Shimoneta: A Boring World Where the Concept of Dirty Jokes Doesn’t Exist – a Second Review

Warning: Contains very strong language from the start.

“I wrote, I wrote to the- the Council of Churches and I said, ‘This fucking Bible… especially, erm, Paul,’ I said, ‘This fucking Bible really gives me the horn.’ And er, I wrote, you know … civilly to them at the World Council of Churches, I wrote, ‘Dear Cunts in Charge of Religion,’ you know, familiar, friendly, ‘Dear Cunts in Charge of Religion, your fucking guidebook or whatever the fucking thing is don’t half give me the horn. I get fucking horn, especially on St. Paul!’ And I got no reply whatsoever from that. Cunts! No wonder church attendance is dropping off.”
Peter Cook, from Derek and Clive: Ad Nauseam

I decided to begin this second AUKN review of Shimoneta with this quote to prove that you can create something that is incredibly rude and disgusting, but also funny. Peter Cook and Dudley Moore’s X-Rated Derek and Clive albums are some of the funniest things you can ever listen to, even though what is contained on them is utterly disgusting.

Incendiary Lemon’s review of Shimoneta pretty much covers all aspects of the plot and there is little reason for me to repeat it all again, so I would advise you to read his review first. If you already have, you will know that he talks about how 90% of the comedy is just saying something sexual and it is rubbish. I am inclined to agree. Most of what was featured didn’t make me laugh, but the moments that did were the ones that were incredibly ridiculous. For example, there is a moment where they talk about Otome, the artist in the erotic terrorist group SOX, drawing by sticking a pencil up her pussy. There is another where the lead character Okuma eats biscuits that have been made out of Anna’s “love nectar”.

This is where the problem with Shimoneta stands out. Some might say that the problem with it is that is too rude. I say the problem is it’s not rude enough! Those two jokes in the above paragraph to me are funny because they are so gross. The Derek and Clive albums of the 1970s still contain routines that are gross today, which is why they have lasted. To highlight a scene which Incendiary Lemon mentions, in which Ayame rolls around on the floor shouting: “Penis, penis, penis, penis, vagina, vagina, vagina, vagina”, even I can make that funnier with a simple re-write, by changing it to “Cock, cock, cock, cock, cunt, cunt, cunt, cunt.” It means the same thing, but those words are more direct and impactful, making the shock of the rudeness much greater.

Any two-bit writer can make a scene in which a woman tries to rape a man, but it takes people like Pete and Dud to make a genuinely funny scene which involves a man trying to the break the Guinness World Record for producing the longest trail of snot, only for it to be ruined by his wife, and thus the man decides to break the Guinness World Record for kicking his wife in the cunt. It sounds horrific on the surface, but listen to it, and you won’t stop yourself from laughing.

This brings up the vexing question of censorship. You see, it has been argued by some writers that Shimoneta is an attack on censorship, and a reaction to recent laws in Japan concerning pornographic works. This is arguably a noble endeavour, even if you don’t like the sort of works coming out of Japan at the moment. Our laws on porn are messed up as well. Remember me mentioning the joke about the biscuits made out of Anna’s “love nectar”. If you don’t know, that “nectar” is her ejaculate. Under UK law, it is illegal to feature pornography featuring female ejaculation, but as it is OK to show it featuring male ejaculate, you can argue that UK porn laws are sexist. Britain may have made it an offence to possess erotic images of characters under 18, but you can go into a bookshop and buy a Penguin Classics edition of the Marquis de Sade’s The 120 Days of Sodom, which not only features extreme pornography, but sexual acts with people as young as four-years-old. So you can write a paedophilic sex scene, but if you try and draw the exact same thing, you would be committing a crime.

The problem, however, is that Shimoneta‘s attempts at humour let it down. Maybe if it was released as an OVA rather than a TV series, free of any possible issues broadcasters might have to offensive content, it might have worked better, but as it is based on a series of light novels and most of the anime adapts the contents of the books, I’m guessing not. If you are looking for a series which tackles the problems of censorship Library Wars does it better, mainly because it is not trying to be funny most of the time, being more dramatic and romantic.

There is also the other major problem when it comes to this sort of thing, which is that when you say you are against censorship of porn, you end up worrying that you end up siding with people you don’t want to be on your side. I’m not talking about people who might support paedophilia although obviously that’s an issue, but more like people who think that it is an attack on freedom of speech to deny them the right to say “nigger” in public.

I do know of people and news websites in this country whose views on freedom of speech and what should be said in comedy do infuriate me. I won’t mention who these people are, partly as a petty act of self-censorship to pointlessly annoy them, and partly, to reference Linda Smith, because I don’t want to give them the oxygen of publicity – or indeed the oxygen of oxygen.

But some of these people who claim to support freedom of speech do frustrate me. For example, I’ve seen people trying to compare Dapper Laughs, the comic who got axed from ITV2 for telling rape jokes, to Lenny Bruce, the American comic who in the 1960s was arrested several times for obscenity and died of a drug overdose. As far as I’m concerned, Dapper Laughs is no way comparable to Lenny Bruce, chiefly because Dapper’s material was so shit it doesn’t even deserve comparison. To quote Stewart Lee: “Who gets dropped by ITV2? That’s like being barred from a pub that’s already on fire.”

Now I should state that I think that comedy and indeed all art forms should be free to cover any subject, including rape, murder, drugs etc. One thing that annoys me, though, is bad comedians using freedom of speech to defend jokes that are just poor. Other comedians who have done material about rape and rape culture are brilliant. Adrienne Truscott for example, did a show at the Edinburgh Fringe about rape culture, naked from the waist down, in 2013. That year she won the Panel Prize at the Edinburgh Comedy Awards, and an increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality. In that same year, Bridget Christie won the main Edinburgh Comedy Award prize with a show about feminism, and has one of the best rape jokes I can think of: “My rape fantasies involve more prosecutions and longer sentences.”

In the world of anime, rape is also a strange issue. We protest if it involves two people, but we get less bothered when it involves a tentacled monster. It doesn’t stop outside commentators talking about it obviously, which did lead to the memorable incident when both the left-wing and right-wing press published articles attacking the release of Urotsukidōji: Legend of the Overfiend, and ironically increasing the sales of the anime by giving it so much free publicity.

What also annoys me is that the same comedians who use freedom of speech to defend their rubbish jokes often tend to be the same comedians who tell their hecklers to shut up. They are hypocrites. Hell, I’m probably a hypocrite too for my views, but at least I’m willing to admit the possibility that my views are askew.

Maybe what we need to do when watching Shimoneta is get more into the world that it is set in, with people constantly having to talk in bizarre euphemisms to discuss anything rude otherwise they would get arrested. It is probably through this language problem that we end up having the issue with the humour. To the people of this world, just saying “penis” is offensive enough, whereas saying “fuck” (which only happens once in the series) doesn’t seem to be needed as much. Is it possible to imagine such a setting really existing? I would say that it is, because people have lived through such a thing, there was a comedy that tackled it, and we have overcome it.

I’m talking about the time when in Britain it was illegal to be homosexual. The comedy that helped to tackle it was the 1960s radio show Round the Horne, which featured the characters of Julian and Sandy played by Hugh Paddick and Kenneth Williams, who spoke the Polari gay slang to get away with all kinds of things that if said directly would have got the BBC into a whole heap of trouble. In one sketch set in a music shop Sandy mentions that Julian is, “a miracle of dexterity on the cottage upright”, but in Polari a “cottage upright” is an erection in a public toilet. Polari appears in later comedies, like the 1970s sitcom Porridge, where characters would often tell each other to “Naff off”, but “naff” was Polari for a straight man who was not available for fornication.

You can compare the repressed Britain of the 1960s to the repressed Japan of the future. Here we see different groups of people trying to get away with what is seen by the government as perverse behaviour. The difference is that Round the Horne was dealing with a real-life situation and it managed to outlive it, the show ending in the same year the homosexuality was decriminalised. Shimoneta is set in a fantasy world and thus is harder to relate to. That is why it fails to live up to the rest comically, but it might live up to them in terms of a message about the dangerous of censorship.

Title: Shimoneta: A Boring World Where the Concept of Dirty Jokes Doesn't Exist
Publisher: Funimation (via Anime Limited)
Genre: Comedy, Dystopia, Ecchi, Sci-fi
Studio: J.C.Staff
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: 18
Running time: 300 minutes

Score: 5/10

Absolute Duo Review

Welcome to Koryo Academy, a high school where students are trained to be future peace keepers by utilizing the power of Blaze; the ability to manifest one’s soul into the shape of a weapon, like swords and chains. Tor Kokone, however, is an exception, as his Blaze doesn’t manifest as offensive weapon, but a defensive shield. This makes him an ‘Irregular’ and a person of interest for many females at the Academy including his Duo partner Julie Sigtuna, a silver haired girl from Scandinavia who happens to carry a tragic past, just like Tor.

Supernatural schools are a tried and tested genre that has been done to death both in and outside of anime, so what makes Absolute Duo stand out, if at all? Well, the power to manifest a weapon based upon what lies in someone’s soul is an interesting concept, as it can tell the audience a lot about a particular character if they conjure a small dagger or gigantic building-breaking sword. In conjunction with that fact, the power isn’t automatically ‘on’; instead people must take injections in order to awaken the powers AND level up to become stronger warriors. It makes you wonder how they came about discovering this Blaze power in the first place, and why constant injections must be taken; is it forever or only up till a certain point? The school issues them and trains them to become ‘peacekeepers’ – what does that entail exactly? Is there an ongoing enemy that multiple groups are trying to find ways to defeat or is it something else entirely?

None of these questions are answered in the anime.

Why a Blaze manifests as it does is part of Tor’s character arc, which gets a serviceable semi-conclusion in the finale, and the reason why English female Lilith Bristol manifests a gun is implied, but no other characters get enough screen time to understand why their Blaze is the way it is. All the injections the characters have are shown on screen and discussed as if the cast know exactly what they are but we are not given the proper context for the audience, and the whole ‘peacekeeper’ thing is never elaborated. The last part is especially a point of contention as we are introduced to other factions such as Equipment Smith, who use technology to supposedly help the world, as well as brief mentions of even more leaders and their groups in Episode 10 when they come together for a conference, but nothing is explained.

Compare this to a series with similar elements, RWBY: the web animation also has duos/groups assigned at the school for fights and each student is training to become a huntsman/huntress to fight a common evil, but the world is fully realised and the characters fleshed out in a natural, clear way that allows the audience to get the mythology and care about how the cast is evolving. Admittedly it may seem unfair to compare a Western web animation with a Japanese anime adaptation, but what I’m trying to say is that we learn more about the world of RWBY and its residents within just the first volume (run time 123 minutes) than the entirety of Absolute Duo anime (300 minutes). There are decent ideas scattered across Absolute Duo but it plays out as if the full story wasn’t fully realised before production was started, or at least the anime didn’t carry across said world-building from the original material effectively, if it existed in the first place.

Absolute Duo isn’t just a fantasy show, however, it’s also a harem, so despite it being a mixed gender school the show mostly focuses on Tor and his growing group of girls as they progress. Credit where it’s due; even though each girl gets a turn to be ‘saved’ by Tor, the females also get their own moments to shine in combat and show off their unique weapons, however brief that moment might be. Also, it’s interesting that some of the girls come from different corners of the world with the British student Lilith being the one who’s forward about her feelings, and Julie is the silent but deadly girl from Scandinavia (a made up Scandinavian country, but still it’s a part of the world that doesn’t normally gets representation in anime). You also have the martial arts expert Tomoe who gets phased out more as the series progresses and Miyabi, the shy one with genuine feelings for our male lead until she does a character 180 just to give the audience cheap drama for the finale.

The relationship that gets the most development however is between Tor and Julie as they are Duos, meaning that they have to fight, train, share a room and eat together. Due to their similar tragic backgrounds and the pair having genuine chemistry, their relationship develops the most naturally despite being heavily weighed down by tired tropes such as panties somehow ending up in Tor’s possession, him accidently groping her and so forth. Tor himself isn’t as annoying as some male leads in harem shows, instead he takes his situation in his stride and is not afraid to talk to the various women or be upfront about his feelings. This is refreshing, even though half the time with the flashbacks to his tragic past to reminds us why he’s at the school in the first place, he feels like a character that should be in a different series altogether, rather than a harem one.

So, if the harem is only somewhat passable and the fantasy elements are sub-par, is there anything that the series is truly invested in? Yes, fanservice. Although not as over-the-top as other series like Samurai Bride, the series is not ashamed to have many close-ups of breasts, panty shots mid-battle and throwing the male lead into situations where he gets to grope said girly-parts. All the females have larger-than-average boob sizes (aside from, interestingly, Julie) with clothing designed to cling to their chests like it’s hanging on for dear life and the female school uniforms are formed of a waist-hugging corset and mini-skirt to emphasize all the necessary body parts to focus on. Fan service isn’t automatically a bad element in itself, if that’s what you’re into, but you need the animation budget to make it worth your time and it really isn’t here to support it. The breasts are constantly perky and upright regardless of what the girls are wearing and they sometimes move independently, so they’re an annoying distraction rather than a fun quirk. The series also relies heavily on the ‘female trip and fall into male’ trick, but every time it’s executed poorly by making the girls seemingly trip over nothing to land on Tor in embarrassingly impossible ways and places; the anime would make them trip on a pebble from three miles away if it gets them to land boobs-first on the male. The fan service is cheaply done in all instances so it’s not recommended if that is what you’re looking for.

The animation across the series is overall average if you go in without much expectation but the budget had been spent on the wrong aspects. The opening animation has a lovely dance number between Tor and Julie that’s very elegant and promises things for the anime that do not follow through, and with three different ending animations to accompany the various songs, it’s clear that the budget went into them when really, they should have saved some for the fight scenes and fan service. The former especially as there’s plenty across the episodes but they range from badly choreographed to choppily edited, with some very odd hastily ‘cut-to-black’ moments thrown in for no apparent reason; all they accomplish is ruining the flow of the battles.

Atsushi Hirasawa provides the score and, despite his lack of experience, his offering is one of the highlights of the series. There’s a lot of calmer, easy-going pieces that seem to share similar chords to classical pieces such as Bach’s Jesus Bleibet Meine Freude (Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring) and Ave Maria. Then the action pieces use more modern elements from electric guitars to techno effects. It’s an effective score overall and complements each scene nicely.

The DVD version of the series was reviewed; all 12 episodes come with the set and it includes commentaries for Episodes 10 & 12, clean opening/closings, promos, the US trailer and trailers for various anime such as Yona of the Dawn and Blood Blockade Battlefront.

Absolute Duo is the textbook definition of mediocre; it ticks the boxes it needs to pass off as a fantasy/harem high school show but fails to really try and make something of itself or provide a memorable experience. There are a few interesting ideas that could have blossomed in a better show, but as it is, it’s a series not worth investing in.

Title: Absolute Duo
Publisher: Funimation (via Anime Limited)
Genre: Harem, fantasy, action,
Studio: 8-Bit
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2015
Format: Blu-Ray and DVD (DVD version reviewed)
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 15
Running time: 300 minutes

Score: 5/10

Fairy Tail Collection 13 Review

Warning: Review contains episode spoilers

“Hans [Christian] Andersen slept in this room for five weeks – which seemed to the family AGES!” – A note in Charles Dickens’s house.

Last time the Fairy Tail wizards were trying to find the pieces of a magical clock, while all the time battling against the Legion wizards working for the Zootopia Church. However, by the time Fairy Tail manage to collect the pieces, they learn too late that this is actually the one thing that they should NOT do.

The pieces are part of a gigantic magical device called the Immortal Clock, which, when activated, will release a spell called “Real Nightmare” that has the power to alter the perception of time and cause chaos across the world. They also learn of the identities of the people who are responsible for all this troublemaking – the Dark Guild Oracion Seis – or rather, the reformed Dark Guild Neo-Oracion Seis.

The guild, consisting of among others the poison Dragon Slayer Cobra, old Sir Erigor of Esienwald who now refers to himself as Grim Reaper and controls storm magic, and Midnight who now calls himself Brain II, have been responsible for the attacks on churches. Except that it is not the buildings they have been attacking, but celestial wizards protecting the clock. They have been manipulating everything to suit their own ends, including which ones of Fairy Tail’s wizards end up facing them in battle. To top it all off, Neo-Oracion Seis has another member called Imitatia, a wizard capable of impersonating people. The person she has been imitating all this time is Michelle Lobster, Lucy’s supposed relation, who takes Lucy and Natsu prisoner.

Natsu is locked in Zootopia’s prison, while Lucy is taken to the Immortal Clock, because for it to work it must be controlled by a celestial wizard, and she is to be forced to make it go. The rest of Fairy Tail, and later the previously tricked Legion wizards, end up having to try and bust Natsu out of the nick and free Lucy from her plight.

After this is all over, there then comes the matter of some other important guild business. Makarov decides to make Gildarts the new master of Fairy Tail, but before he does so, Gildarts goes away on another trip leaving just two instructions: allow Laxus back into the guild, and make Makarov guild master again.

The other important matter is that over the past seven years (during which many of Fairy Tail’s wizards went missing) Fairy Tail has now become the worst ranked guild in the land, with the new top guild being one called Sabertooth, which has two Dragon Slayers in it: the White Dragon Sting and the Shadow Dragon Rogue. The fastest way to reach the top is to enter into a competition called the Grand Magic Games tournament, which Makarov agrees to, chiefly because of the vast prize money. The problem however is that the likes of Natsu, Gray, Erza and Lucy are all seven years behind mastering the magic abilities, with only the worst wizards making any progress in that time.

Thus they need to make progress over the next three months, but then Lucy is summoned by Virgo to the celestial spirit world which is in danger, taking several other wizards with her. As a result, time that could be used for training might be getting wasted.

In this collection, one of the main attractions is the difference in tone between the two story arcs that appear in it. The first is dark, menacing, and contains its fair share of conspiracy in the Zootopia Church. You also have the subject of betrayal when you discover Michelle’s true identity, but this becomes even more so when you discover that not all the members of Neo-Oracion Seis are who they appear to be, with their memories being manipulated. The story does however have a nice pay-off with the relationship between Lucy and Michelle being fully explained.

The second story arc appears to be jollier, with it seemingly about a contest between wizard guilds, although we have only just started the arc. There is, as seems obligatory with long-running anime series like this, a beach episode, but also we start to learn more about the dragons as well.

One other major factor to be highlighted in this second arc is that it is also arguably the last arc. We are now coming to the end of the first series of Fairy Tail, which ended in March 2013 and then went away for a year. There are only two more collections in the first series left to go, so it is interesting to see how this conclusion builds up.

This time, all the extras in this collection are just on the second disc. There are episode commentaries, trailers, interviews with Todd Haberkorn and Newton Pittman (the English dub voices of Natsu and Gray), and textless opening and closing. This includes new pieces of music, “Break Through” by Going Under Ground for the opening; and my personal favourite of the two, “Kimi ga Kureta Mono” by Shizuka Kudo.

Title: Review of Fairy Tail, Collection 13
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: 275 minutes

Score: 7/10

Snow White with the Red Hair Part 1 Review


If you’re someone who’s read many of my
Anime UK News reviews, you’ll know that I’m a real fan of any work adapted or created by Studio BONES. Lately there was one notable series of theirs that I didn’t watch while it aired: Snow White with the Red Hair. After hearing good things from one of my co-writers, Joshawott, I decided that I had to give the show a chance when it came up for review. Here’s what I thought of the first half of the series.

The story of Snow White with the Red Hair follows the tale of Shirayuki, a young girl with beautiful red hair who lives in the kingdom of Tanbarun where she works as a skilled herbalist. Because of her rare hair colour, she attracts the attention of Raji Shenazard, the prince of Tanbarun. The prince desires to make Shirayuki his mistress, but rather than obey his command, Shirayuki decides to run away. In doing so, she encounters a young man known as Zen and his two companions, Mitsuhide Lowen and Kiki Seiran, but it’s not long before Raji catches up to Shirayuki and manages to poison Zen! With no choice but for Shirayuki to face Raji to obtain an antidote, just what will become of our heroine?


Well, as it turns out, quite a lot will become of her! It’s soon revealed that Zen is actually the second prince of the neighbouring country, Clarines,  and he uses his influence to help rescue Shirayuki from her situation. Afterwards Shirayuki decides to move to Clarines and begins working hard to pass the court herbalist exam (which will allow her to serve the castle) while also remaining close friends with Zen. However, it appears that love may be in the air between these two…


It has to be said that the story of Snow White with the Red Hair is fairly simple. It’s a shojo series, therefore a love story, and it’s happy to bubble along slowly as the two main characters get closer to one another. That being said, while the plot is simple, I don’t find it badly done, which is mostly down to the fact that the characters are well written.

Shirayuki often finds herself in trouble due to her unusual red hair and her friendship with the prince, but she’s by no means a damsel in distress. The nice thing about Shirayuki is that she’s a very confident person, and although she has limitations in strength due to being a woman (for example, at one point early in the series she is kidnapped and struggles to overpower her male captor) it just leaves her feeling very human. She’s always trying her best to improve herself and isn’t happy to just sit around and be saved by Zen; she wants to be his strength and actually have something to show for herself.

That’s not to say the show is flawless. Despite the characters being well written, Shirayuki is the only one who feels original to me. The rest of the cast seem generic. If you break Shirayuki down far enough then she’s certainly made up of many typical personality traits but that would take dissecting her character under a magnifying glass to really notice. Characters like Zen and his guards, Mitsuhide and Kiki, feel like cutouts of how we’d all imagine a Prince Charming and his supporters to act. There is nothing wrong with this as on the whole I did like Zen, Mitsuhide, and Kiki, but if you’re coming here looking for a vastly different love interest, then I’m sorry to disappoint you. That said, I do like Zen’s third aide, Obi, who was originally being used to scare Shirayuki out of the castle but becomes a silly goofball character once he’s taken in hand by Zen.

I think Snow White with the Red Hair is a safe shojo story. It’s not attempting to be groundbreaking or tell a wholly new story, it’s just trying to be good – and I really do think it satisfies that condition. I like love stories. I’m usually busily reviewing action/fantasy series like Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls In A Dungeon? but I have a real soft spot for a good shojo series, too. Being a shojo anime fan living in the UK doesn’t offer that great of a deal of selection for these titles (Say I Love You UK anime release when?) and often those that do get released aren’t that good. I think that’s why the release of Snow White with the Red Hair is so important to me because not only is it a series handled by BONES, it’s a genuinely strong entry for the shojo genre.

Speaking of BONES, I’m happy to report that they’ve done some very good work here. Character designs, backgrounds, and the overall standard of animation is very smooth. It walks the studio’s usual line of being anime but with a slightly western influence without losing the charm of being a Japanese piece of work. The colours are bright and vibrant throughout but the studio are also happy to use a darker selection of shades for the more gritty sequences (such as when Shirayuki is kidnapped) and that’s something I really respect them for. BONES have a good eye for colour and how to make it really fit the mood. I’d also like to spend a moment pointing out how much I love the way the studio artists depict exaggerated character expressions, as they’re always a joy to behold and fit right in with my sense of humor.

Where music is concerned, one of my favourite composers, Michiru Oshima, has handled things and overall the soundtrack sounds great. I’ve heard a lot of Oshima’s work recently thanks to rewatching Fullmetal Alchemist and The Tatami Galaxy, so it was quite obvious from the use of violins and strings that Snow White with the Red Hair was a work of hers. It’s a soundtrack that fits well with the show and the various themes it explores. Overall I have nothing to complain about. The opening for the series is “Bright Hopes” sung by Shirayuki’s voice actress and the ending is “Kizuna ni Nosete” by Eyelis. Neither track is that memorable and the animation is simply of Shirayuki and the cast having fun together, but both fit the series well enough.

The Japanese voice actors do a fine job on the whole. Shirayuki is voiced by Saori Hayami (Koyuki Hinashi in Fuuka, Shinoa Hiragi) and she plays the role with a great deal of emotion, managing to convey Shirayuki’s feelings well. Zen meanwhile is handled by Ryota Osaka (Sadao Mao in The Devil Is a Part-Timer!, Keiji Akaashi in Haikyu!!), who plays the prince in a suitably charming and engaging way. He injects a lot of fun into the role and that enthusiasm comes through to the viewer. I’d like to take a moment to also give a shout-out to Jun Fukuyama, who plays Raji (Ango Sakaguchi in Bungo Stray Dogs, Takeshi Nishigori in Yuri on Ice!!, Shinra in Durarara!!)). Raji is a side character who reappears about halfway through Part 1 and when he did, he instantly became one of my favourites due to Fukuyama’s fun and engaging voice work with Raji (although this is due in part to the fact that he started reminding me of Shinra). Raji went from being a total sleaze to being a silly character that I’ve grown attached to.

I’d like to say that the English voice actors do as good a job as well but unfortunately I have real problems with Shirayuki’s English actor: Brina Palencia (Nina Tucker in the original Fullmetal Alchemist, Maho Minami in Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad). What I got from watching the anime in Japanese is that Shirayuki is a very emotional character, yet Palencia doesn’t convey her feelings that well at all – and when the main character is not conveying emotion then the whole dub feels underwhelming. I’d recommend that everyone simply watch the show subbed instead.

This release comes to the UK thanks to Funimation and contains Episodes 1-12 of the series on two Blu-ray discs both subbed and dubbed. Although notably absent for me is an OVA that bridges the gap between the first and second cour of the show; hopefully Part 2 includes it. The extras on offer are the usual scattering of trailers, clean opening and ending videos and some episode commentaries for Episodes 9 & 11.

In the end, I’m certainly looking forward to Part 2 of Snow White with the Red Hair. It’s not really groundbreaking for the shojo genre, but the cast are really likable and I find myself wanting to see more of how this love story will play out. Highly recommended on the whole!

Title: Snow White with the Red Hair Part 1
Publisher: Funimation (via Anime Limited)
Genre: Shojo
Studio: BONES
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2015
Format: Blu-Ray
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 12
Running time: 300 minutes

Score: 8/10

Mikagura School Suite – The Complete Series Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Score: 7/10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Score: 8/10

Yurikuma Arashi Review

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“Always respect Mother Nature. Especially when she weighs 400 pounds and is guarding her baby.” – James Rollins

It rather rare to see a yuri anime released in the UK. I, for one, don’t recall ever reviewing one before so it makes for an interesting experience. It certainly becomes more interesting when a lesbian romance series features a surprisingly high number of murderous bears.

In Yurikuma Arashi (Lily Bear Storm) the world has undergone a dramatic change. A minor planet called Kumaria exploded and the resulting meteor storm showered the Earth. The result of this was that it made the bears on Earth intelligent, man-hunting killers, and thus bloody conflict between humans and bears took place. In the end, a giant barrier called the Wall of Severance was built to keep bears and humans apart. If a bear makes its way into the human side it is shot on sight.

It is possible for bears and humans to cross from one side to the other, but in order to do so they have to go on a Severance Trial before three male bears named Life Sexy (the judge), Life Cool (the prosecutor) and Life Beauty (the defence attorney). If one agrees to the terms they can cross, which normally means having to give up on the thing you hold most dear to you.

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On the human side of the Wall, at Arashigoku High School, schoolgirl Kureha Tsubaki is in love with classmate Sumika Izumino. She also has a deep hatred of bears, her mother having been eaten by one. One day her class gets two new students: Ginko Yurishiro and Lulu Yurigasaki, who are actually both bears in disguise – admittedly not very good disguises due their habit of constantly saying “growl” at the end of each sentence.

Soon things start to go wrong for Kureha and Sumika. First, the flowerbed at school which they have tended so lovingly is vandalised; then when they tell the class rep Mitsuko Yurizono they narrowly avoid being hit by a brick. Then, worst of all, the following day Sumika vanishes.  Kureha gets a mysterious phone call asking whether her love for Sumika is genuine, and tells her to go to the school roof to prove it. She does so, rifle in hand, where she finds Ginko and Lulu in (chibi) bear form. What follows next is a Severance Trial with Ginko and Lulu in the box, the result of which appears to be some form of dream sequence in which they transform into beargirls and lick nectar from a lily growing out of Kureha’s torso, and you can’t help be feel that the lily stamens are meant to represent a penis. While this is a yuri series, the target demographic is seinen.

Anyway, after this Kureha wakes up in the nurse’s office at the school. She wonders whether what she has experienced is a dream and goes outside. There, behind the flowerbed, she discovers two bears eating a girl. She then learns that Sumika has been declared dead, but she refuses to believe it. Thus she attempts to prove that Sumika is alive, while all the time the human forms of Ginko and Lulu keep pestering her. As the series progresses, we learn that there are several humans and bears keen on Kureha’s past and future. Some are in love with her, some want her dead, and some think she is evil. The result will ultimately change the relationship between the humans and the bears.

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There is an awful lot going on in these twelve episodes. For starters there is the romance. You have the relationship between Kureha and Sumika, then between Ginko and Lulu, then Kureha, Ginko and Lulu together, and then other characters become involved too. While there is a lot of nudity, it is never full frontal and don’t see anything untoward. There is hugging and romantic relationships, but anything more physical is normally just implied, like in the stamen-licking sequence.

Another recurring theme is that of prejudice. You obviously have the whole case of the bears and humans excluding one another, but in this series “exclude” can have many meanings, even going as far as murder and execution of those who stray outside of what are considered social norms. As the series progresses, we learn that Kureha is someone who is excluded by her classmates and frequently treated with disdain, and thus Sumika is treated similarly because of their relationship. Further on in the series, we see this exclusion has been dogging her for a long time, and ultimately the series is about the bears and the humans being able overcome the prejudices of human society with the power of love.

The artwork is probably the best thing about Yurikuma Arashi, partly because of the designs used, such as the chibi bears, but also because of the use of certain visual images to deliver messages to the viewer. A frequent one is that when one of the girls begins to form a new loving relationship with one of the others; it cuts to a shot of a white lily opening and someone singing the line: “the lily opens”. As you may have gathered, “lily” in Japanese is “yuri”, so it indicates the blossoming of lesbian love. However, when it is one of the bears who develops similar feelings, the shot is of a black lily and the line sung is: “The bear opens.”

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Regarding extras in this collection, you have some episode commentaries, promos, trailers, and the textless opening and closing. Personally, I thought that the end song, “Territory”, sung by the actresses who play Kureha, Ginko and Lulu, is better than the opening “Ano Mori de Matteru” by Bonjour Suzuki. However, concerning these releases and others ones recently made from Anime Limited, I have become annoyed by the way Funimation have affected them. Namely, when you load the disc you have to sit through adverts that you can’t skip through. They must also annoy Anime Limited in some way because some of the stuff advertised is content they don’t sell. For example, the second disc advertises Michiko & Hatchin, which in Britain is released by MVM rather than Anime Limited.

The anime itself however is an enjoyable watch with many elements going for it. What would be really interesting, however, would be a release of a yuri title that is actually aimed at women.

Title: Yurikuma Arashi
Publisher: Anime Limited
Genre: Fantasy, Magical Girl, Romance, Science Fiction, Yuri
Studio: Silver Link
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2015
Format: Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack (Blu-Ray version reviewed)
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 15
Running time: 300 minutes

Score: 8/10