Blast of Tempest Complete Collection

blast of tempest collection

‘The time is out of joint. O cursed spite, that ever I was born to set it right.” Hamlet, William Shakespeare.

Mahiro’s younger sister Aika was murdered a year ago – and since then Mahiro has been skipping high school, bent on revenge. His classmate Yoshino (who was in a secret relationship with Aika) goes to visit her grave, only to held at gunpoint by a glamorous young woman, Fraulein Evangeline (who may be working for the government) demanding to know where Mahiro is. Mahiro comes to Yoshino’s rescue – and, just in time, the two young men escape, only to witness the horrifying effects of the Iron Plague which is turning everyone to metal. Mahiro shows Yoshino a strange wooden doll through which he’s able to communicate with a young woman mage, Hakaze Kusaribe, so powerful that her mage clan has marooned her on a desert island. She is the protector of the Tree of Genesis, and has promised to help Mahiro find Aika’s murderer, gifting him with magic talismans – if he, in turn, will help her stop her brother Samon from reviving the Tree of Exodus and bringing destruction to the world. But Samon’s clan mages wield some very powerful magic – and they will do anything to stop Mahiro and Yoshino bringing Hakaze back.

blast of tempest a

Episode 12 ends on a note of high melodrama with the whole world at the mercy of the battle for supremacy between the Tree of Genesis and the Tree of Exodus. So the abrupt change of tone when we launch into Part 2 of the series comes as something of a surprise. Suddenly it seems as if we’re in a slice-of-life shoujo romcom with Hakaze, the Princess of Genesis, blushing like a schoolgirl over her crush on Yoshino. Hanemura, the new Mage of Exodus, is portrayed as a bit of a klutz at first – then the super sentai-style uniform he’s persuaded to adopt in his role of mage of Exodus takes us into yet another genre altogether. But, to be fair to the creative team, the second set of episodes works much better than the first – as long as you don’t ask too many questions and just sit back and enjoy the ride. This is because the plot issues are mostly resolved in the final episode (and how many anime series can you say that about?) leading to something approaching a satisfying ending.

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By far the most interesting aspect of this story is the uncomfortable ‘friendship’ between Mahiro, Aika and Yoshino; Mahiro must never know that Aika and Yoshino have been secretly going out together behind his back… because Mahiro (in spite of all his protestations) is also attracted to his sister (who is not, as it turns out, related to him by blood, so that’s all right; no incest here, folks!) And yet Yoshino is the only one who has been there for Mahiro – the arrogant, outwardly self-sufficient rich boy – since the boys were in middle grade. This potentially poisonous and complex triangular relationship is frankly rather more compelling than all the ‘end of the world’ gallimaufry.

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Why does Blast of Tempest, inspired by the Shakespeare’s play The Tempest, start with a quotation from Hamlet? And then continue (mostly) to quote from Hamlet? Well, the series is based on the manga Civilisation Blaster by Kyo Shirodaira (with art by Ren Saizaki) and Shirodaira is the author of that famously plot-twisty series Spiral.  At first the only element borrowed from The Tempest is the idea of the powerful magician cast adrift by a sibling and washed up on a desert island. But where Shakespeare’s mage is Prospero, Duke of Milan, his role of duke usurped by his villainous brother, here we have a young ‘princess’ mage, the most powerful of the Kusaribe clan, who is put in a barrel and set adrift on the ocean by her brother Samon. Later on we learn that Aika loved to quote from that play – and some (slightly clumsy) analogies come up relating to native islander/monster Caliban and his role in the play. But the parallels between the trio of brother (Mahiro), sister (Aika) and lover (Yoshino) and Laertes, Ophelia and Hamlet are quoted just as often and, arguably, are more apt. Is the outcome going to be a revenge tragedy (Hamlet) or a revenge/reconciliation (The Tempest)? At the end there is a final (and fitting) link to The Tempest… but you’ll have to watch it to discover what exactly that turns out to be.

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Another intriguing (or baffling, depending on your point of view) issue is that of the music. Michiru Oshima (FullMetal Alchemist, Patema Inverted, Hal) is responsible for the fully orchestral soundtrack. This is both a bonus (she’s an accomplished composer) and a disadvantage (there’s sometimes so much going on in the orchestral score that it overwhelms the action.) Particularly affecting is the poignant theme that accompanies the preview at the end of every episode; this is Oshima at her best. But what’s this I hear? Something rather more ‘classical’? Why, it’s the third movement from Beethoven’s piano sonata ‘The Tempest,’ orchestrated, no doubt, by Oshima herself and inserted, perhaps, to remind us of the (thus far pretty tenuous) links to Shakespeare’s play.

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The Opening Theme “Spirit Inspiration” by Nothing’s Carved in Stone is suitably loud, jangled and brash – with English lyrics.  But, for a show with such heavy emotional content (murdered sister, lost lover, family betrayal, the imminent end of the world…) what on earth is this cutesy little Ending Theme “happy endings” by Kana Hanazawa (who plays Aika) doing? It seems utterly out of place. The second Opening Theme is “Daisuki na noni (Even though I love you)” by Kylee with animation based on the attractive manga artwork by Ren Saizaki. The second Ending Theme is “Bokutachi no Uta (Our Song)” by Sako Tomohisa where the animation portrays the doomed lovers Aika and Yoshino, walking along as the seasons change.

As this release is subbed, we are treated to the original seiyuu, and very good they are, too, especially young male leads Kouki Uchiyama as Yoshino and Toshiyuki Toyonaga as Mahiro. The subtitles are so-so in quality, leaving something to be desired in the long passages of talky exposition (but then, that’s more of a complaint for the script writers who obviously forgot the old rule: ‘Show, don’t tell.’)

Extras: Textless Opening and Ending Themes; Trailers.

In Summary

Blast of Tempest is a very attractive series from a visual point of view with elegant character designs (the long hair of Fraulein Evangeline, Aika, Hakaze and her brother Samon is romantically Art Nouveau in the way it billows, and drifts in long strands across the screen). The mage duels are thrillingly orchestrated. The destructive powers of the Tree of Exodus and the Tree of Genesis are chillingly portrayed. But its strengths lie in the personal interactions of the main characters; when Hakaze tells Yoshino he should grieve properly for Aika, or when Mahiro and Yoshino are arguing, the series comes alive.

Score: 7 / 10

Anime Quick Information

  • Title: Blast of Tempest Collection Episodes 1-24
  • UK Publisher: MVM Films
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Studio: Bones
  • Type: TV series
  • Year: 2012
  • Running time: 600 minutes

Manga UK to bring the Pokemon films and Transformers: The Movie on Blu-ray to the UK

Last month we reported that Manga Animatsu will be releasing Digimon Tri and a couple other titles to the UK this Q4. And it turns out that they also have a couple more surprises left in store!

It’s been a long time since Pokémon has been handled for home release properly here in the UK, and now Manga Entertainment UK were pleased to announce the return of this beloved anime franchise with the announcement of their acquisitions for four of the Pokémon films released so far. These four films are Pokémon: The First Movie, Pokémon 2000, Pokémon 3 and Pokémon: Hoopa and the Clash of Ages.

Marketing Manager Andrew Hewson had this to say:

“We are incredibly proud and excited to announce the release of the first three Pokémon movies on limited edition Blu-ray steelbook. We pride ourselves on being the home of classic and perennial franchises and this is a great addition to the family. With the success of Pokémon Go this is the perfect time to be releasing the movies, especially as this is the first time fans can get them on Blu-ray!”

Pokemon Movies 1-3 collection

That’s right, the first three films (Pokémon: The First Movie, Pokémon 2000 & Pokémon 3) will be coming to the UK as a trilogy set; in standard DVD and as a limited edition Blu-ray steelbook on November 14th 2016. Details are unknown on whether the Blu-ray version is based on the Viz Media US masters or the Beyond Entertainment Australian masters given the audio is a tad different between the two, but regardless we are getting the first three films in HD with English audio only. These films did receive a UK release before under Warner Bros but they have since been out of print for a very long time.

Pokemon Movie 1

Pokémon: The First Movie
The adventure explodes into action with the debut of Mewtwo, a bio-engineered Pokémon created from the DNA of Mew, the rarest of all Pokémon. After escaping from the lab where it was created, Mewtwo is determined to prove its own superiority. It lures a number of talented Trainers into a Pokémon battle like never before—and of course, Ash and his friends are happy to accept the challenge!

Ash’s excitement turns to fear and anger when Mewtwo reveals its plan for domination, creating powerful clones of our heroes’ Pokémon so it can even the “imbalance” between Pokémon and their Trainers. Despite Ash’s protests, Mewtwo refuses to believe that Pokémon and people can be friends. But faced with the determination and loyalty of a young Trainer, Mewtwo just might have to reconsider…especially when pitted against the power of the mysterious Mew!

Pokemon Movie 2

Pokémon: The Movie 2000
In the Orange Islands far south of Kanto, a Trainer named Lawrence is on a sinister quest: catching the Legendary Pokémon Articuno, Zapdos, and Moltres in an attempt to awaken Lugia, guardian of the sea! When Ash and friends arrive, the islanders ask him to gather three elemental orbs from different islands. As the weather across the world goes out of control, it becomes clear that the capture of the Legendary trio has thrown the environment out of balance! With Lugia’s help, can Ash find the orbs, restore the balance, and be the “chosen one” that everyone turns to?

Pokemon Movie 3

Pokémon 3: The Movie
A crystal catastrophe is unleased upon Greenfield, and Ash, Pikachu, and friends must figure out how to undo the damage to the once-beautiful town. But the unthinkable happens when Ash’s mother is kidnapped by the powerful Entei, a Pokémon thought to have existed only in legend. Now Ash must go to her rescue, uncertain of what he’ll uncover when he unlocks the real secret power behind the unbelievable turn of events: a young girl whose dream world is being turned into a nightmarish reality by the mysterious and unstoppable Unown!

Pokémon: Hoopa and the Clash of Ages is one of the latest films released in the franchise for the past few years and will be available on its own for Blu-ray and DVD separately with English audio only. The release will be put out first on October 24th.

Pokemon Movie Hoopa

Pokémon: Hoopa and the Clash of Ages
In a desert city by the sea, Ash, Pikachu, and their friends meet the Mythical Pokémon Hoopa, who can summon all sorts of things—including people and Pokémon—through its magic rings. The little Mischief Pokémon likes to use this talent to play harmless tricks on people…but when its true power is released, it loses control and becomes the towering and terriying Hoopa Unbound! Long ago, a brave hero stopped its rampage by confining its power in a special bottle. Now that the bottle has been rediscovered, Hoopa must confront its greatest fear! Can Ash help his new friend overcome the darkness within—or will this dangerous struggle erupt into a clash of legends?

Pokemon isn’t the only thing that Manga Entertainment have to offer this Q4! To the surprise of many, the distributor is pleased to bring the classic 1986 film Transformers: The Movie to the UK for its 30th anniversary on December 12th! The movie is technically classified as an anime because of Toei Animation’s involvement but nevertheless the movie will be available on Blu-ray in a special limited edition steelbook!

The Transformers Movie

The Blu-ray release will feature the newly remastered movie from a new 4K transfer of original film elements in wide-screen and full-frame plus a digital copy of the movie and a ton of special bonus content including:

  • ‘Til All Are One – A brand-new, comprehensive documentary looking back at TRANSFORMERS: The Movie with members of the cast and crew, including story consultant Flint Dille, cast members Gregg Berger, Neil Ross, Dan Gilvezan, singer/songwriter Stan Bush, composer Vince Dicola and others!
  • Audio Commentary with Director Nelson Shin, story consultant Flint Dille and star Susan Blu
  • Featurettes
  • Animated Storyboards
  • Trailers and TV Spots

Transformers: The Movie
The AUTOBOTS, led by the heroic OPTIMUS PRIME, prepare to make a daring attempt to retake their planet from the evil forces of MEGATRON and the DECEPTICONS. Unknown to both sides, a menacing force is heading their way – UNICRON. The only hope of stopping UNICRON lies within the Matrix of Leadership and the AUTOBOT who can rise up and use its power to light their darkest hour. Will the AUTOBOTS be able to save their native planet from destruction or will the DECEPTICONS reign supreme?

TRANSFORMERS – THE MOVIE is co-produced and directed by Nelson Shin; produced by Joe Bacal and Tom Griffin; supervising producer, Jay Bacal; executive producers, Margaret Loesch and Lee Gunther; music score by Vince Dicola and Ed Fruge.

Also included in the Q4 line-up is a special re-release of the classic Akira film, one of Manga Entertainment’s best selling anime in their catalogue. The film was released on Blu-ray once a couple years back, but now it’ll be available once again with the updated contents that both Funimation and Madman had put out not too long ago.

Akira

Akira: The Collectors Edition will include the Blu-ray, DVD and a digital copy of the movie in a special rigid box full of artcards, a reversible in-lay and a classic movie poster with a ton of new on-disc content. The most notable inclusion is there are now two English audio options; the iconic 2001 Pioneer/Animaze dub that many of us know of, and the original 1988 Streamline dub which was never included in any of the Manga UK releases. The original Japanese audio with English subtitles is also included so nothing is left out.

Bonus on-disc content includes the Akira Sound Clip (1988), Music for Akira, Director Interview (subtitled), Storyboard Collection, The Writing on the Wall, Original Trailers (subtitled), Original Commercials (subtitled), Restoring Akira, Glossary, U.S. 2013 Trailer, Trailers.

This new re-release will be available on the 28th of November. The standard edition Blu-ray and DVD sets are still available if you wish to acquire those instead.

You can pre-order the Pokémon Movies 1-3 collection, Pokémon: Hoopa and the Clash of Ages, Transformers: The Movie and Akira: The Collectors Edition over on Amazon UK and many other online retailers.

Anime Limited announce Escaflowne Ultimate Edition details & more at MCM Manchester 2016

This weekend saw the arrival of MCM Manchester Comic Con. While Manga Animatsu made their own announcements through social media and various Amazon UK leaks, Anime Limited’s president Andrew Partridge provided a panel for the Saturday event with a couple new announcements and details to share with everyone.

Ouran High School Host Club

Starting with the new additions to the catalogue, we have Ouran High School Host Club which will once again come back in print for the UK. Manga UK once released this series on DVD but has since gone out of print due to the Funimation deal expiring (same also happened with a couple other titles like Baccano!, Claymore and Eden of the East; all of which Anime Limited have licensed for Blu-ray). Ouran High School Host Club is currently scheduled for release this November as a Collector’s Edition with both the English dub and Japanese audio with English subtitles. You can check out the show for legal streaming over on FunimationNow.

Pigtails

The other new announcements are a bunch of Production I.G. shorts. The main one in particular that was focused the most was the 2015 film Pigtails (Mitsuami no Kamisama), based on the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake. The film is directed by Itazu Yoshimi who was also Chief Animation Director for Miss Hokusai (another Production I.G. title and Anime Limited license). In addition to Pigtails, Andrew Partridge announced they are planning to release a collection of Production I.G. shorts in one set. These include the Mind Game and Ping Pong director Masaaki Yuasa’s successful kickstarter title Kick Heart, the Anime Mirai shorts (so far it seems to be Tansuwarashi and Wasurenagumo), as well as Oval x Over which has yet to be shown outside Japan. No release date details as of late but Andrew is working on including some of these for Scotland Loves Anime 2016.

In terms of new details on existing Anime Limited products, Andrew Partridge has unveiled the final product for the long-awaited release for The Vision of Escaflowne Ultimate Edition.

Escaflowne UE 2

The Ultimate Edition will include the complete series and the movie on Blu-ray. The TV series was known to feature extended footage for the earlier episodes but thanks to the support of Justin Sevakis they have created an authoring that will allow fans to watch the series with both broadcast style for the Bandai Entertainment English dub and the original for the Japanese audio and Funimation’s new English dub. That way fans of the old dub and those who want the new footage can experience both without any issues. The on-disc extras share the same as Funimation’s upcoming release with Textless Opening & Endings, Music Videos, Video Game Cutscenes, Club Escaflowne Interviews as well as Trailers, Anime Expo 2000 and a special program for the Escaflowne Movie.

The Ultimate Edition exclusives include a 144 page artbook (compared to Funimation’s 40 page hardcover version), 3 soundtrack CDs from composer Yoko Kanno (who also worked on Cowboy Bebop and Terror in Resonance) and 3 Collector’s Edition style sets with digipacks to hold the discs; one for the TV series, one for the movie and another for the CDs. The suggested retail price will be £149.99 with an early bird deal for £90 until the end of August exclusively over on Shop All the Anime. The release date is currently slated for December 2016. You can pre-order the set over on Shop All the Anime. The TV series is also available to stream for free on Viewster in Japanese with English subtitles.

During the rest of the panel Andrew Partridge discussed about how Fullmetal Alchemist 2003 was quite the effort to work on for its Ultimate Edition release, citing Square Enix being pretty difficult to work with and the fact that 60% of the stock has been sold through pre-orders already (remember this release is 970 units only currently at £149.99 and soon to be higher near its release). Andrew noted that the artbook included with the Ultimate Edition is “the biggest we’ve ever done”.

Andrew also talked about trying to include the soundtrack CD for Death Parade‘s upcoming Ultimate Edition release. He notes that it may or may not happen depending on licensing approvals. And Prison School may end up being given the Funimation UK treatment if there’s no assets to make a collector’s edition release but at the moment they are currently awaiting the materials to see what they can do. And finally they pointed out that ADV titles are pretty difficult to acquire.

Hakkenden: Eight Dogs of the East Series 1 Review

Hakkenden cover

Ian Wolf’s Review

“Why attack God? He may be as miserable as we are.” – Erik Satie.

If you are familiar with Hakkenden: Eight Dogs of the East, then probably the first thing you might know about it is that it is an adaptation of a gigantic 19th century novel series written over a period of 30 years. After that, the second thing you might know about it is that this version is based on a manga, still currently being written, by Miyuki Abe, the creator of the controversy-ridden yaoi series Super Lovers (which in my opinion people rather overreacted to, but that’s a matter for a different review).

Five years prior to the story a village was attacked. Only three children survived: 13-year-old Shino Inuzuka, Sosuke Inukawa and Hamaji. They are saved by Rio Satomi, one of the Four Sacred Beast Houses who is able to control the spirit of a large wolf, and who also works for the Imperial Church that rules the land.

Hakkenden 2

Moving to the present, the three survivors are now taking shelter in a parish church, but things are not normal by any means. Shino’s arm now harbours a living sword named Murasame, who can turn into a crow and speak with humans. Because he lives in Shino’s body, Shino is now cursed and thus doesn’t age, meaning he is now an 18-year-old trapped in the body of a 13-year-old. Sosuke meanwhile has the power to shapeshift into a wolf. The Imperial Church learns that Shino is in possession of Murasame and wants him, but he refuses to hand himself in. Thus the Imperial Church kidnaps Hamaji, leading Shino and Sosuke to travel to the Imperial Capital to find her.

While in the city they meet Rio, who asks them to complete a task. Shino and Sosuke happen to be in possession of a sacred bead each. There are eight sacred beads in the world and Rio wants Shino and Sosuke to find all the bead holders for a reason he does not fully explain. However, they agree to the task partly to keep Hamaji safe, which she is, under the protection of Rio and his assistant Kaname Osaki, who has feelings for her.

Hakkenden 1

So far Hakkenden has been OK. Part of the time the story does drag a bit, but when the action kicks in it does so in a lively way. There is plenty of blood spilt, whether it comes from sword, arrow, animal attack or demonic possession. Two of the most interesting characters are military policeman Genpachi Inuki and ex-soldier turned innkeeper Kobungo Inuta, who are also immortal demons. The plot, while at times a bit slow, does occasionally have its moments. One entertaining story follows a train passenger who is constantly accompanied by a “Snow Princess” who makes everything around him cold.

However, there is a major problem in that this story is based on a work that is so long. Currently, two series have been made of Hakkenden, but the manga is still being written. It is hard to imagine how the manga can conclude satisfactorily.

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Concerning the extras, there are two episode commentaries, and textless versions of the opening “God FATE” by Faylan and the superior ending “String of pain” by Tetsuya Kakihara.

The series is all right so far, but it is probably best to wait to see the second series before making a full and proper judgment.

Score: 6 / 10

Anime Quick Information

  • Title: Hakkenden: Eight Dogs of the East
  • UK Publisher: MVM Films
  • Genre: Fantasy, Supernatural
  • Studio: Studio Deen
  • Type: TV series
  • Year: 2013
  • Running time: 325 minutes

Manga Animatsu brings Digimon Adventure Tri & more to the UK this Q4 2016!

It’s been a while since we last saw some new acquisitions from Manga Animatsu (the new joint company name for Manga Entertainment UK and Animatsu Entertainment, though they continue to use the respective logos for their products), and just recently they took to their main website to announce a couple new titles for the fourth-quarter of 2016. Let’s take a look to see what they plan to bring!

Wish Upon the Pleiades

On October 17th using the Animatsu brand is studio Gainax’s Wish Upon the Pleiades (Houkago no Pleiades) from the summer 2015 season. This 12 episode TV series will be released as a Blu-ray & DVD combo pack in Japanese with English subtitles only. You can check out the series for free legally over on Crunchyroll. Manga Animatsu describes the story as follows:

When Subaru goes to her local observatory to prepare for an upcoming meteor shower, she ends up seeing far more of the stars than she expected.

Instead of a simulated viewing of astronomical phenomena, she gets recruited to take part in a fantastic adventure with a mysterious young man, a bizarre alien creature, and a group of girls dressed in cute, magical garb. Together with the other girls (who are suddenly and strangely members of Subaru’s school), Subaru becomes part of a clandestine effort to retrieve fragments of an alien spaceship! However, the fragments are being scattered all over the universe.

Time is limited, and the girls face a nemesis who is seeking to gather all the parts for himself! The space race is on, and the sky is no longer the limit as the legendary animation studio GAINAX sets Subaru’s eyes on the stars in WISH UPON THE PLEIADES!

When Supernatural Battles Became Commonplace

On October 31st using the Manga brand is studio Trigger’s When Supernatural Battles Became Commonplace (Inou-Battle wa Nichijou-kei no Naka de) from the autumn 2014 season. This 12 episode TV series will be released on Blu-ray and DVD separately in both English and Japanese with English subtitles. You can check out the series for free legally over on Crunchyroll. Manga Animatsu describes the story as follows:

The origin of the Senko High School Literature Club’s powers might be a little sketchy, and they may spend more time chatting than engaging in superhuman feats.

Still, there’s no questioning the incredible abilities of the club’s female members: Tomoyo can control time; Hatoko is a mistress of the elements; Chifuyu can create matter; and Sayumi can return any item to a previous state. With these powers, there are few tasks these girls can’t handle.

Meanwhile, Jurai, the club’s only male member, has a dark flame that seems a little pointless in comparison, and only time will tell if it matures into anything more useful.

Toss in a Student Council president who’s developed powers of her own and things are about to get seriously weird as the study of literature takes a comic book turn in When Supernatural Battles Became Commonplace!

The Perfect Insider

On November 14th using the Animatsu brand is studio A-1 Pictures’ The Perfect Insider (Subete ga F ni Naru) from the Autumn 2015 season. This 11 episode TV series will be released as a Blu-ray & DVD combo pack in Japanese with English subtitles only. You can check out the series for free legally over on Crunchyroll. Manga Animatsu describes the story as follows:

For most people, finding a dead body on their vacation would mean the vacation is over. However, for Souhei Saikawa, a professor of architecture, and his student Moe Nishinosono, a math prodigy, it’s a different kind of challenge.

Genius programmer Shiki Magata, one of Souhei’s idols, is inexplicably murdered inside the sealed research lab she disappeared to after being found innocent of her parents’ murder. As Souhei and Moe take the first steps into a deadly new world, they must untangle the complex web of events and clues leading up to the murder. With danger creeping up around them, this may be the last mystery this pair of human anomalies attempts to solve in THE PERFECT INSIDER!

Digimon Adventure Tri

And last but certainly not the least, on December 19th using the Manga brand we will finally be able to see the first film in the new Digimon Adventure Tri series from Toei Animation. This new movie series was split into four parts each per film for online streaming sites like Crunchyroll but the UK & Ireland were the only English speaking zone to not have access to it, so now we can finally see the series for the first time. The first film will be released first as a Collector’s Edition Blu-ray and Standard Edition DVD in both English and Japanese with English subtitles. Manga Animatsu describe the story as follows:

Six years have past since Taichi Yagami and the rest of the DigiDestined crossed over to the Digital World for the first time. And nearly three years have passed since the final battle between Hikari Yagami’s group and BelialVamdemon. As the peaceful days passed by, suddenly the gate to the Digital World closed, and not even the DigiDestined know why…

In addition to these four announcements, Marketing Manager Andrew Hewson had this to say on the Manga UK website.

“We are extremely happy to be bringing UK fans so many exciting titles, including Digimon Adventure Tri Movie 1. Ever since we announced the series back in May, we have been swamped with tweets and messages asking about a release for the films – and we are thrilled to be able to finally confirm this will be happening!”

All four titles will be available for pre-order soon.

Ping Pong: The Animation Review

PINGPONG-collector_front 2D

“Table tennis is like an atom. To the ignorant it is merely microscopic and insignificant in existence, but to the dedicated, it is intricate in design and the building block to everything we know.” – Matt Hetherington

The Rio Olympics is just around the corner, while Tokyo is hosting the games in 2020. Sport is thus on many people’s minds so it seems the right time for Anime Limited to release Ping Pong.

Now, as we all know, sports anime these days to tend to attract a certain fan base – namely fujoshi who will try to make the series gay. This is a lot harder to do with Ping Pong, partly because the series has actually been around a lot long than you might expect, way before this fad. Although the anime came out in 2014, the original manga was released in the mid-1990s and there was a live action film released in 2002. Thus, it came out before the “fujoshi sports” series we now know were created. However, even with the challenging artwork, as you watch there is the odd moment where things do turn in that direction.

Ping Pong_3

Ping Pong follows two students who became childhood friends after bonding over table tennis, but both have distinctive personalities. One is Makoto Tsukimoto, who is ironically nicknamed Smile because he seems emotionless. As a child he was often bullied and called a robot because of this. His friend is Yutaka Hoshino, nicknamed Peco, who is loud, joyful and something of a glutton. Together they play for the same school club.

The boys then learn that a nearby school has brought in a Chinese player named Kong Wenge, a transfer student booted from the national team and desperate to return. Smile and Peco visit his school and meet him, where Kong plays and thrashes Peco to love, giving Peco’s confidence a knock. Meanwhile back at the club, the coach Jo Koizumi sees that Smile has great talent but lacks the drive to win. Thus Koizumi begins to train Smile personally.

They then take part in a major tournament, alongside Wong and the members of the elite Kaio school. These include Ryuichi “Dragon” Kazama, the greatest player around, and Manabu “Demon” Akuma, a childhood rival of Peco’s. In the tournament things begin to flesh out: Smile loses to Wong, but Smile’s potential as a robotic, ping pong winning machine is visible to Koizumi. Peco’s defeat to Akuma is so shocking to him that he loses interest in the sport and starts to slack off.

Ping Pong_10

As the story continues, we witness Smile’s training becoming more intense, slowly becoming seemingly unstoppable to those around him. Meanwhile Peco undergoes a great decline, one that almost kills him, before trying to redeem himself by attempting to train again at the possible cost of his health.

Let’s start by looking at the most obvious way this show stands out from the crowd: the artwork. If you are coming into this series expecting to see the usual pretty bishonen boys, you can forget it. Ping Pong’s animation is a lot rougher, harsher, manlier and aggressive. There are no cute curves, but instead it features sketchy lines. The ping pong balls are not drawn as perfect circles, but are either rather roughly drawn, bit-by-bit, or are computer-animated as perfect spheres. When you compare it to not just other sports anime but anime in general, it stands out. The animation looks a lot more expressive. It looks as if it has been done by someone who is saying to themselves: “It doesn’t need to look pretty – you just need passion.” We all like animation that looks neat, but something different is needed to stir things up a bit.

There is also evidence of this in the opening and closing sequences. The opening titles, which feature the loud, rocky “Tada Hitori” by Bakudan Johnny, features a range of animation styles in it. Some look relatively normal, but others look like they have been done in pencil. The end sequence, featuring the calmer music of Merengue’s “Bokura ni Tsuite”, features more pastel colours.

Ping Pong_4

If you are someone who is into the more fujoshi side of things though, there are some moments that still might attract you. There are little elements that still might suggest, even though there was no clear market at the time of its original creation, a slight whiff of the homoerotic. For starters, there are very few women in the series. The main female characters are the elderly Obaba, who runs the table tennis dojo where Peco first played Smile and who later trains Peco after his decline; and Yurie, who is in a troublesome relationship with Kazama. Also, there is an episode on Valentine’s Day where Smile is out doing his normal training, when Koizumi jokingly says that Smile should be his Valentine’s Day date. OK, the age gap is way too big so it feels totally dodgy, but there is a little bit of something there.

This collection has plenty of extras: two episode commentaries, episode previews, various Japanese and American trailers, textless opening and closing, TV shorts and promotional videos are included.

Ping Pong is a series that stands out from the crowd. It certainly deserves to be watched simply because it does something different.

Score: 9 / 10

  • Title: Ping Pong
  • UK Publisher: Anime Limited
  • Genre: Coming-of-age, Shonen, Sport
  • Studio: Tatsunoko Production
  • Type: TV series
  • Year: 2014
  • Running time: 275 minutes

KonoSuba Season 1 Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Score: 8/10