Trinity Seven

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Arata Kusaga’s life changes when the sun turns black and his world (ours?)  – and his beloved cousin Hijiri – are swallowed up by the Breakdown Phenomen. Gifted with a grimoire by Hijiri, Arata sets out to find a way to undo the damage and save her. The answers lie in the Royal Biblia Academy, a school for magi with (of course) a pervy headmaster. There, Arata (who possesses the powers, it turns, out of a Demon Lord candidate) is told he must work with the Trinity Seven, nubile female mages who represent the Seven Deadly Sins. Or, to quote the official blurb, ‘seven beautiful female mages whose powers are intrinsically tied to the same sins that Arata has to master to put his world back together’. And so the mastering begins!

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A well-written harem anime can be diverting and fun to watch. Think of Nisekoi – or Love Hina – or even a classic like Oh! My Goddess.  But Trinity Seven seems to be doing its best to press all the cliché buttons without bothering too much about …well, anything, really, except getting ticks in the relevant fan service boxes as soon as possible: hero’s hand on boob? tick; girls in swimsuits at the beach? tick; his magic makes the girls’ clothes fall off? (just like Negima!) multiple ticks! (It’s probably worth noting here that the manga by Akinari Nao (art) and Kenji Saito (story) on which this anime is based is rated ‘M’ Mature by US publishers Yen Press.)

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Maybe this wouldn’t matter so much if the story had anything interesting or new to say in the mages and alchemy story realm, but it hasn’t; the magic system is pretty random, with fantasy bits and bobs thrown in together with pick n’mix from science fiction (Breakdown Phenomenon)  resulting in an odd blend of grimoires and paladins, codices, archives and demon lords. The characters’ names only serve to reinforce this impression: Lugh; Selina and Lieselotte Sherlock; Lilith. The series pootles along in this random way (dragon here! magic explosion there! more boobs!) until past the halfway mark when the plot suddenly belatedly kicks in and director Hiroshi Nishikiori (A Certain Magical Index) ups the ante. It’s well animated and looks like a fantasy but ‘looks like’ is no substitute for a decent plot and the creation of a convincing magic system, not just spouting of Latin, Greek and Hebrew names borrowed from countless other similar creations.

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One of the main irritations with harem (or reverse harem) series is that, having paraded a sequence of potential partners for the main character, just like a Visual Novel, no real commitment is ever made, so the plot and characters never move forward or develop. The series is described as a ‘fantasy romantic comedy’ but surely a romcom demands a little more of its main protagonist, in this case, Arata, who rarely seems to want more from a relationship than to grab the nearest boob.

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This impression isn’t helped in the US dub by relatively new VA Cameron Bautsch who goes for a salacious leer in the voice that enhances the jerk side of Arata’s nature; experienced VA Yoshitsugu Matsuoka (Kirito in SAO, Yukihira Soma in Food Wars) gives a much less obnoxious performance. In fact, this is one of those releases where I definitely recommend the sub over the dub, although there’s a wonderfully dry, deadpan turn by another unfamiliar (to me, anyway) VA, Christina Stroup as Arin Kannazuki, the mage who spookily resembles Arata’s missing Hijiri and persists in calling him her husband.

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Oddly enough, one redeeming feature for Trinity Seven is the interesting and unusual soundtrack, supplied by TECHNOBOYS PULCRAFT GREEN-FUND (WitchCraft Works); their main influence seems to come from the minimalist school, and maybe Thomas Newman (American Beauty). The striking OP is “Seven Doors” by ZAQ and the four (yes, four!) EDs are:

#1: BEAUTIFUL≒SENTENCE” by Magus Two

#2: “SHaVaDaVa in AMAZING♪” by YuiLevi♡

#3: “ReSTART “THE WORLD”” by TWINKle MAGIC

#4: “TRINITY×SEVENTH+HEAVEN” by Security Politti

The extras on this easily navigable Blu-ray are textless OP and EDs and four trailers for other Sentai releases (not all available on R2).

In Summary

If you’re a fan of fan service, then you probably won’t be disappointed. The music isn’t too shabby, with a strong OP and interesting selection of 5 EDs! But take away the music, the attractive character designs and the ecchi and Trinity Seven sadly seems little more than a rather ordinary and undistinguished fighting fantasy.

Title: Trinity Seven
Publisher: Manga Entertainment
Genre: Fantasy, Romantic Comedy, Ecchi, Harem
Studio: Seven Arcs Pictures
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: 15
Running time: 300 minutes

Score: 5/10

Orange Anime Review

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“I’m writing because I don’t want you, my 16-year-old self, to carry these regrets with you for the rest of your life.”

Regular visitors to Anime UK News will know that I’m a big fan of the Orange manga. I first stumbled across the manga thanks to Crunchyroll on a whim and a desire for a new romance story. As a result I fell in love with the series and now happily house the two omnibus volumes on my shelves. When an anime adaptation aired during the 2016 summer season I was the first in line to sample it.

As a general note this review does contain some spoilers, but I have tried to keep these to a minimum.

Orange tells the story of Naho Takamiya and Kakeru Naruse, and a love that transcends time. On a seemingly ordinary day, Naho receives a mysterious letter in the mail that’s supposedly been sent from her future self. This letter informs her that a new student named Kakeru Naruse will be joining her class and that Naho’s future self has a huge favour to ask: that Naho uses the letter as a guide so not to repeat her future self’s past mistakes, and to keep a close eye on Kakeru.   

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One immediate request the letter puts forth is that Naho and her friends must not invite Kakeru out after school on that first day. Naho disregards its contents to begin with – I mean, how could a letter, let alone anything, be sent from the future? However, while Naho’s friends (Hiroto Suwa, Takako Chino, Saku Hagita and Azusa Murasaka) go ahead and invite Kakeru, it’s not until later that Naho learns the letter was correct all along and inviting Kakeru out led to something terrible happening. It was on that day that Kakeru’s mother committed suicide.

After that day, Kakeru doesn’t attend school for a couple of weeks and other things stated in the letter begin to happen. As Naho reads through the notes she sees that future Naho is asking her past self to ‘save Kakeru’, who is no longer with Naho and her friends in the future.

orange-shot-3The plot sounds a lot more complex than it actually is; it’s just difficult to explain. We flip between our cast in the past and the future (which is 10 years after Kakeru’s death) fairly frequently to show that Naho and her friends in the future have deep regrets about not saving Kakeru. They only realised after he died how depressed he was and the signs they missed, which leads them to decide to write the letters and attempt to prevent Kakeru’s death.

The explanation for how the letters travel back to the past is interesting, and makes some level of sense, but you’ll still probably want to shut your brain off concerning it. Orange’s explanation involves the characters of the future tracking down a black hole in the ocean in order to deliver the letters to the past. How they find the black hole, and how the letters actually reach their past selves, is never clearly explained. This might all sound crazy and off-putting but I think it doesn’t matter. After all, the time travel may play an important role for getting the letters to Naho but it’s not what’s most important.

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What Orange is really trying to do is tell a story about living with depression and being friends with someone who suffers from it, which is something that the show does wonderfully. Kakeru’s behaviour is true to the way someone with depression might act, and so are the symptoms he shows in the way he reacts towards Naho and Suwa (the two characters that Kakeru becomes closest to). Kakeru wishes to always put up a happy front and not show anyone his pain because he believes they’d just laugh or not want to spend time with him anymore. It feels satisfyingly real and easy to understand while also drawing you into the story.

Although Orange is labelled as a shojo series, it doesn’t feel like one in the traditional sense. The classic shojo elements are present in that Naho and Kakeru have romantic feelings for one another, but Orange is sensible enough not to push those aspects in favour of the real crux of the story: saving Kakeru. Naho is shy and struggles to fulfill every request that the letters ask her to do but with the support of her friends she accomplishes a lot. Suwa has a strong bond with Naho and wants to do what’s right by her, and in the future deeply regrets not noticing how depressed Kakeru was. The series focuses on Suwa, Naho and Kakeru the most and sadly generally pushes Chino, Hagita and Azusa aside in favour of their development, especially early on. However, thankfully, they do get more focus during the latter half of the story, so even if you feel that they aren’t that interesting to begin with, I can confidently say that things do improve.

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As much as I love this story, I do think the anime has some issues. Most of them are down to the animation (more on this below), but I also think that the characters don’t feel as real as they do in the manga. They’re not handled terribly by any means but my best example lies with Naho, who just comes across as more dim and clumsy than in the manga. It seems as if every time she makes a bad move, the show lingers on it for far too long. In the manga Naho’s very cute and, yes, she’s shy and makes mistakes by not always following the letter’s advice, but perhaps because we’re flicking through a book so much faster than watching an episode of the anime, it just flows much better.  

The remaining problems that I have with the anime rest with TMS Entertainment, the animation studio that handled the adaptation. They’ve done some really nice work for the backgrounds, which all look stunning and very lifelike, but this design choice leaves the character designs (which are very colourful and quite “anime” versus realistic) feeling out of place against the backdrops. It’s not just the art style conflicts that are an issue, though. There are also fairly major consistency issues with the cast either looking quite off-model, from shot to shot, or lacking facial features when at a distance. It isn’t even a case of this only happening in one or two episodes, it’s a problem that plagues the whole show. I was pulled out of the story fairly often just to wonder what had happened to Naho’s face! The studio also added in some random montages from episode to episode of everyday school life and the kids having fun together, which didn’t exist in the original manga and felt horribly out of place.

orange-7Orange’s music was provided by Hiroaki Tsutsumi and fares a lot better than the animation. Tsutsumi has previously worked on the music for Blue Spring Ride, Meganebu!, and Kuromukuro and seems to have a good grasp on the kind of tone Orange was looking for. It’s a soundtrack full of emotional piano tracks but also some very pop-y acoustic guitar-inspired scores that fit what a series like this really needs. Overall I have no complaints with the music, although it’s worth noting that the mixing on Crunchyroll was a bit out of whack and music was usually louder than the characters’ dialogue.  

Where voice actors are concerned we have a pretty good group that gave solid performances, but the best in the series are definitely Naho and Kakeru. Naho is voiced by Kana Hanazawa (Zera in Fairy Tail Zero, Anri Sonohara in Durarara!!, Rize Kamishiro in Tokyo Ghoul) and is definitely the best of the lot, giving Naho some excellent emotion – especially during her exchanges with Kakeru. Speaking of Kakeru, he’s played by Seiichiro Yamashita (Nakagawa in Golden Time, Eita Kursunoki in Seraph of the End) who also gives a very emotionally driven performance that suits the character exceptionally well.

Overall Orange’s anime leaves me feeling a little unsatisfied. Due to the way the animation has been handled, and other mild niggles, I feel as if the best thing I can do is recommend that fans read the manga, which is so much better than the anime adaption was. The TV series isn’t a bad way to get into the series but I fear that would definitely leave you a little cold at the end and that’s just not how Orange should be.

Orange can be streamed in the UK on Crunchyroll

Title: Orange
Publisher: Crunchyroll (streaming)
Genre: Romance, Slice of Life, Shojo
Studio: TMS Entertainment
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2016
Format: Legal stream
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles
Running time: 335 minutes

Score: 8/10

30th Leeds International Film Festival 2016 Anime Line-Up Revealed!

2016 marks the 30th year for the Leeds International Film Festival and recently they have announced a whole bunch of films that will be screened across Leeds between 3rd to 17th of November 2016. Alongside these art house and cult titles are also some anime feature films; both new and old are included!

What’s in store? Let’s find out!

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Continue reading “30th Leeds International Film Festival 2016 Anime Line-Up Revealed!”

Re:Zero Anime Review

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This year has undoubtedly been a strong one for new anime but the summer 2016 season has seen perhaps some of the biggest shows. One of those shows is Re:Zero, which I’m here to review. You may remember that I also reviewed the first volume of the Re:Zero light novel series, which the anime is based on, so if you’re interested you can find that here.

Re:Zero tells the story of Subaru Natsuki, an ordinary teenager who is suddenly summoned to a fantasy world. Once Subaru recovers from the surprise of being in a new world he is saved from some muggers by a pretty young women named Emilia (who originally introduces herself as Satella), but little does Subaru know that his destiny will be tied to hers.

When Subaru first meets Emilia, she informs our hero that she’s looking for something that’s been stolen from her, and in order to repay his debt to her, Subaru agrees to help in the search. Eventually the two discover where the thief is trying to sell off Emilia’s item, but when they get there, they discover two dead bodies. It’s not long before the killer, who was hiding in wait, also attacks and murders Subaru and Emilia.

re-zero-5Usually when a main character dies that signifies the end of an arc or perhaps even the end of a series, but in Re:Zero’s case Subaru awakens perfectly fine – just right back at the moment where he was first transported to this world. As our story progresses Subaru discovers that he has a special ability, which he calls ‘Return by Death’, that allows him to rewind time by dying. It appears that Subaru’s return point changes for every arc and almost always after he’s ensured the safety of Emilia.

This life-and-death circle is an interesting one because, although it means we sometimes relive the same story loop numerous times, more often than not the scenario plays out differently. What’s more, with each do-over Subaru experiences, he gains new insights of what needs to be done. Sometimes things will get worse, sometimes things will be better, but each time the mystery of why Emilia (or other members of the cast) are being killed off slowly unfolds until Subaru finally manages to break the cycle. It’s a really interesting gimmick to watch and even after 25 episodes the series has managed to find ways to keep things fresh.

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It’s very difficult to talk about Re:Zero without spoiling the plot because this is a series that I feel really doesn’t hold up if you know what’s going to happen. Much of its charm is in wondering how Subaru is going to prevent the current problem and being on the edge of your seat from week to week as we’re delivered the latest cliffhanger. I’m not entirely sure that the show would be as enjoyable on a second watch either, as knowing what’s coming will leave you focusing on the numerous problems that Re:Zero is home to.

A problem many light novel adaptations suffer from is when an animation studio adds their own content in among what they’re adapting. I think studio White Fox have done an excellent job with Re:Zero (more on this later), but they’ve also created some inconsistencies by either taking out pieces of the novels or bridging together certain points with their own content. My best example comes thanks to Puck, Emilia’s spirit familiar who directly introduces himself to Subaru in the initial loops and vice versa for the first arc but not during the final loop. In this section there is a scene where Puck says Subaru’s name, almost as though he’s fully aware of who Subaru is, but as the two of them never introduced themselves in this loop it’s not possible for Puck to know Subaru’s name. It’s not really a big problem, but if you were watching the series for a second time and not as focused on the unfolding drama I think these inconsistencies would stand out more prominently.

re-zero-6If you’ve been keeping up with the anime on social media, or even discussions on this very site, you’ll probably have noticed that people usually aren’t fans of Subaru. Generally speaking, Subaru is just not a character who was made to be likable. He’s not your run-of-the-mill shonen protagonist, he’s hopeless, and frequently runs his mouth, but in a way that actually makes him more likable to me. It’s difficult to like Subaru when he simply appears to be protecting Emilia because he fancies her, and his tendency to say every little thing that crosses his mind leaves him sounding obnoxious. However, as much as we viewers are learning about this world and the cast, so too is Subaru. When he finally begins to put the effort into finding his place in the world, he comes off a lot better for it. It might have taken me the best part of half the series but eventually Subaru did become likable, and by the end I found myself rooting for him to save the day.

Where other characters are concerned, things were pretty good overall. Emilia, who is quiet and very reserved, finds it difficult to interact with people, due to being shunned for resembling the white witch (an unspoken evil in this world). As she slowly opens up to Subaru, and as we see more of her and Puck, it’s clear that they’re both strong characters who always shine when they’re on-screen. There is also the case of Rem and Ram, two maids who work for man named Roswaal (the owner of the mansion that Emilia calls home) and are definitely fan favorites. The two may not seem like the most interesting of characters to begin with, but we come to see their true depth once we’ve had the chance to spend more time exploring their story. All round, it’s a pretty good cast and there weren’t any characters that I outright hated. I’ve only focused on a brief portion of them, simply because to talk about the others would result in spoilers.

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Animation studio White Fox (they also worked on Akame ga Kill! and Steins;Gate) have done a marvelous job where Re:Zero’s animation is concerned. For a fantasy setting such as this, White Fox have provided some very colourful settings and characters but they’ve also mastered the darker and more soul-crushing scenes as well. To their credit they’ve also managed to make a decent use of CGI for some of the busy town scenes where other studios may have used it more clumsily.

Music for the series has been provided by Kenichiro Suehiro, who is a bit of a newcomer when it comes to handling anime soundtracks. His most notable work besides Re:Zero is Space Patrol Luluco, but considering how light-hearted that series is (and the fact it’s made up of 7-8 minute shorts) it’s safe to say that Re:Zero is more his breakout work. The soundtrack provided for the series is quite good and home to both electric produced tracks and more basic piano scores. It’s a mishmash of a few different genres of music but that works surprisingly well for a series like Re:Zero as it keeps the content fresh and with an edge of surprise. The opening themes (“Redo” by Konomi Suzuki and “Paradisus-Paradoxum” by MYTH&ROID) and endings (“STYX HElIX” by MYTH&ROID and “Stay Alive” by Rie Takahashi) are all very solid pop tunes and work exceptionally well for the series. That said, it’s not actually that often we get to watch the openings and endings because White Fox tends to leave them out in favour of adding more time to each episode!

re-zero-1Like the music and animation, the voice actors on offer have also done a wonderful job, especially Yusuke Kobayashi (Daisuke Hiraoka in Shirobako, Zenji Marui in Food Wars) who plays Subaru. Subaru goes through a lot of emotional whiplash throughout the series and his moods and tone of character change drastically over the course of the story, but Kobayashi manages to capture these transitions perfectly. This performance leaves me eager to see how he’ll play future roles. Rie Takahashi (Miki Naoki in School-Live!, Megumin in KonoSuba) provides a good performance for Emilia, capturing her quiet nature and shy profile rather well – although it’s not quite as good as Kobayashi’s. I will also take a moment to point out that Yoshitsugu Matsuoka (Kirito in Sword Art Online, Soma in Food Wars), a personal favourite of mine, also voices a character in the series but not until later on. It’s a delightful performance and quite different from his norm, which makes for an interesting performance. 


Overall, I recommend
Re:Zero to everyone as it breaks the trope of the ‘being transported to another world’ genre and offers something new. If you can look past Subaru’s annoying personality for a few episodes then you’ll be fine, and even if you can’t, you’ll probably be too busy being amazed by the latest cliffhanger to really care. There are little things to look past, but provided you can this is a solid series. Perhaps it’s not the best anime of 2016 and maybe we won’t even remember it in a year’s time, but for now, it’s one of my favourites of the year for sure.

The Re:Zero anime can be streamed over at Crunchyroll and Anime Limited have licensed the series for a future home video release.

Title: Re:ZERO -Starting Life in Another World-
Publisher: Crunchyroll (streaming)
Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Thriller
Studio: White Fox
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2016
Format: Legal stream
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles
Running time: 625 minutes

Score: 8/10

Makoto Shinkai’s Your Name. is the Highest Grossing Film for 2016 in Japan!

It’s official! Your Name (Kimi no Na wa.), the latest film from director Makoto Shinkai, has now become the highest grossing film for 2016 in Japan alone. The film has not only surpassed Kyoto Animation’s latest film A Silent Voice (Koe no Katachi) but also Hideaki Anno’s Shin Godzilla (Shin Gojira), the latest live-action film in the Godzilla franchise.

Continue reading “Makoto Shinkai’s Your Name. is the Highest Grossing Film for 2016 in Japan!”

Review of Assassination Classroom: Season 1, Part 2

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Ian Wolf’s Review

“The fighting in academia is so vicious because the stakes are so low.” – Henry Kissinger.

The second half of the first series of this comic show about students trying to murder their monstrous, tentacled teacher Koro-Sensei, begins with an entirely different sort of battle.

The first episode deals more with Class 3-E’s struggles with the rest of Kunugigaoka High School, with the boys in the class taking part in a match against the school’s baseball team, which is actually meant to be an exercise in humiliating the bottom class. The class are able to turn things around, but still manage to ignite the sinister wrath of the school’s fiendish principle Gakuho Asano.

After this they face a much more violent anger when a new P.E. teacher, Akira Takaoka, comes in to replace their current teacher from the Japanese MoD, Tadaomi Karasuma, who uses extreme violence in order to try and make the class bend to his will. But of all people, the small, androgynous Nagisa Shiota is able to put him in his place. This is followed up by troublemaker Ryoma Terasaka taking some money to help with an outside assassination attempt after it is discovered that one of Koro-Sensei’s major weaknesses is that he can’t swim.

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What comes next is the start of the main story of this collection. The final exams are approaching and Koro-Sensei motivates the students by saying that any student that gets the best overall score and/or the best score in each subject, beating every other student in the year, will have the right to shoot off one of his tentacles in a forthcoming assassination attempt. This puts them in direct competition with the best class in the school, Class 3-A, which includes the principal’s son and the school’s top student Gakushu Asano. As a result another bet is placed: whichever class performs best can force the other class to do whatever they want. Class 3-E want to go to a luxury resort in Okinawa normally saved for Class 3-A; whereas Class 3-A want Class 3-E want them to obey a contact agreeing to a list of incredibly harsh demands, including not holding any secrets from them – such as the fact their teacher is a monster that destroyed most of the Moon. The aftermath leads to more assassination attempts and even the students of Class 3-E having their own lives threatened.

As with the earlier episodes, what makes these episodes great is the ensemble cast. We get to know more about some of the minor students in this collection. Among them are Hinano Kurahashi, a lover of nature and collector of insects; Taiga Okajima, the class pervert who tries to kill Koro-Sensei using a massive pile of porn; quiet kids Ryunosuke Chiba and Rinka Hayami, who are class’s expert snipers; Kotaro Takebayashi, an anime lover who is good with computers; and Yuzuki Fuwa, a girl with a passion for shonen manga. The more established characters also grow more. The disturbing top-level student Karma Akabane matures more after he suffers a personal setback, while Terasaka’s attempt at assassination sees him mature more and changes his attitudes toward Koro-Sensei.

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The other great appeal of Assassination Classroom is the situations the characters find themselves in. For example, a group from the class have to infiltrate a hotel in order to help the rest of the class who suddenly fall ill. During this sequence we see Akabane torturing someone using mustard, wasabi and ghost peppers, while Nagisa ends up having to gain access to a party by dressing up as a girl.

Aside from the poor opening theme, “Jiriki Hongan Revolution” performed by some of the show’s cast, there are no real negatives in this collection. The extras in this collection are episode commentaries, textless opening and closing, previews, trailers, and the “Top 10 Moments” from the series as chosen by the English dub cast.

The first series has been great, so let’s hope All the Anime bring the second series out quickly.

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Score: 9 / 10

Title: Assassination Classroom: Season 1, Part 2
Publisher: Anime Limited
Genre: Action, Comedy, Non-School, Science Fiction
Studio: Lerche
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2015
Format: Blu-Ray and DVD (Blu-Ray version reviewed)
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 15
Running time: 265 minutes

Score: 9/10

Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad Review

beck-dvd Regular readers of my reviews will be familiar with the fact that I am a big music fan. I listen to a lot of different types of music, as well as play the guitar myself. It’s safe to say that music is something deeply ingrained in my life and me as a person, so I’m always really excited when an anime falls into my hands that is focused around music. The latest example of this is Anime Limited’s release of Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad (henceforth known as Beck) which I’m here to review today.

Beck is a series from 2004 based around Yukio Tanaka (better known as Koyuki), a 14-year-old teenager who doesn’t feel like he has a place in the world. After meeting 16-year-old guitarist Ryusuke Minami, thanks to Ryusuke’s dog named Beck, Koyuki is inspired to try his hand at playing the guitar and soon discovers a passion for music. Will this newfound fascination finally give him a place in the world?

As Koyuki gets better at playing the guitar, Ryusuke begins to acknowledge his talent and enthusiasm and gradually integrates him into his band, which he called Beck after his dog. Together with the other band members, Tsunemi Chiba, Yoshiyuki Taira and Yuji Sakurai, the five boys strive to hit it big in the world of music.

beck_3What the show offers is a very realistic look into what it means to learn a musical instrument and also the harsh realities of the industry. It’s something that most music anime wouldn’t normally bother dealing with because they usually have some other driving element to them (comedy, romance, fantastical plots, etc.), but for Beck being real is its bread and butter. For the most part I liked what Beck was trying to do but there are huge flaws here, too.

Connecting with this cast was not possible. I’ve been in Koyuki’s shoes, struggling to learn chords and complex scores while wondering if I’d ever be able to pull them off (“maybe I wasn’t meant to do this”, “maybe it’ll never come to me!”) but equally being overjoyed when I finally accomplished my goals. The problem is that whenever Koyuki finally worked his way past a problem, I never really cared. He’s an extremely bland character that I never grew fond of, so even though I could relate to his situation, I felt nothing. The same can be said for the band as a whole. All of the members face musical challenges throughout the show but not once did I find myself caring because all of them felt uninspired and plain. They struggle so hard and face so many problems together to actually get anywhere in this cut-throat industry but I really couldn’t stay engaged in the show at all and spent the majority of my time outright bored.

beck_7I think part of my problem rests with the fact that I’ve watched Kids on the Slope, which deals with similar issues much better. That series doesn’t involve the main character actively learning an instrument because he already plays piano, nor does the group want to go into the music industry, but there was just so much more depth and chemistry between the characters than what Beck offers. I will admit that Beck’s on-stage performances are very good but that’s the only time this cast meshed well, which is such a waste when we spend so much time with them off-stage.

While I’m making comparisons, there is also the Fuuka manga series (which has been confirmed to be receiving an anime adaptation) that suitably handles a very similar idea to Beck. In Fuuka the main character, like Koyuki, doesn’t really have a place in the world but he meets a girl named Fuuka and is inspired to start playing the bass. Thanks to that, he joins a band with Fuuka and some friends and they try to make it in the music industry. Even without animation and actual music to back it up I find Fuuka much better than Beck. This is largely down to the fact that the characters are simply that much more interesting. I really like them! Whereas with Beck I’m almost certainly not going to be remembering anyone.

beck_6Some blame for my dislike of the anime also stems from the animation. The series is handled by Madhouse and overall doesn’t look too bad for its time. However, characters are often off-model if shown at a distance and the show has a very annoying habit of lingering on shots that are obviously there for symbolism but don’t actually work. That said, the show does make some good usage of CG when instruments are being played, resulting in a realistic effect. It’s definitely convincing to watch and makes me happy to see because I can always understand the chords that Koyuki is going for. Unfortunately the CG combined with the age of the series, as well as the way it was produced for DVD back when originally released in the US, means that there is a recurring visual issue with the opening song. It’s not a massive issue but the opening can look mildly pixelated at times around the characters, making it quite off-putting. Thankfully this problem is limited to the opening as the ending and series itself all seem fine.   

Of course this is a series based around music and in that regard Beck hasn’t done too badly. The series is musically centered around covers of famous songs (especially from English bands like The Beatles) and these do sound rather good. I’m a big fan of bands who heavily indulge in guitar driven tracks, and so the rock music Beck played always felt right to me. There isn’t a great deal of original music on offer but what there is tends to be memorable enough. It has a good groove to it and as the series progresses you can tell it has been built around the idea of displaying how much Koyuki has grown as a guitarist.

The opening for the series is ‘Hit in the USA’ by the band Beat Crusaders, who also provide the the second ending theme titled ‘Moon on the Water’ – a song that Koyuki learns and occasionally plays throughout the show. The tracks are usually sung completely in English and have a proper pop-punk feel to them that has obviously been inspired by western music and fits with the tone of Beck. The ending used for most of the episodes – only changing for the final two or three – is ‘Above The Clouds’ by Meister (currently going by the name The Brilliant Green). It appears that Meister have also been heavily influenced by English music, most notably The Beatles.

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I’d like to say that the voice actors for the series are notable but unfortunately, both in the dub and original Japanese, they really aren’t. In the original Japanese track the majority of the cast are swapped out when the characters are required to sing, which generally isn’t too disruptive but makes it difficult to truly become attached to any of the actors. The English dub certainly isn’t groundbreaking either but it does the job. It also loses a few points purely because so much of Beck revolves around the fact Ryusuke and others can speak the English language, so in scenes where Koyuki (being Japanese) is meant to be feeling a bit lost listening to them it just doesn’t work as well. However, the dub doesn’t change voice actors for the singing, so that’s a point in its favour.

This release comes to the UK thanks to Anime Limited, and it is worth noting that this is the first time the series has been released in a complete form in the UK. The previous release of Beck stopped at episode 18. This release is DVD only due to the fact that the blu-ray master for the series just wasn’t that good and from what I’ve seen of the DVD I’m inclined to agree that Anime Limited made the right idea skipping it. This set contains the full 26 episodes with their dub and original Japanese audio. The only extras to speak of are clean opening and ending themes.

The biggest problem I am left with concerning Beck is that it took real effort to push through it. I genuinely love music and yet I have not been this bored with an anime in a really long time. I don’t usually like saying this kind of thing, but I think Beck was probably a better series back in 2004 than it is today because the likes of Kids on the Slope have aired since. It’s down-to-earth and very realistic which certainly works, but with no chemistry between the cast I just don’t care about what’s going on – especially not for 26 episodes. I really wish I was sitting here writing something else but sadly, as it stands, I am struggling to recommend Beck. Perhaps the best I can do is recommend checking out the series on FunimationNow before purchasing.

Title: Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad - The Complete Collection
Publisher: Anime Limited
Genre: Comedy, Shonen, Music, Slice of Life
Studio: Madhouse
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2004
Format: DVD
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 15
Running time: 625 minutes

Score: 5/10

Gonna Be The Twintail! Review

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Souji is an ordinary highschool student with an extraordinary love: Twintails. At school, he can think of nothing other than twintails, even going so far as to start his own club totally dedicated to the hairstyle. However, one day, a perverted alien force descends upon Earth with the intention of stealing everyone’s attribute, or spirit power, with their most sort-after attribute being twintail Attribute. Desperate to defend the twintails he loves, Souji takes up the offer of a mysterious girl named Twoearle, who gives him the power to transform into Tail Red, a female warrior with a glorious set of twintails. Alongside fellow twin-tailed fighters Aika and Erina, Souji must find a way to repel the invading aliens and make sure the glory of twintails lives on forever!

Of all the shows I’ve reviewed, Gonna Be The Twintail, the 2014 comedy based on the manga series by Ayumu Kasuga and Yume Mizusawa, is potentially the most divisive show I think I’ve seen. Most comedy anime, because of the very nature of comedy itself, are going to be quite polarizing anyway because different people have different senses of humour, but even still, I think Twintail in particular is either going to be something you really enjoy or something you absolutely detest. As you might suspect, twintails are at the very core of this show, and I think that a lot of the comedy comes from just how straight-faced it can be at times despite the insanely silly premise of twintails being this incredibly powerful source of power that are always talked about with incredible reverence by Souji. In the first handful of episodes, I actually thought this was quite hilarious, and it got quite a few laughs out of me in that respect alone, but the further the show went on, the less funny it became, and I could easily see the whole premise being annoying and grating to some people. It’s almost certainly a case of running a joke into the ground, but I think it’s a problem the show couldn’t really avoid, given it’s part of the premise. Thankfully, there’s a bit more to the comedy than just the twintail jokes, with the show leaning into a lot of raunchy and crude humour and some slapstick, that got a chuckle out of me pretty often, but that’s about it. One thing I did appreciate is the fact that, even though there are an awful lot of sex jokes in Twintail, it’s actually surprisingly restrained when it comes to fan service. I think it would have been incredibly easy for the studio to throw in more titillation given the nature of the show, but, despite not being entirely devoid of it, it wasn’t too distracting, which, personally, I was quite glad about.

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Despite the comedy being a little bit hit or miss, Twintail makes up for this with its action sequences, which I found to be very enjoyable. They’re generally well animated and feature a variety of different powers on display from the three twin-tailed heroes as well as the aliens, which kept the fights feeling fresh. As well as being fun to watch, it’s also in these battle scenes where I got the most laughs, with the alien creatures’ dialogue being some of the best in the show, especially their last words, which rarely failed to make me laugh. The story itself in Twintail is quite underwhelming, and a little repetitive. Most episodes have an alien attacking the girls and the girls defeating them. Even if the battles are a lot of fun, the formula did get tiring. I also thought the ending was pretty rushed and unsatisfying, with the resolution to the plot being delivered via a throwaway line of dialogue.

Much like its story, I can’t help but feel the characters of Twintail are also pretty weak. They’re mostly one note, with Souji’s twintail obsession pretty much defining his entire character. There is a plot point where Souji’s twintail love is shaken, but it ultimately doesn’t go anywhere and his character remains unchanged. As for the girls, they’re equally shallow, with Aika and Twoearle being your stock tsundere and pervert characters respectively. The only exception is Erina, whose introductory episodes flesh out her character a little bit, which is more than can be said for the others. There is an attempt at a romance between Souji and both Aika and Erina, but it’s so underwhelming and half-baked that it’s barely even worth mentioning. It would have been nice if they had tried to develop a relationship with Souji and one of the girls, as this would have helped towards alleviating the repetition in the story.

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Animation on Twintail is handled by Production IMS, the studio behind High School Fleet and Date A Live II, and they create a pretty good looking show, with the action sequences in particular being quite well animated and fun to watch. Outside of that, it’s nothing particularly outstanding, but it’s not bad either.

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Funimation’s release of Gonna Be the Twintail includes both Japanese and English audio tracks, with the dub cast giving some great performances all around. To me, the stand-out voice actor has to be Austin Tindle (Tokyo Ghoul, A Certain Magical Index, Prison School) who voices protagonist Souji. Given how very silly the lines he has to deliver are, he does a really great job of sounding legitimately invested in Twintails and really helps in selling Souji’s dedication to them. The music by Yasuharu Takanashi is also high quality, with a fantastic rock soundtrack adding some great intensity to the battles.

In terms of extras, Twintail is about what you’d expect, including a clean opening and closing but also includes episode commentaries, which is a nice bonus.

In Summary

Gonna Be the Twintail! is an incredibly silly show that provides a good amount of fun and a few decent laughs, even if it never really tries to be anything greater than that.

Title: Gonna Be The Twin-Tail!!
Publisher: Funimation (via Anime Limited)
Genre: Action, Comedy, Romance
Studio: Production IMS
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2014
Format: Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack (Blu-Ray version reviewed)
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 15
Running time: 300 minutes

Score: 7/10

BFI London Film Festival to screen Makoto Shinkai’s Your Name. in competition

Over the past few weeks it was discovered that the new film from director Makoto Shinkai will be screened at a number of theaters throughout the United Kingdom. No one knew who it was that was offering this but today some special news has appeared.

Makoto Shinkai’s newest film Your Name., also known as Kimi no Na wa., has been approved by the British Film Institute to take part in the film festival’s 60th competition in London. This will be the first Japanese animated film ever to take part in this competition.

In addition the distributor Anime Limited have acquired the theatrical rights to the film, and was responsible for providing the cinema screenings across the country. The film will be screened across numerous cinemas nationwide on 24th November, making the UK one of the first countries outside Japan to release the film in theaters. We’ll have the full list of cinemas screening the film below.

The BFI London Film Festival dates that the film will be screening at are:

Embankment Garden Cinema – 6pm on Friday 14th October
Embankment Garden Cinema – 12pm on Saturday 15th October
Ritzy Cinema, Screen 2 – 6:15pm on Sunday 16th October

The tickets for all three cinema screenings will be made available on 15th September at 10am via the BFI London’s official website.

The film’s plot synopsis:

Your Name is the story of a teenage boy and girl who have
never met, but who start to magically swap minds and live
each other’s lives. Mitsuha, a teenage girl student, lives in a
small mountain town, but longs for the bright lights of Tokyo far away. Then she is astonished to wake one morning in the body of Taki, a teenage Tokyo schoolboy – who in turn wakes up in Mitsuha’s body!

Switching back and forth between two lives, locations and
genders, Mitsuha and Taki must cope with their fantastic
shared situation. At first they are outraged and mortified by
what’s happening, but soon they start enjoying their double
lives, though they never meet directly. Eventually, though,
one of the youngsters will learn the devastating truth behind what’s happening…

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Your Name. was first screened at Anime Expo 2016 in North America back in July followed by Japan’s first theatrical release in August. Your Name. has also topped the Japanese box office charts, earning 1,277,960,000 Yen (about £932,000) in three days since opening plus selling over 688,000 tickets. The film’s original novel has also topped the sales as well as the original soundtrack from Japanese rock band RADWIMPS on the Oricon weekly album chart.

Staff and cast for the film also includes Animation Director Masashi Ando (Spirited Away, When Marnie Was There), Character Designer Masayoshi Tanaka (The Anthem of the Heart), Actor Ryonosuke Kamiki (Summer Wars) voicing the main male character Taki, and Actress Mone Kamishiraishi (live-action Chihayafuru films) voicing the main female character Mitsuha Miyamizu.

Makoto Shinkai is known for his directorial works on Voices of a Distant Star, The Place Promised in Our Early Days, 5 Centimeters per Second, Children Who Chase Lost Voices (released in the UK as Journey to Agartha) and The Garden of Words in addition to a number of short films including She and Her Cat and Cross Road. The director was also involved with the popular ef ~ A Fairy Tale of the Two franchise.

Anime Limited will soon be releasing the director’s first two films (Voices of a Distant Star and The Place Promised in Our Early Days) on Blu-ray later this year, and have already released his previous instalment The Garden of Words on Blu-ray also. Manga Entertainment have released 5 Centimeters per Second on DVD and Kaze UK have released Journey to Agartha on Blu-ray.

The cinemas that Your Name. will be made available on 24th November are as follows:

Showcase Cinemas
Bluewater Cinema de Lux
Bristol Avonmeads
Bristol Cinema de Lux
Cardiff Nantgarw
Coventry
Derby Cinema de Lux
Dudley
Glasgow
Leeds Cinema de Lux
Leicester Cinema de Lux
Liverpool
Manchester
Newham
Nottingham Cinema de Lux
Paisley
Peterborough
Reading Cinema de Lux
Teeside
Walsall

Vue Cinemas
Basingstoke Festival Place
Cambridge
Cheshire Oaks
Croydon Grant’s
Exeter
Finchley Road (O2 Centre)
Gateshead Trinity Square
Hull Princes Quay
Inverness
Islington
London – Finchley Road (O2 Centre)
London – Islington
London – Wood Green
Manchester Lowry
Northampton
Norwich
Plymouth
Portsmouth
Sheffield
Stirling
Swansea
Westfield Stratford City
Wood Green
York

KOTATSU JAPANESE ANIMATION FESTIVAL 2016

KOTATSU JAPANESE ANIMATION FESTIVAL 2016

Chapter – 24th & 25th September 2016

Box Office: +44 (0)29 2030 4400 email: enquiry@chapter.org

 Aberystwyth Arts Centre – 15th October 2016

Box Office: 01970 62 32 32 email: artstaff@aber.ac.uk

The Largest Festival of Japanese Animation in Wales Announces Dates, Locations and Select Confirmed Films for 6th Annual Instalment

The Kotatsu Japanese Animation Festival returns to Wales for its sixth year. Events kick off in Cardiff at Chapter Arts on September 24th before moving to Aberystwyth. Audiences at each venue will be able to enjoy a programme made up of the latest and very best in anime both mainstream and independent as well as a plethora of cultural activities related to Japan. This year’s line-up of films proves once again that Japan is the home to some of the best animation in the world and Japanese artists continue to make daring and experimental works that go beyond 3D CGI Hollywood movies.

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With two venues holding the event there are different programmes available. This one covers Chapter Arts which takes place over two days and features workshops, musical performances and a marketplace.

Saturday 24th

10:30 AM Miss Hokusai

Japan/2015/90 mins/PG. Dir: Keiichi Hara. With Anne Watanabe, Yutaka Matsushige, Shion Shimizu.

 There are several feature films announced so far with Keiichi Hara (Colorful) providing the festival with a strong opening film, Miss Hokusai, an award-winning anime that has featured at many international film festivals. Audiences will be treated to great historical accuracy as they are taken back to 19th Century Japan to get a glimpse of the life of the daughter of Katsushika Hokusai as she trains to be an artist and experiences life in a gorgeously recreated historical setting.

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O-Ei is the third daughter of Katsushika Hokusai, the most sought after artist in Japan and the man who would inspire the French Impressionists. O-Ei helps her father with his art and very often she paints instead of him when not making art of her own. This is the untold story of O-Ei, a free-spirited woman overshadowed by her larger-than-life father, who tries to perfect her own art in Edo period Japan, a place which is teeming with peasants, samurai, merchants, nobles, artists, courtesans, and perhaps even supernatural things.

 12:50 The Murder Case of Hana & Alice  

Japan/2014/110 mins/PG. Dir: Shunji Iwai. With: Yu Aoi, Anne Suzuki, Ryou Kazuji.

The next film is a thoroughly contemporary tale of two girls bonding over the world’s smallest murder case. Newly arrived in small-town suburbia with her divorced mother, school girl Tetsuko Arisugawa (‘Alice’ for short) finds herself the victim of bullying by her classmates and seeks solace through dance. She soon learns of an urban myth about a mysteriously vanished former student called Yuda (Japanese for ‘Judas’) who was allegedly murdered by four of his classmates. Hana, a reclusive girl who lives in a house next door, seems to hold the key to the mystery, and together the pair soon embark on a wild and unpredictable series of suburban escapades.

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The Murder Case of Hana and Alice is the prequel movie to the much beloved coming-of-age live-action drama Hana and Alice. Written and directed by Shunji Iwai, one of the most gifted directors working in contemporary Japanese cinema, this animated film was shot with the original actors but with rotoscoping utilised to ensure that movements and looks are fluid and original which makes the comedy and the touching relationship between the two titular girls feel so lifelike and charming.

A children’s workshop run by the artist Asuka Bochenska Tanaka which is dedicated to teaching the art of drawing manga will take place allowing kids the chance to create their own comic books and get closer to the art form they love.

 17:30 Music

Japanese musician Kina Miyamoto will play a special concert combining a special short film and her piano composition.

18:20 Genius Party

Japan/2007/124 mins/PG/Dir: Shoji Kawamori, Shinichiro Watanabe, Masaaki Yuasa. With: Rinko Kikuchi, Tomoko Kaneda, Yuya Yagira.

Genius Party is a diverse anthology of visually spectacular films from some of the leading names in contemporary Japanese animation like Masaaki Yuasa (Ping-Pong: The Animation, The Tatami Galaxy) and Shinichiro Watanabe (Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo). With multiple talents with strong visions and tales as diverse as a girl who summons a boy to her dimension making her own explode, the existential drama of a salaryman trapped in an endless cycle of work, and a boy who finds a device who can make his own drawings come to life just in time for an alien invasion.

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There will be a number of short films from independent and student animators that will showcase the inventiveness and originality that thrive in Japan. Oldman and Youngman, SPOON, I Wanna be Your Friend will be screened around the film Genius Party which is itself an anthology film made up of many shorts from creative talents.

20:50 Psycho-Pass The Movie

Japan/2015/120 mins/15/Dir: Katsuyuki Motohiro, Naoyoshi Shiotani. With: Kana Hanazawa, Ayane Sakura, Tomokazu Seki.

The first day ends with Psycho-Pass the Movie, directed by Katsuyuki Motohiro and Naoyoshi Shiotani and animated by Production I.G. It is the continuation of their massively popular sci-fi tale of a world where people are highly regulated by a computer system which constantly monitors their psychological states. Expect great action and heavy philosophising in the vein of Philip K. Dick in this exciting sci-fi action tale.

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The year is 2116 and Japan has become the safest country on the planet due to the Sibyl System, technology which monitors the mental stability of every citizen who is registered. The Japanese government wants to export the Sibyl System throughout the world but terrorists slip into Japan to halt these plans and attack from within. Akane Tsunemori, a leading police officer must stop the violence before it topples the country. 

Sunday 25th

11:00 Anthem of the Heart

Japan/2016/119 mins/PG. Dir: Tatsuyuki Nagai. With: Inori Minase, Kouki Uchiyama, Sora Amamiya.

The second day begins with Anthem of the Heart, a touching drama directed by Tatsuyuki Nagai and written by Mari Okada, two people who specialise in dramas. In this sensitively crafted tale a young girl named Jun must overcome a childhood trauma that has literally locked away her voice and work together with fellow students to make a school play. Things will be difficult since each student has problems of their own but perhaps these difficulties will aid Jun in growing as a person. Audiences get to watch what happens in this movingly told and beautiful-looking film which has charmed many people worldwide.

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Jun was once a happy girl but her family broke up after she carelessly uttered some words and she believed she was to blame. After that incident the ‘egg fairy’ appeared in front of her and sealed away her ability to talk in order to stop her from hurting anybody else. Since this traumatic experience, Jun only communicates through e-mail messages on her phone. She has reached the second year of high school like this but things change when Jun is appointed to play the main lead in a musical whose cast all suffer emotional trauma like Jun. Friendship creates bonds and Jun may find her voice again.

The artist Asuka Bochenska Tanaka will run a workshop dedicated to teaching the art of drawing manga to children. This will allow kids the chance to create their own comic books and get closer to one of the art forms they love.

The festival then ends with a one-two punch from two of the sci-fi infused tales of Project Itoh. Empire of Corpses and Harmony form two-thirds of an ambitious triptych of novels that the writer Satoshi Itoh crafted just before his tragic death at the age of 34 due to cancer, something that informed his writing. 

15:15 Harmony

Japan/2015/120 mins/12a. Dir: Michael Arias, Takashi Nakamura. With: Miyuki Sawashiro, Akio Ohtsuka, Reina Ueda.

Following a massive nuclear war humanity has rebuilt itself and utopia has finally been achieved thanks to medical nanotechnology and government surveillance but this perfect world of totalitarian kindness and super-medicine has its enemies. Tuan Kirie once tried to commit suicide to escape this new society but now she is a disaffected agent for the World Health Organization trying to escape her doubts through work but she is forced to face her past as she tracks a terrorist who may be a friend who she thought was dead. With deep philosophical themes and gorgeous imagery there is plenty for audiences to analyse and enjoy.

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17:45 Empire of Corpses

Japan/2015/120 mins/15/Dir: Ryuotarou Makihara. With Yoshimasa Hosoya, Akio Ohtsuka, Kana Hanazawa.

It is the 19th Century and “corpse reanimation technology” has revolutionised the British Empire but trouble is brewing as foreign empires seek to surpass this science. Brilliant medical student John Watson is recruited by the British government to search for the legendary writings of Victor Frankenstein which allegedly detail the technology behind a more sophisticated reanimated corpse – the original – that could speak and even had free will. Accompanied by Friday, a corpse which records all his activities, Watson will go on a globe-trotting mission, fighting foreign agents for those papers.

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Empire of Corpses is a rip-roaring alternate history adventure made up of equal parts horror and action, this is a fine ending to a festival with many different contrasting stories and styles.

Running alongside the film screenings are a series of Japanese-themed events such as a special music performance and a Japanese market place which sells things such as food, model kits, video games and manga. Just before the final film screening the results of the annual raffle will be announced with prizes such as film flyers signed by Michihiko Suwa, the producer of the extremely popular Detective Conan anime series, on offer.

For further information contact:
info@kotatsufestival.com

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