The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess Volume 1 Review

The Legend of Zelda is a famous video game series that every gamer will have heard of at some point in their life. Even if you haven’t heard of it before, with the recent release of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, it has been impossible to miss the critical accolades the series has received. With this in mind, Viz Media has just released the first volume of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess in a bid to build on Breath of the Wild’s success.

The story of Twilight Princess follows a young ranch hand, Link, as the quiet life he has known until now is plunged into darkness. Long ago powerful wizards tried to take over the kingdom of Hyrule, but the Spirits of Light that inhabit the land banished these wizards to a place known as the Twilight Realm. With no way back to Hyrule, the wizards went on to build a society of their own in the Twilight Realm and until now the two worlds have lived peacefully. Now the current Princess of Twilight, Midna, is in trouble because an evil menace known as Zant is looking to take over both the Twilight Realm and the World of Light (otherwise known as Hyrule). To combat this evil a hero must rise, and that person is Link. With so much at stake, is Link really ready to fill the shoes of a legendary hero when evil threatens his world?

At the center of it all, Twilight Princess is a story of good vs. evil – just as all the stories in this series are. The Legend of Zelda series always follows the concept of the hero’s journey, the friends he makes, the challenges he must overcome, and (usually) a princess in need. They’re incredibly generic stories on the surface but have a knack for being home to some fascinating lore which gives the world a real sense of depth and realism.

On the whole, Twilight Princess follows this trend. Link is happily living his life in a small village known as Ordon Village until one day he begins to become aware of an evil presence nearby (it’s noted that Link appears to be sensitive to spirits and such). When children from the village get lost in the Faron Woods, Link chases after them with a search party. There he comes face-to-face with fierce monsters, and he now must fight to protect those who are important to him.

In the video games our protagonist, Link, is always mute. He has no personality of his own because the developers want players to be able to project themselves onto him; to become fully immersed in the various Legend of Zelda worlds. However, mangaka team “Akira Himekawa” have built up their own version of Link throughout the years as they’ve adapted the different games into manga form, this being their tenth adaption of the series. In Twilight Princess Link is an adult: he’s laid-back and a little cheeky but also has a dark secret from his past that he works hard to hide from others. This secret is something that Link doesn’t have in the original video game simply because Link is usually not given a history (except in Breath of the Wild). This is a history and story that the team have thought up themselves and which works incredibly well.

From reading this volume, it’s also clear to me that I wouldn’t want anyone else adapting the Legend of Zelda stories. Akira Himekawa have a real talent for capturing the world of Hyrule in their artwork. They put a lot of detail into the characters and the environment but it’s never overwhelming. In particular, I like the forbidding air given to the enemies; one glance tells you all you need to know about whose side they’re on! Action scenes are also drawn well and flow smoothly, and you can almost see Link jump around as you read.

I think a lot has to be said for how well written this volume is too. Although there is quite a lot going on in the plot, there isn’t enough text scene to scene to put off younger readers (which some action/shonen titles of late suffer from) and makes it a welcome read for people of all ages. Less text doesn’t mean that the manga doesn’t convey emotion well either (which again some series in this genre do struggle with) as one look into a character’s eyes will usually tell you all you need to know. They’re filled with so much emotion, it’s wonderful!

I have a long history with the The Legend of Zelda series but, funnily enough, Twilight Princess was my first experience with the franchise. To me, it’s my favourite Legend of Zelda game and where my love for adventure and good vs. evil stories was really born, so when I did some research into the manga’s history, I was horrified to find that this adaption was originally planned for and then cancelled many years ago.

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess game was released worldwide in late 2006 and the manga adaption was scheduled to be published in a children’s magazine in Japan. However, thanks to the game having a higher age rating than expected, the manga was cancelled and the mangaka team ceased adapting the games afterwards (although they did pen a story based on The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword as an extra in the Hyrule Historia book that Dark Horse published in 2013). Of course I wouldn’t be writing about the manga now if it had never been released and thankfully in 2016 Nintendo re-released Twilight Princess on Wii U in HD. With the general popularity of the The Legend of Zelda series also on the rise again, Akira Himekawa were finally given the chance to begin publishing their take on Twilight Princess.

The manga has moved from the usual Viz Kids label to simply being under the Viz Media name. Instead of an ‘All Ages’ rating it has now been put up to a ‘Teen’ rating, but the content is still fine for younger teenagers to read. There are some mildly graphic fight scenes (although not as bad as Naruto, which is also under a Teen rating), but I think the rating jump is more down to the darker story and possibly to allow for more freedom going forward. This series is still on-going in Japan and with the second volume also penciled in for a English release, with no sign of stopping yet, it seems this adaption will be longer than any other in The Legend of Zelda series – the current longest being The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. If it does end up being three or more volumes then it’s certainly a slightly harder sell than the other Legend of Zelda books, which are mostly self contained stories, but I think it’ll be worth it in the end due to the quality of the art and the story.

Overall, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess Volume 1 shows promise. The story has been well adapted to manga and still gives me the same sense of enjoyment that 11-year-old me got from playing the game for the first time. I just hope that this story can inspire the same desire for adventure and fantasy stories in young readers today as it did for me, as it truly is something special. It’s a real treat for Legend of Zelda fans of all ages and newcomers or veterans to the series.

Title: The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess Volume 1
Publisher: Viz Media
Genre: Action, Fantasy, Adventure
Author(s): Akira Himekawa
Type: Manga
Original vintage: 2016
Format: Book
Age rating: Teen
Length: 200 pages

Score: 8/10

Review of Clockwork Planet, Volume 1

“How many steampunks does it take to change a light bulb? Two: one to change it and a second to glue unnecessary clock parts to it.” – James Burnett

A long time ago, the Earth died.

Then, a man known as Y was able to use his skills with clock parts to rebuild the entire world using nothing but gears. Cities were built inside gigantic cogs, each city having a large spoke sticking out called a “Central Tower” which controlled the climate. The Earth itself went around a gigantic spring that ran around the equator to generate power. A thousand years later, this is the society that humanity lives in, with the Earth now known as “Clockwork Planet”.

Naoto Miara is a student living in the Giro Kyoto. He is also a machine otaku, with his only passion in life being technology, which as a result sees him being bullied by everyone else at school. On returning to his flat, suddenly a crate drops out of a plane and crashes through his roof. He opens the crate to find a coffin, inside of which is a female automaton. Naoto decides to repair the automaton before his flat collapses, which he does just by hearing which gear in the automaton is wrong.

The automaton awakes, having been malfunctioning for over two centuries, and gets Naoto out of the flat before it collapses. The automaton also requests that Naoto should be her master, and he agrees. Her name is RyuZU “The One Who Follows” YourSlave, and she promises to serve Naoto with absolute submission and loyalty. RyuZU becomes a pupil at Naoto’s school and arranges things so that Naoto can carry on living comfortably, even if she is not aware of certain legal issues. For example, she is unaware that is inappropriate for someone as young as Naoto to stay in a love hotel. They later move into the city’s best hotel.

However, there are bigger problems to deal with. Giro Kyoto appears to be suffering from a “gravity glitch”. Those within the top of society know that in 42 hours the gear upon which the city lies will collapse, killing everyone living on it, and no order has been given to evacuate the area. The job of solving the problem has been given to Dr. Marie Bell Breguet, the youngest person ever to be made a “meister”, part of a non-profit guild dedicated to keeping the clockwork going. She is also a member of one of the five great corporate families of the world, is accompanied by a bodyguard and mechanical soldier named Vainney Halter, and is willing to go to extreme lengths to solve problems – like threatening people with syringes full of mercury.

Breguet and Halter are also on the lookout for an automaton created by Y, who it turns out is RyuZU, and they later meet each other at the hotel RyuZU and Naoto are staying at. This encounter results in an event described at the end of the book’s first chapter. Namely, that in one month’s time, all four will be together in Akihabara – having now become history’s most infamous terrorists.

Clockwork Planet already has plenty of things that make it worthy of reading. For starters there are the people behind it, with the most recognisable name being Japanese-Brazilian co-author Yuu Kamiya, who is also the creator of popular gaming fantasy series No Game No Life. It is certainly a fun series and there is plenty of excitement to be had in this work as well.

Another part of this manga that makes it engaging is the setting. At first it feels like steampunk because of all the gears and the use of old technology to power the world. But on the other hand, there is no steam technology used, it’s set way into the future, and the society looks very much like our modern day one with the exception that just about every building has cogs sticking out of it. Fortunately, there is already something out there that fits this mold better than steampunk, which is the subgenre of “clockpunk”. This is akin to steampunk, but rather than being based on Victorian technology it’s based on even earlier technology like that of the Renaissance and the Baroque periods.

The setting in turn results in the next element that makes this manga entertaining, which is the art. It is fun to see a world that is run by clockwork. All the cogs and gears look cool. That is why things like steampunk took off; because it looks good. For example, when Naoto is repairing RyuZU, he opens her up and you see all the delicate workings inside her. There is something beautiful about seeing all of the machinery exposed, and in the story the entire workings of the planet are out in the open, for all to see. A planet made out of this stuff looks great. While writing this review up I ended up thinking of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and the planet Magrathea, which was home to a luxury business that made custom-built planets. I’m starting to fall in love with the idea of ordering a planet made out of clockwork.

The way the plot is structured is also intriguing. At the end of the opening chapter it is already revealed that the main characters are going to become terrorists. We already know where the plot is going, even though Breguet and Halter haven’t even been properly introduced yet, with only their names being mentioned. However, it keeps the reader engaged. Often with a new manga you might read the first volume, but it is not enough to sustain your interest and you don’t bother to progress with the next. In Clockwork Planet the author has already fed you with what is going to come, and it sounds exciting.

One final interesting bit about it is that this series is being adapted as an anime, and it begins next month. Now, we all know that Clockwork Planet, and indeed just about every other anime series, is going to be in the shadow of the second series of Attack on Titan which begins at the same time. We all know that it is going to win every popular vote going – unless all of a sudden we learn that Yuri!!! on Ice will begin a new series at the end of the year. However, given all the elements I have discussed, it may well be that Clockwork Planet might have a decent chance of getting noticed too. It could be one of the many surprises that have occurred this year. After all, who would have thought that Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid would be the hit series for this season? (Well actually, at least four of the people who write for AUKN, and we are smug about it.)

Anyway, Clockwork Planet is certainly a series I plan to continue reading and one I plan to stream if it is possible.

Title: Clockwork Planet, Volume 1
Publisher: Kodansha Comics
Genre: Action, Clockpunk, Fantasy
Author(s): Yuu Kamiya (story), Tsubaki Himana (story), Kuro (art) and Sino (character design)
Type: Manga
Original vintage: 2014
Format: Book (digital edition available)
Age rating: 16+
Length: 216 pages

Score: 9/10

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

The Girl from the Other Side: Siúil, a Rún Volume 1 Review

“If you ever meet with an Outsider, you mustn’t touch them…because their touch will curse you.”

An ash-blonde little girl in a white smock has fallen asleep gathering flowers in a dark forest. A male creature of darkness – horned, beaked head, tall and garbed in black  – looms over her. The little girl wakes and…

In most stories, this encounter would not end well. But when the sinister creature speaks, his words are filled with gentle chiding and we see that he has come to protect the little girl Shiva, not attack her. A walk to the nearby town – utterly deserted – enables the unlikely pair to gather food and water before they return to their house. We see their domestic routine and learn that the little girl, Shiva, is waiting eagerly for her auntie to come and collect her. Her companion, whom she calls Teacher, is courteous and caring and reads to her (she’s too young to know how) from a book which tells about the God of Light banishing the God of Darkness who came to be known as the Outsider. He reminds her gently that he cannot – must not – touch her, or she will become an Outsider too. And then the story shifts to reveal knights searching the forest for a little girl. Their orders are blunt: “Kill it.”

This is the first manga by Nagabe to be translated into English and it makes for a very strong debut. Like The Ancient Magus’ Bride (also published in Mag Garden) it exudes a powerful and seductive feeling of Otherness; even though the subtitle is Irish the atmosphere evoked by the wonderful dark, grainily-textured art and the fairytale setting is more Northern European Grimm than Celtic (the knights’ armour) and the tall, slender tree trunks bring to mind the illustrations of Danish fairy tale artist Kay Nielsen. Nagabe is especially gifted at story-telling without words, making the most of the contrasts of black and white in some striking and genuinely disturbing sequences.

Nagabe delivers a believable and unsentimental portrait of a young child and Shiva’s relationship with Teacher is touchingly portrayed. We do not know who – or what – he is, except that is obviously one of the feared Outsiders. What we do see is his fatherly concern for his young charge – faced with trying to protect her not just from the Others but from the humans who have abandoned her as well.

And what of the subtitle: Siúil, a Rún? It’s an Irish folksong, sung by a woman lamenting the departure of her lover who’s gone to the wars. Wikipedia tells us that it can be translated as, ‘Go, my love!’  Will it be significant? It’s too early to say…

The edition from Seven Seas is attractively presented with two colour plates at the start and includes two 4-koma extras. Adrienne Beck ‘s sympathetic translation captures the archetypal fairy tale tone of voice perfectly.

At the end, we are promised that Volume 2 of  ‘A tranquil fairy tale about those human and inhuman’ is coming soon. But this volume ends on a nail-biting cliffhanger which is far from tranquil. The Girl from the Other Side is an unsettling yet strangely beautiful manga that will haunt you long after you’ve finished reading.

© nagabe / MAG Garden

Title: The Girl from the Other Side: Siúil, a Rún Vol. 1
Publisher: Seven Seas
Genre: Supernatural
Author(s): Nagabe
Type: Manga
Original vintage: 2016
Format: Book
Age rating: All Ages
Length: 180 pages

Score: 9/10

Yona of the Dawn Part 2 Review

Some spoilers ensue…

Crimson-haired Princess Yona, the only child of murdered King Il of the kingdom of Kouka, is on the run from the forces of her cousin Su-Won, who has killed her father and seized the throne. She is the reincarnation of her ancestor, the heroic Crimson Dragon King, and is searching for his four loyal Dragon Warriors, also reincarnated, to help her take back the throne from her usurping cousin (and unrequited crush). This quest is proving a harsh lesson in reality for the sheltered princess, not least as she comes to hear – incognito, of course – from her impoverished countrymen that her dearly loved father’s pacifist policies have resulted in widespread misery beyond the capital city. But Yona is made of stern stuff and determines to play her part in bringing about reform and righting injustice. She resolutely practices bowmanship and refuses to be treated like a princess by her entourage.

But what of new King Su-Won? In spite of cultivating the outwardly gentle, tea-drinking aesthetic persona that has deceived Yona and the rest of the court, the young king is out to unify his crumbling kingdom. In Episodes 15-16, the focus shifts to Su-Won and we see – through the eyes of bored and dispirited General Lee Guen-Tae of the Earth Clan – that the new king might yet prove to be a force for good and a man worthy of his loyalty.

Yona is helped by the White Dragon Kija to locate the Blue Dragon, whom she names Sinha, then the search for the remaining two dragons continues. But the Green Dragon, Jae-ha, proves frustratingly elusive and as Yona and her friends enter the port city of Awa, they soon learn that the citizens are living in fear of its brutal governor and his men. Encounters with pirates and human traffickers will test Yona to the limits of her endurance – but also help her to grow in self-confidence and maturity. By Episode 24, Yona and her four dragons entourage return to consult Ik-su, the high priest oracle, to seek his advice… and that’s where the anime version ends, leaving us, as the French so aptly say, sur notre faim. Viz Media are now bringing us the original manga by Mizuho Kusanagi in their Shojo Beat list but with only 4 volumes out in English at the time of writing and 23 so far in Japanese, it’ll be quite a while until we even catch up with the end of the TV series (Volume 8) and venture into new territory.

Much of Part 2 of Yona of the Dawn is taken up with the Awa arc, an important development for Yona in that she is shown as determined to conquer her own fears and put right some of the wrongs that have come about through her late father’s policies. Thanks to Kazuhiro Yoneda’s slick direction, the story-telling throughout is traditional but no less exciting for that, and there’s a light but refreshing use of humour as well. The creative team and the voice actors ably engage our sympathy with Yona and her followers, and it’s difficult not to get drawn in and care about what becomes of them. I recommend this series as a great watch for younger anime fans (it’s a 12) for (as with Bodacious Space Pirates) it delivers a sympathetic, relatable but self-confident young heroine. And even though there’s a little light flirting (and a great deal of joshing) the emphasis is very firmly not on ‘who will Yona pair up with?’ but ‘how will Yona get her kingdom back?’ (There’s also a great older woman role-model in pipe-smoking Pirate Captain Gigan.) However, this traditional quest may not appeal to viewers looking for more edgy fantasy fare. And it’s frustrating that the series stops just as it’s getting really interesting, proving especially tantalising with all the plotlines left unresolved. There are three OVA in Japan but these have not been made available to watch so far. Will there be a third season? Or will we just have to go and read the manga (as yet unfinished too!)?

The Funimation US dub makes a good alternative to the original Japanese cast, with a lively script. In my review of Part 1, I mentioned that Monica Rial has a tendency to veer into the shrill at times but here she brings a greater vocal range to the part, ably showing how Yona is growing up and changing. Both Junichi Suwabe and Joel McDonald convince as Jaeha, the charming lady-killer, and it’s a shame we only get to hear Josh Grelle and Hiro Shimono in Episode 24 as Jeno.

The stirring orchestral Opening Theme “Akatsuki no Yona” (Yona of the Dawn) by Kunihiko Ryo (eps 1-14) is replaced by the upbeat electronic J-pop “Akatsuki no Hana”  (Flower of the Dawn) sung by Cyntia. The gentle first Ending Theme “Yoru” (Night) by vistlip is also replaced from Episode 15; “Akatsuki” (Dawn) by Akiko Shikata features a solo on the erhu, the oriental two-stringed violin whose expressive sound has come to be associated with China. (Jae-ha is seen playing the erhu in these episodes.)

This Funimation R2 release of Part 2 comes on Blu-ray and DVD with both the English dub and the original Japanese track with English subtitles. Extras include Episode 16 & 24 Audio Commentaries, Promotional Video & TV Spots, Textless Songs and Funimation Trailers.

In Summary

Yona of the Dawn is a traditional but genuinely likable, watchable fantasy quest series with – a big plus-point, these days – a self-possessed, sympathetic heroine whose adventures should appeal to viewers of all ages.

Title: Yona of the Dawn Part 2
Publisher: Funimation (via Anime Limited)
Genre: Fantasy, Adventure
Studio: Pierrot
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: 12
Running time: 300 minutes

Score: 8/10

Review of Fairy Tail, Collection 12

Warning: Review contains episode spoilers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Score: 7/10

Review of Fairy Tail, Collection 11

Warning: this review contains episode spoilers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Score: 9/10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Score: 5/10

Claymore Review

In a world where mankind coexists with a deadly race of demonic predators known as Yoma, a young woman named Clare works on behalf of an organisation that trains young female Yoma halfbreeds into warriors. These warriors are named Claymores after the gigantic swords they carry on their back, and although they are shunned by humanity, they are deemed a necessity. After a routine mission killing Yoma in a small village, Clare meets Raki, a young boy who lost everything in a Yoma attack, and decides to take him under her wing, despite her dangerous line of work.

Claymore, based on the manga  of the same name by Yagi Norihiro, is a series that I feel occasionally gets treated a little bit unfairly. With its protagonist wielding a large sword, the supernatural medieval setting and elements of tragedy, comparisons with the massively popular 90s classic Berserk are pretty inevitable, and that is a high standard that it simply cannot live up to. When you nix the comparisons, however, and take it on its own merits, Claymore is still a very enjoyable show with a lot to offer.

Despite the fact that I did end up liking Claymore a lot, I’ll be the first to admit it doesn’t really offer a brilliant first impression. Going by the first four episodes alone, you wouldn’t be blamed for thinking that the whole series is going to be a somewhat formulaic affair, with each episode not having much more to it than Clare going to a new place and killing a few Yoma; rinse and repeat. Whilst these initial episodes do offer important nuggets of world building and lore, such as how exactly Claymores work and the rules of the organisation they work for, there isn’t really a whole lot to them. This changes from the fifth episode onwards, however, which is where the story really starts, or at least, where it starts to get interesting. Whilst the general focus is still on monster slaying, it’s from here where they start varying the situations and upping the ante which prevents things from getting stale. Also aiding in keeping things fresh are the variety of creature designs for the more powerful Yoma, known as awakened beings. To put it plainly, the designs for the awakened beings are really cool- looking and unique, which is something I really appreciate.

As you might imagine with a central premise based around killing monsters, Claymore is incredibly action-centric, which is a bit of a double- edged sword. On the one hand, the fights on display here are excellent, with a ton of memorable and bloody battles that will probably be the main draw of the series for most viewers. On the other hand, I think that there is such a thing as too much action, so when you’re watching the episodes back-to-back, all of the action can get a little bit draining. There are a few episodes where the pace slows down a bit, and we get a break from all the fighting, giving us insight into the characters’ histories and their motivations for becoming Claymores, but these are few and far between.

One thing I did like about Claymore was the ending. As many anime fans know, adaptations of ongoing manga or novels can often suffer from unsatisfying endings due to the source material carrying on past the anime, not leaving much room for closure, but this isn’t really the case here. Well, it sort of isn’t, anyway. Although the anime’s ending is incredibly open, I feel as if the main through-line of the series had a somewhat satisfying conclusion. It isn’t perfect, but given that the manga didn’t end until seven years after the series, I think the writers did the best they could with what they had.

Claymore’s protagonist, Clare appears stoic and rather dull at first but from Episode 5 onwards, we find out a lot more about her and her motivations for becoming a Claymore. This adds some depth to her character as well as making her more likable. Unfortunately, Clare is just about the only fleshed-out character in the whole show.

The supporting cast largely consists of Clare’s fellow warriors, but they are all rather forgettable, being mild variations on ‘badass action girl’ and not a whole lot else. We do get some brief insight into these characters, but it isn’t much. Given that there are 26 episodes, and the insane amount of action, I think it’d have been nice to have seen some of the more drawn-out battles shortened in order to give some supporting characters like Helen or Deneve a bit more backstory or development.

Of all the characters in Claymore, there was only one that I actively disliked, and that was Clare’s companion Raki. I find it somewhat hard to pinpoint exactly what I disliked about him, but I think a lot of it may have been down to the awful performance of his English voice actor, Todd Haberkorn. This is somewhat surprising to me, because I know Haberkorn is actually a good voice actor, and I didn’t mind him at all in others shows I’ve heard him in such as Sword Art Online and Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood, but here he just comes off as incredibly whiny and obnoxious, and his voice just grates on my ears. Thankfully, he’s only in about half the show, disappearing whenever Clare has to go off and fight Yoma, but when he was on screen, he did nothing but irritate me. Another complaint I have about Raki is his relationship with Clare. Despite only knowing her a short amount of time, he quickly becomes borderline obsessive over her, which just doesn’t feel natural given that the two characters haven’t exactly been together long, and have very little in the way of chemistry.

Todd Haberkorn’s rather atrocious turn as Raki aside, the rest of the English dub for Claymore is very solid, with an almost exclusively female cast full of great actresses you’ll likely recognize. Among the cast are Cherami Leigh (Digimon: Digital Monsters, Fairy Tail, Psycho Pass), Caitlin Glass (Baccano!, Love Live!, Danganronpa: The Animation), Jamie Marchi (Free!, High School DxD, Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt), Monica Rial (Assassination Classroom, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Full Metal Panic) and, possibly my all-time favourite voice actress, Laura Bailey (Persona 4: The Animation, Code Geass, K-On, Soul Eater). As well as a great voice cast, I also found Masanori Takumi’s score for the series to be brilliant, combining traditional orchestral arrangements with some kick-ass hard rock and metal tunes when the action gets going, that really pumps you up. The only real let-down, musically speaking, comes from the rather forgettable opening and ending tracks: ‘Raison D’etre’ by Nightmare and ‘Danzai no Hana~Guilty Sky’ by Riyu Kosaka.

Animation for Claymore is handled by a favourite studio of mine, Madhouse, who have produced many excellent shows such as The Tatami Galaxy, Death Note and HaNaYaMaTa. Whilst Claymore isn’t one of their most distinctive or unique looking productions, the animation here is still great, and it really comes into its own during the action sequences. Anime Limited’s release of Claymore is the first time the series has been available on Blu-ray in the UK, after being previously released on DVD only by Manga Entertainment. Being produced just before the era of HD anime, this Blu-ray release in an upscale, meaning that it doesn’t look quite as nice as new anime, but still looks quite a lot better than the DVD release before it, despite some banding issues when things get dark.

As per usual for Anime Limited, this new release of Claymore on Blu-ray is a treat for collectors. As well as coming in a high quality rigid box with a gorgeous digipak and art cards, this release also includes a 100 page artbook, full of character art, backgrounds, and, my personal highlight, art of all the Yoma that appear in the show. On-disc extras are also plentiful, including numerous commentary tracks by the English dub cast, as well as interviews with the Japanese staff, TV spots and, of course, a clean opening and ending.   

In Summary

Claymore is not a show without its faults, but the excellent action sequences, top-notch animation, and awesome soundtrack more than make up for any shortcomings it may have, and is well worth a watch.

Title: Claymore
Publisher: Anime Limited
Genre: Action, Fantasy, Shounen
Studio: Madhouse
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2007
Format: Blu-Ray
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 15
Running time: 650 minutes

Score: 8/10

Review of One Piece, Collection 15

Episodes 349-372, may contain spoilers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Score: 8/10