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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

Score: 9/10

Anime Limited & Crunchyroll Releasing Studio Khara’s Dragon Dentist

From the studio behind the Rebuild of Evangelion, Studio Khara’s two-part feature Dragon Dentist will be simulcast in the United Kingdom, Ireland and other territories, thanks to a partnership between Anime Limited and the anime streaming service Crunchyroll.

The story takes place in Dragon Country.

Nonoko, the heroine, is a newly appointed dentist who protects the dragon, the guardian of the country, from tooth cavity bacteria.
One day, amid increasingly fierce battles against the neighboring country, she finds an unconscious boy soldier from the enemy country on the dragon’s tooth. His name is Bell, and he has been “resurrected” from within the tooth by the dragon, a supernatural phenomenon that legend says occurs before a major disaster.

Bell is confused about his situation. Nonoko cheers him up and takes him on as a dragon dentist. Suddenly the two face an unexpected and tremendous explosion that gives rise to countless tooth decaying bacteria. As they face a series of fierce battles, Nonoko and Bell eventually learn to accept their fate. This fantasy adventure, created on an epic scale like never before, will keep viewers thrilled and enamoured!

Dragon Dentist will be simulcast in the UK, Ireland, Iceland, Finland, Denmark, Sweden and Norway, with the first of two episodes going live at 9:45pm on 18 February 2017. Anime Limited also confirmed all other rights to the title, with a home video release confirmed for a later date, as well as the possibility of theatrical.

Yuri!!! On Ice wins Crunchyroll’s “Anime of the Year” Award – Angering Crunchyroll users

Yesterday Crunchyroll announced on social media that sports anime Yuri!!! On Ice won the “Anime of the Year” award in their inaugural Anime Awards, meaning that it won all the awards it was nominated for; seven of the fourteen prizes overall.

However, the victory has also resulted in angry comments from some who regularly use Crunchyroll, with people taking to their forums to complain about not just YOI winning this award, but the whole of the awards, and have accused fans of the series of rigging the poll.

When the awards were launched Crunchyroll users complained about the quality of the shortlist, saying that having four nominations in each category (apart from “Anime of the Year” which had eight) was not enough, although later during voting it was revealed that an “Other” section was created to allow any nomination.

After the rest of the awards were announced, most of the complaints were directed at the fact that Crunchyroll users thought YOI won awards it did not deserve, in particular the award for “Best Animation”, and referencing stills from the show which featured what they claimed to be poor quality animation. They also highlighted the large amount of votes cast in categories in which YOI was a nomination in comparison to those in which it wasn’t nominated, and many claimed that those such as fujoshi and people on social media sites like Tumblr were actively encouraging people to vote as many times as they could in the open poll, effectively accusing YOI fans of cheating. Others said that the timing at the end of the year meant that YOI had an unfair advantage over shows broadcast earlier in 2016 as the series was fresh in people’s memories.

However, other Crunchyroll users have also defended the awards, saying that none of the evidence the attackers have used to argue that there has been vote rigging has been conclusive, and have some have accused those of attacking the awards of just moaning that their favourite shows didn’t win.

Crunchyroll themselves have said on Twitter that: “We had very strong anti-cheating methods that gave us results in line with true audience sentiment” and that, “we had some surprisingly complex ways to fight multiple voting that worked based on multiple tests.” At the time of writing, although Crunchyroll announced YOI as the winner of the “Anime of the Year” award, they did not say how much by or where the other nominations finished. Nor has Crunchyroll said if there will be changes to the way the awards are run for next year.

A full list of the other awards can be read here.

Winter Season 2017 – First Thoughts and Impressions

Suddenly it’s 2017! As we sweep up the pine needles and polish off the last crumbs of Christmas cake, the first episodes of the new and continuing Winter 2017 series are appearing. Is this going to be as good a season as Autumn 2016? Which series are worth your time? (Especially if you made a New Year’s resolution to waste less time watching duds ‘in case they get better next episode’. We’re all been there!)

So, never fear; our writers at AUKN are here to share their thoughts and make recommendations. Agree? Disagree? We’d love to hear what you think too.

Demelza:

The Winter season always tends to be quite hit and miss for me. I try a bunch of shows, drop the majority, and then gain a few favourites that are no doubt forgotten about by the end of the year. It’s a harsh time for new anime to be released, but I think maybe this season is different.

This winter marks the return of one of my favourite shows from last year, KonoSuba. If you read my review when the series finished (if not you can find it here), you’ll know that I am a huge fan of the anime and the first episode of Season 2 hasn’t let me down so far! Our quirky band of heroes have gotten themselves into trouble yet again and between their over-the-top reactions and the mock Ace Attorney court session, it’s clear that this season is going to be just as fun as the last.

Away from KonoSuba I’d have to say my favourite new show is Fuuka. It’s a series that tells the story of a young kid, Yu, who spends all his time on Twitter and not really interacting with the world. One day he runs into a girl called Fuuka who changes his life forever! At heart the series sounds like your usual slice of life affair, but I’m a huge fan of the manga and can safely say that it’s not as generic as it sounds. The manga eventually evolves into a heavy focus on music (something I’m sure regular readers will know I love), and between that and the very sweet love story it tells I encourage everyone to give it a chance.

While I’m here I’d also like to give a mention to Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid which is the latest adaption from studio KyoAni. Despite my love for KonoSuba, I actually don’t like comedy all that much and so I was surprised to find that I could stick out a whole episode of this series and like it enough to want to watch more. The animation isn’t quite as good as the usual anime put out by the studio, but the story and heartwarming cast certainly more than make up for that. If there was anything that I could recommend to basically anyone, then I think Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is probably it. The series definitely had the best opening episode of the season, besides KonoSuba of course.

Ian Wolf:

For me, the title to keep an eye on this season is the one that has been the most highly anticipated: the return of Blue Exorcist.

It’s been a while; the last outing was the feature film that premiered back in 2012, so it’s been five years since we last encountered Rin Okumura, the trainee exorcist who is still hoping to kill his father – who just happens to be Satan.

The last series finished with Rin’s family history being exposed to the rest of his classmates at the True Cross Academy, thus meaning that everyone around Rin now distrusts him due to his dad being their sworn enemy. Also, Rin is having trouble keeping his demonic powers under control. In this second series, things are made even worse when one of the members of the Knights of the True Cross turns traitor and steals a valuable artefact that in the wrong hands can spread disease. This means that Rin’s class have to travel to Kyoto to stop things getting worse, staying at an inn run by the parents of aggressive classmate Ryuji Suguro.

It is probably worth looking over the first series again as there has been such a gap between the two, but if you enjoyed the first one then the second series should provide you with plenty of action and intrigue.

The other series I would recommend, like Demelza before me, is Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid. For the uninitiated, the story revolves around Miss Kobayashi, a systems engineer and secret otaku who gets drunk one night and bumps into Tohru, an injured dragon sleeping on a mountain. Kobayashi helps her, and suggests that she should come and stay. To her shock, Tohru appears the next morning, dressed as a maid and in a human body (if you ignore her horns and tail). Now Kobayashi has to try and cope with living with a mythical beast in her flat.

Having previously reviewed the manga I can say that there is plenty going for it in terms of humour. Fans of yuri may like it too, although people might be put off by fan service. For example, the first scene in which Tohru transforms into her human guise features some “boing-boing” sound effects as her boobs move. This might be surprising as the vast majority of the series has little objectionable content. I’ve enjoyed it so far, and I like the rather pastel-like art style they have used.

IncendiaryLemon:

As with the start of the majority of seasons, the Winter 2017 was one in which I was looking forward to very little, by pure virtue of not having heard of any of the upcoming shows before. Despite this, however, the  season is actually looking to be pretty good, at least going off the first few episodes of the series I have picked up thus far.

The only series I was actively anticipating in advance was Gabriel Dropout. I’m a huge sucker for Slice of Life comedies, and as soon as I saw the key art for this show, I knew I had to watch it, and its first episode didn’t disappoint. Gabriel Dropout comes courtesy of Doga Kobo, the studio that also produced the excellent New Game! last year, as well as a bunch of other great comedies such as Monthly Girls Nozaki Kun and Himouto Umaru-chan. The premise is a fairly simple one: a bunch of Angels and Demons are sent to a school on Earth in order to learn about human life, and antics ensue. Whilst the school-based SoL comedy isn’t exactly untrodden ground, the first episode managed to have me laughing throughout and has some pretty great gags, the funniest of which involves teleportation and which I dare not spoil here. Gabriel Dropout comes highly recommended if you liked any of the shows I listed above from Doga Kobo.

Another season highlight for me is Kyoto Animation’s Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid. Kyoto Animation is easily one of my favourite studios, with an astonishing track record of outstanding series such as K-On, Free! Iwatobi Swim Club, Nichijou, and my personal favourite show of last year, Sound! Euphonium. Dragon Maid appears to be a bit of a departure for the studio, which tends to focus on high school-based shows, and it’s a change of pace that’s appreciated. The focus in this show is the titular Miss Kobayashi, an average office worker, who, in a drunken stupor, enlists a dragon to be her personal maid. Much like Gabriel Dropout, this is another comedy that had me laughing along for the entirety of its running time, and the art is brilliant, as you’d probably expect from KyoAni. Add in a smidgen of yuri teasing, and you have an anime that is certainly one of my personal highlights of this season.

Venturing out of the comedy genre, the anime that’s piqued my interest the most so far would have to be ACCA 13. Going by Episode 1 alone, it’s actually very hard to tell in which direction this show is going, as the majority of the episode was world building; however it appears to be quite unlike anything else airing this season, or at least that I have seen. The show is almost entirely dialogue based, not unlike something such as Monogatari, but yet still remains very engrossing. It also has a unique art style that instantly grabbed my attention, and is animated by another personal favourite studio of mine, Madhouse. It’s actually quite hard to talk about, as little has happened just yet, but if you are looking for something that isn’t a light comedy series with a bunch of cute girls in it, this is probably one to watch.

Sarah:

ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Dept.

If you’ve read or watched the anime versions of Natsume Ono’s distinctive manga (Dead Leaves, Ristorante Paradiso) you’ll know that you’ll be in for a very different viewing experience in ACCA. Set in Dowa, a Ruritanian-ish European kingdom (check out those moustaches and uniforms!) it introduces us to Jean Otus, the vice-chairman of the inspections department.  Nearly a century ago when a coup d’etat threatened the peace of the thirteen territories, the syndicate was set up to protect the peace. Nowadays, the members of Jean’s department are more concerned with the cakes they’ll be eating for their morning snack break, so maybe it’s not surprising that there’s talk of disbanding ACCA. But the king is not getting any younger…is this really the right time? Something sinister is probably underway…but what? Directed by Shingo Natsume (One Punch Man) the series has a distinctive, primary-coloured palette (and is faithful to Natsume Ono’s stylish character designs). ACCA is unusual enough to hold the attention – but not, so far, to engage the heart. Jean makes a curiously unengaging central character: enigmatic and cool, smoking expensive cigarettes… However, the next episode promises to introduce another central character, the motorbike-riding reporter Nino, and, as I have faith in Natsume Ono’s works, I’m intrigued enough to return to see what happens next. You’ve gotta love a series where the character profiles tell you each person’s favourite snacks! (Jean’s are white bread and strawberries, btw.)

The best anime drama for many viewers last year was the first season of Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu and the second season Descending Tales has been hotly anticipated (certainly by me). Based on the prize-winning manga series by Haruko Kumota, this twisted and insightful tale of two proponents of the ancient story-telling performance art of rakugo battling the tide of twentieth century popular culture, was notable for its depth of characterization, voice acting and unique blend of music and visual art. We rejoin the story in the 1980s where Yotaro, the reformed yakuza turned professional storyteller, has taken the stage name of Sukeroku, in homage to his master Yakumo’s dead friend and contemporary. He’s also married – in name only – Sukeroku’s daughter Konatsu to protect her and her illegitimate baby son (father unknown, at least to us at this stage). Debts to the dead and a complicated web of feelings among the living overshadow the lives of the three main protagonists – and the dying art of rakugo underscores everything they do. Should it be allowed to die out as a historical irrelevance? Or can it be made meaningful to a more modern age and revived? The new OP, sexily, slinkily sung by Megumi Hayabashi, offers a striking and chilling foreshadowing of what’s to come. Not to be missed!

And it would be remiss of me not to mention the arrival of the third season of Yowamushi Pedal  – the first time any episodes of this iconic sports anime series has been made available in the UK (someone will correct me if I’m wrong…) I’m delighted to be able to watch it at last, even if it means coming in late. Perhaps Crunchyroll will bring us the earlier seasons as well now.

Rui:

I was dreading this season at first when Crunchyroll started off by announcing a selection of similar-looking school comedies. However, it’s turning out better than I thought. The best news of all is that hardly anything is locked away from the UK this time around, with the big villains of the season being Amazon for locking two interesting titles (Scum’s Wish and Onihei) behind their Prime paywall. The possibility that they might soon start charging even more for this service with the rollout of their premium Anime Strike subscription (US-only, for now) is worrying for many of us wanting affordable access to legal simulcasts.

Like the other staff members above, I’m very interested in the continuation of the absolutely sublime Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu and also looking forward to seeing where ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Dept. goes after that very stylish beginning. The biggest surprise of the first episodes I’ve seen so far has been Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid, which was much wittier than I’d expected from the premise and a real gem.

MARGINAL #4 key art

Another surprise for me was how watchable the first episode of this season’s idol title MARGINAL #4: Kiss Kara Tsukuru Big Bang ended up being. We had no fewer than three new seasons of big idol-related titles based on games aimed at the female audience last season, and in my personal opinion neither Dream Festival nor Magic-kyun Renaissance really succeeded in offering anything unique enough to dislodge the massive Uta No Prince-sama anime series from its throne. I was expecting MARGINAL #4 to fall by the wayside too – ever since its original debut as an audio series it’s been a direct attempt to cash in on a popular genre – but it neatly sidestepped direct comparisons to UtaPri by focusing on the boys’ silly school lives and idol careers rather than anything too complicated. It’s like an irreverent parody of K-On! blended with the flash of Love Live!, and the humour is so goofy that I think it’s going to work.

Like Rejet’s previous anime projects (Diabolik Lovers, Dance With Devils), MARGINAL #4 is mostly designed to promote the core series and the constant stream of expensive music/situation CDs which come out month after month, so even if the comedy starts to flag it’s a given that the concert scenes will continue to have great music. I’m a sucker for a good concert, and the hope that the (superior) senior idol group might actually be allowed to sing on-screen in a later episode will no doubt keep me pinned to the series all season long.

So my apologies go out to this season’s anime selection; I was too quick to judge at the start. My top titles this winter are all very different from one another so I can’t wait to see which of them still have my attention in a couple of months from now.

Cold Cobra:

Well, like a lot of people here there isn’t a large amount of options screaming at me, at least not at the moment. The series that I’m most interested in is Chaos;Child, mostly because I really enjoyed Steins;Gate and remember liking the possibly overly-gory but nonetheless interesting murder mystery Chaos;HEAd, the series this is a direct sequel to. The first episode was actually a two-parter… sort of as the first half recapped the cases in Chaos;HEAd. The actual first episode is a good start; the unpleasant murders and the mystery surrounding them barely gets going, but in a good way. The lead character, Takuru Miyashiro, and his merry band of high school newspaper club members are a fun bunch, though maybe not anything groundbreaking in terms of character type. So lots of mystery in the air and things to reveal. It could be a great ride, or it could sort of slowly degrade into confusion and end in an unsatisfactory manor, which happens often when an anime is based on a branching paths visual novel. Fingers crossed for the former rather than the latter!

The return of Blue Exorcist and a second helping of Tales of Zestiria the X should provide some entertainment in the coming weeks, the previous parts showing some promise in their genres, but that’s it so far this season. Very bare, but that does tend to happen in the Winter season.

Yuri!!! On Ice wins all the Crunchyroll Anime Awards it was nominated for (so far…)

In Crunchyroll’s first ever Anime Awards, figure skating series Yuri!!! On Ice is on course to make a clean sweep and win all seven of the categories it was nominated in, winning six with one yet to be revealed.

So far, the series has won “Best Opening”, “Best Ending”, “Best Animation”, “Best Boy” (for central character, Japanese figure skater Yuri Katsuki), “Best Couple” (for Yuri K. and his Russian coach Victor Nikiforov), and “Most Heartwarming Scene”.

The series is also up for “Anime of the Year”, but this is not yet been announced. The winner will be revealed live at the Crunchyroll Anime Awards party on 28th January. However, Yuri!!! On Ice is almost certainly favourite to win if the other results are anything to go by, with the show winning all but one of its prizes with over 50% of the vote. The one that didn’t, “Best Animation”, won with 49% of the vote.

Elsewhere, the only other series to win more than one prize are time-travel murder mystery ERASED for “Best Drama” and “Villain of the Year” (not mentioned here to avoid spoilers, scroll down to results to see name) and supernatural comedy Mob Psycho 100 for “Best Action” and “Best Fight Scene”.

Meanwhile My Hero Academia won “Hero of the Year” (for Izuku “Deku” Midoriya), RE:Zero took “Best Girl” (for Rem), and Haven’t You Heard? I’m Sakamoto! picked up “Best Comedy”.

The nominations for the final award, “Anime of the Year” are (in alphabetical order) ERASED, Joker Game, Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress, Mob Psycho 100, My Hero Academia, RE:Zero, Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju and Yuri!!! On Ice.

Full Results (contains spoilers)

Hero of the Year

  1. Izuku “Deku” Midoriya (My Hero Academia): 32% (38,325 votes)
  2. Satoru Fujinuma (ERASED): 28% (32,869)
  3. Mob (Psycho Mob 100): 24% (29,159)
  4. Mumei (Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress): 7% (8,346)

Other: 9% (10,281)

The number of votes cast: 118,980

Villain of the Year

  1. Gaku Yashiro (ERASED): 33% (35,805)
  2. Yoshikage Kira (JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure): 33% (35,390)
  3. Tomura Shigaraki (My Hero Academia): 18% (19,129)
  4. Biba (Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress): 9% (9,775)

Other: 7% (7,794)

The number of votes cast: 107,893

Best Boy

  1. Yuri Katsuki (Yuri!!! On Ice): 58% (83,485)
  2. Arataka Reigen (Mob Psycho 100): 17% (25,043)
  3. Izuku “Deku” Midoriya (My Hero Academia): 16% (22,563)
  4. Yakumo (Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju): 3% (4,217)

Other: 8,890

The number of votes cast: 123,891

Best Girl

  1. Rem (RE:Zero): 60% (66,441)
  2. Ochako Uraraka (My Hero Academia): 15% (16,282)
  3. Nico Niiyama (Kiznaiver): 10% (11,625)
  4. Mumei (Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress): 8% (8,376)

Other: 8% (8,648)

The number of votes cast: 111,372

Best Fight Scene

  1. Shigeo vs. Koyama from Ep. 8 (Mob Psycho 100): 40% (38,255)
  2. Deku vs. Kacchan from Ep. 7 (My Hero Academia): 25% (23,630)
  3. Mumei vs. Kabane from Ep. 2 (Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress): 18% (16,910)
  4. Altland vs. Moss from Ep. 32 (Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans): 8% (7,475)

Other: 9% (8,844)

The number of votes cast: 95,114

Best Animation

  1. Yuri!!! On Ice: 49% (68,535)
  2. Mob Psycho 100: 28% (39,766)
  3. Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress: 12% (16,764)
  4. Flip Flappers: 6% (8,525)

Other: 4% (6,122)

The number of votes cast: 139,712

Most Heartwarming Scene

  1. The kiss from Ep. 7 (Yuri!!! On Ice): 55% (74,617)
  2. Kayo’s first homecooked meal from Ep. 9 (ERASED): 31% (42,092)
  3. Kakeru and Suwa learn to understand each other from Ep. 4 (Orange): 7% (8,987)
  4. Makoto flies over her new home from Ep. 12 (Flying Witch): 4% (5,319)

Other: 3% (4,750)

The number of votes cast: 135,765

Drama of the Year

  1. ERASED: 51% (46,528)
  2. Kiznaiver: 22% (19,597)
  3. Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju: 17% (15,698)
  4. Joker Game: 5% (4,413)

Other: 5% (4,637)

The number of votes cast: 90,873

Best Couple

  1. Yuri and Victor (Yuri!!! On Ice): 69% (99,194)
  2. Saturo and Kayo (ERASED): 14% (19,377)
  3. Katsuhira and Sonozaki (Kiznaiver): 8% (11,133)
  4. Luluco and Nova (Space Patrol Luluco): 5% (7,347)

Other: 4% (6,082)

The number of votes cast: 143,133

Best Comedy

  1. Haven’t You Heard? I’m Sakamoto!: 36% (33,102)
  2. KONOSUBA-God’s blessing on this beautiful world!: 33% (30,174)
  3. Keijo!!!!!!!!: 16% (14,692)
  4. Space Patrol Luluco: 9% (8,567)

Other: 6% (5,472)

The number of votes cast: 63,850

Best Action

  1. Mob Psycho 100: 36% (33,460)
  2. My Hero Academia: 25% (23,402)
  3. Drifters: 21% (19,362)
  4. Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress: 13% (11,848)

Other: 6% (5,769)

The number of votes cast: 93,841

Best Opening

  1. Yuri!!! On Ice: 57% (80,882)
  2. Mob Psycho 100: 23% (32,225)
  3. Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress: 7% (9,863)
  4. Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju: 3% (3,663)

Other: 10% (14,115)

The number of votes cast: 140,748

Best Closing

  1. Yuri!!! On Ice: 56% (71,144)
  2. Mob Psycho 100: 19% (24,754)
  3. Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress: 9% (11,208)
  4. Space Patrol Luluco: 6% (8,048)

Other: 10% (12,221)

The number of votes cast: 127,375

Grand total of votes cast: 1,492,547

Streaming review of Yuri!!! On Ice, Episodes 9-12 (Crunchyroll)

WARNING: Contains spoilers

Link to review of Episodes 1-8.

“Love is a snowmobile racing across the tundra and then suddenly it flips over, pinning you underneath. At night, the ice weasels come.” – Matt Groening.

Having finally reached the end of the series, waiting to see what would be the outcome of Yuri Katsuki’s progress through the Grand Prix, and the nature of his relationship with coach Victor Nikiforov, my overall reaction is one of… well, I don’t really know to be honest. I’m not ecstatic, nor am I as disappointed as I thought I was going to be. However, by the time I had finished writing this piece, I think I finally cracked it.

The eighth episode ended with Victor flying from Moscow back to Japan after Yuri K. learns that Victor’s beloved poodle Makkachin has been rushed to the vets when it was found choking. Thus Victor’s old coach, Yakov, who is also Yurio’s current coach, agrees to serve as Yuri K.’s temporary coach while Victor is away. In the end, Yuri K. gets third place in Moscow with Yurio coming second, and first going to the rather overbearing Canadian J.J. Leroy. Yuri K. then returns home, with Makkachin perfectly well.

The scores for both Yuris are enough to take them to the grand final in Barcelona, with the tenth episode being told from Victor’s viewpoint rather than Yuri K’s. This episode, mainly serving as a run-up to the main competition, has what I think is the best scene in the series. While much has been made of the kiss scene in episode seven – a scene which Crunchyroll has nominated for a prize in their first ever “Anime Awards”, for me the single best scene in the whole of Yuri!!! On Ice occurs when Yuri K. decides to get a good luck charm for the final. This charm is a pair of gold rings for both himself and Victor, which they both wear. As a result, it is seen as deeply symbolic in terms of their relationship. When they meet the other skaters people think they are married, but Victor just says they are engaged.

The final two episodes cover the grand final itself, with the competitors being the two Yuris, J.J., Yuri K’s friend from Thailand Phichit Chulanot, Victor’s friendly Swiss rival Christophe Giacometti, and Kazakhstan’s Otabek Altin who becomes friends with Yurio. In the first half of the competition, the highlight is when J.J. cracks under the pressure, which for me is a good scene because you can finally start to sympathise with him. At the end of the episode, however, Yuri K. says to Victor: “After the Final, let’s end this.”

This remark clearly upsets Victor, and the final episode is partly about whether or not Yuri K. and Victor will continue working together. As to what happens in the final round, well, I don’t want to give away the critical details, but I think it is safe to mention the things that occur after the contest is over. One is is a gala exhibition in which Yuri K. and Victor are skating together – something fans of the show are saying is a big deal because two men skating together in a competition is something that never happens. The other thing is a message to the viewer: “See you NEXT LEVEL”, indicating the possibility of a second series.

As I said, I was expecting to react to the ending in one of two ways: anger or joy. In fact, anger was my reaction when I logged onto Crunchyroll to watch the last episode. For starters, I needed to update my Adobe Flash Player, so I thought, “Oh God, I’m now going to be behind everyone else watching it.” What I didn’t notice while I was updating the software was that everyone else was angry because Crunchyroll hadn’t put the episode up at all. They were nearly 20 minutes late putting up the most anticipated finale of the season and people were understandably furious. I admit it is a bit of a ‘first world problem’, but as the main anime streaming website for most people, you expect Crunchyroll not to have these issues.

In terms of watching the finale itself, I think I have finally reached my conclusion as to the proof of whether Yuri and Victor are a gay couple. I think there actually is conclusive proof – but again, not the sort of proof I was expecting. It comes at the top of the episode, following on from Yuri K. saying he wants to end it all. As he explains, I think I see the true indication that Victor loves Yuri – Victor cries. For all this time, I was hoping to see something happy to indicate their love, but in the end, it was something that was sad. The idea that your relationship might end, the possible heartbreak, is for me the final indicator. If the kiss is the initial spark, and the rings the visible sign of love, then the tears are proof that you don’t want it to end. I have been saying all the time that what I wanted was text rather than subtext – but in end, I think the subtext did actually pay off. If there is a second series we might get text then, but for now, I think everything’s OK.

That crying scene overall speaks volumes to me. All the time it has been the kissing and the verbal indications, yet what love really is, when you get down to it, is emotional. As I said in my previous review, I’ve been in a long distance relationship with a genderfluid American for six years. The one thing we have never been able to do is meet in real life. If and when we do, it will be a glorious, passionate moment, but when he no doubt gets on the plane back home and returns to his everyday life, I know I will cry bitter tears. As I write this passage out, I am even on the verge of tears knowing that this moment might never even happen, because we still might never get to physically encounter each other.

This show has put me through so many emotions: love, frustration, joy, bewilderment, and finally anger – not at the show, but the way people are debating it. Yes, there will still be people arguing about whether Yuri K. and Victor are gay, battles between zealous fans and haters, but for me the most annoying and tedious have been the rows on the AUKN forums between Rui and IncendiaryLemon, which even on the day of the finale have still raged on, because of the show being nominated for awards. I did end up posting on the forums a message that included the phrase: “Won’t you two get a room.”

If there is a second series, I really do hope we get to see the relationship between Yuri and Victor flourish, and I do think that if we see that fully uncensored kiss I would put it up to 10, but I would also really hope that Rui and IncendiaryLemon bicker less.

Title: Yuri!!! On Ice
Publisher: Crunchyroll (streaming)
Genre: Shonen-ai, Sports
Studio: MAPPA
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2016
Format: Legal stream
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles
Running time: 100 minutes

Score: 9/10

Streaming review of Yuri!!! On Ice, Episodes 1-8 (Crunchyroll)

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“Galocher – to kiss with tongues.”
“La galoche – an ice-skating boot.”
– Definitions from Petit Robert, France’s most popular dictionary.

It seems that in France ice skating and kissing go hand-in-hand (I know neither of those definitions involves hands, but it feels weird referring to it as “foot-in-mouth” because you keep accidentally thinking of “foot-and-mouth” which is a very different area), so perhaps many a French fujoshi and fudanshi may have been watching in awe last week when they (kind of) got what they finally wanted – a sports anime where the central characters were both gay and in a relationship, as indicated by what has probably become the most talked about scene in anime this year. But to reference another gay icon, Kenny Everett: “I’m giving away the plot! Go and see it – it’s all done in the best possible taste!” Let’s stick to the chronology before we get to the big moment.

The “Yuri” in the title is a bit confusing. Firstly, it is not “Yuri” as in “lesbian manga”, this is guys we are talking about – and it’s guys in the plural as there are two Yuris. The first is 23-year-old Japanese figure skater Yuri Katsuki (who for the purposes of this review we shall refer to as Yuri K.), who is pretty talented in his sport but recently has been in a slump. He doesn’t cope well under pressure and as a result has slipped down the rankings. The other Yuri is a Russian figure skater named Yuri Plisetsky (later referred to as Yurio), a 15-year-old with natural talent and a punk-like attitude. This is made clear at the end of one tournament when Yurio finds Yuri K. hiding in the gents, upset, and tells Yuri K. to quit the sport.

Yuri K. does unofficially leave figure skating, distancing himself from his coach and returning to his hometown where his family run an onsen. During this time, Yuri K.’s hero, 27-year-old Victor Nikiforov of Russia, wins his fifth consecutive Grand Prix Final. Yuri K. decides to visit his local skating rink, where he performs Victor’s winning routine in front of the rink’s owners (and his childhood friends) the Nishigori family. His performance is perfect, but there is one problem: the triplet children of the Nishigori family record Yuri K.’s performance, then post it online, and the whole thing goes viral.

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The fallout from this is pretty dramatic. While Yuri K. tries to relax in the family springs, he gets an unexpected visitor – Victor Nikiforov – who saw the clip and was so impressed that he demands to be Yuri K.’s new coach. As a result Victor moves in and makes the shock announcement that he is having an ‘off’ season. When the press track Victor down, Yurio then arrives on the scene and tries to take Victor back to Russia, because Victor has promised him that he would coach him for his senior debut. To sort out the problem, a contest is held at the rink and whoever does the best out of the two will be coached by Victor. Yuri K. wins with a routine based on the theme of “Eros”, and thus Victor does become Yuri K.’s coach, with both Yuris promising that they will win the next Grand Prix.

Thus Yuri K. and Victor begin their competition, facing off against fellow Japanese competitors and challengers from overseas. After qualifying to represent Japan in the Grand Prix, their first assignment is in China where Yuri K. is able to perform under huge pressure. Despite his nerves, he is able to skate wonderfully, to the delight of the crowd and Victor especially, which leads to the big scene referred to earlier, which occurs at the end of the seventh episode. After the end of his routine, Victor and Yuri K. rush to each other, arms open wide, and as a close-up indicates, with their lips very close together. However, just before you see anything, Victor’s arm blocks the sight of it, although the reactions of just about everyone watching the event in the stadium and at home seem to indicate that what actually happened was that these two guys kissed – and as if that is not enough, the next assignment will see the duo in Russia taking on Yurio.

Obviously the main talking point of Yuri!!! On Ice has been the kiss scene, but before we talk about this, let’s look at the ups and downs of the show so far. Dealing with the negative points to begin with – first, there is annoyingly little explanation of how figure skating works. One of the problems with sports anime is that it often covers sports that many people don’t know the rules to, and thus they have to explain what certain things are: this is down in Haikyu!! and more recently All Out!!, but Yuri!!! On Ice (which at least does come top in the list of the sports anime that overuse exclamation marks) don’t explain what all the fancy jumps are, which for me has always been one of the major put-offs of any of these sports in real-life. It would be nice if the show explained the scoring system or told you what a “Salchow” is – for anyone wondering, it’s a jump where you start off from the back inside edge off one foot.

Another issue comes from the fact that much of the time rather than getting on with the plot, you are seeing all the other competitors doing their routines, which again is a problem given the lack of explanation in some of the terminology. All you can really judge the characters by is their passion as explained in their internal monologue, and whether or not they fall down at any point. As a result, you kind of care less for some of the minor characters because often you don’t know what is going on.

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On the plus side, there is the overall quality of the animation, as well as the impressive soundtrack – not just the opening and closing music, namely “History Maker” by Dean Fujioka and “You Only Live Once” by Wataru Hatano – but also the incidental music, such as the tracks the skaters perform too. But for me, the main plus point is the diversity. Anime is often a closed shop when it comes to characters of different ethnic backgrounds, but Yuri!!! On Ice is able to make up for this. Not only is the central relationship between someone from Japan and someone from Russia, but we also have characters from China, Thailand, Switzerland, Canada, Italy, South Korea, Kazakhstan, the Czech Republic, and the main American skater is Hispanic. Perhaps this is not surprising given the director of the series, Sayo Yamamoto, is the same woman behind Michiko and Hatchin, which is set in Latin America.

If you want a more detailed argument, you are probably best reading the posts on the AUKN forums by our reviewer IncendiaryLemon, who dropped the series after six episodes, and editor Rui. I can assure you it is about ten minutes of your life you will never get back (sorry guys).

But now it is time to finally discuss the key moment. The one that has got so many people talking over the past week: the scene at the end of the seventh episode in which all the evidence suggests that Yuri K. and Victor kissed. If you look at some of the social media websites, in particular the more American-dominated ones like Tumblr, you will see post after post explaining how, even though you never actually see the kiss, it definitely happened.

You can see people drawing lines behind Victor’s arm showing that if it wasn’t there you would have clearly seen the two kissing each other; you can look at the claims that the reactions of everyone watching the moment are a clear indication that nothing other than a kiss would have proved that shocking; you can even examine the claims that the show references actual real-life gay figure skaters: namely footage of a young Victor shows him wearing the same outfit as Johnny Weir, an openly gay American skater who has reportedly faced much prejudice in his career, which I find amazing – in the sense of finding figure skating to be a homophobic sport, when it comes across as one of the glitziest, showy, camp sports around. These are people dressed in sparkly suits, dancing around and in Yuri K.’s case being taught by a ballet teacher. To a figure skating layman like me, if you were to ask me about homosexuality in figure skating, I would have said that I was less surprised that openly gay Weir was facing discrimination and more amazed at the fact that Torvill and Dean were married to each other. The only sport I can think of as being camper is an all-male cheerleading squad (I can’t watch Cheer Boys!! without regrettably sniggering).

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However, despite all this and all the support that this scene has, my reaction has been one of frustration. Part of this is partly due to my own background – I’m pansexual and have been in a long-distance relationship with a genderfluid American for six years, as of 1st December. As someone who is pansexual, a fudanshi, and a fan of all these sports anime that appeal to someone of my personal tastes, I’m frustrated at the fact you don’t see the actual kiss yourself, on screen. You go by everyone else’s reaction. Because you don’t see the kiss, you still have that tiny seed of doubt in your head that the kiss didn’t actually happen. I’m 99.999% sure the kiss did occur, but that 0.001% is horribly getting to me. I don’t want to go by what everyone else sees – I want to see what is actually going on, and share in the reaction of the characters at the same time as them.

One of the problems is the pressure to accept that the kiss just happened. Thanks to Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and the other social media outlets, you sometimes get the feeling that if you say that the kiss didn’t happen the immediate reaction is fans will accuse you of homophobia, or will say that you wouldn’t feel like that if it was a straight kiss or perhaps a lesbian kiss. One article I’ve read concerning Yuri!!! On Ice was on Anime Feminist where Amelia Cook writes:

“Since the episode aired I have seen raw, vulnerable reactions from LGBTQ+ fans openly stating how deeply it affected them to see queer subtext made text, how they hoped it would be seen by young people who aren’t yet old enough to feel comfortable with their identities, how much seeing such a moment would have meant to them at that age. Why on earth would anyone in our fandom actively seek to reduce such an impact?”

Well, maybe it is because of my age (I’m 30), or maybe it is because I’m British and our country has had a troubled history concerning gay rights – yes, we now have gay marriage, but it wasn’t until the 1960s that homosexuality was legalised; it wasn’t until 2003 when Section 28 which banned teaching anything positive about homosexuality in schools was finally lifted; in Northern Ireland there is a big row over a Christian bakery refusing to bake a pro-marriage cake for a gay couple, bringing up debates on gay rights and freedom of speech on both sides – but I don’t think we have reached that far yet. Yes, it has made a great impact, but the impact is still a little short for me. Mind you, in terms of gay rights we Brits are still further ahead than the home countries of the main characters. Japan only recognises same-sex partnerships in some areas and with no legal standing, while Russia’s negative attitude towards gay rights is pretty well known. Cook also writes:

“Victor’s arm obscuring where his lips meet Yuri’s cannot possibly be an artistic decision; either we see them kiss or there was no kiss. Disagree? Prove it. Never mind that obscuring a kiss is completely consistent with the show’s storytelling style so far, leaving deliberate information gaps and inviting viewers to read between the lines. Pics or it didn’t happen.”

I’m sorry, but I genuinely don’t think we’ve reached that point yet where simply implying that a gay kiss happened means the characters are certainly gay. That is a future step, the one beyond, that the next wave of anime might take us. But what Yuri!!! On Ice can do is take the next immediate step and actually show an on-screen kiss, uncensored, beyond all doubt, showing that these characters are definitely a gay couple. Now it should be highlighted that the eighth episode also features kisses, but one is of Yuri K. blowing a kiss to the judges, which, while not that romantic is certainly fun; and the other is another blocked-off kiss in which Victor kisses Yuri K.’s skating boot, which is not as exciting as flesh-on-flesh contact and thus not really any further indication of anything romantic – unless it turns out that Victor has some form of foot fetish.

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I wish to say that I bear no animosity towards anyone, in particular to Cook whose article makes many great points and I would urge people to read at their leisure. What I am trying to say is this: it is good that we seem to have a canon gay relationship in a relatively mainstream sports anime series and that these characters appear to kiss. It would be great if we could actually see those lips meet, for the characters to declare their love and their relationship openly, to rid my and indeed anyone’s mind of that 0.001% of doubt.

Let me put it this way: in a year that, let’s be honest, has been pretty shit for just about every decent human being concerned, one of the ways that I would definitely be cheered up would be to see Yuri K. and Victor do a kiss on screen. It doesn’t have to be a big kiss. It’s doesn’t have to be a galoche, it can be a simple peck. But I do want it to be one where I and everyone else in the 3D world can clearly see happening.

For me, personally, I would be ecstatic if I saw it. It would be for me, personally, not just the anime event, but the TV event of the year, because after years of being a fan of all these sports anime like Free!, Haikyu!!, Kuroko’s Basketball, DAYS, All Out!!, Cheer Boys!!, Yowamushi Pedal, Prince of Stride and so on, it would be great not to have to simply imply the characters are gay, but say that they definitely are, and that they love each other, no matter what hardships they may face.

Title: Yuri!!! On Ice
Publisher: Crunchyroll (streaming)
Genre: Shonen-ai, Sport
Studio: MAPPA
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2016
Format: Legal stream
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles
Running time: 200 minutes

Score: 8/10

Autumn Anime Season 2016

 

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Autumn Season 2016 – the leaves are falling and just as we finish watching and discussing Mob Psycho 100 or Re:Zero or Sweetness and Lightning, the anime studios are already tempting us with the next slew of goodies. And there’s so much to choose from these days! (Crunchyroll and Funimation, you’re spoiling us – but please don’t stop. We’ve been the poor relations for a long while in the UK, so it’s nice to get some choice.)

But how to decide which series are the duds and which the hidden treasures? The staff at Anime UK News are here to offer some suggestions of their own. We’re not infallible, of course, and personal tastes can differ wildly! We’re always very interested to know what you think too.

IncendiaryLemon:

Going into this year’s Autumn Season, I wasn’t expecting to watch a whole lot of shows. I had one or two in mind, but after seeing what was cropping up on Crunchyroll, my curiosity got the better of me and I ended up picking up eight! Whilst everything I’ve picked up has been at least good, there are some definite stand-outs among the crowd.

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My favourite from the season so far definitely has to be Sound! Euphonium Season 2. I’ll admit, it might be a little unfair to pick a show with a whole season under its belt as my front runner, when all the other shows only have an episode or two out, I just can’t deny how fantastic the first two episodes of Sound! have been, easily being on par with the first season. From the amazing animation from Kyoto Animation, to the excellent characters and drama on display in just these first two episodes, there’s no doubt in my mind that Sound! will definitely be somewhere near the top of my ‘best of’ list for the year, never mind the season.

flip-flappers

In terms of non-sequels starting this season, the one that instantly grabbed my attention from the get-go was Flip Flappers. It was a little hard for me to grasp what exactly it’s about (I hope the second episode will shed some light on that) but, from a pure animation standpoint, Flip Flappers had my jaw on the floor. I haven’t seen an anime by Studio 3hz before, but their visuals rival the greats, and I genuinely couldn’t tear my eyes away from the bright colours and fluid action on display, it was truly a marvel. If the future episodes can match the level of the animation with character and story, then I think Flip Flappers will certainly be a contender for the best of the season.

Another show I’d be remiss not to mention would be Mahou Shoujo Nante Mou li Desu Kara 2nd Season. Both the first season and this current season seemed to fly under the radar a bit in terms of popularity and I definitely think both seasons are worth a watch. More akin to a Slice of Life Comedy than you’re regular magical girl offering, Desu Kara always manages to get a good laugh out of me, and at only 4 minutes an episode, there’s really no reason not to give it a go.

Demelza:
haikyu-season-3-imageWhen I first looked at this season, I didn’t think there would be much to catch my interest. However, over the last couple of weeks I’ve found myself pleasantly surprised in the vast quantity of good quality anime hitting
Crunchyroll. Thanks to the service picking up so much, so I’ve found myself watching quite a lot and already have some firm favourites that I can recommend everyone give a shot.

As IncendiaryLemon mentioned above, this season is a season full of sequels and so I’m happily watching the second half of Bungo Stray Dogs, Sound! Euphonium season two and most importantly (for me) the third season of Haikyu!. Bungo Stray Dogs continues to be an example of Studio BONES at the top of their game with some exceptional action scenes, animation and their fun blend of comedy that I always fall deeply in love with. Sound! is off to a worse start and hasn’t really gripped me but then I was never that fond of the first season, so I’m really only sticking with it because of Kyoto Animation and the hopes of things improving (they never did in Season One for me though…). By far the best of the sequels though is Haikyu! which promises to spread a 5-set game against Shiratorizawa Academy across the whole 10 episodes of the season. Usually I’d be worried about stretching one match across that many episodes, but with Production I.G at the helm and a wonderful first episode I’m just left with pure excitement for what’s to come. I truly believe that if any sports anime is going to pull this kind of idea off well it’s going to be Haikyu!.

As far as new anime goes my favourites are definitely Girlish Number, Izetta: The Last Witch and Yuri!!! On Ice. It seems as though Girlish Number is going to fill my New Game! hole by telling the story of cute girls doing cute things in an industry I’m really interested in learning about. The story is about a new voice actor, Chitose, who so far hasn’t had the chance to play any named roles, but her big break comes along by the end of the first episode and she finds herself playing a lead role! The first episode was full of good humour and digs aimed at anime adaptations of light novels, so I can see myself having a lot of fun with this. If nothing else I might learn something interesting about how the voice acting industry works.

izetta-the-last-witch-animeI think my favourite of my favourites has to be Izetta: The Last Witch. I’m sure many of our writers will pick this one as well because it’s pretty universally likable no matter what your tastes are. I love magic and witches so the show won me over on that alone, but I’m also aware that it has some of the Code Geass talent behind it and that intrigues me to no end. Set in a world currently stuck in a war with a feisty princess who wishes to protect her kingdom, it sounds pretty generic but trust me, it’s better than it sounds. The first two episodes have been busily setting up the world and cast, but pretty animation and a strong selection of characters has kept me on-board so far. If you watch nothing else this season then at least give Izetta a chance.

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My final pick is Yuri!!! on Ice which tells the story of Yuri Katsuki, an ice skater who loses in the final of the Gran Prix competition and begins to question what he’s even doing with his career. After a video of a private performance back in his hometime goes viral on the internet, Yuri is suddenly visited by his idol Victor Nikiforov who wishes to coach Yuri! The first two episodes have displayed some captivating animation and so far Yuri and Victor are both interesting characters with a lot of depth to them. I’m writing about this one because it was a show I passed by originally (because I’m not that big on ice skating really) and went back to watch after seeing a number of friends really enjoying. I don’t want anyone else to miss out on trying this because they overlooked it the same way I did – trust me, it’s well worth your time this season.

Sarah:

Putting aside my annoyance about not being able to watch Kiss Him, Not Me!  (because, UK) and wondering if it’s worth signing up to Amazon Prime to watch one of the series I was really interested in this autumn, Ame no Funi, I’ve found plenty to watch and enjoy. For me the stand-out so far is Yuri!!! On Ice. That OP! Such a heart-stopping blend of animation and song! (Watching this reminds me how enthralled I felt when seeing/hearing the OP of Vision of Escaflowne for the first time.) Director Saya Yamamoto deftly blends humour with the poetic, artistic side of ice skating and those oh-so-naughty teases. But in spite of the comedic moments, there’s much that will chime with anyone who has ever striven to excel in the arts or sports; Yuuri’s utter devastation when faced with his own failure at the Gran Prix Finale competition will create a strong feeling of sympathy in many hearts and minds. I can’t wait to see where this goes next…

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Another new sports anime is All Out! Which is all about the rugby! Coming from a rugby-mad household, I couldn’t wait to see this (with fingers firmly crossed that it wouldn’t turn out to be a damp squib like Cheer Boys!!, juggling too many characters and not enough animation budget). It’s early days yet but the distinctive manga-based character designs (and an OP that shows a realistic match in the mud and the rain) are encouraging. Facts about rugby have been fed in quite subtly, so if you don’t know the game, you won’t feel left out. Typical shonen hero, first year (and short of stature) Gion, proves almost impossibly stubborn and determined to join the team, unafraid to take on the truly intimidating captain Sekizan, even though he knows nothing of the game. His new friend, timid giant Iwashimazu, has his own reasons for not wanting to play rugby ever again but somehow you just know…  This has been a fun watch so far and is well worth catching if you’re looking for a sports anime with a difference.

classicaloid

ClassicaLoid and Nanbaka although ostensibly very different, the first based around classical composers and their music, the second about four prisoners whose unusual gifts allow them to break out of any jail in the world, are both as many technicoloured shades of crazy as the animators can splash onto the screen. I’m enjoying both – because I like crazy when it’s done with imagination and even affection – but, as a musician, I’m probably better qualified to talk about ClassicaLoid.  (I’m going to cheat by quoting the Crunchyroll blurb) :

Kanae and Sosuke are two high-school students living in the suburbs in Japan where music flourishes. One day, they encounter Beethoven and Mozart, two suspicious men who call themselves ClassicaLoids. The “Musik” they play have mysterious powers, such as causing meteor showers and summoning giant robots. Kanae and Sosuke’s daily lives suddenly turn chaotic! Adding to the commotion are the appearances of other ClassicaLoids such as Bach, Chopin, Liszt, and Schubert. What is the big secret behind their powers? And are they a threat to humankind, or could they be saviors?

The first episode, in which Kanae’s amazingly eccentric house, complete with pipe organ (originally her grandmother’s) is threatened with demolition, is satisfyingly over-the-top and gets the series off to a fine start. Different teams of musicians have been given the task of arranging music from the named composers and a theme from Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony gets a full-on 70s rock orchestra interpretation worthy of Jeff Lynne or Rick Wakeman. Less successful, I feel, is the second episode’s rather perfunctory interpretation of ‘that’ theme from Mozart’s ‘Eine Kleine Nachtmusik’ (the one everyone knows) which hardly gets any airtime at all. But will this attract any new listeners to classical music? We shall see what happens when Liszt turns up next time (in this series, Liszt is a glamorous woman, not the 19th century musical superstar who had female audiences swooning in the aisles and throwing themselves at him). And who knew that Beethes was so obsessed with gyoza…?

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Last but not least of my picks, March comes in like a lion tells the story of loner and seventeen-year-old pro-shogi player, Rei Kiriyama, and is a complete contrast to the other series I’ve mentioned. This is a Slice-of-Life show based on the manga by Chika Umina (Honey and Clover) and, although gentle in pace, has some striking imagery, wonderfully animated, as well as a touching depiction of a young man struggling to deal with loneliness. The lively family of three sisters (and their cats!) with whom Rei is beginning to interact provide a fascinating contrast to his solitary existence. One to watch for lovers of Slice-of-Life – and cats!

Cold Cobra:

I have to repeat what my fellow staff have said above in that I wasn’t expecting much going into this season. I was happy to find Gundam: Iron Blooded Orphans once again able to be streamed straight to my TV via Crunchyroll, even if it is on a weeks delay. As a Gundam fan of over a good decade and a half I’ve been thrilled to see the property once again find its footing with another slice of war stories and drama mixed with giant robots shooting at each other. Fingers crossed this second half goes better than the second half of Gundam 00, which struggled to recapture what it created in its opening season a fair few years ago.

drifters

Continuing with the returning shows theme, I too am watching Bungo Stray Dogs, with its great mix of comedy and action. Lastly, the only new show on my personal “must catch every week” list: Drifters. I was interested in the idea of the plotline: a bunch of historical figures are plucked from their time periods the moment before they’re historically killed and forced to fight each other on two (or three, seemingly) sides. It was a good concept, and throw in the fact that it is based off of a manga by Kouta Hirano of Hellsing fame and I was in. The first episode has already seen a bit more humour mixed in with the expected gore, and some fine laying of groundwork that has me excited to strap in for the 12 episode ride to the end of the year.

I also feel I should given a quick mention to Part IV of the JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure story, Diamond is Unbreakable, coming to an end this season. While not a new or returning show, it’s a favourite and the fact that this is the home stretch feels like a big event for the season.

So there you have it, only three new or returning shows in this season, but three shows I’m very happy to continue to follow in the run up to the end of the year.

Publisher: Crunchyroll (streaming)
Genre: Action, Sports, Comedy, Slice of Life, Fantasy
Type: Movie
Format: Legal stream
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles

Orange Anime Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Orange can be streamed in the UK on Crunchyroll

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

Score: 8/10

Re:Zero Anime Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Score: 8/10