Eden of the East – Complete Collection Review

Eden of the East was undoubtedly the big hit of 2009, and now you can own the whole series and the films in one rather lovely Blu-ray box. Before looking at the set itself, let’s have a quick reminder of the series, or a general synopsis for those who have yet to take the plunge into the world of Eden of the East.

Eden of the East is brought to you by Production IG and Kenji Kamiyama, a winning combination that has previously produced the Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex series. Within the opening episode we see young and impressionable girl Saki Morimi on a trip to the US and encountering a naked man waving a gun around who later reveals his name to be Akira Takizawa, although he only knows this due to a passport he found. He has amnesia, and, in true Jason Bourne fashion, goes back to his place only to find guns, various passports along with a mysterious phone he had on his person (well, had in his hand…)

Saki and Takizawa soon travel back to Japan, which is still recovering from a series of missile strikes, the first of which mysteriously managed not to kill anybody, though that wasn’t true for the latest strike. Without going too deep into the storyline, Takizawa is one of 12 “Selecao”, a group of seemingly random people who have been given a “”Noblesse oblige” phone in which they can use to contact someone only known as Juiz and order anything, literally. From assassination to missile strikes to asking to suddenly own a business or a building, with the only catch being they’re limited to 10 billion yen and they must use this power for the betterment of Japan. If they run out of money or they’re judged to have misused the power of the phone, they’re killed by “The Supporter”, who is one of the 12, but which one is unknown. When “Mr. Outside”, the shadowy leader of this game, deems someone to have “won” it, the other participants will be executed.

It all seems rather heavy, and it is, but the story is handled so well mostly because of the lead characters. Both are charming, pleasant, realistic (within a very unrealistic contest) and their feelings for each other are very sweetly played out across the series. Saki has several friends and family members, most of whom run a small business called “Eden of the East”, which hosts a website where someone can tag any person, building or object with a description and other people can see these tags through their phone’s camera. Seems unconnected, and it is, but it does come in handy as the plot progresses. Each one of these side characters again feels very real; it’s only the Selecao that come across as over-exaggerated or a caricature.

The animation is beautiful. The character designs are unique and endearing, the scenery and backgrounds are extremely detailed and busy, and the few bits of CG used for cars and some phone-related screens are perfectly integrated. The background music isn’t exactly memorable, in fact I can’t actual think of any, so that’s one negative, but it’s pretty tiny in comparison to everything it gets right. Even the English dub is good, with Saki and Takizawa retaining their sweet and gentle voice and excitable teen voice, respectively, although like a lot of dubs they miss the mark when they have to voice a sudden “outburst” of anger or panic, complete with comic facial expressions. It’s a very Japanese thing and hard to dub, so it’s understandable and it doesn’t actually happen that often in the series.

The opening of the series as it broadcast on TV was “Falling Down” by Oasis, which is surreal to hear a British band from when I was growing up doing an opening, but very fitting… and also expensive to license, apparently. It features as the opening for Episode 1, and that’s it. Episodes 2 – 11 have “Michael ka Belial” by Saori Hayami instead. Oasis probably just charged too much per use to do anything more. The ending theme is “Futuristic Imagination” by Japanese band School Food Punishment.

As stated at the top of this review, this set not only collects all 11 episodes, but also the two continuation movies, King of Eden and Paradise Lost, which is good because they effectively serve as Episodes 12 and 13 in that the plot isn’t resolved until the final film. In fact King of Eden barely stands on its own, it’s continuing on from episode 11 and ends in a cliffhanger that gets resolved as Paradise Lost starts. It really is safer to say it’s a 13-episode series, it’s just that Episodes 12 and 13 are a lot longer and have a higher budget. It’s also interesting that the compilation film, Air Communication, is included as an extra on the King of Eden film disc, although it’s Japanese with English subtitles only. Obviously there is no need to watch it when you have the 11 episodes it condenses in the same set, but it is nice that it’s there given it’s the “Complete Collection”. I’m surprised it’s not listed in the extras section on online webstores.

Speaking of Extras, it has plenty to tuck into, including several interviews with key staff and voice actors, trailers, TV spots and textless opening and closing, though only the second opening, obviously. As for physical extras you get a nice rigid box, a thick series booklet, art cards and some stickers. A very nice thing to have on your shelf.

So should you invest in Eden of the East? Yes! Absolutely. There was a reason that was the talk of the (anime-related) internet back when it aired, and even the films, which didn’t really stand well on their own when they were released, are perfectly fitting here in the one box. It tells an interesting mystery and techno thriller while simultaneously telling a well written and acted love story. If you’re already a fan of series then you can replace your stand-alone Manga discs and get the whole series and films in one box complete with nice physical extras, and if you’ve never brought or watched the series before, then here it is, settle down and enjoy a proper modern classic.

Title: Eden of the East - Complete Collection
Publisher: Anime Limited
Genre: Mystery, Psychological, Romance, Thriller
Studio: Production I.G
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2009
Format: Blu-Ray
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 15
Running time: 455 minutes

Score: 10/10

Sword Art Online The Movie: Ordinal Scale Review

Quick disclaimer; prior to seeing this movie, I had not seen a single episode of Sword Art Online. This particular reviewer only knows the basic concept of the show, can visually recognise a few of main characters based upon artwork seen on the internet and, as a Yuki Kajiura fan, has a few pieces of music from the series on my iPod, but that is it. If you’re looking for a review from a die-hard SAO fan, you won’t find it here. However, if you’re interested to know if the film can stand on its own outside of fan service or whether SAO-newbies can enjoy it too, please read on.

Now that that’s out of the way!

It’s 2026, and the survivors of the Sword Art Online game have moved on with their lives in the real world, including the now-famous heroes Kirito and Asuna who are planning their lives together whilst applying for colleges. However, a brand new augmented reality title has just been released and it quickly becomes extremely popular, allowing players to participate in a variety of games and earn rewards such as free food and gym vouchers, whilst remaining conscious in the real world. Of course, the SAO survivors have quickly taken a liking to this new game, but as secret boss battles start popping up around the city and players start experiencing real life consequences from said matches, things quickly become far more sinister.

If you are new to the Sword Art Online franchise, and are wondering if there’s any point in seeing this movie, you’ll be pleased to know that the film kindly takes time at the start to summarise the story of SAO. Granted, it’s as basic as they can get but it was enough to clearly show where the characters are at in this point of their lives; they’re survivors of a MMO that had them trapped for two years, fighting for their lives and losing friends along the way. Their actions are also legendary, with a book detailing the events and the names of survivors, who are now trying to move on from that monumental experience.

Saying that, the film does not go out of its way to detail character relationships and who is what, so a newbie like me was constantly wondering many things that veteran fans will most likely not blink twice at whilst watching. For example, why is there a pixie-like character calling the main characters ‘mum’ and ‘dad’ that seems to exist in the virtual and real world? How does Kirito know these seemingly important scientist/government people? And who are the various female side-characters that seem to know the main protagonists? (According to a wiki I read, one of them is supposed to be his cousin but I did not get that at all when watching the film).

The actual plot of the movie, thankfully, is very straightforward. Although it uses the pixie character and the other females to further push the plot in places, you do not need to fully understand who or what they are to comprehend what is going on. If you get the overall gist of the above summary and have general knowledge of video games, you’ll be fine to watch this without prior familiarity with the series.

The ‘Ordinal Scale’ part of the movie title is actually the name of the brand new augmented reality (AR for short) video game that requires people to purchase a headset, which then creates gaming challenges, shops, messaging capabilities and more but in the real world. The AR game itself, whilst incredibly creative, does stretch itself a little too far in terms of believability. The game is freshly launched at the start of this movie and yet it’s managed to integrate itself into the culture so quickly that it extends from video games to gyms to even how we pay for food; it’s quite farfetched to say the least. In a VR game the believability can be  stretched as far as you want because the player is stationary and taken out of the real world, but an AR is in real life, so the stretches of plausibility are at breaking point in parts of the movie. You could also argue that the random boss fights that occur in the city are pushing it, especially since the plot relies so heavily on having all the Sword Art Online survivors participating, but considering that last year we had a mass crowd of New Yorkers running into a park to catch a Vaporeon when Pokemon Go was released, suddenly it doesn’t seem so ridiculous. In fact, you could see the whole Ordinal Scale as a future evolution of Pokemon Go, which is both fascinating and terrifying in places.

Regardless of the plausibility, the game does allow for a lot of big scale battles and imaginative environments; some of which may seem like a weird clash of cyberpunk and fantasy. The final boss of the movie seems overly bombastic and cheesy but it’s all in the spirit of fan service, giving the characters a grand ‘hurrah!’ that fans will love and making the movie feel like a big-budget epic rather than just several episodes mashed together.

The weakest links of the story, however, are the villains and their overall goal that relates to the new character Yuna; the first villain we meet, Eiji, gets set up for what seems to be an interesting arc, having been part of the SAO experience. His relationship with Yuna is also established as being very important to him, but the end of it is flatly cut off so the build-up feels like it was for nothing. As for Yuna, her origins became clear once the main big baddie comes to the forefront; they both have a better payoff but sadly they’re still one-dimensional characters that attempt to go for the emotional tie-up without any of the proper groundwork set up to make it truly work.

At the centre of the story, though, are Kirito and Asuna. They are the leads of the series too but the movie does dedicate a lot of screen time, especially the quieter moments, to further develop their relationship. Going in I didn’t expect much from them and was surprised to find them quite endearing, even cheering for them as the film went on. What made them enjoyable to watch was the movie’s refreshing take on their relationship; for long standing couples in media, writers can get into a terrible habit of recycling the same gags and pointless drama to keep the brush of ‘early love’ going but only end up making the couple in question act like idiots and the writers themselves seem like they’re incapable of writing a proper relationship. I was fully expecting a series of boob gags, Asuna to be a token tsundere and Kirito a bumbling fool, but we get none of that in the movie. Instead, the couple have legitimate conversations. They are not afraid to be vulnerable around each other, and they also share tender kisses and discuss their future together, which is very rare in anime. Even when the movie does use a few older sappy tropes, such as them promising to see the stars together, you want them to get to that stage and live happily ever after because you’ve seen them grow and fight together, for each other and themselves.

Series composer Yuki Kajiura returns to score the movie and all of her established musical elements are in here; powerful strings, techno beats and female operatic vocal cues. There’s nothing in the score that really pushes what we’ve already come to expect from her, but fans will be pleased to pick up a few remixes of her well known tracks, such as Swordland, in the background.

Animation is a highlight for obvious reasons; fans who love the original style will be thrilled to see a bigger budget version with beautiful animated fight scenes which take full advantage of the extra cash to make them feel as impressive as possible. And since a few SAO bosses make a comeback, you can enjoy them on the big screen as well. There are a few lulls in the quality, however, as a couple of dialogue-heavy scenes rely too much on mostly static images; granted the conversations tend to take place either within an MMO world or AR alternative, but there’s a few scenes where more could have been done to make the exposition parts of the story flow better to help the audience feel less bored.

Sword Art Online Ordinal Scale is a fun romp; mostly for the fans for obvious reasons but the plot is simple enough for non-fans to enjoy as well. It’s larger than life, creative, a bit cheesy in places and sprinkled with a couple of unnecessary fan service shots of Asuna’s figure shoved right into the camera. But it’s easy to see why the franchise has become such a hit with fans, and the movie is a love letter to them as well as opening a new chapter for the characters. Oh, and there’s a post credit scene, so stick around to find an extra tease for Sword Art Online fans to lap up.

Sword Art Online: Ordinal Scale is in UK cinemas from 19th April. Purchase tickets from your nearest cinema here.

Title: Sword Art Online The Movie: Ordinal Scale
Publisher: Fetch
Genre: Action, Adventure, Science fiction,
Studio: A-1 Pictures
Type: Movie
Original vintage: 2017
Format: Cinema screening
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles
Running time: 120 minutes

Score: 7/10

Archive: Review of Gurren Lagann Ultimate Collection

On 1st April 2007, Gurren Lagann debuted. To mark its 10th anniversary, we have republished our review of All the Anime’s Ultimate Edition boxset which was first put on sale in 2014. The series has since been re-released as a Collector’s Edition exclusive to Zavvi (details here). Sections in italics (except the top quote obviously) specifically concern the Ultimate Edition boxset.

“‘Space’, it says, ‘is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist, but that’s just peanuts to space, listen…’” – The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams.

Past reviews of this anime, including on this website, frequently say that Gurren Lagann is not perfect. In response to this, I reference the following true story. When Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life won the 1983 Grand Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival it was seen by the film director Henry Jaglom, who claimed that it was the best thing Python had ever done. In response Terry Gilliam said to him: “No, there’s great bits in there, but there’s crap in there as well.” Jaglom replied: “No, that’s why it’s great, because the crap is there to balance the greatness.”

This is how I feel about Gurren Lagann. OK the humour is not the most sophisticated, the plot is perhaps not that original, and the animation of one episode was so shoddy that it led to one of Gainax’s co-founders, Takami Akai, having to resign because of the way he handled the criticism. However, when you look at the way that it was made as a whole, the story that was created, the characters that were portrayed, and the sheer scale of the entire project, it all combines into what is probably one of the greatest anime of all time.

People also said at the time that you “shouldn’t believe the hype”. I didn’t believe the hype, because I was unaware of any hype. This was because Gurren Lagann was one of the very first anime I had ever watched, and when it was first shown to me back when I was in the University of Teesside Animation and Comics Society back in 2007, I had never heard of it before. I knew very little about anime at all, but when I watched it I thought: “Yes, that just sums it up. This is one of the best things I have ever seen.”

It was because of Gurren Lagann that I am became interested in anime. Without it I would not be here reviewing stuff for this website, which in turn would mean I would not be reviewing manga for MyM Magazine, which was my first regularly paid job. This was my gateway show. Of course, a single piece of work cannot sum up an entire art-form, but if you wanted to encourage people to take an interest in anime, this would be an ideal title to show.

Now I realise that at this point some people may be rather annoyed that I haven’t actually started reviewing this collection yet, so let’s start.

This “Ultimate Edition” of Gurren Lagann has been in the pipeline for some time. All the Anime announced their plans to release the series back in June 2013, and eventually said this collection of just 2,000 sets would be released in June 2014. However, several problems have meant it has not come out until four months later. This of course is a big deal, not just for the fans but for All the Anime too.

For a six-disc Blu-ray box set with an RRP of £149.99, consisting of the entire TV series, both films (never released in the UK before), the OVA “Parallel Works” (also making their UK debut), a hardback art book and various other extras, this release needed to be perfect. If they messed this up it could ruin the entire company’s future reputation. Have there been any problems – well, there have been some complaints.

In some collections, and I have to report this is true with mine, the glue used on the third Digipack tray is loose and thus it slips around the box. In my opinion this is nothing major and it is not the fault of All the Anime, but of the people who put the box together and All the Anime have made complaints to the manufacturers. Other people have complained about images freezing in Episodes 5, 7 and 10, and some talk about a skip in audio. The company has since issued this statement saying that: “we had to switch in the DVD footage as the best solution since no re-supply was possible in this case. Otherwise, you would have had 9 seconds, 13 seconds and a momentary image freeze with ongoing audio in its place. Not ideal. These are the only instances and as you can tell they are not over any crucial moments, so whilst annoying it doesn’t impact the overall viewing pleasure & quality of watching Team Gurren on your big TV.”

Some people, including on our own forums, have expressed complaints about these cock-ups, especially given how major a release this was for them. Some have been put off by All the Anime altogether; others are complimenting them about their response to the problem. For me personally, I haven’t noticed anything major that disturbs my pleasure from this collection, and I would rather have this series available on Blu-ray, in Region B, that it not be available at all.

If you are unfamiliar with the story, Gurren Lagann is set in a post-apocalyptic future, in which humanity has been driven underground, living in isolated villages. The central character, Simon (pronounced “See-mon” in Japanese), works as a digger, using his conical drill to dig holes to expand the size of the village, as well as to find his own treasure. These bits of treasure include a rather small drill-like key known as a “Core Drill”, and later on some kind of large face. Simon’s friends consist of a shades-wearing “mole-pig” creature called Boota, and a troublesome guy named Kamina. Kamina, normally seen wearing a pair of trademark pointy specs, dreams of going to the surface where he once went as a kid, but no-one else apart from Simon believes him. Things all change however when a gigantic mecha crashes through the village ceiling and chaos ensues.

Kamina starts to fight it, with Simon wanting to hide away, but then a buxom girl named Yoko comes down from the surface with a big rifle and starts firing at the mecha, which she tells the guys is known as a “Gunmen”. Simon comes to realise that the big face he has found is actually that of a small Gunmen and his Core Drill is the key to activating it. Together they use their big-faced Gunmen, which Kamina christens “Lagann” and appropriately enough for Simon it uses drills as a weapon to defeat the Gunman attacking the village. Simon also uses the Lagann to help Kamina, Boota, Yoko and himself to escape to the surface of the world, now a barren wasteland.

Simon and Kamina learn from Yoko that the humans on the surface are constantly attacked by a race of creatures known as the “Beastmen”, who serve a man known as the “Spiral King”. To fight back, Kamina steals his own Gunmen, which he names “Gurren”, and eventually comes up with the idea that Simon’s mecha should combine with his. Amazingly Kamina’s idea works, with the combined “Gurren Lagann” seemingly being stronger than anything else.

With this humanity begins to fight back against the Spiral King, with Simon and Kamina gaining more followers. These include Leeron, a camp gay mechanic from the same village as Yoko; Rossiu, an intelligent boy who originally came from a village where they worshipped an old Gunmen as a god; two young and excitable children from Rossiu’s village called Gimmy and Darry; and a group of Beastman hunters known as the Black Siblings: eldest brother Kittan and his three sisters Kiyoh, Kinon and Kiyal. Together they continue to collect more mecha and fight against the Beastmen, with their most common foe being the shark-toothed Viral of the Human Eradication Army.

As the story progresses, we encounter comedy, tragedy and love in equal measure. The mecha become bigger, as do the battles and the danger. The story itself extends over a period of years. We see the characters, Simon amongst them, growing up but still encountering even more terrible dangers, which not only threaten humanity, but the whole of the Earth.

As stated already, there are several reasons why people might be put off Gurren Lagann, whether it be errors made in this box set or the quality of the series in general. But the positives by far outweigh the negatives. The first thing to mention is the way Gurren Lagann combines so many elements. There is comedy, drama, tragedy, action, romance and science-fiction. It works a bit like the “Gurren Lagann” mecha itself, in that one genre will combine with another to make the show more powerful.

It works brilliantly, and also rather strangely. You will be watching a sequence where there is a huge battle going on, and there is fighting, chaos, carnage and death – the whole scene is full of fear and tension, and while this is all happening, little Boota is hiding away, seeking shelter from all the horror and the hurt, hiding away… in Yoko’s huge tits. You get the feeling that this is what a mecha series would be like, if it was being filmed by the Carry On team.

This is most clearly demonstrated in the sixth episode which is set in a bathhouse. For most of the episode Kamina, Simon and Gimmy constantly try to get a glimpse of the ladies who are also bathing. In this episode there is one scene in which Gimmy sticks his finger up Simon’s arsehole, another in which you see Gimmy totally naked, and in the end Yoko’s bikini flies off Barbara Windsor style.

When this episode was first broadcast in Japan it had to be cut, but the “Director’s Cut” version is all the collections. You also have the original broadcast version of the episode as one of the extras in the “Ultimate Edition”. However, I think that this is one of the best moments in the series, as this is humour that we British can relate to. I feel that it is also important to state, given recent news events [i.e. the then recently introduced UK laws on cartoon pornography], that I feel that there is nothing wrong with the “Director’s Cut”, including the depiction of the naked Gimmy, whose penis is visible in the episode and in some of the other “Ultimate Edition” exclusive features. A person should not feel pressured into thinking that just because you are seeing a picture of a naked child that this automatically makes you some sort of suspect sex offender. Everyone in the world has been seen naked by at least one person, and you cannot and should not criminalise the act of just seeing a person naked, whether they are fictional or in real-life – if you did you’d have to arrest an awful lot of midwives who had just delivered new-borns.

The second reason for why Gurren Lagann is so great are the characters. The main characters especially are brilliant for varying reasons. Simon starts off as being timid, wanting not to fight and at times wishing to return home, but as the story progresses he overcomes obstacle after obstacle. Simon matures and develops into a stronger character. Things really start to happen when Simon encounters the character of Nia, who becomes his love interest and helps Simon to overcome some of the major tragedies that has recently had to face.

Kamina is one of the best anime characters, in my personal opinion. Acting as mentor to Simon, he is the Obi-Wan Kenobi to Simon’s Luke Skywalker. However, Kamina also has the added factor of being possibly the most over-the-top character in anime. He has some of the best lines I have heard in an anime series. How can you not like a character who says things like: “Don’t believe in yourself. Believe in me! Believe in the Kamina who believes in you!” or “Reject common sense to make the impossible possible”, and, “Who the hell do you think you are? Isn’t your drill the one that will pierce the heavens, the earth, and through to tomorrow?”

There are also lots of other elements that combine to add to the greatness. While the animation in the fourth episode is admittedly poor, to the point where it cost the jobs of two staff at Gainax, elsewhere it is brilliant. The character design, the landscapes, the mecha and 3D animation neatly fit together to create a believable setting. Plus there is the soundtrack. The opening theme song, “Sorairo Days” by Shoko Nakagawa, automatically acts as a hook. The end pieces – “Underground” by High Voltage, “Happily Ever After” by Shoko Nakagawa, and “Minna no Peace” by Afromania are also fun. But probably the best is “Rap is a Man’s Soul” by Spontania. I’m not a rap fan, but even I like this. There is also “‘Libera Me’ from Hell”, a combination of rap and classical. The soundtrack should be credited to the composer Taku Iwasaki.

But the best reason by Gurren Lagann is so good is because it is so big. It starts of small, with Simon in his village with his Core Drill. But his Lagann has a big face, which combines with Kamina’s large Gurren. Later they combine with other mecha, and take on bigger enemies. Kamina has his big glasses and a massive passion for what he believes in. Yoko carries a gigantic gun and has plenty of room in her bosom to support Boota. Then the mecha themselves get bigger and bigger. They get so big it seems almost impossible to talk about their size without having to go into bold block capitals for added emphasis. The whole series is so big, brash and loud that it is the sort of show that you want to project on the biggest screen you can find and shout at those passing by to stop whatever they are doing right now and just watch this!

While the series itself is great, we need to turn our attention to the matter of this particular collection, apart from the sliding Digipack and the issues regarding freezing images. Appropriately enough, for such a big series there is plenty extras and bonus material to keep you entertained. Both the “Ultimate Edition” and the standard Blu-Ray edition contain the following extras: Yoko Goes to Gainax!, a behind-the-scenes documentary presented by Marina Inoue, the Japanese voice-actress who provides the voice of Yoko; a collection of early 3D test animation taken from the second half of the series; an animated storyboard, which features the original illustrated storyboards played over the entire 15th episode; and clean opening and closing title sequences, which include the animated music video which is used as the ending for the 16th episode (the compilation episode).

Out of these extras, my personal favourite was the 3D test animation. This is mainly because it features some ideas that did not appear in the final cut of the anime. For example there are sequences in which Nia is riding on Gurren Lagann while they are fighting some mecha that in the end she does not encounter in the anime. The only problem is that none of the written text is translated.

When it concerns the extras that are just on the “Ultimate Edition”, these are plainly obvious as soon as you open the box set. One of these is a hardback 112 page art book, containing designs of the characters, mecha and landscapes. If you are keen on your art this makes for a rather useful reference work. You also get an art card, signed by the “El Presidente” of All the Anime (and the man who has had to deal with all the complaints) Andrew Partridge, which displaying the number of your release (in my case No. 816 out of 2,000). You also get, as previously stated, the original broadcast/censored version of the sixth episode (the one in which you don’t see Gimmy sticking his finger up Simon’s bottom).

But the really big extras are two discs containing anime previously unreleased in the UK: the two Gurren Lagann films – Childhood’s End and The Lights in the Sky Are Stars – and the Parallel Works OVA collection, which are on the fourth disc along with the final episodes.

The two films mostly contain old footage from the original TV series, but also include new material that sometimes gives more background information on the series, and sometimes tries to make the series bigger than it already was. Childhood’s End tells the story up to the battle between the Four Generals of the Spiral King. The Lights in the Sky Are Stars starts briefly with the Battle of Teppelin and then tells the second half of the story.

There are plenty of differences between the two films and the original series however. In Childhood’s End you learn more on how the Spiral King came to be; the contents of several episodes are significantly abridged, mainly the encounters Simon and Kamina have with new characters (Kittan, Rossiu etc.), and rather than the Four Generals attacking separately, three of them gang up on Simon and his followers in a single, climactic battle.

In The Lights in the Sky Are Stars, which in my few is the better of the two films, you see how civilization developed quickly after the Battle of Teppelin, and significant changes to the battles that take place in space. For example, certain characters which are killed in the series remain alive in the film. This seems to be an excuse for the creators to make more mecha, even bigger and more powerful, ultimately creating the final Gunmen which so large that even entire galaxies are dwarfed by it. Given how big Gurren Lagann already is this just knocks the series sideways.

The Parallel Works are a series of short stories with no spoken dialogue, set to music from the original soundtrack. The stories vary wildly in terms of plot and animation style, and most have no relation to the original anime. Stories range to a European medieval retelling of the story with Simon as a knight rescuing a Nia maiden; a steampunk wild west setting with Viral as the hero; a nude Gimmy stealing people’s clothes by sticking fingers up people arseholes; how Kittan got his Gunmen; a surreal sequence in which Gimmy and Darry find a series of strange doors leading to alternative worlds (my personal favourite); and a story with Kiyal as a magical girl. Some of these stories are funny, some are interesting artistically, and others help build the context of the series more. Like with the other extras, the written text is not translated which is annoying in some of the stories, but for most of the xx?, it is about the animation, music and mini-stories, which are made more interesting the lack of any speech.

To sum up, I think the reason I like, and indeed love Gurren Lagann is because that not only can I not imagine a similar programme being made in this country, but I also can’t conceive of a programme being made on such a scale ever again. Simply being so big in terms of the setting, it’s impossible to think of a way that you can top that. While some parts of Gurren Lagann are arguably not original, when it comes to scale it seems to have dwarfed everything before it, and I can’t see anything topping it while maintaining a similar level of quality. It is only fitting that such a big show should get such a big box set. I forgive this series for the faults it has in it. I feel sorry for All the Anime for the problems it has faced during its production and for all the delays it has had.

It is hard to for me to write up a clear view about Gurren Lagann without getting emotional. Yes, I can understand why some people are put off by it, and all the hype that goes along with it, and many people will be angry with the fact this release is not 100% perfect. But Gurren Lagann has never been 100% perfect. Since it began people have complained about it, and people will always complain about it. I don’t think you could ever have a 100% perfect collection of Gurren Lagann. Look at the extras they might have included but didn’t: when Beez Entertainment brought out the series, they had things like the soundtrack and various patches and props that you could use for cosplay purposes like a lighting-up Core Drill. Also, what about episode commentaries or specially made documentaries about the series? The other thing you have to remember is that more Gurren Lagann stuff is always being made. A stage play of the anime has been made, so a future release might have something about that.

Of course, this was always going to be a problem – for an anime so huge it’s truly impossible to include everything good about it in one box set. I know there are issues of cost and licensing, plus for some the idea of making an even bigger collection is daft. You couldn’t do that, it’s just plain common sense. But to quote Kamina, I think we should reject common sense to make the impossible possible.

Title: Gurren Lagann: Complete Series Ultimate Box
Publisher: Anime Limited
Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy, Drama, Mecha
Studio: Gainax
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2007
Format: Blu-Ray
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 15
Running time: 986 minutes

Score: 10/10

Ghost in the Shell live-action movie: What the critics think

Reviews for the long-awaited live-action Hollywood remake of Ghost in the Shell are in, and the reaction is mixed.

Most critics agree that the film directed by Rupert Sanders looks great, and that while Scarlett Johansson is a controversial choice to play Major Motoko Kusanagi she handles the part well. However, there are also a few who say the film itself lacks substance. Many critics have complained that the film has “too much Shell, not enough Ghost”. The majority of reviews appear to have given the film three stars out of five.

Below is a selection of some of the comments from the UK press about the movie.

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The Telegraph: Purists may not want to hear it, but she’s [Johansson] ideal at the conceptual side of the role. The unusual disconnect between Johansson’s intelligence and her coolly dispassionate looks has been exploited before, most brilliantly in Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin. Here she is both ghost and shell – a pair of soulful eyes, welling with memory and confusion, stranded inside a gorgeously supple action figure. – Tom Robey (4 stars)

iNews: Sanders’ live-action version is remarkably faithful to Oshii’s animated classic, to the point where several shots are lifted directly from the original. Plot-wise, there have been a few compromises, like over-explaining what the title means and adding an emotional backstory. But this is otherwise a largely respectful remake that does full justice to the source material. – Matthew Turner (4 stars)

The List: This is fantastic sci-fi for the 21st century: smart, exciting and absolutely stunning (with cityscapes and images that put one in mind of Blade Runner and, now an influencer itself, The Matrix) and featuring strong set-pieces. – Angie Errigo (4 stars)

The Guardian: It is a spectacular movie, watchable in its way, but one which – quite apart from the “whitewashing” debate – sacrifices that aspect from the original which over 20 years has won it its hardcore of fans: the opaque cult mystery, which this film is determined to solve and to develop into a resolution, closed yet franchisable. – Peter Bradshaw (3 stars)

Metro: While visually staggering and better than cynical anime fans are perhaps expecting, it’s a streamlined, lesser version which struggles to go beyond its already deep-rooted cult appeal. If you like flashy sci-fi films with a few GCSEs, you’ll find something to enjoy, but this is neither the success or disaster anyone perhaps wanted it to be. – Adam Starkey (3 stars)

NME: Whatever your take on the whitewashing controversy, Ghost in the Shell is no masterpiece. It’s another entertaining but slightly frustrating origin story with one eye on creating a franchise. There’s substance here, but it doesn’t match the film’s glorious style. – Nick Levine (3 stars)

The Independent: The movie is as much of a hybrid as its lead character. It combines high-minded postmodern philosophising with very generic, often very banal, thriller elements. – Geoffrey MacNab (3 stars)

Empire: So heavily derivative it doesn’t feel like anything new, and there’s little depth beneath that slick surface. But it’s solid and attractive, at least, with a retro appeal to its cyberpunk stylings. – Dan Jolin (3 stars)

Radio Times: A clunky finale that echoes an episode of Robot Wars (with a piece of hardware that could have been made by A-level students) reveals where Sanders has veered off track. Its bluntness at times means Ghost in the Shell probably won’t go down as a classic, but it does keep the cogs turning and if the ticket sales warrant it, there’s ample scope for a sequel to flesh out this fast and furious fembot. – Stella Papamichael (3 stars)

Den of Geek: Fans of the original manga and anime, who expect something as thought-provoking as the original, may be disappointed that the movie spends more time on gun-fu, chases and lingering shots of buildings than on fully exploring the ideas it raises. As a live-action, glossy evocation of the original Ghost In The Shell, however, Sanders’ film is well worth seeing on the big screen. – Ryan Lambie (3 stars)

Digital Spy: Utterly, unquestionably gorgeous to look at, but at heart a fairly bog-standard futuristic action movie, GITS is all Shell with barely a Ghost of anything inside. – Ross Fletcher (3 stars)

Financial Times: The main plot questions — “Can a cyborg have human feelings?” and “Might this one, named Mira, have human memories too?” — are sci-fi riddles that have become riddled with age and cinematic overuse. Worse: Scarlett Johansson herself has done this alien-being stuff so often (Her, Lucy, Under the Skin) that her casting seems criminally lazy. – Nigel Andrew (3 stars)

Daily Mirror: Beneath the glossy exterior there’s not much spirit to be found in this curate’s egg of a sci-fi action thriller. A hard working Scarlett Johansson stands at the centre of the spectacular visuals, but even the Avengers star can’t bring the soulless storytelling to boil. – Chris Hunneysett (2 stars)

FACT Mag: The best thing you can say about Ghost in the Shell 2017 – beyond crafting nostalgia for Oshii’s original film – is that it has inspired many to speak out about Hollywood’s diversity problem. If the prospective audience stays home and Paramount Pictures learns from this experience, there will be more than a basis for the Majors and Motoko Kusanagis of the future to be played by Asian actresses – regardless as to what Oshii may think. – Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy (no rating given)

The Spectator: Ghost in the Shell is the Hollywood live-action remake of the 1995 Japanese anime of the same name and it’s set at a time in the future when, it would appear, the world is populated by blandly one-dimensional characters. Evil is perpetrated by our old friend, Corporate Evil Man — yes, still — and everyone communicates via dialogue so stilted and ham-fisted it makes you die inside a little. That said, at the media screening I attended we were all given a free bag of high-end crisps, so it wasn’t two hours totally wasted. (I do really like crisps, high-end or otherwise.) – Deborah Ross (no rating given)

Bleach – Volume 69 Review

Against The Judgement

The 69th volume of Bleach has hit British shelves and it’s full of build-up and returning characters! Let’s take a look.

The volume begins with the gathered members of the Gotei 13 as they try to create a gate to reach the Royal Realm and have a crack at the still- annoying-to-pronounce Yhwach (seriously, I’ve visited several threads on how to pronounce it all over the internet, and several completely different ways were put forward, all with valid reasons as to why they’re right…) Yhwach, by the way, absorbed the Soul King at the end of the last volume, thus for all intensive purposes has become God. He soon displays this power by building a Quincy town around the Royal Palace using his mind and the rubble around Soul Society. The Gotei 13 get some help from disgruntled Quincy soldiers who managed to survive their master’s attempted wiping out of his own forces and are more than a little upset about it.

We then switch over to Ichigo and his crew, where we get the now classic Kubo set-up of comedy interactions and several panels of explanation about how and where they are, all leading to the big end fight (for real this time…) These chapters include a few returning characters from both the Arrancar arc and the Lost Agent arc, but I won’t go into details in case you want to be surprised. Anyway, Ichigo and crew, as well as the Gotei 13, all arrive in the Quincy-fied Royal Realm and see a rather large and imposing castle pop up, and both decide to charge towards it and take their enemy’s bait.

That’s about it, apart from the last few chapters. They deal with the backstory of Yhwach’s right hand man Haschwalth and this volume’s cover boy Bazz B, one of the surviving lower-tier Quincy who has changed sides. It’s actually refreshing to see the backstory of these characters, it used to be a Kubo classic that most villains got flashbacks (normally right before they die…), which often really added to them and the overall story, but we’ve had none of that so far. It’s one of the reasons why the Quincy army is far less interesting than the Arrancar army, we simply don’t know or care about any of them (well, apart from Uryu…)

The artwork is of course still on form, though with the exception of the last chapters (give or take) this whole volume is setting up the final battle rather than having much action to convey… which is funny because I’m pretty sure I wrote the same thing last time… and possibly once before that even. Still, the final volume is 74, so even without future knowledge it’s not hard to see the writing on the wall, as this volume sets up the last battle for real this time. There are a few returns to the comedic art style Kubo does during the more silly talky scenes with Ichigo and co, so it’s not all people standing around in the middle of the book, talking.

It goes without saying that Bleach Volume 69 isn’t a good book to pick up if you’re not already following the series, but it is a good example of Kubo’s writing in amongst volumes that have displayed some of his worst. The use of comedic exchanges and black-paged flashback stories feels nostalgic after multiple volumes of neither, and a nice final return to the more familiar Kubo style before we dive head first into the grand finale.

Title: Bleach - Volume 69
Publisher: Viz
Genre: Shonen, Action, Supernatural
Author(s): Tite Kubo
Type: Manga
Original vintage: 2016
Format: Book
Age rating: T
Length: 192 pages

Score: 7/10

Mobile Suit Gundam Movie Trilogy Review

“The condition of man… is a condition of war of everyone against everyone.” – Thomas Hobbes.

The original Mobile Suit Gundam series that ended in 1980 was not a success. In fact, the series got axed. It was only afterwards when big sales of toys based on the series and repeats of the show indicated that the series had an appeal – and sure enough, Gundam has been around ever since.

One of the other factors that help to cement the success of the original series was a trilogy of three compilation films. The first, simply known as Mobile Suit Gundam I debuted in March 1981. This was followed by Soldiers of Sorrow in July 1981, and finally by Encounters in Space which came out almost exactly a year after the first movie. For the first time, these films are now available to buy, although they are only available via All the Anime’s own website, and there are only 500 copies. However, it is not just the location and number of copies which limit this collection. You can only buy it on Blu-ray, you can only watch it with subtitles as there is no dub, and there are no extras at all.

Also, remember that these are compilation films. These three movies mainly consist of material from the TV series, which is already available to buy on Blu-ray and DVD in the UK.

For those unfamiliar with the series, it takes place in year Universal Century 0079, and humanity has expanded from Earth and is now living in various space colonies called “Sides”, under the rule of the Earth Federation. One Side however, Side 7, has rebelled, declaring itself the Principality of Zeon and an independent nation. Thus a war has begun between the two sides that after eight months has killed half the human population and ended in a stalemate after eight months.

The Federation’s newest weapon to fight back against Zeon is the “Gundam” mobile suit. A young boy named Amuro Ray is caught up in a battle when he finds it and pilots the Gundam himself. This results in him and other civilians being drafted into the Federation’s army in the warship White Base. Amuro ends up fighting against the might of the Zeon forces, in particular the “Red Comet” Char Aznable, who has his own private reasons for fighting the war – namely his desire to eliminate the Zabi royal house who rule Zeon and in turn tried to kill his family. However, Amuro ends up battling his own personal demons, and finds himself slowly evolving into the next stage of humanity, the “Newtype”.

The first of the three films covers Amuro’s first battles in the Gundam up to the death of Garma Zabi; the second film continues from there and ends with White Base’s arrival and departure from the Jaburo base; and the third film deals with the final battles in space with Amuro gaining his Newtype abilities.

The main reason for getting this box set is to see the new material that is included in these films. These include making some elements more realistic than they were in the TV series, and more details about some of the battles.

However, at £34.99 it seems that you are paying too much for so little that is actually new. Most of the stuff in the films appears in the original TV programme, and at least in that you get a choice of sub or dub. This collection therefore is really for the completists. It is for that die-hard core of Gundam lovers who want to embrace all the aspects of the show.

Therefore, if you’re already a fan of the series and this is something missing from your collection then here is the opportunity to finally get what you want. If you’re a more casual fan however, best stick with the TV version and get the full, unabridged story.

Title: Review of Mobile Suit Gundam Movie Trilogy
Publisher: Anime Limited
Genre: Action, Mecha, Military, Sci-fi
Studio: Nippon Sunrise
Type: Movie
Original vintage: 1981
Format: Blu-Ray
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles
Age rating: 12
Running time: 413 minutes

Score: 5/10

One Piece, Collection 16 Review

Episodes 373-396, may contain spoilers.

A man’s face is his autobiography. A woman’s face is her work of fiction.” – Oscar Wilde.

This collection marks several landmarks in One Piece: it sees the end of the “Thriller Bark” arc and the start of “Sabaody” arc; we witness the official addition of the ninth and currently final member of the Straw Hat Pirates; and as there will be 781 episodes of the anime broadcast by the time this review is published, it means that with this collection we pass the half-way point of the entire anime adaptation.

We begin with the Straw Hats finishing their duel with Gecko Moria on Thriller Bark, with Monkey D. Luffy being able to regain his strength to return the shadows stolen by Moria to their original owners. This means that 1,000 people, including Zoro, Sanji, Nico Robin and Brook, can now safely live under the sun’s rays again. However, there is little time to celebrate as Nami recognises another terrifying figure who makes his appearance: Bartholomew Kuma, another of the Seven Warlords.

Kuma has been given the job of killing Luffy. Everyone tries to stop him, but Kuma has the powers of the “Paw-Paw Fruit” which allow his hands to reject anything he touches, as well as the ability to warp instantly from one place to another. He also reveals himself to be a type of robotic weapon called a “Pacifista”, made by the world’s greatest scientist, Dr. Vegapunk.

Kuma uses his powers to create a high-pressure bomb that devastates the whole ship, with only Zoro still being able to fight Kuma. Zoro asks for his life to be taken instead of Luffy’s, but in exchange Kuma uses his powers to make Zoro feel all the pain that Luffy felt in his battle with Moria. Kuma then departs and Zoro collapses from the pain, while Luffy ends up being perfectly fit. The Straw Hats then rest for a while, with Luffy inviting Brook to join the crew. Brook agrees, in order to fulfil his previous crew’s promise of reuniting with Laboon the whale, and thus the Straw Hats end up with nine pirates. During this time we also learn that Blackbeard has been made a Warlord and that Ace is in grave danger.

After a small bit of filler, mainly consisting of a flashback of Brook’s backstory and an encounter with an old enemy, we return to the main story. After crossing a dangerous current which includes a sea filled with waterspouts, the Straw Hats reach the Red Line, meaning that they have sailed halfway around the world. The issue now is how to cross it. Then the Thousand Sunny is attacked by a huge sea monster with Luffy defeats, but the monster vomits up two individuals: a talking starfish named Pappagu, and his master Carie, a mermaid who keeps getting caught by all sorts of monsters.

Carie learns that her fishman boss has been kidnapped by Macro, who works for a group called the Flying Fish Riders. The Riders plan to take him to the Sabaody Archipelago, which holds a slave market. Sabaody is also the only accessible route for pirates to cross the Red Line, so Luffy and his crew agree to help. Things soon go wrong however. Firstly the identity of Carie’s boss is someone known to the crew – someone who once helped to make Nami’s life a misery. Then there is the problem with the leader of the Flying Fish Riders, Duval, who is desperate to kill Sanji – because it was Duval’s sketchy face that appeared on Sanji’s wanted poster.

After finally dealing with this they make their way to Sabaody itself, which, while on the surface seeming friendly, is home to all sorts of shady business. For starters, there are 11 “Supernovas” on the island, these being pirates with bounties with over 100,000,000 berries on their heads. Two of them are Luffy and Zoro, but there are other pirates on Sabaody too, such as the “Surgeon of Death” Trafalgar Law. There is also Sabaody’s brutal use of slavery, and the power of the World Nobles, also known as the Celestial Dragons. These descendants of the founders of the World Government are so powerful that if a pirate harms them, an admiral will come down to punish the wrongdoer. It is not long before the Straw Hats end up in trouble on the archipelago.

As said at the beginning, this collection is important for being a landmark in several ways. The main one of these is that Brook is now confirmed as a Straw Hat Pirate, and we now have the full crew (at the time of writing). What we have therefore is the completion of what is arguably the best ensemble cast of characters in anime. With Luffy, Zoro, Nami, Usopp, Sanji, Chopper, Robin, Franky and Brook all finally together, we can enjoy the whole crew having fun and fighting it out among themselves. It is also interesting to see the reappearance of some old characters and the introduction of some new ones, with Trafalgar Law in particular playing an important role in the story later on, although he doesn’t say much in this collection.

Another plus point has been the pacing of the story. Although it was a tad perplexing as to why they ended the Thriller Bark arc in this collection rather than the previous one, this collection does end at a nice dramatic point in the story. The filler itself is not too bad either, nor is it too long. This is probably down to the fact that the two story arcs in this collection are among the shortest in the One Piece canon. Not only is the current story paced well, but we are given knowledge of a future storyline involving Ace; a plot that those who are familiar with One Piece will know counts as probably the most dramatic in the entire series.

There are however still some issues with the show, chief among these being the animation. The computer animation is still slow and clunky. Also, some of the normal animation looks a tad off. There is one short scene in which Zoro drinks a glass of water that looks a bit shoddy.

However, this aside, this is still one of the better collections, with the story building up to the next major battle. It is all looking good so far.

 

Title: Review of One Piece, Collection 16
Publisher: Manga Entertainment
Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy, Fantasy, Shonen
Studio: Toei Animation
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 1999
Format: DVD
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 12
Running time: 563 minutes

Score: 8/10

Snow White with the Red Hair Part 1 Review


If you’re someone who’s read many of my
Anime UK News reviews, you’ll know that I’m a real fan of any work adapted or created by Studio BONES. Lately there was one notable series of theirs that I didn’t watch while it aired: Snow White with the Red Hair. After hearing good things from one of my co-writers, Joshawott, I decided that I had to give the show a chance when it came up for review. Here’s what I thought of the first half of the series.

The story of Snow White with the Red Hair follows the tale of Shirayuki, a young girl with beautiful red hair who lives in the kingdom of Tanbarun where she works as a skilled herbalist. Because of her rare hair colour, she attracts the attention of Raji Shenazard, the prince of Tanbarun. The prince desires to make Shirayuki his mistress, but rather than obey his command, Shirayuki decides to run away. In doing so, she encounters a young man known as Zen and his two companions, Mitsuhide Lowen and Kiki Seiran, but it’s not long before Raji catches up to Shirayuki and manages to poison Zen! With no choice but for Shirayuki to face Raji to obtain an antidote, just what will become of our heroine?


Well, as it turns out, quite a lot will become of her! It’s soon revealed that Zen is actually the second prince of the neighbouring country, Clarines,  and he uses his influence to help rescue Shirayuki from her situation. Afterwards Shirayuki decides to move to Clarines and begins working hard to pass the court herbalist exam (which will allow her to serve the castle) while also remaining close friends with Zen. However, it appears that love may be in the air between these two…


It has to be said that the story of Snow White with the Red Hair is fairly simple. It’s a shojo series, therefore a love story, and it’s happy to bubble along slowly as the two main characters get closer to one another. That being said, while the plot is simple, I don’t find it badly done, which is mostly down to the fact that the characters are well written.

Shirayuki often finds herself in trouble due to her unusual red hair and her friendship with the prince, but she’s by no means a damsel in distress. The nice thing about Shirayuki is that she’s a very confident person, and although she has limitations in strength due to being a woman (for example, at one point early in the series she is kidnapped and struggles to overpower her male captor) it just leaves her feeling very human. She’s always trying her best to improve herself and isn’t happy to just sit around and be saved by Zen; she wants to be his strength and actually have something to show for herself.

That’s not to say the show is flawless. Despite the characters being well written, Shirayuki is the only one who feels original to me. The rest of the cast seem generic. If you break Shirayuki down far enough then she’s certainly made up of many typical personality traits but that would take dissecting her character under a magnifying glass to really notice. Characters like Zen and his guards, Mitsuhide and Kiki, feel like cutouts of how we’d all imagine a Prince Charming and his supporters to act. There is nothing wrong with this as on the whole I did like Zen, Mitsuhide, and Kiki, but if you’re coming here looking for a vastly different love interest, then I’m sorry to disappoint you. That said, I do like Zen’s third aide, Obi, who was originally being used to scare Shirayuki out of the castle but becomes a silly goofball character once he’s taken in hand by Zen.

I think Snow White with the Red Hair is a safe shojo story. It’s not attempting to be groundbreaking or tell a wholly new story, it’s just trying to be good – and I really do think it satisfies that condition. I like love stories. I’m usually busily reviewing action/fantasy series like Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls In A Dungeon? but I have a real soft spot for a good shojo series, too. Being a shojo anime fan living in the UK doesn’t offer that great of a deal of selection for these titles (Say I Love You UK anime release when?) and often those that do get released aren’t that good. I think that’s why the release of Snow White with the Red Hair is so important to me because not only is it a series handled by BONES, it’s a genuinely strong entry for the shojo genre.

Speaking of BONES, I’m happy to report that they’ve done some very good work here. Character designs, backgrounds, and the overall standard of animation is very smooth. It walks the studio’s usual line of being anime but with a slightly western influence without losing the charm of being a Japanese piece of work. The colours are bright and vibrant throughout but the studio are also happy to use a darker selection of shades for the more gritty sequences (such as when Shirayuki is kidnapped) and that’s something I really respect them for. BONES have a good eye for colour and how to make it really fit the mood. I’d also like to spend a moment pointing out how much I love the way the studio artists depict exaggerated character expressions, as they’re always a joy to behold and fit right in with my sense of humor.

Where music is concerned, one of my favourite composers, Michiru Oshima, has handled things and overall the soundtrack sounds great. I’ve heard a lot of Oshima’s work recently thanks to rewatching Fullmetal Alchemist and The Tatami Galaxy, so it was quite obvious from the use of violins and strings that Snow White with the Red Hair was a work of hers. It’s a soundtrack that fits well with the show and the various themes it explores. Overall I have nothing to complain about. The opening for the series is “Bright Hopes” sung by Shirayuki’s voice actress and the ending is “Kizuna ni Nosete” by Eyelis. Neither track is that memorable and the animation is simply of Shirayuki and the cast having fun together, but both fit the series well enough.

The Japanese voice actors do a fine job on the whole. Shirayuki is voiced by Saori Hayami (Koyuki Hinashi in Fuuka, Shinoa Hiragi) and she plays the role with a great deal of emotion, managing to convey Shirayuki’s feelings well. Zen meanwhile is handled by Ryota Osaka (Sadao Mao in The Devil Is a Part-Timer!, Keiji Akaashi in Haikyu!!), who plays the prince in a suitably charming and engaging way. He injects a lot of fun into the role and that enthusiasm comes through to the viewer. I’d like to take a moment to also give a shout-out to Jun Fukuyama, who plays Raji (Ango Sakaguchi in Bungo Stray Dogs, Takeshi Nishigori in Yuri on Ice!!, Shinra in Durarara!!)). Raji is a side character who reappears about halfway through Part 1 and when he did, he instantly became one of my favourites due to Fukuyama’s fun and engaging voice work with Raji (although this is due in part to the fact that he started reminding me of Shinra). Raji went from being a total sleaze to being a silly character that I’ve grown attached to.

I’d like to say that the English voice actors do as good a job as well but unfortunately I have real problems with Shirayuki’s English actor: Brina Palencia (Nina Tucker in the original Fullmetal Alchemist, Maho Minami in Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad). What I got from watching the anime in Japanese is that Shirayuki is a very emotional character, yet Palencia doesn’t convey her feelings that well at all – and when the main character is not conveying emotion then the whole dub feels underwhelming. I’d recommend that everyone simply watch the show subbed instead.

This release comes to the UK thanks to Funimation and contains Episodes 1-12 of the series on two Blu-ray discs both subbed and dubbed. Although notably absent for me is an OVA that bridges the gap between the first and second cour of the show; hopefully Part 2 includes it. The extras on offer are the usual scattering of trailers, clean opening and ending videos and some episode commentaries for Episodes 9 & 11.

In the end, I’m certainly looking forward to Part 2 of Snow White with the Red Hair. It’s not really groundbreaking for the shojo genre, but the cast are really likable and I find myself wanting to see more of how this love story will play out. Highly recommended on the whole!

Title: Snow White with the Red Hair Part 1
Publisher: Funimation (via Anime Limited)
Genre: Shojo
Studio: BONES
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2015
Format: Blu-Ray
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 12
Running time: 300 minutes

Score: 8/10

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess Volume 1 Review

The Legend of Zelda is a famous video game series that every gamer will have heard of at some point in their life. Even if you haven’t heard of it before, with the recent release of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, it has been impossible to miss the critical accolades the series has received. With this in mind, Viz Media has just released the first volume of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess in a bid to build on Breath of the Wild’s success.

The story of Twilight Princess follows a young ranch hand, Link, as the quiet life he has known until now is plunged into darkness. Long ago powerful wizards tried to take over the kingdom of Hyrule, but the Spirits of Light that inhabit the land banished these wizards to a place known as the Twilight Realm. With no way back to Hyrule, the wizards went on to build a society of their own in the Twilight Realm and until now the two worlds have lived peacefully. Now the current Princess of Twilight, Midna, is in trouble because an evil menace known as Zant is looking to take over both the Twilight Realm and the World of Light (otherwise known as Hyrule). To combat this evil a hero must rise, and that person is Link. With so much at stake, is Link really ready to fill the shoes of a legendary hero when evil threatens his world?

At the center of it all, Twilight Princess is a story of good vs. evil – just as all the stories in this series are. The Legend of Zelda series always follows the concept of the hero’s journey, the friends he makes, the challenges he must overcome, and (usually) a princess in need. They’re incredibly generic stories on the surface but have a knack for being home to some fascinating lore which gives the world a real sense of depth and realism.

On the whole, Twilight Princess follows this trend. Link is happily living his life in a small village known as Ordon Village until one day he begins to become aware of an evil presence nearby (it’s noted that Link appears to be sensitive to spirits and such). When children from the village get lost in the Faron Woods, Link chases after them with a search party. There he comes face-to-face with fierce monsters, and he now must fight to protect those who are important to him.

In the video games our protagonist, Link, is always mute. He has no personality of his own because the developers want players to be able to project themselves onto him; to become fully immersed in the various Legend of Zelda worlds. However, mangaka team “Akira Himekawa” have built up their own version of Link throughout the years as they’ve adapted the different games into manga form, this being their tenth adaption of the series. In Twilight Princess Link is an adult: he’s laid-back and a little cheeky but also has a dark secret from his past that he works hard to hide from others. This secret is something that Link doesn’t have in the original video game simply because Link is usually not given a history (except in Breath of the Wild). This is a history and story that the team have thought up themselves and which works incredibly well.

From reading this volume, it’s also clear to me that I wouldn’t want anyone else adapting the Legend of Zelda stories. Akira Himekawa have a real talent for capturing the world of Hyrule in their artwork. They put a lot of detail into the characters and the environment but it’s never overwhelming. In particular, I like the forbidding air given to the enemies; one glance tells you all you need to know about whose side they’re on! Action scenes are also drawn well and flow smoothly, and you can almost see Link jump around as you read.

I think a lot has to be said for how well written this volume is too. Although there is quite a lot going on in the plot, there isn’t enough text scene to scene to put off younger readers (which some action/shonen titles of late suffer from) and makes it a welcome read for people of all ages. Less text doesn’t mean that the manga doesn’t convey emotion well either (which again some series in this genre do struggle with) as one look into a character’s eyes will usually tell you all you need to know. They’re filled with so much emotion, it’s wonderful!

I have a long history with the The Legend of Zelda series but, funnily enough, Twilight Princess was my first experience with the franchise. To me, it’s my favourite Legend of Zelda game and where my love for adventure and good vs. evil stories was really born, so when I did some research into the manga’s history, I was horrified to find that this adaption was originally planned for and then cancelled many years ago.

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess game was released worldwide in late 2006 and the manga adaption was scheduled to be published in a children’s magazine in Japan. However, thanks to the game having a higher age rating than expected, the manga was cancelled and the mangaka team ceased adapting the games afterwards (although they did pen a story based on The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword as an extra in the Hyrule Historia book that Dark Horse published in 2013). Of course I wouldn’t be writing about the manga now if it had never been released and thankfully in 2016 Nintendo re-released Twilight Princess on Wii U in HD. With the general popularity of the The Legend of Zelda series also on the rise again, Akira Himekawa were finally given the chance to begin publishing their take on Twilight Princess.

The manga has moved from the usual Viz Kids label to simply being under the Viz Media name. Instead of an ‘All Ages’ rating it has now been put up to a ‘Teen’ rating, but the content is still fine for younger teenagers to read. There are some mildly graphic fight scenes (although not as bad as Naruto, which is also under a Teen rating), but I think the rating jump is more down to the darker story and possibly to allow for more freedom going forward. This series is still on-going in Japan and with the second volume also penciled in for a English release, with no sign of stopping yet, it seems this adaption will be longer than any other in The Legend of Zelda series – the current longest being The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. If it does end up being three or more volumes then it’s certainly a slightly harder sell than the other Legend of Zelda books, which are mostly self contained stories, but I think it’ll be worth it in the end due to the quality of the art and the story.

Overall, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess Volume 1 shows promise. The story has been well adapted to manga and still gives me the same sense of enjoyment that 11-year-old me got from playing the game for the first time. I just hope that this story can inspire the same desire for adventure and fantasy stories in young readers today as it did for me, as it truly is something special. It’s a real treat for Legend of Zelda fans of all ages and newcomers or veterans to the series.

Title: The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess Volume 1
Publisher: Viz Media
Genre: Action, Fantasy, Adventure
Author(s): Akira Himekawa
Type: Manga
Original vintage: 2016
Format: Book
Age rating: Teen
Length: 200 pages

Score: 8/10

Serial Experiments Lain – The Complete Series Review

With a lot of series, I would point to the writers or directors and put in brackets their most famous work, but Serial Experiments Lain IS the most famous work of writer Chiaki J. Konaka, character designer Yoshitoshi ABe and, arguably, director Ryutaro Nakamura. This is one of those rare “perfect storm” projects that made a name for all involved that they weren’t ever really able to top, at least not in the eyes of the majority. With that said, does Serial Experiments Lain, an unusual anime made in 1998 based around the idea of what a future where the internet is easily accessible would be like, still work in 2017?

It has to be first noted that Lain is written in a rather abstract and sometimes non-linear way, and in general it’s hard to talk about an overall plot when it has so many turns. The bare bones is that school girl Lain Iwakura, normally disinterested in “The Wire” (an advanced form of the internet… well, of the internet as it was in ’98) and other technology, suddenly receives an e-mail from a fellow schoolgirl after they had committed suicide, telling her that now she’s left her body behind and became part of The Wire, and everything is great. The mystery surrounding this leads Lain to get a new and more powerful computer, and slowly she begins to lose herself in the virtual reality, losing touch with what is real and what isn’t, and even who she really is and what it means to be alive.

That’s about the best synopsis for the series I could come up with, because be warned, it does get hard to follow sometimes. I watch a lot of sci-fi, both anime and the kind with the real people in it (*gasp!*), and even I scratched my head a few times. That being said, due to how beautifully shot, animated and scored the whole show is, I never got annoyed, and was certainly never tempted to turn off. The voices are low key (in both languages, for the record), the shading switches from overemphasized black to swirling colours and shapes, written messages appear on screen like an old silent movie, and more often than not, no music plays in the background, instead often replaced with an eerie hum from power lines, almost hinting at The Wire being a living thing. When some background music does kick in, it’s often tense or has that synth-filled cyber-punk feel to it, though, like I said, these moments are few and far between.

I think the most interesting thing about watching Serial Experiments Lain in 2017 is how close we are to living in the cyber-punk-esque world presented in the show. People have what closely resemble smart phones and some of the what-if horrors of the “increasing internet craze” include shadowy groups of people joining up without having ever met each other, and the idea of having personal information stolen and released to other people’s amusement. The whole idea of losing yourself in a virtual world while sitting in front of a monitor was even ahead of its time, really. Throw in some very nostalgic late-90s UFO conspiracy stuff on top, and you have a fun setting very much written in the past, but unsettlingly bang-on in terms of a potential future, which makes for an odd, but enjoyable, viewing experience.

All that being said I personally couldn’t give Lain the perfect score because I do feel that there were a few points in the show where it might have gone a bit too abstract or confusing, and rather than being brilliant and paying off, it was clearly there just to be a bit weird or odd. These moments are very rare though; it just sometimes feels they were being artsy for the sake of keeping up the offbeat tempo, rather than it serving a purpose.

The opening is “Duvet” by Jasmine Rodgers and Boa (the whole song is in English, which is odd, but it fits the weird imagery that accompanies it), while the ending is “Distant Scream” by Reichi Nakaido. The extras are the original adverts for the show, along with the standard clean opening, ending and some trailers. The shot of back of the box shown on the website and official MVM website itself currently list the show as 16:9, but it is very much 4:3, which should be obvious given the time it was created.

Do I recommend Serial Experiments Lain? Yes, I do, though if you watch it and say, ‘I didn’t get it and I turned it off’ I wouldn’t blame you, though I think if you stick with it to the end you’ll either find yourself satisfied or going over the series in your head for a few days before watching it over again to “make sure” of things. It is very much an anime that you could point to as a “classic” or a “work of art” within its genre, one that someone could watch and write a whole essay on. At 13 episodes, I say give yourself a couple of nights, possibly watch it alongside a friend or family member so you can discuss it for a long, long time.

Title: Serial Experiments Lain - The Complete Collection
Publisher: MVM Films
Genre: Cyberpunk, psychological horror, science fiction.
Studio: Triangle Staff
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 1998
Format: Blu-Ray and DVD (DVD version reviewed)
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 12
Running time: 325 minutes

Score: 9/10