable as Isshiki, I admit.

Extras in this collection include an OVA episode, a selection of four-minute anime shorts called Chunibyo Lite!, and textless opening and closing. The Opening, “Voice” by Zaq, and the Closing, “Van!shment Th!s World” sung by the four main female voice actors under the name of Black Raison d’être, are both OK, but nothing truly exciting.

If you enjoyed the first series, then Heart Throb will not disappoint you.

Title: Review of Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions – Heart Throb
Publisher: Animatsu
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance
Studio: Kyoto Animation
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2014
Format: Blu-Ray and DVD (Blu-Ray version reviewed)
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 12
Running time: 325 minutes

Score: 8/10