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

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

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 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

Review of Fairy Tail, Collection 12

Warning: Review contains episode spoilers.

“Don’t watch the clock; do what it does. Keep going.” – Sam Levenson

In this collection we see the return of some horrific faces from the past and some rather unusual teamwork.

Previously, the Fairy Tail guild were under attack from a group called the Legion Platoon, a group of wizards working under the Zentopia church. The Legion, consisting of the Earth-Land versions of wizards they met in Edolas, managed to take the metal rod that Michelle had given to Lucy, which was actually the hand for a clock.

Lucy, Natsu, Gray, Erza, Happy and Wendy make their way to Lucy’s old family mansion to see if there are any clues as to why the Legion may have taken it, and ultimately find that the clues lie in an old children’s book that Lucy used to love. But while they are trying to figure everything out they are attacked again by another pair from Legion, this time a brainy Exceed named Samuel and a fighter named Dan Straight, who instantly falls in love with Lucy. Samuel gets what he needs from the book and they make their escape.

After this, Lucy concludes that the book is telling them to find the rest of the clock pieces, so the guild decides to send five different teams to find the parts: Levy, Pantherlily, Gajeel, Jet and Droy; Gray, Juvia and Lyon; Natsu, Happy, Lucy, Michelle and Romeo; Erza, Wendy, Charle and Cana; and lastly Elfman, Mira and Lisanna. Each of the teams comes across their own clock piece, but also finds a member of Legion ready to take them on. However, in Natsu’s case, they also make a terrible discovery: both Fairy Tail and Legion Platoon are being targeted by a dark guild. What is worse, it is a reformed dark guild that the Fairy Tail wizards know about all too well.

There is less to write about concerning this collection because it feels like the start/middle of a much larger arc. Most of this collection concerns the fights that each of the teams have against the Legion wizards. Later on, we learn more about what is really going on with the arrival of the dark guild, and at the end, new teams again are formed in order to defeat the dark wizards.

This does however make for at least one positive for this collection, in that we get to see the main characters relating to other characters in the show that they tend not to spend so much time with. For example, in the end one of the teams that appears is Gray and Fried; another is Bixlow and Wendy; a third sees rivals Erza and Evergreen team up. It is building up to be something interesting.

These episodes therefore are probably best seen as a light starter before the main entertainment. We’ve seen the first opening bouts of the fighting between Fairy Tail and Legion Platoon, but when the real baddies are revealed, we know we can expect to see something bigger.

Again, you have pretty much the same extras as last time, with textless opening and closing, episode commentaries and trailers. One difference is that this time there is a video commentary as well as an audio one. New theme tunes appear too, and both the opening theme, “Te no Hira” by Hero, and end theme “Yell – Kagayaku Tame no Mono” by Sa Ta Andagi make for good listening.

Title: Review of Fairy Tail, Collection 12
Publisher: Funimation (via Anime Limited)
Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy, Fantasy, Shonen
Studio: A-1 Pictures, Satelight
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2009
Format: DVD
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 12
Running time: 300 minutes

Score: 7/10

Review of Fairy Tail, Collection 11

Warning: this review contains episode spoilers.

“I never think about the future – it comes soon enough.” – Albert Einstein

This collection of Fairy Tail episodes is possibly the best yet, primarily because it has one of the most dramatic endings to a story arc I’ve come across.

It begins with the Fairy Tail guild having managed to defeat the dark guild Grimoire Heart, but Grimoire Heart have other problems. Zeref has appeared before their leader Hades to reveal that there was no point in their plans to revive him as he was never sealed away to begin with. Zeref then kills him, claiming that Hades has released something called “Acnologia”.

Back down on Tenrou Island, things are already pretty dramatic as Cana finally reveals to Gildarts that they are daughter and father respectively, but shortly after this they find that the whole island is under attack from the aforementioned Acnologia, which turns out to be an incredibly destructive dragon. It was this dragon that resulted in Gildarts losing an arm, a leg and some of his innards. Natsu, however, is partly glad to see the dragon, because it proves that dragons are still alive and therefore possibly Igneel is alive too. Any happiness is short-lived, though, as Acnologia proves to be so violent that no-one on the island can stop the beast – not even Makarov using his magic to make himself gigantic (and thus the same size as the dragon) can hold things off. Eventually, the only thing they can do is hold hands and cast a defensive spell to protect themselves from one final blast from Acnologia – who obliterates the entire island.

No trace of the wizards can be found. The Fairy Tail wizards are assumed to be dead. The story then moves forward seven years into the future.

By this point the Fairy Tail guild is a shadow of its former self, what with the deaths of the best wizards. Among the many changes that have happened, Macao is now acting as head of the guild, his son Romeo is now a full-up member of the guild using multi-coloured flame magic, Alzack and Bisca have got married and have a daughter named Asuka, and Reedus has slimmed down in size. They are also no longer the most powerful guild in town and are in debt to a new guild that has moved in.

However, thanks to some help from their old friends in the Blue Pegasus and Lamia Scale guilds, they learn that Tenrou Island may not have been totally destroyed after all. They take a voyage by ship where they discover that a woman has protected the island. There, they find that the old members of Fairy Tail are not only still alive, but they have not aged in the past seven years, thanks to the woman’s spell. The woman claims to be the spirit of Mavis, the guild’s founder, and vanishes after completing her task.

With the whole guild reunited, they soon take care of their rival guild and start to re-establish themselves. Lucy, though, has to come to terms with the news that just a few months ago, her father died. After dealing with some normal guild business (i.e. a few episodes of filler before the main story continues), Lucy then receives a visit from a distant crybaby relation named Michelle Lobster, who has delivered her a memento from Lucy’s father: what looks like a metal rod covered in bandages. But when Michelle drops it, some ancient writing appears on it. Lucy and Levy learn the rod is actually part of a clock face, but they have bigger problems when the guild is attacked by some wizards that look strangely familiar.

The reason why this collection of episodes is so entertaining is the drama. As far as things go, seemingly having the whole of the main cast obliterated by a dragon is a pretty big way to end the season. OK, let’s face it, we all know there was going to be some way for the characters to come back, but witnessing the guild knowing that they have finally come across something that even they know they cannot defeat and thus have to prepare for the worst makes for very gripping viewing.

It is also interesting to see just how much of Fairy Tail depends on the characters, as is evidenced by what happens to the guild once it is only left with a handful of members, especially its weaker ones. Macao does get to keep his job as guild leader when Makarov returns, but you sort-of know his effectiveness is questionable, given what has happened to the guild in the past seven years. Things may change now that the best wizards are back.

There are a few things about this collection that are somewhat questionable however, mostly concerning the way Funimation has released the episodes. For starters, given that the Tenrou Island arc is dealt with in about four episodes, you have to ask why those episodes were not put on the previous DVD collection. Surely it would have been better to have kept the arcs separate, or to put just the last one or two episodes on this collection and end the last collection on a cliffhanger, making the viewers wonder whether the wizards survived the blast from Acnologia. Funimation does keep the arcs separate across the two discs in the collection, but that means you end up with seven episodes on the first disc and only four on the second.

Mind you, the second disc does contain most of the extras. The first disc only has one episode commentary, but the second has a commentary, trailers, footage of Todd Haberkorn (the English voice of Natsu) at Otakon 2013, and the textless opening and closing music, including some new title sequences. Out of the two, the end sequence “Glitter (Starving Trancer Remix)” by Another Infinity is better than the opening, “Hajimari no Sora” by +Plus.

It is hard to tell how well the next storyline will pan out, but it is going to have to pull something big out of the bag to top what happens at the end of this one.

Title: Review of Fairy Tail, Collection 11
Publisher: Funimation (via Anime Limited)
Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy, Fantasy, Shonen
Studio: A-1 Pictures, Satelight
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2009
Format: DVD
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 12
Running time: 300 minutes

Score: 9/10

Review of Yu-Gi-Oh! GX, Series 2

“Light thinks it travels faster than anything but it is wrong. No matter how fast light travels, it finds the darkness has always got there first, and is waiting for it.” – Terry Pratchett

It is now the second series and thus Jaden Yuki is in his second year at Duel Academy. Some old faces have gone, with Chumley having finally graduated and become a card designer for Maximillion Pegasus; some have gone on to greater things, with Dr. Crowler now the academy’s chancellor. Some new first years joining the school, with Jaden and Syrus duelling and later becoming friends with the dinosaur-loving, military-obsessed “Sergeant” Hassleberry of the Ra Yellow dorm.

Crowler and his new assistant, Vice-Chancellor Bonaparte, are constantly trying to come up with ways of boosting the academy’s profile, most of which concern getting rid of the Slifer Red dorm. This includes trying to trying to get Chazz to move back to Obelisk Blue, which he doesn’t do; and successfully getting Syrus to move up to Ra Yellow, but both he and Hassleberry decide to live in the Red Dorm.

Another supposedly new student joining is Aster Phoenix, who manages to beat Jaden in a duel and soon after leaves the island to make it big professionally, helped by his fortune-telling tutor Sartorius. Later, Aster manages to beat ex-Academy pupil Zane in a duel on TV, using a deck similar to Jaden’s. This causes Zane to go into a downward spiral, wrecking his career and forcing him to take part in shady “underground duelling”. Meanwhile, Aster revisits the academy to duel Jaden, with Aster using his own “Destiny Hero” deck to take Jaden on, and angrily stating that the reason that he duels is not for fun like Jaden, but for revenge. Aster’s father created the Destiny Hero cards, but he disappeared and the strongest card was stolen. He has spent 10 years trying to find them again. Jaden loses the duel and this is where things start to get really weird…

For starters, the loss is so shocking that Jaden ends up being unable to see his cards when  they are shown to him, meaning that he cannot duel and thus he decides to leave the island. While at sea, Jaden enters into a dream where he believes that some alien creatures called “Neo-Spacians” talk to him, which are based on a design for a card he drew as a child. These beings tell him that the universe is on the brink of destruction because the balance between light and darkness is wrong. If there is too much light it will cause devastation across the universe. The main force causing this is the “Society of Light”, whose main figurehead is Sartorius. He is told to return to the island to defeat the society, and when he wakes, he finds that he can see his cards again, including some new cards based on the creatures that he met and previously drew.

Sartorius, on the other hand, has been using his powers of divination and mind control to slowly make his presence felt on the island. When he defeats opponents in a duel, he brainwashes them to join the Society of Light. He manages to get Chazz, Alexis, Bastion and a whole other bunch of students under his control, setting up his own White Dorm. Jaden has to use his skills to stop Sartorius – a task that sees him meeting up with Yugi Mutou’s grandfather on a school trip to Domino City; teaming up with Aster when they discover the true cause of Sartorius’s behaviour; entering into a new “GX” competition with the students taking on professional duellists; and discovering that Zane’s experience on the underground circuit has corrupted him to become cruel and obsessed with nothing but victory.

Like with the first series boxset, there are still the same old problems with this collection: poor scene selection; English dub only; no subtitles; no extras; dodgy accents etc. There is less of an issue with the quality of the animation in this collection which is one of the few plus points, but this is outweighed by problems with dialogue. For starters, this collection does see Chazz describing Jaden as a “spaz” which is just wrong. It seems strange that 4Kids were willing to use what we in Britain at least would consider to be derogatory language, but it is concerned not to mention other terms it believes to be inappropriate.

The main examples of this come across in Sartorius’s fortune telling. Sartorius uses tarot cards and his duelling deck is based on tarot as well. It appears 4Kids did not want to use some of the normal tarot card names because they thought they were unsuitable, so while it is perfectly happy to refer to cards such as “The World” and “The Chariot” with no issue at all, it does feel the need to change “Death” to “The Reaper of Souls” and “The Devil” to “The Fiend”. Now, I can understand some people may not want children to know about the occult, but if that is your attitude, best not show them a series which features heavy use of the occult practice of divination

The plot might also be a bit too far-fetched for people, now that the show is introducing alien life into the mix and Jaden having to save the world. The idea of the lead being so heroic is nothing new in the Yu-Gi-Oh! franchise, but the plot of the original with the time travel story is more enjoyable than the plot in this collection.

On the more positive side, the characters are overall still enjoyable. The new characters are good, with Hassleberry being rather fun and Aster being motivated to fulfil his revenge. Meanwhile the old characters are developing nicely, with Syrus moving up to a higher class and Bastion becoming annoyed that no-one will recognise his abilities as a duellist. It is also nice to see some more of the original Yu-Gi-Oh! characters making a bigger appearance, the best one being Pegasus who gets involved in a duel between Crowler and Bonaparte.

Once again, I tried out my drink game theory again, this time on the second disc of this collection. I stuck with “Elemental Hero” and “Life Points” again, but this time my third choice was “Destiny Hero”. It started off slowly, because for most of the early episodes on this disc Jaden does little duelling of his own, but then one the episodes is a clip show and that helped boost things back up, and Aster duels later as well. Overall my score was 23 for “Elemental Hero”, 32 for “Life Points” and 15 for “Destiny Hero”, totalling 70, beating the last time I did the game by 14 utterances, totalling around three pints.

Series 2 is not as good as the first series, but it still has the odd element in it that still makes it just entertaining enough to make it watchable.

Title: Review of Yu-Gi-Oh! GX, Series 2
Publisher: Manga Entertainment
Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy, Gaming, Fantasy, Non-School
Studio: Studio Gallop
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2004
Format: DVD
Language options: English dub audio only
Age rating: 12
Running time: 1075 minutes

Score: 4/10

One Piece, Collection 14 Review

Episodes 325-348, may contain spoilers.

On the day I was born, the nurses all gathered ’round;
And they gazed in wide wonder at the joy they had found;
The head nurse spoke up and she said leave this one alone;
She could tell right away that I was bad to the bone.”
– George Thorogood

A quick look at the DVD cover will reveal that this collection of One Piece is very special, as at last we see the debut of the final (at the time of writing) member of the Straw Hat Pirates.

However, we don’t see him right away. Following the conclusion of the “Water Seven” arc, the collection begins not with Monkey D. Luffy and his crew, but with his older brother Portgas D. Ace, who has tracked down Marshall D. Teach, aka Blackbeard. Blackbeard, a former member of the Whitebeard pirates of which Ace is also a member, is now wanted for murdering another Whitebeard pirate and stealing a Devil Fruit: the Dark-Dark Fruit that allows him to control gravity. Thus a battle between his crushing powers and Ace’s control of fire begins.

But this is just one episode. After this, and perhaps not surprisingly following the massive “Water Seven” arc that preceded it, there is a “filler” arc. Here, the Straw Hats find what appear to be an abandoned group of fishermen who were attacked by a group of pirates. They go to help, with Chopper tending to one member of the ship’s crew who is on the verge of death. It is discovered that this is not a crew of fishermen, but the “Phoenix Pirates” who have suffered the greatest of humiliations: having their Jolly Roger flag stolen. The man being tended to by Chopper happens to be their despondent captain, Puzzle the Phoenix. The Phoenix crew try to poison the Straw Hats, but they easily spot the trick and the Phoenix pirates tell them all that has happened.

Then, what appears to be a group of marines arrives. Fortunately, new crewmate Franky is able to use the modifications on the Thousand Sunny to help both crews escape, such as turning the ship into a super-fast cola-powered paddle boat. Unfortunately, it turns out that the marines are fake, and the pirates find themselves in an arctic region governed by a family of bounty hunters, the Accino family. The head of the family, Don Accino, likes to collect pirate flags and is responsible for the theft of Puzzle’s flag. The family then steals the Straw Hat’s flag, meaning that the rest of the crew have to try and get it back before Luffy finds out.

After this escapade (and a one-episode filler of spoof superhero “Chopperman”), the Straw Hats find themselves on the move again, and spot a barrel that is supposedly offering food and drink to the god of the sea. Luffy opens it to reveal the barrel is empty, except for a flare that is fired. The crew then find themselves blown into the dangerous and perpetually-dark Florian Triangle. Here they encounter an old, wrecked ship, which has only one resident on it: a rather pervy skeleton with a huge afro, singing to himself. Luffy, Sanji and Nami climb on board to investigate, and Luffy is so impressed by him he instantly offers the skeleton the chance to join his crew, which the skeleton, named Brook, appears to accept.

Brook tells his story, about how the crew for whom he was a musician were attacked by a much stronger force, but he survived by eating the Revive-Revive Fruit, which allowed his soul to return to the living world. But as the Florian Triangle is so dark, it took a year for his soul to find his body, by which time all that survived were his bones and hairdo. Brook also reveals that actually, he cannot join the crew, because someone has stolen his shadow. He can only live in the dark Florian Triangle, because if he is touched by sunlight he will be destroyed. Luffy decides to help Brook find his shadow again.

However, the Straw Hats find that the boat has somehow arrived on an island, which Brook knows to be the ghost island Thriller Bark. Brook leaves the rest to try and find his shadow on his own, while Nami, Usopp and Chopper venture out first, onto an island that is full of ghosts and zombies. There Chopper learns to that the island is reportedly the home of Dr. Hogback, the greatest doctor in the world, but they eventually learn that his experiments have a dark purpose.

Concerning the first arc in this collection, it is not that bad as far as filler stories go. The main entertainment comes from the rest of the crew desperately trying to prevent Luffy from realising that their flag has been nicked because of all the problems that would follow caused by him. Thus you end up with action and fight scenes being mixed in with some rather farcical comedy.

On the downside, neither the Phoenix Pirates or the Accino Family are really that remarkable. Out of the Phoenix Pirates, the best one that comes across is the cabin boy Jiro, the only member of the crew that seemingly hasn’t given up on finding the flag again. Meanwhile, in the Accino Family, Don Accino has a Devil Fruit power, but his Hot-Hot Fruit which allows him to raise his body temperature to up to 10,000 degrees feels too similar to Ace’s Flame-Flame Fruit.

In the Thriller Bark arc, the main point of interest is Brook. With him now in the show, it feels as if we have made a big development. The whole unit is finally here. Although, it has to be said he doesn’t appear that much in the first part of the arc. It mainly features the regular Straw Hats venturing onto Thriller Bark and battling the evil monsters on the island. These range from a zombie that Luffy attacks by simply pushing it back into his grave; ghosts that cause anyone they pass through to feel instantly depressed; and a gigantic bridezilla boar-zombie who tries to attack Nami whom she sees as a rival for the zombie she loves – but Nami gets out of it by claiming to be a crossdressing man.

One other detail of note is of cultural differences. The main fights the Straw Hats have on Thriller Bark are with these zombie creatures, but rather than in the west where they are killed by going for the head, they are instead frightened by fire. Thus all the really successful attacks are coming from cowardly Usopp using his “Exploding Stars”.

In this collection there are extras including episode commentaries, interviews with Luci Christian (English voice for Nami) and Stephanie Young (English voice for Nico Robin), and the really long textless openings – as there are no endings except for a “To Be Continued” caption and details of the next episode. Among these openings include a new one, “Jungle P” by 5050.

Title: One Piece, Collection 14
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: 15
Running time: 563 minutes

Score: 8/10

Review of Death Note: Blu-Ray Collection

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“You must believe in God, despite what the clergy tell you.” – Benjamin Jowlett

If Death Note succeeds in at least one thing, it is that it has possibly created the most interesting and intriguing character of all anime. This is a big claim to make, but there are so many ways that you could describe lead character Light Yagami: genius, ruthless, draconian, misguided, charismatic, megalomaniacal, psychopathic, influencer, passionate, deadly and godly. It is hard to think of another anime character so complex that they can be described in so many different ways.

It is also hard to think of a modern anime or manga that has attracted so much controversy. While there are some series that have attracted people’s anger because they contain sexual or violent scenes, Death Note has had been through several attempts to ban it in various countries including China and Russia, has been the cause of several school expulsions in America, and was even linked to a real-life murder in Belgium.

The story follows the highly intelligent 17-year-old student Light Yagami, who one day spots a black book falling past his classroom window. After class he finds the book, the “Death Note”, and takes it home with him, reading a set of instructions that say:

  • The human whose name is written in this note shall die.
  • This note will not take effect unless the writer has the person’s face in their mind when writing his/her name. Therefore, people sharing the same name will not be affected.
  • If the cause of death is written within the next 40 seconds of writing the person’s name, it will happen.
  • If the cause of death is not specified, the person will simply die of a heart attack.
  • After writing the cause of death, details of the death should be written in the next 6 minutes and 40 seconds.

Light tries the book out and discovers it actually works. After this, he encounters the book’s original owner, a Shinigami (death god) called Ryuk, who was bored and thought things would become more interesting if he dropped it in the human world. Light decides what to do with the book: he opts to use it to make the world a better place, by killing wrong-doers. He wants to make the world free of criminals, where only the good can survive in peace. Thus, Light starts to kill as many criminals as he can, and soon ends up being nicknamed “Kira”, a Japanese corruption of the English word “Killer”.

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When so many criminals start dying all other the world, Interpol gets into contact with the world’s greatest detective, a man simply known as “L”. Using a fake video, L is able to track down Kira’s location to Kanto, and soon Light ends up in a battle of wits with L, as well as the Japanese police, of which his father happens to be a member.

As the story continues, the battle between Light and L intensifies as the viewer tries to figure out what will happen: will Light be caught, or will he be able to discover L’s real name and put in the Death Note? Also, we witness how much Light changes. He starts off a vigilante, and soon ends up becoming almost godlike in his desire and power. Light wants to become the god of this new world, and he is not going to let anyone stop him.

As stated, the main reason for watching Death Note is Light. This is a character that you can look at in so many different ways, and can develop so many different opinions on. One the one hand, he is an egotistical, draconian serial killer with a messiah complex who is responsible for the deaths of millions over his lifetime, and is so ruthless he will stop at nothing to achieve his goals. On the other hand, you could argue that because he is trying to kill bad people the ends justify the means. Over the course of the story, Light’s activities cause crime worldwide to drop by 70% and he even manages to bring about world peace. Also, as far as gods go, his abilities seem to be more on show than God’s. Then again, you can argue that while Light is in a way well-intentioned, he is corrupted by his powers and misguided by his own ideas.

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This is also why I think that Light is charismatic. Draco, the ancient Greek lawgiver from whom we get the word “draconian”, was incredibly harsh, executing people for the smallest of offences (e.g., stealing a cabbage), but during his lifetime he was incredibly popular. People threw their coats at him in appreciation – which actually was a mistake because so many people threw their coats that according to legend he suffocated under a massive pile of them.

Similarly, Light gains many followers as Kira, and these are followers that he is able to manipulate to his advantage. In this modern age of “post-truth” politics, it seems as if it is those with charisma rather than political know-how who get into power.

This leads us to the storytelling. Original writer Tsugumi Ohba, along with artist Takeshi Obata, are able to do something remarkable: they are able to take Light Yagami, who is the biggest murderer in possibly all anime, and make him likeable. You sympathise with his cause, because his cause is ultimately to make the world a better place by getting rid of people who are awful, even though the thing he is doing is awful too. Ultimately, there is that bit of us that is a bit like Light, in that at some point just about everyone, whether as a child or an adult, has thought of someone particularly bad and hoped they would die. We all know of sci-fi stories about wanting to travel back in time and kill Hitler; we all wanted to get our own back on people who have committed atrocities around the globe; even during the US election, I bet you there were millions of people who looked at Trump and Clinton and thought to themselves: “Wouldn’t be brilliant if one or even both of these people just dropped down dead, so that the US can have a leader who is actually good”.

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If you were to ask me which character in western fiction Light is most similar too, oddly I would go for a sitcom character: Rik Mayall’s right-wing MP Alan B’Stard in the satirical sitcom The New Statesmen from the late 1980s and early 1990s. B’Stard, like Light, is horrid in so many ways: corrupt, greedy, power-hungry and bigoted. However, B’Stard is also rather likeable, mainly due to what is seen as a lack of hypocrisy. B’Stard was honest about his views. The character is honest when says things like: “I hate queers almost as much as I hate poor people”, or when he once suggested the way to cut NHS waiting lists was to shut down the health service, and he is the only character in all fiction to be proud of the fact he has an incredibly tiny penis and it takes him less than a minute to orgasm.

Again, similarly Light lacks hypocrisy. He obviously has to lie to hide his identity from the police, but as Kira there are no double standards with his brand of justice. If you are suspected of having done something wrong, regardless of your race, gender, sexuality, class or whatever, you are down for the chop. There are those he does keep alive for his own purposes; those people will be due to die later. The main differences between the two characters is that Light is not comedic, but serious in his goals. Also, if B’Stard did exist, his name would no doubt go in Light’s book.

Ultimately, it is up to you the viewer as to whether Light is good or not. Is he a brilliant vigilante righting wrongs, or just a murderer? Personally speaking, I would classify him as an antihero. His goal is basically to improve the world by letting the good survive, it’s just that his way of achieving his goal is so unforgiving in its scope. As to whether I want him to succeed, shockingly for myself there is a big part of me that says: “yes”.

Regarding the rest of this collection, the only extras are two OVA collections which retell the entire series. The quality of the animation is good, there appears to be nothing wrong with the subtitling, and the soundtrack mainly provided by metal acts Nightmare and Maximum the Hormones is great. On the downside, the second half of the series is not as good as the first due to some characters not appearing in it, and depending on whether you are for or against Light, the ending might disappoint you.

If there is any problem with it, it is there could be another Death Note related murder: in the form of a Hollywood adaptation of the series next year, with Nat Wolff playing the role of a character named “Light Turner”. Now, I personally don’t mind them changing the name of the character and setting the story in the USA. That is no different to taking The Seven Samurai, setting it in the Wild West, and turning it into The Magnificent Seven. Yes, there are always going to be people upset that the cast is not made up of Japanese actors and that there isn’t a Japanese actor in the lead, possibly even calling it racist, but by the sound of things, it’s at least a bit better than other manga adaptations I can think of. What I’m bothered about is the fact that L is being played by American actor Keith Stanfield when in the story it is made clear that he spent much of his childhood in England, while his assistant Watari is still being played by an Asian actor, Paul Nakauchi. This seems inconsistent. Surely you should change all the characters or none of them.

The big problem however, is that I cannot think of a decent American adaptation of an anime. If this is the first then that would be great, but I doubt it will, and what I suspect will happen is that more American parents will panic about their kids being corrupted.

In the end, the best thing to do is watch this series and decide for yourself, because it is a brilliant story with so much going on around it.

Title: Death Note
Publisher: Manga Entertainment
Genre: Crime, Horror, Psychological, Supernatural, Thriller
Studio: Madhouse
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2006
Format: Blu-Ray
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 15
Running time: 1081 minutes

Score: 9/10

Gundam Reconguista in G Review

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“About time!” screamed Gundam fans when Gundam Reconguista in G was announced. Yoshiyuki Tomino, the man behind the original 1979 Mobile Suit Gundam series, was returning to write and direct a Gundam series for the first time since 1999’s Turn A Gundam. In a world where recent Gundam series had been either heavily kiddie-focussed (Gundam Build Fighters) or just plain bad (Gundam AGE), the return of “Kill ‘em all Tomino” as director was pre-emptively heralded as a revival of Gundam’s glory days. The fans hyped themselves up, eagerly anticipating new and interesting worlds, philosophical musings on war, and major characters getting suddenly killed off.

Then Gundam Reconguista in G finally arrived, and reaction was… mixed. Some claimed it was a masterpiece, labelling it Tomino’s most impressive work yet; others dismissed it as a confusing mess. After the series had finished airing, Tomino himself famously said of his work that “I’d only get 15 points out of 100… Frankly, I didn’t think it would be this horrible.” However, he did go on to imply, in his trademark way, that people today weren’t clever enough to fully appreciate it, and that he would be vindicated in 50 years’ time. Now that Gundam Reconguista in G, G-Reco for short, has reached British shores in the form of Anime Limited’s Limited Edition Blu-ray release, we must ask the question: is G-Reco the magnum opus of a genius, or the confused ramblings of a disgruntled OAP? The answer is somewhere in the middle…

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For decades the nations of Ameria and Gondwan have been at war, with the Capital Territory caught between the two as the owner of the Earth’s space elevator, Capital Tower, and ostensibly a neutral party. In this future world, certain technology is forbidden and humanity is forced to rely on Photon Batteries for energy, which are sent down to Earth via the Capital Tower by mysterious space entities. Ameria wants to reverse engineer these batteries so that the Earth may gain independence from relying on the space people, but the teachings of the Capital Territory’s religion forbids it. Ameria, Gondwan and the Capital Army are all drawn into an arms race as they break the taboo on producing space weaponry, using the threat from the other parties as justification. This draws the ire of the spacenoids who, it turns out, have been producing their own weaponry, and have their own plans for Earth’s future… Into this situation falls, quite literally, the G-Self, a mysterious mobile suit which seems poised to turn the tides of war in favour of whoever gets their hands on it. Bellri Zenam, a young recruit of the Capital Guard, manages to retrieve the G-Self from the pirates who first grabbed it, but takes a romantic interest in its beautiful pilot, Aida. When Aida escapes from the custody of the Capital Army, Bellri goes with her to the pirate ship Megafauna, and unwittingly gets dragged into a war which he cares little about.

While that may seem excessive as a plot summary, believe me, it’s barely scratching the surface of G-Reco’s story. That is, in fact, the series’ primary weakness: it attempts to cram far too much content into a 26-episode run, meaning that there is always a whole lot happening, but no time to explain it. As such, Tomino makes liberal use of the oft-ignored, particularly in anime, storytelling mantra of “show, don’t tell”. While many anime feel the need to explain every detail of the show’s history and setting through excessive exposition, G-Reco just drops the audience right in. It gets straight into the plot and then describes the world in pieces along the way, so there’s a lot of time spent wondering what the hell is going on: why are these people fighting; where do these spaceships come from; what’s this taboo thing; why does the Megafauna’s captain have a woman wearing a bikini painted on his chair? (Okay, the last of those may be slightly less integral to the plot).

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G-Reco is therefore difficult to follow, and this is the main gripe that people seem to have with it. Toshio Okada, co-founder of anime studio Gainax and now an ‘anime scholar’, said of the series, “Gundam Reconguista is really bad!… I watch a fair amount of anime, and I can’t figure out what’s going on. Ordinary people watch this and don’t know what’s happening, but Tomino thinks it has to be like this.”  I take issue with this view. While things do move at a breakneck pace, and it is sometimes necessary to make use of the rewind button to fully grasp the meaning of what’s just been said, with a little effort it does (mostly) make sense. Honestly, I found this understanding process to be part of the appeal – it made watching G-Reco more of an active experience, akin to, as silly as it sounds, reading a mystery novel and trying to work out the culprit. But all the effort I put into following G-Reco was more than paid off by the depth of the world on offer.

In fairness, it doesn’t help matters that every other word out of the characters’ mouths is one that Tomino has dreamt up: for example, when a character says, “Klim, I’ll position the Hecate behind the Salamandra and take on the Garanden,” you better have picked up the meanings of those four proper nouns or you won’t have a clue what’s going on. This is nothing new for Gundam, which thrives on its made-up names, but when there is so little exposition it makes these things more difficult to follow than usual.

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There are other symptoms of the story being rushed. One is that while characters’ motivations can be interpreted, they are rarely properly shown. In an early battle Bellri chooses to fight against the Capital Army on behalf of the pirates, despite himself being from Capital Territory. While we can infer from his single glance towards Aida that he’s probably doing it for her sake, we aren’t shown any of the inner turmoil that a character must presumably experience when betraying his friends and family in such a way. Rather than this being poor writing, I believe it’s simply that Tomino and co. didn’t have the running time spare to dwell on the emotional side, and needed to plough onwards with the battle. This isn’t a one-time thing; characters often become either allies or mortal enemies at the drop of a hat, and then flit back and forth between the two with little justification. Tomino has always been one for characters changing allegiances, but in the past he’s handled it better than he does here.

It is worth noting that the tone of G-Reco is mostly quite light-hearted, at least by Gundam standards. Despite engaging in many battles, it is rare that the characters feel as though they are in any real danger, and for the first half of the series it seems as if Tomino has outgrown his “Kill ‘em all” moniker somewhat. However, once the action moves to space and mobile suit pilots can no longer hop out of their cockpits once things go wrong, the death toll does increase quite drastically; even so, there is relatively time spent bemoaning the horrors of war, something which is typically a staple in Gundam.

Humour is more of a focus than any moral preaching, and G-Reco’s comedic edge really adds to the series. We are treated to some classic toilet humour when Bellri is forced to use the G-Self’s ‘facilities’ to go number 2, while awkwardly sharing the cockpit with three girls. Another highlight is when a ship’s captain is asked to pull up data on an attractive enemy commander, but inadvertently opens a load of her bikini pics alongside her battle statistics. Not all jokes are so bawdy; my favourite is the Amerian Lieutenant Klim Nick, who insists on calling himself “Genius” Klim. The rest of the cast consider him to be a bit of a hot-headed idiot, but make use of his nickname in a sardonic way – a subtlety that the genius himself never picks up on.

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The setting of G-Reco is no doubt an interesting one, with Earth being caught in a stand-off in which all parties both fear the mysterious spacenoids and their superior technology, and yet also want to use them to further their own schemes. A nice twist is that even within this new setting, much of the core of G-Reco is borrowed from the original Mobile Suit Gundam. It has a ragtag crew roaming around on a spaceship which relies mainly on a single mobile suit, it has cool mechs, a diverse cast of characters, and space politics. There is a more literal link to the old series, too: G-Reco is set around 1,000 years after the Universal Century era, meaning that while it technically takes place in the timeline of previous series, this has little material impact on the plot. It does allow for a few cool mobile suit cameos though, either as statues in museums or as ruins scattered around old battlefields.

Industry veteran Kenichi Yoshida, who previously worked with Tomino on Overman King Gainer, outdid himself with G-Reco’s unique and brightly coloured character designs. His achievement becomes even more impressive when one considers the size of the cast; the only downside of this large cast is that it sometimes feels like a waste that an interesting character can end up getting only two and a half minutes’ screentime before they explode in a fiery death.

It wouldn’t be a Gundam series without an adolescent mobile suit prodigy as the main character, and Bellri fills that role pretty well. He initially doesn’t take much interest in the world around him and tends to go with the flow, but he does eventually develop more of a personality and his own reasons to fight. We also have that other Gundam staple, the protagonist’s masked rival – this time named, hilariously, Captain Mask. Mask’s motivations are less amusing than his codename: he is from a race of people called Kuntala, a group that were once cannibalised during food shortages in ancient times, and are still racially discriminated against. Mask’s goal is to succeed in battle so that he may bring pride to Kuntala people, and change the rest of humanity’s perception of them – however, this noble motivation becomes corrupted as Mask fights, until he grows less concerned with improving the status of his own people than with tearing down those from more privileged backgrounds.

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There are a lot of appealing secondary characters – one of my favourites was Happa, the Megafauna’s disgruntled mobile suit engineer, who openly tells Bellri that he’s only working on improving the G-Self so that it will be able to better protect him. While most of the Megafauna’s crew are great, the other particularly notable character is the Megafauna’s attractive helmsman, the appropriately named Steer, who always seems to be in a terrible mood unless she’s piloting the ship into an exciting situation. It’s characters like this that make the world of G-Reco come alive – while fairly minor, their idiosyncrasies make it feel real, rather than just a means to telling a story.

This release contains Japanese audio with English subtitles only, as no English dub has been produced. Fortunately, the voice acting on offer here is superb. The brilliantly varied characters each have unique voices to match, and they are all so competently done that it is difficult to name any stand-outs. Takuya Satou is perhaps worthy of a special mention for his cool portrayal of Captain Mask, giving a performance which echoes all the strengths of Shuichi Ikeda’s famous Char Aznable, the original masked antagonist.

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A primary concern to anyone watching a Gundam series is the quality of the mecha designs, and G-Reco certainly delivers in this regard. While the main mobile suit this time around, Bellri’s G-Self, is rather run-of-the mill (aside from its eyes and antennae making it look like a giant mechanical bunny), the other suits can be great. The Capital Guard’s Recten and Recksnow have wonderfully retrofuture designs, with heads shaped like old computer monitors and adorably clunky frames. As we get introduced to more mobile suits, particularly those in space, we see more sleek and futuristic designs, with all sorts of ridiculous weaponry. The rate at which these get introduced can be a little overwhelming, but any serious mech-head will struggle to complain once they’re all in space shooting, slashing and smashing the crap out of one another.

Another great feature is the thought that has been put into the peripherals of mobile suit operation. G-Reco often shows pilots making toilet while in their mobile suits, a need which makes perfect sense but has typically been skimmed over in the past (just as Jack Bauer apparently never takes a dump), and we see mobile suit airbags activating as pilots get smashed around their cockpits. Toilets and air bags are hardly the most exciting of mecha innovations, but it all goes towards developing the world of G-Reco.

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G-Reco’s animation is one of its strongest attributes; it is consistently stunning in its fluidity, whether that be the expressive body language of the characters, or the wild battles of the mobile suits. While the space-based battles tend to be more exciting, Episode 10 sees one of the best Earth-based battles: it contains some awesome animation of mobile suits brawling, with the G-Self punching and kicking an enemy unit as pieces fly off it – interestingly, this episode was storyboarded and directed by Attack on Titan’s Tetsuro Araki, who is no stranger to intense fight scenes between giant entities.

The scenery all looks excellent, and in every shot there are tons of minor background details which add great depth to the setting. Characters can be talking in the mess hall of the Megafauna, and through the window in the background one can see the deck chief shouting at his men – it’s a small detail, but helps make the ship seem real and alive. Also of note is the series’ CG: G-Reco contains what is possibly the best blend of CG and 2D animation in any anime series I have seen. The CG is used sparingly, mostly for complex space equipment like Capital Tower and space colonies, and its sleekness highlights the detailed designs, without ever seeming at odds with the traditional animation alongside it.

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G-Reco’s music is by Yugo Kanno, and he provides a high quality orchestral score, well suiting the tone of a sweeping space opera with exciting battles. There’s an occasional issue with it being used poorly, though: some battle scenes use music that’s a little too cheery, which kind of kills the tension, and also seems inappropriate given that the pilots can (and do) die at any moment. Both of G-Reco’s openings are fairly bland J-Pop fare, but the ending theme, G no Senkou by Daisuke Hasegawa, is a pleasantly upbeat song which repeats the show’s title a bunch. It is well suited to the ending animation which displays all the characters, friend and foe alike, arm in arm doing the cancan – an odd choice, sure, but an amusing one that highlights G-Reco’s slightly brighter tone compared to previous Gundam series.

While it clearly has its flaws, for those viewers willing to put in the effort Gundam Reconguista in G delivers some great entertainment. Its mecha designs are weird and wonderful, its battles exciting (particularly once the action moves to space), and its massive cast are varied and largely likeable. Somewhere deep within the series there even lies a philosophical message: a message about moving forward as humanity despite historical divides, about not judging other peoples without first judging yourself, and about the dangers of relying on weapons to maintain peace. However, when most of one’s effort is taken up on simply trying to understand what’s going on with the story, it’s easy to see how these messages remain buried. Still, by the end of G-Reco­ it really does feel like you’ve been on a journey. And while that journey was confusing, and at times even nonsensical, it was bright, exciting, occasionally thought-provoking, and always a lot of fun.

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On-disc extras consist only of clean opening and ending sequences, and a promotional video. The release does come, however, in a very nice box, complete with art cards and a ‘Gundam Collection’ spine which will ensure it fits well on the shelf next to Anime Limited’s other Gundam releases.


 

 

Title: Gundam Reconguista in G
Publisher: Anime Limited
Genre: Action, Mecha
Studio: Sunrise
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2014
Format: Blu-Ray
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles
Age rating: PG
Running time: 650 minutes

Score: 8/10