KonoSuba: God’s Blessing on this Wonderful World Season 2 Review

This time last year I sat down to review the first season of KonoSuba (a review you can read here) and at the end of the article I mentioned how excited I was for the second season. Fast forward a year and I’ve just finished watching Season 2. Has it held up to my original love of this fantasy anime?

The short answer to my question is yes: I am still deeply in love with this whacky comedy. This season kicks off with Kazuma and his party of idiots (Aqua, Darkness and Megumin) in deep trouble. It turns out that during the heated battle that took place at the end of Season 1, the team managed to destroy a nobleman’s mansion. Kazuma is quickly arrested and put on trial (a trial that cheerfully parodies the Ace Attorney series). Nothing could go wrong, right?

When Kazuma is put on the stand, many crimes seemingly come to light (although most have been committed by his party members!) and with only Aqua and Megumin to defend him (who quickly give up on the idea)  things can only go from bad to worse. It’s only when Darkness uses her own name as a noble that Kazuma is saved from certain death and lumped with a massive debt to repay instead. He might now owe millions and has had all of his belongings seized as partial repayment, but at least he’s alive and we’ve been welcomed back to this world with a bang.

This season follows the trend of last season with mostly self-contained stories early on and then one final big arc to finish the series. KonoSuba has always been at its best when the tales are short because it means the odd episode that you might not enjoy doesn’t spread into the following week – although unenjoyable episodes are overall less of a problem than last season. On the whole, the stories are a lot more fun (and sometimes even genuinely moving), offer ample character development and, most importantly, continue to show just how useless our team of adventurers are.

Although our cast are still pretty useless, between this season and last they have made some progress as a team. Kazuma and Aqua have both learnt new skills since we last saw them and Megumin, although still limited to a single explosion a day, has also powered up. It’s not just their skills that are improving, as it’s quickly apparent that their teamwork is also getting better and Kazuma better fits the leader role he fills.

This season offers an arc dedicated to Darkness and explains some more of her backstory, something I was very happy to see as until now we’ve not known much about her life. Meanwhile, the final arc of the season spends quite a lot of time with Aqua and Wiz, who again we’re glad to see more of. This is especially true for Wiz, whose introduction story last season was told in flashbacks in an effort to save time in the anime.

My only major complaint is down to Megumin, who is given a story arc involving a childhood friend. Once the episode involving their story is finished, Megumin’s friend, Yunyun, is mostly pushed aside and not seen again for any great length of time. Perhaps because of Megumin’s inability to produce anything but one explosion a day, she is also shelved for the majority of the season and only used for a few comedic scenes despite the fact that she’s usually always present. At least they gave her a new companion in the form of a cat, Chomusuke, to keep her busy, who is presumably the adorable mascot of the series now. It’s not that Megumin’s character feels undeveloped or lacking, it’s simply that she is my favourite among Kazuma’s team and I’m just disappointed that we didn’t see more of her.

It has to be said that overall the second season is very satisfying and the conclusion delivers one of the best anime endings I’ve seen in quite some time. It doesn’t finish off the overall KonoSuba story (the novels are still on-going in Japan), but it finishes off the tale it set out to tell very well while leaving the door open to return to this world someday.  The final episode is full of the silly humour I’ve come to love the series for, but most importantly it also shows just how much the characters have progressed as a team. Above all else, it’s just good fun.


The series has once again been handled by Studio DEEN and where animation is concerned the show does seem to have been given more budget (and it has to be said that the final episode looks much better than anything else the series has ever put out). Despite this newfound budget however, the animation is still terrible. The first episode is all over the place and even once things become more stable, it’s clear that DEEN have made a stylistic choice to lean into the idea of KonoSuba never being the prettiest show in the world. Character designs on the whole are smoother and I think the world has more varied colors and looks sharper, but overall things haven’t changed much at all.  I commented in my review of the first season that the poor animation adds something to the charm of KonoSuba and I still firmly believe this because fixing up the animation might have ruined the fun a bit.


When it comes to the music, composed again by Masato Kouda, things haven’t changed much since the first season. The soundtrack isn’t something I’d listen to away from the show itself, but within context it does wonders to ramp up the action scenes and play into the silliness of everything. The opening theme “Tomorrow” has been provided by Machico, who also worked on the Season 1 opening, and I have to say it’s a brilliant track that really captures what KonoSuba is to me. The animation for the song sees our heroes embark on a quest and throughout we’re shown the various trials and tribulations they face before they return home, bruised but successful. I love it. It’s fun and really sets up well for the show. The ending theme is “Ouchi ni Kaeritai”, sang by the voice actors for Aqua, Megumin and Darkness much like with the first season ending. The song is a slow and more somber affair than the opening but it works in contrast to the fast pace of the anime. It also wins points in my favour for featuring the flying cabbages in the animation (that I adored in the first season).

All of the voice actors do a wonderful job in their roles but my personal highlights this season are Jun Fukushima (Shoukichi Naruko in Yowamushi Pedal, Shinsuke Chazawa in Shirobako) as Kazuma, who manages to go from a very deadpan tone of voice to utter hysterics in seconds, and Sora Amamiya (Touka Kirishima in Tokyo Ghoul, Elise in Bungo Stray Dogs), who plays Aqua and manages some pretty impressive screaming for the goddess.

KonoSuba Season 2 certainly hasn’t left me disappointed and I highly recommend it to fans of the previous season. With many tales still left to tell in this Wonderful World (the anime series has only adapted four of the ten light novel volumes released in Japan), I hope that we get a season three sometime in the future. Even if the show doesn’t return, I think this wouldn’t be a bad way of ending it because the conclusion is so strong. My only hope now is that someone finally licenses the series for a release on Blu-ray and DVD in the UK (preferably with plush cabbages). Whatever happens, KonoSuba remains a firm favourite in this reviewer’s heart.

Title: KonoSuba - God's Blessing on this Wonderful World! Season 2
Publisher: Crunchyroll (streaming)
Genre: Comedy, Fantasy
Studio: Studio Deen
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2017
Format: Legal stream
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles
Running time: 250 minutes

Score: 9/10

Review of Re-Kan!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Score: 6/10

Mikagura School Suite – The Complete Series Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Score: 7/10

No-Rin Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Summary

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

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

Score: 8/10

Review of Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions – Heart Throb

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Score: 8/10

Show By Rock Review

Cyan Hijirikawa has always regarded herself as nothing more than an ordinary girl in a mediocre world. She has great talent and skill at playing the guitar, but can never muster up the the courage to join her school’s light music club. However, after she decides to play her favourite rhythm game, she is suddenly sucked in and finds herself in a new world called Midi City, where music reigns supreme. Not all music is pure though, and an evil plan is in motion to engulf the whole city in darkness.

Adapted from the iOS and Android rhythm game developed by Geechs in conjunction with Sanrio, Show by Rock is a disappointing effort from the usually great studio Bones, that, whilst far from awful, is underwhelming at best, especially when compared to the studio’s prior work.  

At its heart, Show by Rock is attempting to be a music-based comedy show, and the reason I wasn’t a huge fan of it is because it isn’t particularly great at being either. Comedy, of course, is incredibly subjective, so whilst some may get a kick out of the humour here, it did absolutely nothing for me. I’m not sure I could put a fine point on what made the jokes fall flat, I’m usually quite the fan of physical comedy, which is essentially the show’s bread and butter, but I could count on one hand the amount of times I even so much as smirked, never mind laughed, throughout the 12 episodes, which is a huge sticking point in a comedy anime.

I could probably excuse the lackluster comedy if the series worked well as a pure music series, but even then it’s just plain mediocre. Take away the techno-fantasy setting, and you’ve got a paint-by-numbers plot that seems to lack any real momentum. There’s rarely anything interesting happening story-wise, as a typical episode mostly consists of the bands playing gigs or songwriting, with some melodramatic character stuff thrown in here and there. The whole fantasy element to the plot rears its head on occasion, but mostly stays in the background, as more focus is placed on the whole band thing instead, at least until the last couple of episodes. I feel that some kind of split between band show and action show might have worked better, or at least made it a little bit more interesting and fresh. This is teased a little bit in Episode 1, when we see Cyan defeat a monster with music, but this is something we don’t really see again until over halfway through. The one thing I will say is that I was never really bored at any point, and in a general sense it’s fairly entertaining, but it all just feels rather hollow, the kind of thing you’ll forget almost as soon as you’ve seen it.

As you might expect, the music itself plays a very important role and it’s yet another area that Show by Rock just fails to deliver on. Although it may be a little unfair to compare to other, much more popular shows, the only other music anime I’ve really seen are the KyoAni classic K-On and the global mega-hit Love Live! School Idol Project, which are both series I adore. Of course, there are a multitude of reasons why I love both of those, but the music is definitely part of it, with there being some genuinely great and catchy tracks that have worked their way into my regular music rotation. Even off the top of my head I could hum you some ‘Fuwa Fuwa Time’ or ‘Snow Halation’, but there’s nothing anywhere near that quality in Show by Rock. It’s all just kind of bland and none of it stands out as being something I’d really want to hear again.

One huge misstep in the music department is that Funimation decided to dub over all the music with English voice actors and it doesn’t work at all. Going back to the other shows I mentioned earlier, both of those have really good dubs, and I think part of the reason why they’re good is that they switch to the Japanese voice actors whenever there’s music. It’s fairly obvious that songs written in Japanese are probably going to sound better in the original language, but I guess the folks over at Funimation thought otherwise. Either way, the English lyrics are just plain cringe-inducing, and whilst the voice actresses are pretty good at singing, it just doesn’t sound right. I think a nice option would have been a choice between the English dub with English songs and English dub with Japanese songs, but sadly such an option is lacking.  

The choice to dub over all the songs in English, making it a less than preferable language choice, is made all the more disappointing by the fact that this actually isn’t a bad dub, music aside. Funimation pulled in some pretty great voice actors such as Caitlin Glass (Maki from Love Live!), Monica Rial (Tsubaki from Soul Eater), Alexis Tipton (Musubi from Sekirei) and Vic Mignogna (Edward from Fullmetal Alchemist) to name a few, and they’re all excellent here, with the possible exception of Monica Rial’s occasionally annoyingly high-pitched turn as Moa, so it just makes it all the more sad that the changes to the music hurts what is otherwise a very solid dub.

Despite having some issues with the insert songs performed by the bands, I thought the background soundtrack from composer Yasuharu Yakanashi was actually pretty good, being quite rock-infused, as you might expect from the show’s name. As for the OP, ‘Seishun wa Non-Stop!’,and ED, ‘Have a nice MUSIC!!’, they are both performed by the in-universe band formed by our protagonists, Plasmagica. I have mixed feelings about both because, whilst I generally can’t stand either of them in English, the Japanese versions are actually pretty enjoyable.

As well as music itself, a key element to making a great band anime comes from the band members themselves, but even then, Show by Rock’s cast is really nothing outstanding. Granted, the characters are probably the best thing about this show, perhaps barring the animation, but given I haven’t really had many nice things to say about it up to this point, that isn’t really saying a lot. The band consists of four members, Cyan, Chuchu, Moa and Retoree, and of the four, Chuchu is the only one I’d say is given any kind of depth, which comes in one of the best episodes of the series. The others are pretty fun to watch, but lack any kind of development at all, really. There are small things, such as Retoree wanting to make friends, and doing so via the band, but given she’s part of the band to begin with, and is already friends with the other band members before Cyan joins, it’s kind of moot. Then there’s Moa, who is an alien, a fact that is just about the only thing we learn about her, that genuinely adds nothing to either her character or the plot, and is never mentioned again after around the half-way point. That said, there is still some fun chemistry in the group, but everyone is just kind of forgettable.

If there is one thing I will give the series, it’s that it’s really good looking and well animated. Produced by Bones, who are responsible for hit shows such as Fullmetal Alchemist, Ouran Highschool Host Club and Soul Eater, Show by Rock is really colourful and vibrant, which is the kind of aesthetic that I tend to go for, although it might not be for everyone. An element of the art I instantly fell in love with was with Masaru Oshiro’s character designs, which are pretty unique and incredibly cute. Despite the fact that the animation is probably the strongest part of Show by Rock, even that comes with a caveat, this time being CGI. Now, for once, my complaint isn’t that the CGI looks bad, per se, in fact it’s actually quite high quality, but I don’t think it’s implemented well at all. Instead of blending the CGI with the traditional 2D animation, there are whole sequences rendered entirely in 3D, with a totally different art style to the rest of the series. It’s jarring and gives the show a pretty disjointed feeling, as it often switches back and forth from the CG to the 2D multiple times within an episode. Also, despite the quality of the CG, I actually think the character designs for the 3D sections, which feature anthropomorphic versions of the characters, are just plain ugly. 

Funimation UK’s release of Show by Rock is a no-frills affair, coming with a couple of audio commentaries and nothing more, even missing the usual clean opening and closing.  

In Summary

Whilst it can be fun sometimes, Show by Rock offers about as much depth in its story and characters as a puddle, and is largely just bland, forgettable and, ultimately, disposable.

Title: Show By Rock Season 1
Publisher: Funimation (via Anime Limited)
Genre: Music, Comedy
Studio: Bones
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2015
Format: Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack (Blu-Ray version reviewed)
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 12
Running time: 300 minutes

Score: 5/10

Review of Fairy Tail, Collection 12

Warning: Review contains episode spoilers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Score: 7/10

Review of Fairy Tail, Collection 11

Warning: this review contains episode spoilers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Score: 9/10

Review of Yu-Gi-Oh! GX, Series 1

“People rarely succeed unless they have fun in what they are doing.” – Dale Carnegie

Before starting, it should be pointed out that this Yu-Gi-Oh! GX boxset has many of the same problems as the sets for the original Yu-Gi-Oh!: yes, you do get a lot of episodes (52), but you can only have them in the English dub provided by 4Kids (now 4K Media Inc.); there are no subtitles, no DVD extras, the scene selection is rubbish, some of the accents used in the show are dodgy, and if you didn’t like the voice actors in the original show then you should also know that they reuse the same actors here. GX also has problems of its own, with the animation at times being so poor it is laughable. There are some unusual translations from Japanese into English, if you find the catchphrases of the characters annoying you will be annoyed in almost every episode, and the least said about the song in the opening titles the better.

However, when it does something good, it does it well indeed, and the characters and scenario do give it some credit.

GX is set a decade after the original events of Yu-Gi-Oh!. By this time, Seto Kaiba has created his own institute, Duel Academy, to teach the best young duelists all about the “Duel Monsters” game. The series follows Jaden Yuki, who on his way to the entrance exam literally bumps into Yugi Moto (not that you see his face), who gives him a card for luck: a “Winged Kuriboh”, whose spirit Jaden is able to hear.

At the exam, he manages to pass by beating one of the teachers in a game, the ugly and pompous Dr. Crowler, who instantly dislikes him for beating him. Jaden moves in to the school, but is put into the weakest of the three student bodies, “Silfer Red”, which has the fewest resources. He shares a room with a friend he makes on the day of the exam, shy and nervous Syrus Truesdale, and gluttonous dunce Chumley Huffington who has failed to graduate twice. There are all looked after by the eccentric cat lover Prof. Banner.

At the beginning of the series, most of the stories concern Crowler trying to get Jaden expelled, often using students from his top student body, Obelisk Blue, to do his work. Among the students in this class are Chazz Princeton, who thinks all of the worst performing students should be kicked out and thus hates Jaden; Alexis Rhodes, a more kindly student who forms an interest in Jaden and whose brother Atticus is missing; and Syrus’s older brother Zane, the best duelist in the whole school. Aside from them, there is also the middle student body, Ra Yellow, whose main student is Bastion Misawa, a genius with the top grades who also became friends with Jaden at the entrance exam.

The second half of the series is the more interesting, with the plot concerning a group of villainous duelists, the “Shadow Riders” who want to get their hands on three destructive cards, the “Three Sacred Beasts”, which are kept at the Academy. The cards are locked away and can only be accessed by seven keys, which are given to Jaden, Chazz, Zane, Alexis, Bastion, Crowler and Banner. As the story progresses, they find themselves having to take part in the “Shadow Games”, and one of the people controlling the keys appears to be a traitor.

Let’s get onto the negative points first. Most of them have been covered in the first paragraph, but concerning specifically this collection there are some that stick out. For example, when it comes to the animation one scene in which Alexis walks is just done by shifting her animation cell up and across until she is off-screen. Nothing is done to realistically animate her movement. Meanwhile, the attempts to translate everything so it is understandable to American kids take some odd turns. For example, there is a scene where the characters eat rice balls, but these are translated into “stuffed pastries”. I personally have no problem with the catchphrases used in the programme, like Jaden’s “Get your game on”, although I suspect others will find them tiresome, especially with egotistical Chazz telling his fans to chant “Chazz it up” repeatedly. The opening title song though is just rubbish.

But as I said, it is not all terrible. There is plenty to like about GX and the main thing that makes it likable is the characters. Jaden is a loveable idiot; Syrus is timid but approachable; Chumley has his own artistic talents; Chazz has an ego, but is dependable when it counts; and Alexis is kind and loving. Then you have the plot itself. When I first came to it I thought that the idea of having an entire school devoted to a trading card game would be rubbish and it would be mainly about trying to plug the game, but you don’t sense that when you are watching it. Perhaps it is that if you have already seen the original Yu-Gi-Oh! you have already created a sense of expectation around it. You know that it is not going to be the most enlightening anime you have ever seen, and you know that this show would not be here if it wasn’t trying to sell you the game, but because you know this, you know that you should treat the series as a bit of fun – in the same way you would treat the game itself as a bit of fun.

As I have said before, this show is not as bad as other titles concerning trading card games, primarily because the manga came first and the game followed, rather than the series being created just to promote the game. Even the fact that GX is a sequel doesn’t make it as bad as some other series in my view.

Another thing I’ve said before, is that I think that because you know that these series have so many faults, the best way to watch it is to turn the anime into a game itself, and to watch it as a drinking game, which again I have done. This time, I watched the third disc consisting of nine episodes, and again selected three key phrases on which I would drink every time I heard them mentioned. In this case I went with “Life points” because you are always going to hear it; “Elemental Hero”, because Jaden plays with a deck consisting of these kind of cards; and “Winged Kuriboh”, the card Yugi gave Jaden. Here, I heard “Elemental Hero” 39 times, “Life points” 10 times and “Winged Kuriboh” five times, getting through around 2½ pints of beer in the process, although I know I would have got through more had I picked different phrases.

Is GX better than the original series? No, but it is fun and entertaining in its own way. Also, if you are annoyed by the fact you can’t listen to it in Japanese, there is a way to get around it: watch the series on Crunchyroll. The entire series is available to watch in original Japanese on the site.

Title: Review of Yu-Gi-Oh! GX, Series 1
Publisher: Manga Entertainment
Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy, Gaming, Fantasy, Non-School
Studio: Studio Gallop
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2004
Format: DVD
Language options: English dub audio only
Age rating: PG
Running time: 1075 minutes

Score: 5/10

Review of One Piece, Collection 15

Episodes 349-372, may contain spoilers.

We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves.” – Buddha.

We continue the “Thriller Bark” arc where we left off, with the Straw Hats battling against all sorts of ghosts and ghouls. The crew have come to realise that Thriller Bark is not an island but the world’s biggest ship, captained by one of the Seven Warlords of the Sea: Gecko Moria, who plans to rule the sea without lifting a finger, by getting other people like Dr. Hogback to do the work for him.

Moria has the power of the Shadow-Shadow Fruit, allowing him to control his own shadow and steal those of others. Thus it was he who stole Brook’s shadow, and he has now also stolen the shadows of Luffy, Zoro and Sanji, who will also be destroyed if they come into contact with sunlight. Moria has been inserting shadows into corpses, made stronger by Hogback, in order to create a zombie army. In the case of Luffy, his shadow is put into the 900th zombie, a giant called Oars. Perhaps somewhat fortunately, the zombies still retain some memories of the original owner, so when Oars first awakens, he is too busy looking for meat and his straw hat to do any of Moria’s bidding.

The Straw Hats also have one other advantage when Brook reveals the zombie’s greatest weakness: salt. If a zombie consumes salt, the shadow will leave the body and return to its owner. Thus the Straw Hats start to look for salt in order to return the souls of their crewmates back to their bodies. Brook also reveals what his one great ambition is: to return to see his one last crewmate. As it happens, this crewmate is someone that Luffy and some of the Straw Hats are already familiar with: Laboon, the whale who kept hitting his head into Reverse Mountain back when they entered the Grand Line.

However, there are more pressing matters to deal with. Brook and Zoro duel with a samurai zombie who has Brook’s shadow; Usopp faces Perona, the controller of the ghosts that make people negative – but he has the advantage as he is already the most pessimistic person in the world; Chopper and Robin deal with Hogback and learn just how greedy he was in the past in terms of whom he loved; Nami comes out of a coma just before she ends up being married to someone she doesn’t know; and a group of friendly pirates whose shadows have also been stolen help Luffy fight against Oars by feeding him shadows – 100 of them, turning him into a nightmarish hulk.

The best bits of this collection are the ongoing battles that the various characters face. This all eventually comes down to a battle between the Straw Hats and Oars, who ends up being controlled by Moria himself. Moria is able to get inside the zombie’s body, with the torso as a kind of cockpit. Thus Oars turns into some kind of undead mecha. It is interesting to see how each of the crew is able to use their strengths to combat the creature, even if not all of them are that motivated, as evidenced in a funny sequence where Franky encourages his fellow crew members to grab onto his body as if he was a mecha – although Robin refuses because it looks stupid, annoying everyone else.

Some viewers however, might be annoyed that one of the episodes is almost entirely in flashback, and could arguably be called a clip show, when Luffy and some of the others recall the time they met Laboon. Although watching it does make you appreciate how far One Piece has developed visually: the difference in aspect ratio, the way the animation has developed and so on.

However, the really annoying point is that there are only a few episodes of the “Thriller Bark” arc left, but this collection does not complete the story. You think it would have been better to include some more episodes in these collections, but instead we have to wait for the next one to see the very end.

In terms of the contents of this collection though, there is a textless opening, episode commentaries, and interviews with English dub voice actors Christopher R. Sabat (Zoro) and Eric Vale (Sanji).

Title: One Piece, Collection 15
Publisher: Manga Entertainment
Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy, Fantasy, Shonen
Studio: Toei Animation
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 1999
Format: DVD
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 15
Running time: 563 minutes

Score: 8/10