One Piece, Collection 14 Review

Episodes 325-348, may contain spoilers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Title: One Piece, Collection 14
Publisher: Manga Entertainment
Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy, Fantasy, Shonen
Studio: Toei Animation
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 1999
Format: DVD
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 15
Running time: 563 minutes

Score: 8/10

Review of Nerima Daikon Brothers

Look at the darkest hit musicals – Cabaret, West Side Story, Carousel – they are exuberant experiences. They send you out of the theatre filled with music.”
– John Lithgow

While anime has covered many genres, one of the genres it has not delved into that much is the musical. Yes, there have been plenty of anime about music and bands such as K-On! and Love Live!, but in terms of a traditional musical, in which the characters often randomly burst into song, this is much rarer. One of the few examples is the comedy musical Nerima Daikon Brothers.

Set in the Nerima ward of Tokyo, the story focuses on a musical threesome. The central figure is Hideki, who owns his own field growing daikon (if you are not familiar with them, imagine a turnip that’s exactly the same shape as a thingy). His ambition in life is to build his own concert dome where he and the rest of his band, the Nerima Daikon Brothers, can perform to the locals. However, he is too poor to do so.

The other members of the band are Ichiro, the band’s straight-man who works in a host club. He is able to make just about anyone fall in love with him by giving them a slap across the face, but his main love is for small furry animals. The other brother is actually a female cousin. This is Mako, a former idol from Okayama (she still has the accent) who Hideki is in love with. Mako constantly points out to him that they cannot marry because they are cousins – although Ichiro frequently points out that under Japanese law, marriage between cousins is legal. Mako is actually in love with Ichiro thanks to his slapping. There is also arguably a fourth member of the band; Pandaikon, a small panda that is constantly eating Hideki’s daikon, but is spared by Ichiro thanks to his love of animals – a love that almost borders on the bestial.

In each episode, the trio are constantly trying to find a way to raise the money to build their concert dome. This normally leads them into conflict with several villains who are trying to make a quick buck (or rather yen) for themselves, so the Brothers are constantly in need of things to fight back and take the bad guys’ money. The person they go to is the owner of a rental shop – who is actually the show’s director Shinichi Watanabe reprising a role he previously played in surreal comedy Excel Saga. He offers the band useful tools in exchange for a song (actually it is always the same tune, but with the words tweaked every time to suit the situation).

The band’s schemes normally cause more damage than they’re worth, and their schemes later fall under the suspicious eye of local cop Detective Yukika Karakuri, a woman armed with all sorts of crazy gadgets. At first she suspects the band of being up to no good, but as the series goes on she ends up admiring the group, and Pandaikon especially, going crazy for him every time he touches her. Ultimately, the roots of all these plans find their way to the very top of Japanese society, including the Prime Minister – by which I mean a direct parody of then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, looking like a lion.

Obviously the music is the main appeal to the show. The music is great, full of funny numbers. These include not just the songs towards the rental shop owner, but Hideki expressing his love for Mako, Mako expressing her love for Dom Perignon champagne, and Ichiro expressing his disturbing love for Pandaikon. Some viewers may get tired of the fact that some of the tunes are used over and over again, but at least the dialogue is changed to suit the situation. The opening title song, “Ma·Ji·Ya·Ba” is wonderful, and one of the extras is the live-action music video performed by the actors. However, on the DVD menu this is seemingly hidden away, accessed by scrolling down the bottom of the menu on Disc 1, and the icon selecting your choice is not over any text. I slightly unsure as to whether this is an Easter Egg or just shoddy menu design. You also get the textless opening and closing, as well as episode commentaries on both discs.

The other main draw is the comedy, which differs from most comedy in anime in that quite a lot of it is satirical. For example, the character based on Prime Minister Koizumi looks like a lion because in real life his hair was described as looking like a lion’s mane and he embraced it. The character’s plans are to privatise the whole of Nerima, a reference to his then-real plans to privatise Japan’s postal service. All these topical references will fly by the average British viewer unless you look everything up, but on the surface there are still loads of laughs.

One example occurs in the very first episode. Ichiro is harassed in his host club by a gay customer who is a band manager, where all of the subtext indicates that he is giving Ichiro a hand job (cue lots of cutaways to sausages as Ichiro groans). Later on, the whole band meet the same manager, where Hideki tries to impress the manager similarly, with his thingy being represented by a daikon. This routine is based on an actual boy band manager, Johnny Kitagawa, who was once subject to claims that he had sexually abused the boys he managed. Thus you can either laugh at the satirical comments made against Kitagawa, or at some gags about wanking someone off.

I would definitely recommend giving Nerima Daikon Brothers a watch, partly because it differs to most anime in several ways: there are very few musical anime, very few satirical anime, and very few anime that can make you laugh as much while also providing you with rather catchy tunes.

Title: Nerima Daikon Brothers
Publisher: Anime Limited
Genre: Comedy, Musical
Studio: Studio Hibari
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2006
Format: DVD
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 15
Running time: 300 minutes

Score: 9/10

Fairy Tail, Collection 10 (Ep. 109-120) Review

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“As the poet said, ‘Only God can make a tree’ – probably because it’s so hard to figure out how to get the bark on.” – Woody Allen.

It has been nearly two years since the last Fairy Tail collection was released on DVD in the UK, previously brought out by Manga Entertainment. Now All The Anime (Anime Limited) has brought the series back, which is a relief – particularly as we were partway through a storyline, so either people have been waiting over 18 months to see the end of it, or have had to import the US release and are thus perhaps not tempted to get this. Thus, not only is it a brave move for All The Anime to bring it back, but there is a need to recap where we have left off.

At the Fairy Tail guild, eight of the wizards are taking on the “S-Class Wizard Promotion Trail”, each assisted by another wizard in the guild. This is on Tenrou Island, an island with a gigantic tree with another island on top of it. The island is home to the grave of Mavis Vermillion, the founder of the guild, and the current task is to be the first to reach the grave. However, as the task has unfolded a dark guild named Grimoire Heart has attacked the island, using a group of seven powerful wizards including Zeref, the wizard who caused massive destruction around the world 400 years ago. The last collection ended with various wizards fighting their own battles, the current head of Fairy Tail Makarov being knocked out, and Celestial wizard Lucy being put to sleep by the wizard she is meant to be helping, the chronic alcoholic tarot user Cana.

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Moving on to the actual episodes in this collection, Lucy awakens from her sleep only to be attacked by a dark wizard who controls people using a voodoo doll, while fiery Natsu and his feline friend Happy are in the battle with another wizard who can manipulate time, and sword-and-armour-changing Erza and water manipulator Juvia deal with someone who makes blades seemingly out of light. Meanwhile, Cana attempts to find Mavis’s grave, where in the flashback we learn that one of the reasons she is so keen on obtaining an S-Class rank is because when she does she will reveal her identity to her father, who happens to be another one of Fairy Tail’s wizards. As the episodes roll on, Lucy, Natsu, Erza, ice-maker Gray, young Wendy and others attempt to battle against the Grimoire Heart wizards, and upon meeting the head of the guild discover that he happens to have a connection to Fairy Tail as well.

The first thought concerning this collection is simply the fact that it is good to see it released in the UK again. Being away for so long you’d suspect that no-one would touch it, as British distributors would assume that most British anime fans would just go for the American release. However, we should praise All the Anime for at least giving it a go.

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It is also good just to see the episodes again. If you haven’t watched it since the last British release it is probably worth dipping into at least the last collection again, but it is worth it as the things that make Fairy Tail good are still there, such as the great action sequences and the fun characters.

The last collection was notable for having a few errors. This time around there are fewer things to complain about. Scene selection doesn’t seem to be a problem anymore and the subtitles appear to be fine. You still have some annoying things, like the ads that pop up when you load the DVD that you cannot skip through, promoting Funimation’s shows that are released by other companies in the UK (namely Karneval and Dragon Ball Z, both of which are Manga Entertainment releases).

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Funimation do, however, provide a nice selection of bonus features in this collection. There is the textless opening and closing, including the new themes: “Hajimari no Sora” by +Plus, and “Glitter (Starving Trancer Remix)” by Another Infinity (both of which are good). There are also two episode commentaries, a selection of trailers, and documentary “Marketing a Fairy Tail”.

This collection of Fairy Tail has been fun, thrilling and exciting. It’s good to see it back.

Title: Fairy Tail
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: 8/10

Ouran High School Host Club Review

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*** This is an edited/revised version of our original reviews of Ouran High School Host Club which deals with the content of the series: story; script; music etc. posted to celebrate the new Collector’s Edition (as yet unseen) from Anime Limited.*** 

‘Maybe you’re my love!’

Studious Haruhi Fujioka has won a scholarship to the prestigious Ouran Academy which caters for the sons and daughters of elite Japanese families. Desperately searching for somewhere quiet to study, Haruhi stumbles upon Music Room 3 – and the dazzlingly good-looking members of the Ouran Host Club. Inadvertently breaking a horrendously valuable vase, Haruhi is told that the only way to pay the Host Club back is to become a host and entertain the young ladies of the Academy. There’s one slight flaw in the plan which Tamaki Suou, the ‘king’ of the Host Club, hasn’t quite realized: Haruhi is a girl. But when was gender confusion ever an impediment to a good story in anime and manga? One thing is certain: Haruhi’s presence will change the lives of the six privileged young men and maybe her own, too – and, in the process, afford viewers many hours of genuinely engaging and amusing entertainment.

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Based on Bisco Hatori’s witty 18-volume manga, Ouran takes shoujo manga stereotypes and wickedly satirizes the hell out of them. So we have the inevitable swimming pool episode, the beach episode (swimsuits and muscles galore!), the high school ball at which the best female dancer will receive a kiss from Tamaki, and even an ‘Alice in Wonderland’ dream-fantasy. Add in plenty of themed cosplay, so that the boys can charm the young ladies of Ouran Academy with their good looks and romantic compliments, and you have all the ingredients for an engaging watch that charms as well as amuses the viewer.

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Ouran is, above all, the story of a likeable – yet very atypical – heroine, whose off-screen comments on the antics of her fellow hosts is often a weary, ‘Oh, good grief.’ As well as the magnanimous (yet oh-so easily wounded) Tamaki (the one who dreamed up the idea of running a Host Club), there is cool, calculating Kyoya Otori who looks after the finances. Then there are the identical twins Kaoru and Hikaru (first years, like Haruhi) who like nothing more than to cause mischief – and the tiniest seventeen-year-old ever encountered in anime, the blonde, cake-loving, bunny-hugging Hunny (little pink flowers dot the screen whenever he appears) with his constant companion, the strong, silent Mori. In fact, true to its shoujo roots, Ouran is bursting with flower imagery: from red roses and cherry blossom, to the white lilies that appear when Haruhi encounters the forceful girls of the Zuka Club at the all girls’ school, Saint Lobelia’s Academy. But it takes Renge, a raving otaku who jets in from Paris to claim Kyoya as her fiancé (because he resembles her favourite character in a dating sim) to first label each of the Host Club members. Kyoya is the megane, Hunny is the Boy-Lolita type, the twins play up to the girls’ fujoshi tendencies by acting out steamy twincest moments, etc. etc.

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Another target for satire is the wealthy students’ utter lack of knowledge about ordinary life. When sent to buy coffee, Haruhi astounds them all by returning with a jar of instant ‘Hescafe’: a complete novelty. “Isn’t that where the beans have already been ground?” enquires one customer innocently. And the boys constantly refer to Haruhi – in her hearing – as a commoner, without even realizing that this might be construed as hurtful or insulting.

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If Ouran were just a series of parodies, its freshness would soon pall. However Bisco Hatori, whilst having fun at the characters’ expense (especially poor Tamaki, whose grandiose ideals are so often deflated) also invests them with believable and sympathetic back stories. So we gradually get to learn more about what makes them all tick. Haruhi learns from one of the girls that the twins have changed since he/she joined the Host Club. “Because of you, the twins are having fun.” And she, the hardworking honours student, also begins to open up and enjoy herself. Perhaps, as the opening song suggests, there may even be the possibility of falling in love? Tamaki is certainly very smitten with Haruhi – although, being Tamaki, he confuses his feelings of romantic attraction with those of a father for his daughter. Suddenly the ‘king’ of the Host Club starts acting very paternally towards the newest member, trying to protect her from prying eyes and amorous advances. The independent and self-contained Haruhi finds this behaviour extremely irritating indeed; she already has a father! (And thereby lies another tale, as the Host Club soon find out…)

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Faithful to the manga, both in content and in Kumiko Takahasi’s character designs, Ouran looks superb. We get frequent amusing glimpses inside ‘The Theatre of Tamaki’s Mind’ and manga-style captions and thought bubbles often give insights into what’s really going on in the characters’ heads. The prestige Ouran Academy itself is a grandiose vision of pastel-coloured architecture based on famous European buildings (the clock tower looks uncannily like Big Ben) and its lofty halls are filled with crystal chandeliers.

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As well as looking good, Ouran sounds wonderful, with excellent casts in both the US dub and the original Japanese version. Caitlin Glass makes a believable and likeable Haruhi, although Maaya Sakamoto makes her a little sweeter and less world-weary in tone. Both Mamoru Miyano and Vic Mignogna excel as Tamaki, delightfully conveying his volatile shifts of mood, one moment capricious and full of himself, the next insecure and wounded, sulking in a corner. Add to this an inventive and tuneful orchestral score that makes use of the catchy opening song ‘Sakura Kiss’ to great effect (if you recognize one of the more dramatic themes, it’s because composer Yoshihisa Hirano was also responsible for the score for Death Note.)

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In 2006 when the anime series was made, Bisco Hatori had not finished the manga, so the ending here differs and is in some ways less satisfying than the mangaka’s more developed conclusion. But this shouldn’t in any way detract from the viewer’s enjoyment.

Anime Limited have brought out a new Blu-ray Collector’s Edition, filled with goodies: a 32-page booklet and 2 sticker sheets inside. The extras comprise: Actor & Staff Commentaries, Ouran High School Host Club Manga Pages Presented by Viz Media, Outtakes Parts 1 & 2.

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We should point out here that, even though we’ve yet to see this brand-new Collector’s Edition, Anime Limited have confirmed that they have used the new Funimation Blu-ray materials and there should be no issues of image stretching as encountered by some viewers with the original DVD release back in 2008.

In Summary

Ouran High School Host Club might be based on a shoujo manga, but it should appeal to any anime viewer, male or female, who’s looking for a light-hearted comedy with a wicked sense of humour and sympathetically drawn characters. The ideal series for sharing, maybe? Highly recommended.

 

Title: Ouran High School Host Club
Publisher: Anime Limited
Genre: Comedy, Romance, Shoujo, Slice of Life
Studio: BONES
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2006
Format: Blu-Ray
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 15
Running time: 625 minutes

Score: 9/10

The Tatami Galaxy Review

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One autumn evening, a college dropout stops at a ramen stand where he crosses paths with a self-proclaimed deity of matrimony. This odd encounter sends the man hurtling back through space and time to his starting days at college, giving him another chance to find the rose- coloured campus life that escaped him years before. Along with his mischievous friend Ozu, the unnamed man finds himself trapped among the endless possibilities that could change his life as he tries to grasp the opportunity that seems to dangle right in front of his eyes.

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Of the plethora of anime I’ve seen since taking up the hobby almost three years ago, The Tatami Galaxy is probably one of the strangest I’ve ever seen, and I mean that as a massive compliment. In almost every way you can think of, it seems to toss aside any and all notions of conforming to any genre norms or general conventions of anime, which makes for an incredibly refreshing show that will be unlike almost anything you’ve seen before.

The most instantly apparent way that Tatami Galaxy sets itself apart from every other show is with its visual style. This should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the director of this series, Masaaki Yuasa, who has made a name for himself with other visually unique anime such as Ping Pong the Animation and Kaiba, and The Tatami Galaxy is definitely no exception. This show in an absolute assault on the eyes, using a whole array of bright, vibrant colours and textures that can often change from scene to scene, and a lot of the time even from shot to shot, occasionally incorporating elements of photography and video. It’s very hard to describe, and it really has to be seen in motion before you can get a good grasp of what it’s like, but, needless to say, it looks superb. I always love it when an anime tries to do something different with its art style, something that stands out from the crowd of somewhat samey-looking anime that are around nowadays. As much as I do love some good old fashioned moe, it’s nice to see something new, and it’s certainly something I’d like to see more of. The visuals here are plain mesmerizing and I could probably recommend it purely on the strength of the animation and art alone. The wonderful animation is provided by one of my personal favourite studios, Madhouse, who have produced anime such as Yuasa’s other work, Kaiba, as well as other popular series such as Death Note and Hunter x Hunter. This certainly ranks among the most unusual work I’ve seen from them; however, in terms of animation alone, it’s probably the best. Anime Limited’s release is the first time this show has been available on Blu-ray outside of Japan, and it really benefits from being in HD, where the bright colours can really pop. I honestly can’t imagine DVD doing this show justice, so it’s great to see it finally make its way on Blu-ray in the West.

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The strange, surreal visual aesthetics of The Tatami Galaxy are paired with an equally bizarre story. The general premise of the show is that at the start of the episode, the unnamed protagonist will arrive at college in his first year, and pick a club, with the hopes that it will lead him to meeting a raven-haired maiden and falling in love, but it all goes wrong by the end, and time rewinds for a fresh start at the beginning of the next episode, with the protagonist having no memories of the previous episode, barring some brief recollections. Although the majority of the episodes work as stand-alone stories, they all intertwine nicely with one another, and it’s not uncommon to see events from previous episodes crop up, albeit in slightly different ways, due to the differences in the timeline. As I said before, the stories in the episodes themselves are just as unique and odd as the animation that they’re paired with. What I really like about each episode is how the absurdity isn’t constant, as, if it had been, it probably would have gotten quite tiring. Instead, most episodes begin with the protagonist joining a seemingly mundane club, but by the end of the episode, he winds up in some utterly crazy situation, such as falling in love with a doll, fighting in a ‘proxy-proxy’ prank war or hijacking a blimp. These stories alone would be entertaining enough, but when paired with the Yuasa’s direction and Madhouse’s visuals, they’re elevated into something truly riveting, and you won’t want to tear your eyes away from the screen. It’s just so full of energy and it makes for incredibly fun viewing. Despite the fact that The Tatami Galaxy is a crazy and fun show on the surface, you can’t help but feel there is a darker, more cynical message underneath it all; that no matter what your choices are in life, you end up in the same position regardless. We constantly see the protagonist starting over and over again from the start of his college life, yet no matter what club he joins, he never achieves his goal. Despite this, there is a slightly more uplifting message towards the end of the show that gives some greater depth to everything, and it certainly gives the audience something to think about.

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At the centre of all this madness is our cast of characters, who are also pretty great. The nameless protagonist is kind of a likable loser, and serves as our guide through the weird and surreal environment. It’s nice to have a grounded character to attach yourself to among all the craziness and I think his presence is a major factor in making the show work. In the last two episodes he also undergoes some fantastic and satisfying character growth that nicely caps off the series. Ozu, the fiendish-looking best friend of the protagonist who, in the words of the show, seems to exist to make the protagonist’s life a living hell, is probably the most fun character in the series and adds a bit of mystery to the proceedings, which has a great payoff at the end.  The only weak character, in my opinion, is Akashi, the primary love interest of the protagonist, whose sparse appearances and lack of any real memorable character traits make for an incredibly forgettable character. As well as the main cast, The Tatami Galaxy also features a small but very memorable bunch of side characters, my favourite probably being the personification of the protagonist’s libido, the gun-toting, sex-mad cowboy Johnny, who always had me laughing without fail.  

Anime Limited’s release of The Tatami Galaxy is Japanese audio only with English subtitles only, which is a bit of a double-edged sword. Not that the Japanese audio track is bad in any way, far from it; every voice actor here does an absolutely terrific job. The nameless protagonist is voiced by Shintaro Asanuma, who has supplied his voice to a myriad of different anime, such as Accel World, Assassination Classroom, Ace of Diamond and Tokyo Ghoul, and is brilliant in his role here, as is Hiroyuki Yoshino as the devilish Ozu. The only downside to the Japanese audio track is the speed at which everyone talks. After watching the first episode, I was convinced I was going to have to watch the entire thing at half speed. Everyone was talking so fast, and because I was so focused on trying and failing to read the subtitles at the speed they were going, I also ended up missing some of the visuals. Thankfully, this did get better after the first episode, becoming much more manageable, but there were still odd moments here and there where I totally missed something because the voice actors spoke faster than my brain could process the subtitles. This isn’t a problem that I think could be fixed, and is certainly not a fault with Anime Limited’s release, it’s just that this was clearly designed for native speakers of the language who don’t have to read along. It is mildly distracting, but I definitely don’t think it takes away from the show, and, as it goes on, you do kind-of get used to it. If anything, it adds to the rewatch value!

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The score for The Tatami Galaxy is provided by Michiru Oshima, who has also worked on the music for other anime such as Little Witch Academia, Fullmetal Alchemist and Patema Inverted, and she produces a wonderful, piano-centric soundtrack that oddly enough really fits well with all the weirdness on screen. I can only imagine how hard it was to score a show like this, so the fact The Tatami Galaxy has such a fantastic soundtrack is really is a testament to Oshima’s talents. The opening is performed by one of my favourite bands as far as anime openings are concerned, Asian Kung-fu Generation. They never fail at producing incredibly catchy rock songs, and have performed openings for shows such as Fullmetal Alchemist, ERASED and Bleach. “Maigo Inu to Ame no Beat” is no different, and is an unforgettable and upbeat tune that I loved instantly.  

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Anime Limited’s release of The Tatami Galaxy includes quite a few nice extras on the disc, including Japanese commercials and promos for the show, as well as an interview with the man behind the series composition, Makoto Ueda, on top of the usual clean Opening and Ending you expect. In terms of physical extras, the Limited Edition set includes a set of four art cards and an artbook, all contained in a premium collector’s box. It’s really a gorgeous set, and one that this show very much deserves.  

In Summary

The Tatami Galaxy is an absolute must for almost any anime fan. Its unique and mesmerizing visuals and off-the-wall yet deep story and an entertaining cast of characters make this show a breath of fresh air, and one I can’t recommend enough.

Title: The Tatami Galaxy
Publisher: Anime Limited
Genre: Slice of Life, Romance,
Studio: Madhouse
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2010
Format: Blu-Ray
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles
Age rating: 12
Running time: 275 minutes

Score: 9/10

When Supernatural Battles Become Commonplace Review

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During a meeting at a High School Literature Club, the four members of the club, along with the niece of the club’s faculty advisor, find themselves suddenly granted supernatural abilities. Resident chuunibyou Jurai Andou is thrilled about the club’s newfound talents, including his own power to summon black flames from his hand, but is hopelessly outclassed by his peers: Tomoyo manipulates time, Andou’s childhood friend Hatako controls the elements, club president Sayumi can repair both objects and living things back to their original form and their advisor’s niece Chifuyu is able to create objects from thin air. Despite the fact that the origins of these powers remain a mystery, very little has changed for the club, with the everyday activities continuing, albeit tinged with the supernatural.

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The first thing I feel the need to get out of the way about When Supernatural Battles Become Commonplace, the 2014 Trigger adaptation of the light novels by artist 029 and author Nozomi Kota, is that it has potentially one of the most misleading titles I’ve ever seen for an anime. It’s incredibly easy to look at an anime from Trigger, behind the madcap action shows Kill La Kill and Ninja Slayer: From Animation, with the words ‘Supernatural Battles’ in the title, and assume it’s going to be another crazy, over-the-top action anime in the same vein as their other shows. This would be wrong though, and if you’re looking for a supernatural action show, you’re going to be very disappointed. However, if you are looking for a brilliant slice-of-life comedy with a super-powered twist, you’re probably not going to get much better than this.

Ever since I first watched it whilst it was simulcasting back in 2014, Supernatural Battles has always had a special place in my heart. To me, it’s an overlooked gem, and whilst it’s not exactly one of my all-time favourite shows, it is still one that I reckon deserves way more attention than it ever got. A large reason why I think it’s a cut above your average slice-of-life fare does come down to the animation by Trigger. Despite being relatively new, Trigger has quickly become one of my favourite studios and I absolutely adore their energetic style, so to see them do a slice-of-life anime, a personal favourite genre of mine, is wonderful, and definitely makes it stand out from the crowd.

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The high energy animation not only makes it a delight to watch, but it also lends itself well to the comedy aspect too, which is another reason why I love Supernatural Battles so much; it’s hysterical. Comedy being subjective and all, it may not be for everyone, but I found the majority of jokes got at least a small laugh out of me, and a lot of the time, I’d be in a fit of giggles. The comedy is definitely stronger in the first half, before it decides to focus more on the romance and character relationships, but even then, there are laughs to be had throughout.

Of course, Supernatural Battles being a slice-of-life anime, the heart of the show very much lies in its cast of characters, which I really grew to love. They’re not necessarily the most complex or deep characters in the world, with each one getting an episode of focus and not much more. However, they make up one of the most instantly likable groups I’ve seen and are very fun to watch on screen. The male lead Andou might be a a little bit contentious, as I can see his chuunibyou shtick perhaps grating on some people after a while, but other than that, whether it be the adorable Chifuyu, the air-headed Hatoko or the somewhat tsundere Tomoyo, there isn’t really a character among the bunch that I didn’t enjoy watching immensely. If I did have to pick one weak link, it would be Sayumi, who can’t help but come across as a little bland and was certainly the weakest of the girls, and I’d have definitely have liked to have seen a bit more development for her. By far the best use of the characters comes when the show decides to introduce romance into the mix, with some great results. Whilst I can’t say I was a huge fan of having literally every single female character fall head over heels for Andou, I did find the love triangle between Andou, Hatako and Tomoyo to be really well done, and because I really liked both characters, it was a rare scenario where I actually didn’t know which girl I wanted to win.

inou-2The only real weakness of Supernatural Battles comes in the form of its story, which is to say, it tries to have one. Not that it’s impossible to have an anime that balances slice-of-life antics as well as a story too, and there are certainly some examples of it working, such as the first season of Full Metal Panic!, which has a great military action story as well as high school comedy shenanigans. However, the execution in Supernatural Battles leaves a lot to be desired. For a start, they only introduce the plot in Episode 8 of 12, and that whole episode feels incredibly out of place, almost as if it’s from a whole other anime entirely. Then, instead of expanding upon this story in later episodes, it’s immediately sidelined and almost entirely forgotten about, save for one or two throwaway scenes. I get that in the novels, the story is probably far better, but because of the restraints of only having 12 episodes to work with in the anime, if they knew they weren’t going to be able to do a sequel to expand upon the bits of story here, they would have been far better just dropping the plot altogether to put more focus on the characters, and flesh them out a bit more, rather than squandering screen time on a half-baked story.

Manga’s release of When Supernatural Battles Become Commonplace features both an English dub and the original Japanese audio with English subtitles, and I’d definitely recommend sticking to the Japanese for this one. The dub really doesn’t work too well, and this is in large part to the lead, Andou. Not to discredit Mateo Mpinduzi-Mott, his English voice actor, but much like Love, Chuunibyou & Other Delusions, I just think that it’s very difficult to make a chuunibyou character work in an English dub. The only example I can really think of is Michael J. Tatum as Okabe in Steins;Gate, but he’s such a great, seasoned voice actor, it would be almost unfair to compare him to a new talent such as Mpinduzi-Mott. I also didn’t think that Chifuyu’s English voice actor, Sasha Paysinger, was the right choice for her role, as she really couldn’t pull off a voice that sounded like an Elementary School child should, so you end up with this weird, distracting dissonance when she speaks and a woman’s voice comes out instead of a child’s.

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By far the biggest crime committed by the dub, though, is that it censors. I’ll admit, I only sampled the dub in places, so I don’t know how common it is, however, one scene I did watch featured the dub going for a totally different gag than in the Japanese. Admittedly, I can see why they changed it, the joke was about a character being a lolicon, which could be a potentially touchy subject, but the joke was definitely changed for the worse. Personally, I thought the scene was one of the funniest in the whole show, yet in the dub it totally fell flat, not only making the joke far less funny, but also make a lot less sense. I am very much against dubs changing the intent of the source, a little interpretation here and there is fine to make things flow a bit better in English than they might have otherwise, but to totally change something like that is reprehensible.

In contrast to the dub, the Japanese voice cast is fantastic all around. Nobuhiko Okamoto (Blue Exorcist, Monthly Girls Nozaki Kun) is excellent as Andou, making for a convincing chuunibyou but the highlight is certainly Saori Hayami (Buddy Complex, Sound! Euphonium) as Hatako, who steals the show with an amazing performance in the now infamous Hatako breakdown scene, which might genuinely be one the best moments of voice acting I’ve heard in any show.

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Music for the series is handled by Elements Garden, who also provided music for series such as Bodacious Space Pirates and Love, Election and Chocolate, and whilst the music is nothing memorable or special, it gets the job done. Whilst the score might be pretty forgettable, I have a lot of love for both the opening and the ending of Supernatural Battles. The OP, OVERLAPPERS by Qverktett, and the ED, You Gotta Love Me by Kato Fuku, are relentlessly upbeat J-Pop songs that firmly lodged themselves into both my brain and iTunes playlist and are some of my favourite OP and EDs of any anime. I’ve adored the ED since the first time I heard it, and having it paired with some adorable chibi visuals make it an ending I rarely want to skip.

In Summary

If you disregard the half-hearted attempt at a story, When Supernatural Battles Become Commonplace is a really great show. Not only is it immensely funny but you’ll also quickly find yourself endeared by its cast of characters and falling in love with Trigger’s marvelous visuals. This is a show that often gets overshadowed by the likes of Trigger’s bigger hits like Kill la Kill or Kiznaiver, but it is just as deserving of praise as either of those, and definitely deserves a watch.

Title: When Supernatural Battles Become Commonplace - Complete Season Collection
Publisher: Manga Entertainment
Genre: Supernatural, Slice of Life, Comedy, Romance
Studio: Trigger
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2014
Format: Blu-Ray and DVD (DVD version reviewed)
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 12
Running time: 300 minutes

Score: 9/10

Manga review: Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid, Volume 1

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Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid Vol. 1 © coolkyousinnjya 2013

Everyone who has ever gotten drunk has probably done something they have come to regret, whether it’s making drunk texts to ex-loved ones, or accidentally buying a load of stuff online while inebriated. But these pale somewhat in comparison to inviting a dragon to come and live with you.

Miss Kobayashi is a low level systems engineer and closet otaku who, one drunken night, went up a mountain and met a dragon called Tohru, who had been attacked with a sword. Kobayashi helped the dragon and the two got talking. During the conversation, Kobayashi suggested that Tohru should stay in her flat, an offer which Tohru accepted. Now Kobayashi has to put up with co-habiting with a legendary monster in her home, but to make things easier for her Tohru adopts a human guise and decides to work for Kobayashi as her maid, although she can’t hide her dragon horns.

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Tohru has some talents. She is able to get Kobayashi to work incredibly quickly, although her hard skin makes the ride uncomfortable. If the laundry is taking too long to dry because it is overcast, a quick burst of flame towards the clouds will make a hole big enough to let the sun shine through. Tohru also has some problems though. She distrusts other humans such as Kobayashi’s work college and fellow otaku Makoto Takiya, and her cooking is terrible.

There is also the problem that soon other dragons start visiting Kobayashi. There is Kanna Kamui, ejected from the dragon realm for playing a prank; Fafnir, whose attitude to humans appears to be summed up with the word “kill”; and the oddly dressed and buxom Quetzalcoatl.

miss-kobayashis-dragon-maid-2While this title comes from the same publisher as How to Build a Dungeon, this manga is much more family-orientated. However, you still get the feeling that perhaps the “all ages” rating is not quite true. There is a brief scene where Tohru is naked, and at the beginning of the volume Tohru claims she likes Kobayashi “sexually”. Apart from those instances however, Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is pretty much suitable for all. Perhaps it is best to think of it as “PG” rather than “U”.

The main characters are what make the series work. Kobayashi has to put up with the stress of keeping Tohru and later Kanna in check, but is also free to loosen up and suddenly start debating with Makoto about the differences between Lolita fashion and maid outfits. Tohru meanwhile has so many different comic elements: trying to adjust to the human world, her love of Kobayashi, her jealous feelings toward Makoto, and then there is just her doing what to her is normal, but what Kobayashi and for that matter any human would think is bizarre – like play-fighting with Kanna, which involves a potentially massively destructive battle.

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It is certainly a jolly title and it already has built a fan base. There is currently an anime adaptation of the series in the works, so watch out for more.

Title: Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid, Volume 1
Publisher: Seven Seas
Genre: Comedy, Fantasy, Yuri
Author(s): Coolkyoushinja
Type: Manga
Original vintage: 2013
Format: Book
Age rating: All ages
Length: 150 pages

Score: 7/10

Photo Kano Review

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Kazuya Maeda is a second year high school student who receives a hand- me-down camera from his father. Determined to pursue his new hobby and turn his social life around, Maeda joins the school’s Photography Club. However, new friends aren’t the only thing developing as he finds himself in a tangle of emotions with his female classmates.

One of the inherent issues when it comes to making visual novels into anime series is knowing how to go about adapting the multiple routes. In romance VNs especially, where each route has an entirely different romance, it can be tricky, since you can’t adapt them all. Or can you? Photo Kano is an anime adaptation of a 2012 dating sim developed by Dingo Inc, that attempts to solve this conundrum by simply adapting all of the routes. Whilst it isn’t the first show to attempt the omnibus format, it’s certainly a pretty rare approach, and the first anime I’ve personally seen to tackle it. Even though this method of adaptations definitely has its positives, I really don’t think it works too well.

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When it comes down to it, Photo Kano is just far too short to really pull it off. At only thirteen episodes long, including four episodes of initial set-up, it leaves each girl with only one episode each, with the exception of Niimi who gets two. This means that the entirety of a VN story route, which I assume took hours in the game, is crammed into just a single 22 minute episode. Whilst all possible romances are explored, they’re done in a very rushed manner. I can’t help but feel if the show had stuck to just adapting a single route really well, whilst also exploring some parts of the other routes, namely the character development, it might have worked a bit better. With that in mind, the episodes themselves are about as good as you could expect a romance could be in such a short amount of time, although it’s still nothing special.

Another issue I took with Photo Kano, was with the titular photography element. I’ll admit, this is probably more of a personal issue than an objective one, but I thought the use of photography throughout the series was downright creepy. Maeda almost exclusively takes pictures of his female friends in states of undress and provocative poses, and the show has multiple sequences sprinkled throughout where it’s literally just sexy posing. The whole photography thing largely just feels like an excuse for Maeda, and by proxy the audience, to ogle these girls and it’s just inherently made me feel a little uneasy. I imagine all the provocative posing and such might be a selling point for some, but it’s not really what I look for when I’m watching an anime, and it comes across as more of a distraction than anything else.

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Paired with the amount of general ecchi content in Photo Kano is a fair bit of ecchi comedy, and, for me at least, it just fell flat. It’s the same trite and overdone comedy you instantly imagine when you think of ecchi comedies, with people accidentally grabbing boobs or having a girl’s crotch land on the protagonist’s face. I’ll admit, I don’t really like that kind of humour, but even if you do, there’s nothing original here that you haven’t seen a million times before.

Character-wise, Photo Kano is right in the middle of the road. Characters do receive depth and development in their respective episodes, and whilst I think that this development would have worked far better if spread across a few episodes as opposed to one, they’re all reasonably fleshed out. Where I take issue with this series, is the fact that they’re generally quite forgettable. Even after watching it just hours ago, I genuinely struggle to recall all the girls and their stories. A large reason for this is that, after the episode where they’re the focus, the characters just disappear, being relegated to the background, with some not even appearing any more at all. Maybe if they showed up more often outside of their dedicated episode, they’d make more of an impression. As for the protagonist, Maeda, he’s also very bland, erring on the side of unlikable, especially after he uses his photographs to blackmail one of the girls he’s trying to court.

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Perhaps the most disappointing element to me has to be in the animation. Not because it’s bad (I’ve seen worse before) but because of the pedigree of the studio behind it. As I’ve mentioned in other reviews, I’m a huge fan of Madhouse, and they always seem to deliver anime with distinct looks, but Photo Kano might be their worst show in terms of animation. It’s just generally quite bland-looking, as if almost any other studio could have made it. As I say, not bad, but Madhouse is capable of so much more than what’s on display here.

In all areas of sound, Photo Kano is also just kind of bland. MVM’s release only contains Japanese voices, and all across the board everyone is about average, with no standout or lacklustre performances. Mina Kubota’s soundtrack is probably about what you’d expect for a romance anime, and complements the confession scenes nicely, even if it’s nothing amazing. The OP and ED are probably the biggest offenders when it comes to blandness, so much so, in fact, you’ll probably forget them the instant after you’ve heard them.

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Bonus features are the usual; a clean opening, a clean closing and some trailers.

In Summary

Photo Kano, aside from its out-of-the-ordinary approach to adaptation, is just really quite forgettable. It has the odd good moment, but anything positive is dragged down by the frantic pacing, bland characters and pandering fanservice. 

Title: Photo Kano The Complete Series
Publisher: MVM Films
Genre: Romance, Ecchi, Comedy
Studio: Madhouse
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2013
Format: Blu-Ray and DVD (DVD version reviewed)
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles
Age rating: 15
Running time: 312 minutes

Score: 5/10

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

Review of One Piece, Collection 13

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Episodes 300-324, may contain spoilers.

“There is nothing so desperately monotonous as the sea, and I no longer wonder at the cruelty of pirates.” – James Russell Lowell

There is one thing that needs to be said concerning the most recently release of One Piece in the UK which is this: “About bloody time!” This collection has been delayed and delayed again. The last collection came out in December 2015, and now it looks like Manga Entertainment are trying to hurry things up as the next collection comes out in November – although don’t be surprised if this gets delayed too.

Anyway, onto the review proper, which sees the conclusion of the Water Seven arc, the death of someone held deep to the hearts of the Straw Hat Pirates, but also the welcoming of new faces.

The story resumes with the continuing siege of Enies Lobby by the Straw Hats: Monkey D. Luffy is up against CP9’s top agent Rob Lucci, the controller of a Devil-Fruit that gives him the powers of the leopard. Zoro manages to defeat another agent with the powers of a giraffe, meaning that the crew now have all the available keys to the Sea Prism Stone handcuffs currently being worn by Nico Robin, who is being led away to doom by the vile Spandam. Robin refuses to go easily however, even willing to bite down hard on the stone bridge to stop herself being dragged away. Robin is also helped by Usopp / Sogeking / Sniper King, who manages to shoot at Spandam from a great distance, and eventually buys enough time for cyborg shipwright Franky to deliver the keys and free Robin. As the attacks continue, the Buster Call to destroy the whole area begins to take place. It is therefore perfectly natural that what follows next is an episode of filler. To be exact, a return to the feudal Japan parody, focusing on cherry blossom viewing.

Following this however, we witness the finals battles between the Straw Hats and the forces of the World Government. This includes Lucci’s backstory, Luffy using his special “Third Gear” attack, a rescue from the most unlikely mermaid you are likely to encounter, and an even unlikelier escape thanks to the Going Merry, which manages to somehow find the crew and get them out of Enies Lobby. However, this is also the ship’s last action. The ship, too badly damaged to sail anymore, begins to break in two. Thus there follows what has to be one of One Piece’s most poignant scenes: Luff burns the Going Merry and the rest of the crew watch on, crying. As the ship sinks, the crew somehow hear what sounds like the spirit of the ship saying goodbye, as it finally falls into the ocean. Therefore, we witness what is arguably the first death among the Straw Hat Pirates – only it is not that of a person, but of their vessel.

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After this, the crew return to city of Water Seven. Franky gets to work building a new ship for the crew, while Usopp tries to come up with ways of returning to the crew. Luffy, though, gets an even bigger shock: the marines come to visit him, and he recognizes some familiar faces. Some are people he met a long time ago during the start of his voyages who have since grown up, but the head of the group is someone that Luffy knows all too well: Vice Admiral Monkey D. Garp – Luffy’s very own and rather violent grandfather. As if this isn’t shocking enough for Luffy’s crewmates, Garp also lets loose that Luffy’s father, Monkey D. Dragon, is the head of a revolutionary army and the most wanted man in the world. Also, although they are family, Garp is not going to let Luffy get out of Water Seven easily.

This collection is certainly better than the last edition of episodes. There is less filler overall, and there are many brilliant scenes, especially the one in which the Going Merry is sunk which is surprisingly moving. We also have major plot developments with this collection finally seeing the Straw Hat Pirates recruiting their eighth member, with Franky finally confirmed as the crew’s shipwright. This in turn leads to one of the funnier moments in the show, namely the method they try to make Franky join – by stealing his swimming trunks, getting him to run across Water Seven wearing just his open shirt, and finally Robin using her powers to sprout arms from Franky’s legs and grabbing Franky’s… well, you never see what she grabs, but what she does causes Franky a lot of pain.

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On the downside, while there is less filler, some of it is placed in really annoying places, interrupting the main plot at exciting moments. The start of most of the episodes takes too long explaining the events of the previous episode. When you add on the title sequence, sometimes you have to wait about six minutes before you actually get to new material. The CGI used to animate the ships is also poorly done, and at times the subtitles refer to different spellings of Gold Roger / Gol D. Roger.

Concerning the extras, there are the textless opening sequence, episode commentaries, and interviews with two of the English-dub cast: Brina Palencia (Chopper) and Colleen Clinkenbeard (Luffy).

In conclusion, things are looking up at we progress through the story. This is evident when you look at the cover for the next collection, which depicts a strange looking skeleton with a massive afro.

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Title: One Piece, Collection 13
Publisher: Manga Entertainment
Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy, 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: 520 minutes

Score: 8/10