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

Review of Assassination Classroom: Season 1, Part 2

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Ian Wolf’s Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Score: 9 / 10

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

Score: 9/10

Naruto Spin-off: Rock Lee and his Ninja Pals – Collection 1

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When Bleach ended its TV run in March 2012, I was sad. When I found out that a cute chibi spin-off of Naruto was replacing it, I was annoyed and confused. Now several years later, that previously mentioned spin-off has made its way to DVD in the UK via Manga Entertainment. Naruto Spin-off! Rock Lee and his Ninja Pals is basically those silly light-hearted omake segments that are normally at the end of TV anime, stretched to a whole series of 51 episodes, the first 26 of which can be found here.

The main focus of the episodes, as you’d imagine, is lovable ninjitsu-less Rock Lee, plus his close associates Neji, Tenten and master Guy, with plenty of cameos and stories based around other members of the large cast, from Naruto himself to villains like Orochimaru. Each episode is two mini-stories, and so I can’t really give an overview of the series beyond that. There are obvious gags for the age group here, failed love gestures, sneaking a peak at girls in the communal baths, toilet humour and slapstick, plus some pretty standard storylines, like the old body swap hijinks, mishearing that you’re going to die soon and doing silly things before finding out you’re fine, beach-based episode, evil impersonator, school and homework-based worries and many more.

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While a lot of the humour is basic, there are a few gags aimed at Naruto fans only, characters acting out of character for the hell of it, or little asides to the camera. While you could watch the show without prior knowledge of the main Naruto universe, it certainly helps. I was informed that the English dub had been altered in order to make the comedy more approachable, which makes sense, similar shows have done so previously. I watched two episodes in English but with the Japanese subtitle track on, and really it seems to amount to a few pop culture references (which given this is a light-hearted spin-off, I’ll ignore that fact that they’re “breaking the fourth wall” and all that) and a few changing of food or folklore. It’s fine, and actually can be a bit funnier, especially as some English voice actors have got good comic timing, specifically Vic Mignogna’s Orochimaru (bonus points for having him and Kabuto use the old “we’re blasting off again!” Team Rocket line from Pokemon!)

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The soundtrack is all very cartoony and light-hearted, as you’d imagine, and the opening (“”Give Lee Give Lee Rock Lee” by Animetal USA) is cheerful and catchy, while the two endings for this set (“Twinkle Twinkle” by Secret and “Go! Go! Here We Go! Rock Lee” by Shiritsu Ebisu Chugaku) are also obnoxiously catchy. The extras here are just the old trailers and clean opening and endings.

So, Rock Lee and his Ninja Pals… this is a hard one to rate. Firstly it’s not as bad as I remembered, maybe I was just bitter over Bleach’s cancellation, but it’s still not great. Maybe in small doses, like its old weekly slot, it might be easier to take, but watching multiple episodes in a row makes the often immature jokes start to grate. I don’t want to rag on the show for being aimed at an audience younger than me, though, which is what makes this difficult to judge.

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I’d say if you’re a Naruto completionist, then get it, give it a watch through (over a long period of time) and then put it on your shelf. If you’re a younger fan of the show, but don’t have to buy everything, get it cheap and you’ll get a laugh out of it or ignore it completely without worry. I do have to say though that it’s currently retailing at over £30 everywhere, so I’d definitely wait for a price drop, no matter which category you fit in, at the end of the day it’s just a collection of comedy shorts. Anyone else, especially those who have no interest in Naruto, avoid it. That may sound like an obvious thing to say, but seriously, I grew tired of it very quickly and got the in-jokes; I can only imagine what the show would be like when you don’t even have that!

Title: Naruto Spin-off: Rock Lee and his Ninja Pals - Collection 1
Publisher: Manga Entertainment
Genre: Comedy
Studio: Studio Pierrot
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2012
Format: DVD
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 12
Running time: 650 minutes

Score: 5/10

Gonna Be The Twintail! Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Summary

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

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

Score: 7/10

Kiss Him, Not Me! Volumes 5 & 6

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“Serinuma-san is my girlfriend. And I won’t let you make a pass at her!”
Asuma Mutsumi to Kazuma Mutsumi

High school! The happiest days of your life – but not always for fujoshi Kae Serinuma, who is still being ardently pursued by her four would-be boyfriends and fellow fujoshi/doujinshi-artist and kohai, Shima. Out of all her admirers, quiet, history-loving Mutsumi-senpai has always been the most supportive and the most restrained. But when a new (and good-looking) student teacher joins the school and falls for Kae’s charms, Mutsumi reveals a very different side to his character. Because the new teacher just happens to be his older brother Kazuma – and a serious case of sibling rivalry erupts with poor Kae the unwilling object of their affections. How will they resolve the situation? (You can be sure that the Mutsumi brothers will find an ‘unusual’ way to duel for Kae’s affections!) And how will the other members of Kae’s entourage react to the appearance of yet another contender?

By the beginning of Volume 6, Kae (prompted by her friend Ah-chan) tries to respond honestly to Asuma’s declaration of love by going on a date with each member of her entourage.

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Kae, however, still a true otaku through and through, is utterly distracted by the launch of a stirring new anime series: Katchu Ranbu/Katchu Love (Junko cheekily referencing Touken Ranbu, the fujoshi-favourite card game based on the anthropomorphization or ‘personification’ of famous historical swords into attractive bishonen – only here, it’s armour). Overnight, she is smitten – and so is Shima! But as they are ecstatically fan-girling together, it slips out that they hold totally opposing views when it comes to the correct way to ship the two central characters. The boys look on, mystified, as the two girls – such firm friends – fall out and stalk away.  (A nice little touch is Junko’s insertion of the drawing of a kitten as the girls argue with the caption ‘Reading this part is not essential…so please enjoy this picture of a cute cat.’) As a BL mangaka herself, Junko knows her readership well enough to do a little gentle (and genuinely funny) satirizing here of the terrible rifts that can erupt over such matters. The boys, bemused, do their best to patch matters up – but are the girls irreconcilable?

Kae Serinuma is a sympathetic central figure but still utterly clueless, it seems, when it comes to understanding the boys’ feelings for her. Which is good for extending a long-running series, although by now, readers will have their own favourite potential ‘One True’ for our heroine and will be hoping for some development. It’s interesting to see Junko’s comment in the (amusing, as ever) author’s notes that ‘It seemed like the penultimate volume but there’s still more to come!’ (Four more volumes and counting, according to Kodansha.) But I can’t help wondering how much longer this idea can be extended before it becomes old. The arrival of big brother and student teacher Kazuma in Volume 5 pushes the believability boundaries way off – such inappropriate behaviour towards his students would have him instantly removed from the school in the real world (but where would the fun be in that from a mangaka’s point of view?)

The Kodansha translation by David Rhie flows fluently and, as ever with Kodansha, the Translation Notes provide fascinating and invaluable explanations of cultural references in the text.

The autumn will bring the anime TV series of Kiss Him, Not Me

Who will provide a resolution to Kae’s dilemma first: Junko or the anime script writers?

In Summary

If you’re willing to suspend your disbelief, just enjoy the art, the fun and the fantasy in this romantic comedy set in and around the world of high school fujoshi fandom.

Title: Kiss Him, Not Me!
Publisher: Kodansha
Genre: Harem, Romantic Comedy, Shoujo
Author(s): Junko
Type: Manga
Original vintage: 2015
Format: Book
Age rating: T 13+
Length: 160 pages

Score: 8/10

Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-Kun Review

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Cheerful high school girl Chiyo Sakura has fallen head-over-heels for the tall and handsome Umetarou Nozaki. Much to her confusion though, when she tries to confess her love to Nozaki, he hands her his autograph instead! As it turns out, the stoical teenage boy is actually a well-respected shoujo manga artist, who writes under the name of Sakiko Yumeno and, through a series of misunderstandings, Chiyo ends up becoming one of Nozaki’s assistants! Striving to get closer to Nozaki, Chiyo continues to assist Nozaki with his manga, meeting several of their quirky school mates and fellow assistants along the way.

Despite the romantic sounding premise, Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun, a 2014 anime based on the 4-koma manga series by Izumi Tsubaki, is barely a romance show at all, but is in fact a comedy and an excellent one at that. I’m not exaggerating when I say that Nozaki-kun has to be one of the most consistently laugh-out-loud funny anime I’ve ever seen. Despite some physical comedy gags, most of the humour comes down to the excellent comedic chemistry between certain duos in the show. Personally I got the most laughs out of seeing the well-meaning but somewhat dense Nozaki paired with the average girl Chiyo. If you’ve seen anything from Nozaki-kun on the internet before now, it’s probably the large swathe of Chiyo reaction images, and they’re even more hilarious in the context of the show and never failed to make me laugh. Outside of their shtick, there are an absolute ton of very funny and well written gags and some great visual humour too, including one incredible scene involving a bear costume that has to honestly be one of the funniest things I’ve seen in a long time. The off-the-wall supporting cast is also a comedic riot, with characters like Mikoshiba and Kashima not only being hilarious, but also acting as a clever jab at traditional shoujo archetypes, which I think shoujo manga fans will get a kick out of. It’s worth keeping in mind that comedy by its very nature is very subjective, so I think how much someone would enjoy this show would very much depend on their sense of humour, but, for me at least, I loved the comedy on display here.

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Even though I really loved the comedy in Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun, I can’t help but feel that the total dedication to the comedy aspect was also a fairly big hindrance in other aspects. Going into the show, I was expecting something akin to a romantic comedy, and if you read a description of the show, you might think that too, and whilst I suppose it is technically true, the romance here is severely downplayed. There are a handful of nice moments between Chiyo and Nozaki, but these moments felt spread out rather thinly, and a lot of the time, they were used to service the comedy rather than develop the relationship between the characters. I definitely think that the potential was there for the writers to go down a more serious route with the romance angle, but they never did, and that left me feeling rather disappointed. The same can be said for the characters in general, who, whilst likable and entertaining, can’t help but come across as pretty one-note and don’t receive any real development throughout the show, which is a shame because, again, I definitely think there was potential there that was totally ignored in favour of comedy. Now, despite my negativity, I’m not sure I can really fault the show for sidelining so much depth in favour of making the show funny, because, at the end of the day, Nozaki-kun is a comedy anime, after all; I just think that if they had made the show more balanced, it would have been far better on the whole, even if it wasn’t quite as funny. As Nozaki-kun is based off a 4-koma manga, I imagine much of the issues lie in the source material, which is written short form and likely lacks the depth to support a full anime adaptation.

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Animation for Nozaki-kun is handled by Doga Kobo, and honestly, I couldn’t really think of a studio better suited to the material. When it comes to Slice of Life comedy, Doga Kobo has produced a number of well liked shows including New Game!, Yuru Yuri and Love Lab, and Nozaki-kun is certainly at home with those shows. Not only does it generally look quite nice, Nozaki-kun has a wonderful sense of energy to it that makes the show very entertaining on a visual level.

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Both an English and Japanese audio track are included on MVM’s release of Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun and although the English dub is perfectly fine, I preferred the Japanese audio. Everyone in the main cast does a stellar job, with the stand-outs being Yuuichi Nakamura (Clannad, Hyouka, Karneval) as the titular Nozaki, whose monotone delivery leads to so many hilarious moments and Ari Ozawa (Gakkou Gurashi, Classroom Crisis, Active Raid) as Chiyo, who provides countless wonderful reactions. The soundtrack to Nozaki-kun is composed by Yukari Hashimoto, who also did the soundtrack for Toradora, and is quite good, complementing the show nicely.   

In Summary

Although it is lacking in the romance and character department, I can’t deny that Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun is an incredibly funny comedy that never fails to hit its mark.

Title: Monthly Girls' Nozaki-Kun The Complete Series
Publisher: MVM Films
Genre: Slice of Life, Comedy, Romance
Studio: Doga Kobo
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: 288 minutes

Score: 8/10

Paradise Residence Volumes 1 and 2 Review

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Hatsune Takanashi is a girl of simple tastes; she like curry and her friends, but her real love in life is pudding. Hatsune has begun her new life at Kikka Academy, an all-girl boarding school atop a mountain, and she is looking forward to making some new friends and eating delicious food. With a grade schooler for a Dorm Mother, a mean rival who has weaponised soy beans, and a foreign exchange student who doesn’t fully understand how clothes work, her new high school life is guaranteed to be interesting to say the least!

Paradise Residence is one of the latest manga series from author Kosuke Fujishima, the man behind Oh! My Goddess and You’re Under Arrest!, and it’s a fairly enjoyable slice of life comedy, even if it does come across as a little bit forgettable.

Standing out from the crowd is something that I feel is very important in anime and manga, and in the slice of life genre in particular. It’s so easy for a slice of life anime and manga to become just another generic high school comedy, and become instantly forgettable. The best way to make a slice of life show memorable, of course, is to have a memorable cast of characters. The standout example of this has to be the classic Azumanga Daioh, a run of the mill manga on paper, but elevated by a fantastic cast of memorable – not to mention hilarious – characters.

While this is the best way to go about making your series stand out, you could also resort to to using a unique gimmick to pull in readers. Of course, this is less effective; the characters can make or break a series. However, it at least provides something original and fresh. This is where my biggest issue with Paradise Residence comes in; it doesn’t really do either.

Paradise Residence is probably the very definition of a generic slice of life manga and there honestly isn’t really a whole lot to say about it. Whilst there isn’t really a whole lot of story here, as you’d probably expect from a manga like this, it hits familiar story beats and doesn’t really offer anything original or interesting to people who are already familiar with the genre. Of course, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t enjoyable. Despite its shortcomings, I managed to get quite a few laughs out of Paradise Residence, mostly due to its cast of characters. Again, I really don’t find them particularly memorable, and they don’t exactly get any kind of depth or development, however they’re the source of most of the laughs that I had throughout these first two volumes. The protagonist, Hatsune, makes for a decent enough lead, although I do feel that some aspects of her character do come across as a bit forced, like the whole pudding obsession. If I did have to pick a favourite character, it would have to be Stephanie, the English foreign exchange student. Whilst her gag of not really understanding clothes can come across as an excuse for some fan service at points, I’d be lying if I said it didn’t get some good laughs out of me.

Fujishima’s artwork in Paradise Residence is fairly nice but nothing really amazing, serving the story well but not pushing the envelope. The character designs are somewhat unique looking, being quite different from Fujishima’s previous popular works such as Oh! My Goddess and You’re Under Arrest!; here the designs look more contemporary than his other series, which were more rooted in the conventions of the 90s. There is a decent amount of panel variety and it all flows well, with it never being hard to tell which character is speaking.

Something worth noting is that as well as coming with the first volume of Paradise Residence, Volume 1 also includes Paradise Residence Zero, a prequel manga that leads into the main series. Although it’s at the back of the book it’s probably worth reading first, seeing as the main manga references some events of the prequel. Also included in Volume 1 is a short story written by Kanan Norihara and seven pages of coloured artwork.

In Summary

Whilst it doesn’t really bring anything new to the table, the first two volumes of Paradise Residence still make for quite an enjoyable read, providing a few laughs throughout.

Score 7/10

Title: Paradise Residence
Original vintage: 2014
Mangaka: Kosuke Fujishima
Published by: Kodansha Comics
Genre: Comedy, Slice of Life, School
Age rating: 16+
Length (page count): 308 (Volume 1) 158 (Volume 2)