Review of Death Note: Blu-Ray Collection

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“You must believe in God, despite what the clergy tell you.” – Benjamin Jowlett

If Death Note succeeds in at least one thing, it is that it has possibly created the most interesting and intriguing character of all anime. This is a big claim to make, but there are so many ways that you could describe lead character Light Yagami: genius, ruthless, draconian, misguided, charismatic, megalomaniacal, psychopathic, influencer, passionate, deadly and godly. It is hard to think of another anime character so complex that they can be described in so many different ways.

It is also hard to think of a modern anime or manga that has attracted so much controversy. While there are some series that have attracted people’s anger because they contain sexual or violent scenes, Death Note has had been through several attempts to ban it in various countries including China and Russia, has been the cause of several school expulsions in America, and was even linked to a real-life murder in Belgium.

The story follows the highly intelligent 17-year-old student Light Yagami, who one day spots a black book falling past his classroom window. After class he finds the book, the “Death Note”, and takes it home with him, reading a set of instructions that say:

  • The human whose name is written in this note shall die.
  • This note will not take effect unless the writer has the person’s face in their mind when writing his/her name. Therefore, people sharing the same name will not be affected.
  • If the cause of death is written within the next 40 seconds of writing the person’s name, it will happen.
  • If the cause of death is not specified, the person will simply die of a heart attack.
  • After writing the cause of death, details of the death should be written in the next 6 minutes and 40 seconds.

Light tries the book out and discovers it actually works. After this, he encounters the book’s original owner, a Shinigami (death god) called Ryuk, who was bored and thought things would become more interesting if he dropped it in the human world. Light decides what to do with the book: he opts to use it to make the world a better place, by killing wrong-doers. He wants to make the world free of criminals, where only the good can survive in peace. Thus, Light starts to kill as many criminals as he can, and soon ends up being nicknamed “Kira”, a Japanese corruption of the English word “Killer”.

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When so many criminals start dying all other the world, Interpol gets into contact with the world’s greatest detective, a man simply known as “L”. Using a fake video, L is able to track down Kira’s location to Kanto, and soon Light ends up in a battle of wits with L, as well as the Japanese police, of which his father happens to be a member.

As the story continues, the battle between Light and L intensifies as the viewer tries to figure out what will happen: will Light be caught, or will he be able to discover L’s real name and put in the Death Note? Also, we witness how much Light changes. He starts off a vigilante, and soon ends up becoming almost godlike in his desire and power. Light wants to become the god of this new world, and he is not going to let anyone stop him.

As stated, the main reason for watching Death Note is Light. This is a character that you can look at in so many different ways, and can develop so many different opinions on. One the one hand, he is an egotistical, draconian serial killer with a messiah complex who is responsible for the deaths of millions over his lifetime, and is so ruthless he will stop at nothing to achieve his goals. On the other hand, you could argue that because he is trying to kill bad people the ends justify the means. Over the course of the story, Light’s activities cause crime worldwide to drop by 70% and he even manages to bring about world peace. Also, as far as gods go, his abilities seem to be more on show than God’s. Then again, you can argue that while Light is in a way well-intentioned, he is corrupted by his powers and misguided by his own ideas.

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This is also why I think that Light is charismatic. Draco, the ancient Greek lawgiver from whom we get the word “draconian”, was incredibly harsh, executing people for the smallest of offences (e.g., stealing a cabbage), but during his lifetime he was incredibly popular. People threw their coats at him in appreciation – which actually was a mistake because so many people threw their coats that according to legend he suffocated under a massive pile of them.

Similarly, Light gains many followers as Kira, and these are followers that he is able to manipulate to his advantage. In this modern age of “post-truth” politics, it seems as if it is those with charisma rather than political know-how who get into power.

This leads us to the storytelling. Original writer Tsugumi Ohba, along with artist Takeshi Obata, are able to do something remarkable: they are able to take Light Yagami, who is the biggest murderer in possibly all anime, and make him likeable. You sympathise with his cause, because his cause is ultimately to make the world a better place by getting rid of people who are awful, even though the thing he is doing is awful too. Ultimately, there is that bit of us that is a bit like Light, in that at some point just about everyone, whether as a child or an adult, has thought of someone particularly bad and hoped they would die. We all know of sci-fi stories about wanting to travel back in time and kill Hitler; we all wanted to get our own back on people who have committed atrocities around the globe; even during the US election, I bet you there were millions of people who looked at Trump and Clinton and thought to themselves: “Wouldn’t be brilliant if one or even both of these people just dropped down dead, so that the US can have a leader who is actually good”.

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If you were to ask me which character in western fiction Light is most similar too, oddly I would go for a sitcom character: Rik Mayall’s right-wing MP Alan B’Stard in the satirical sitcom The New Statesmen from the late 1980s and early 1990s. B’Stard, like Light, is horrid in so many ways: corrupt, greedy, power-hungry and bigoted. However, B’Stard is also rather likeable, mainly due to what is seen as a lack of hypocrisy. B’Stard was honest about his views. The character is honest when says things like: “I hate queers almost as much as I hate poor people”, or when he once suggested the way to cut NHS waiting lists was to shut down the health service, and he is the only character in all fiction to be proud of the fact he has an incredibly tiny penis and it takes him less than a minute to orgasm.

Again, similarly Light lacks hypocrisy. He obviously has to lie to hide his identity from the police, but as Kira there are no double standards with his brand of justice. If you are suspected of having done something wrong, regardless of your race, gender, sexuality, class or whatever, you are down for the chop. There are those he does keep alive for his own purposes; those people will be due to die later. The main differences between the two characters is that Light is not comedic, but serious in his goals. Also, if B’Stard did exist, his name would no doubt go in Light’s book.

Ultimately, it is up to you the viewer as to whether Light is good or not. Is he a brilliant vigilante righting wrongs, or just a murderer? Personally speaking, I would classify him as an antihero. His goal is basically to improve the world by letting the good survive, it’s just that his way of achieving his goal is so unforgiving in its scope. As to whether I want him to succeed, shockingly for myself there is a big part of me that says: “yes”.

Regarding the rest of this collection, the only extras are two OVA collections which retell the entire series. The quality of the animation is good, there appears to be nothing wrong with the subtitling, and the soundtrack mainly provided by metal acts Nightmare and Maximum the Hormones is great. On the downside, the second half of the series is not as good as the first due to some characters not appearing in it, and depending on whether you are for or against Light, the ending might disappoint you.

If there is any problem with it, it is there could be another Death Note related murder: in the form of a Hollywood adaptation of the series next year, with Nat Wolff playing the role of a character named “Light Turner”. Now, I personally don’t mind them changing the name of the character and setting the story in the USA. That is no different to taking The Seven Samurai, setting it in the Wild West, and turning it into The Magnificent Seven. Yes, there are always going to be people upset that the cast is not made up of Japanese actors and that there isn’t a Japanese actor in the lead, possibly even calling it racist, but by the sound of things, it’s at least a bit better than other manga adaptations I can think of. What I’m bothered about is the fact that L is being played by American actor Keith Stanfield when in the story it is made clear that he spent much of his childhood in England, while his assistant Watari is still being played by an Asian actor, Paul Nakauchi. This seems inconsistent. Surely you should change all the characters or none of them.

The big problem however, is that I cannot think of a decent American adaptation of an anime. If this is the first then that would be great, but I doubt it will, and what I suspect will happen is that more American parents will panic about their kids being corrupted.

In the end, the best thing to do is watch this series and decide for yourself, because it is a brilliant story with so much going on around it.

Title: Death Note
Publisher: Manga Entertainment
Genre: Crime, Horror, Psychological, Supernatural, Thriller
Studio: Madhouse
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2006
Format: Blu-Ray
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 15
Running time: 1081 minutes

Score: 9/10

Review of Scumbag Loser

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SAITEIHEN NO OTOKO -Scumbag Loser- vols 1, 2, 3 © 2012, 2013 Mikoto Yamaguti / SQUARE ENIX CO., LTD.

“Employee of the month is a good example of how somebody can be both a winner and a loser at the same time.” – Demetri Martin

Released as a single omnibus edition, horror manga Scumbag Loser is a series that seems hard to appreciate. Maybe this is the reason why Yen have released it as one large book rather than three separate volumes, because the overall feeling reading it is that if the volumes were individually released the chances of stopping after the first volume would be much greater.

Perhaps one issue it is has is the unappealing central character, the “scumbag loser” in question. Masahiko Murai is a high school student who is pretty lower down in terms of popularity in his class. The only positive quality he seems to have is that he has a very good sense of smell, but this is outweighed by the fact that the smells he likes are usually unappealing. For example, the first thing he is seen smelling is a pair of girl’s knickers.

Murai is also obsessed with people he considers to be losers and trying to prove that is above what he calls the “biggest losers”. In his class the biggest loser is the ugly and smelly Yamada, but things then suddenly change when Yamada announces that he has a girlfriend, which in Murai’s mind means that he is now the biggest loser, something that he cannot handle. Thus, he falsely claims to have a long-distance girlfriend, and picks the name Haruka Mizusawa, a girl he knew five years ago. But then, to his horror, he finds that Haruka Mizusawa has transferred to his class – and she does indeed claim that Murai is her boyfriend, completely unprompted. The reason why Murai is filled with horror? Mizusawa died five years ago.

After school, Murai and Mizusawa meet up. Murai asks Mizusawa to actually be his girlfriend, and promises that he will do anything to keep the relationship going. Mizusawa, who appears to have a sadistic streak complete with a menacing grin, demands that from now on she wants Murai to introduce her to the “biggest losers” that he knows every Wednesday. This then begins to snowball, partly because of Mizusawa’s disturbing personality, but also because the personalities of everyone in Murai’s class, as well as those of his family, start to change dramatically.

As stated, it is a hard manga to like, primarily because the characters are relatively unappealing. The manga is called Scumbag Loser for good reason. Murai is unpleasant and unattractive, while Mizusawa is manipulative. However, as a horror manga, unpleasantness is what you should expect. The best character in my view comes later on in the story. Yumi Ookura is a wannabe pop idol who auditions for an idol group whose manager wants unappealing members. In the case of Ookura, it’s that she has no social skills. She too also becomes obsessed with Mizusawa, who also auditions for the group.

However, there are some positives to this series, the main one being the artwork. Mikoto Yamaguti’s art is suitably creepy, especially when it comes to drawing Mizusawa’s toothy grin. It kind of puts you in mind of the Titans in Attack on Titan, in that you can almost envision her eating those she torments. Plus, this smile starts to spread towards other people, making it even creepier in its sudden uniformity.

Having said this though, sometimes the artwork is not so great. The “Mature” rating of Scumbag Loser mainly comes from the violence as there is a fair amount of blood spilt in this manga. Whenever there is nudity or a sex scene, what are seen as the rudest parts (i.e. the groins and the nipples) are always obscured – sometimes in odd ways. For example, there is a scene where Mizusawa and Ookura’s idol group entertain some fans sexually, so they have their buttoned-up shirts unfastened and opened so you can see part of their breasts, but not fully so the nipples are covered. However, at some angles it feels like the shirt is covering so little that you feel that the nipples are almost on the sides of the boobs rather than on the front.

Scumbag Loser is a hard manga to get through: the length, the characters, the plot make it a bit of a slog. The artwork in some areas does make it enjoyable, but sometimes when you are reading through the book it feels that it just isn’t worth it.

Title: Scumbag Loser
Publisher: Yen Press
Genre: Horror, Psychological
Author(s): Mikoto Yamaguti
Type: Manga
Original vintage: 2012
Format: Book
Age rating: 18
Length: 600 pages

Score: 4/10

The Empire of Corpses Review

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Project Ito may seem like a studio name but it’s actually a synonym for Satoshi Ito, a Japanese science fiction writer who produced four novels before his passing in 2009. Most of his books have been translated and released in the UK, including his novelisation of Metal Gear Solid 4. In early 2015 it was announced that his three original novels would be made into anime films, each with their own animation studio and directors to bring the stories to life. Two of these films so far have been licensed for UK release: Harmony and The Empire of Corpses – not only was the latter’s original book released posthumously but it has not yet been released in English (however, a small sample can be read here.) Luckily each film is its own entity so they do not need to be watched sequentially.

Set in the late 19th Century; the great Victor Frankenstein’s technology to raise the dead has become common knowledge. Although the ability to bring back one’s soul has been lost, along with the location of his first creation, the ability to reanimate corpses has become the backbone of society the world over; enabling easily-controlled corpses to do work such as waitressing, carrying cargo to boats, and even serving as soldiers in wars. Dr John Watson is a growing expert in this technology and he has been scouted by the British Empire as an agent to locate Victor’s original notes; however, he’s not the only one searching for such information and many other parties are willing to do whatever it takes to get their hands on it.

To make it clear: the main character is John Watson from the Sherlock Holmes books, and besides Victor Frankenstein, there are also cameos from real-life adventurers, presidents and inventors from the same period (for example Fredrick Burnaby). There are characters from classic French and Russian literature such as The Future Eve and The Brothers Karamazov, and a lot more British icons that I won’t spoil. Basically it’s a buffet of characters that join in the worldwide journey to recover Victor’s notes and stop a ‘zombie apocalypse’ (not really, but it’s a similar situation). That premise in itself is crazy enough to be a comic book, or wacky fanfiction, but half the fun is seeing the characters in a new environment outside their norm and having the audience figuring out who’s who – because unless you’ve read the relevant British, American, Russian and French material to know all of the name-drops, you’re only going to get a few. If you have read them all, good on you! You’re in for a treat.

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Outside of the iconic names however, most of the characters are very different to their original counterparts to the point that many would question why they are even named the same at all. Fredrick Burnaby and the Frankenstein mythos are the closest to their originals; the former maintaining his adventuring spirit and battle prowess, the latter drawing the most heavily from its work in terms of story and mythology. The others have little to nothing in common, but for the majority of the time whilst the movie flows from one stunning location to another, and action scenes keep the pace going, it really doesn’t matter because the characters are interesting in their own right regardless of what material (or country, in terms of the real life people) they come from. John Watson, for instance, is still a doctor but not the post-war Veteran kind, and he doesn’t show any physical health issues until close to the end of the film. However, he maintains his astute senses and curiosity about the unknown. It’s also a breath of air for the character that he’s able to shine alone; John Watson and Sherlock Holmes often come as a package deal for several obvious reasons, but it’s a great idea to let the character stand on his own, allowing him to take charge for once rather than just being in Sherlock’s shadow. We don’t need more Sherlock and Watson stories when we’ve got tons already, but we could do with more Watson tales; especially this one.

Adapting a text-heavy source to a visual medium often has lots of complications and issues, and these do not start to become apparent until the second half of the movie. The opening scenes are very engaging and set the tone fantastically, explaining the alternative history that has unfolded. The worldwide journey from England, to India, to Russia, to Tokyo to America not only gives the animators opportunity to really stretch their skills but also creates an epic feel to the whole movie. However, two thirds of the way into the film the characters start to play a cat and mouse game, merely chasing the villain to catch up with him before he does untold damage. That equates to jumping back and forth to locations we’ve already visited, a lot of action scenes with characters breaking into monologues over the top of them, hastily-paced character development and exposition to keep the movie going. It’s clear that there was so much material and world building going on in the original novel that there was simply no room to fit it into a standard movie running time. Enough is explained here and there to grasp the themes, character motivations and understand mostly what’s going on but there are many unanswered questions left at the end. For example, why does Hadaly have the unique powers she exhibits in the second half? What was the full extent of Friday’s and John’s relationship? How did they meet and come to reanimate corpses together? Why did the US president Ulysses Grant want the notes for himself? It’s clear a lot was cut from the source material and some of it was squeezed in to explain plot threads, but a large chunk of it could have been saved if they had dropped the constant travelling back and forth in the latter half. Credit to the production crew for not just having the movie all set in Japan, but the locations for the big finale and the previous fight scenes leading up to it could have been set anywhere so leaving it in one place would have saved a lot of ‘travelling’ animation and unnecessary scenes.

Despite the grand finale battle being weighed down by a lot of exposition and unanswered questions, the heart of the story – Watson’s mission to save Friday – remains strong even after repeated watches. Friday never says a word but you can see how much Watson adored his friend even after he’s long gone; Watson’s constant calling after him, the way he looks at him like he expects his friend to suddenly jump back to life, and the tiniest moments from Friday that give Watson hope to go on are really touching, and make the final scene at the very end all the more potent and heartbreaking.

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Wit Studio (the animators behind Attack on Titan) handled the visuals for this film and it does not disappoint. Aside from the aforementioned welcome changes in locations outside of Japan to set the film, the characters are designed marvellously with the corpses’ dead-eyed look and fractured movements making them appear just human enough to be recognisable but creepy enough to make the viewer wary of them whilst they’re on screen – they’re not just zombies, they’re something more and seeing them moving around with other humans, mostly blending in, is a freaky world to consider living in. Also a big thumbs up to the excellent use of 3D animation for the group corpses that loiter around the film; a common complaint with 3D animation is that it often looks out of place or flat compared to the anime style, but here that works to its advantage. Take the opening scenes, where you have rows and rows of corpse soldiers for example; the 3D-animated corpses look odd to the eye, moving awkwardly and inhumanly, but that’s exactly what they are. It’s a genius move on the studio’s part. There is some use of 3D for the last battle, which goes from high science fiction into fantasy territory, but its implementation makes the finale look as glorious as the story builds it to be.

Yoshihiro Ike provides the music for the film, and, like the animators, he gets to work with elements from the various countries the characters visit to his advantage to create a sweeping score. The theme song ‘Door’ by EGOIST is a jazz-inspired slow number that fits very nicely with the heavy British backdrop and mood of the final scene. Speaking of British; applause goes to Funimation for giving the characters the appropriate accents from English to Russian that make them sound as diverse as they are in the story. Although the accents aren’t completely perfect and some actors struggle more than others (you can practically hear Jason Liebrecht’s mind working in overdrive to say the word ‘corpses’ in the English way) it’s great they’ve gone the extra mile for the film, rather than just having everyone speaking in an American accent.

On disc extras include movie trailers, promos for other anime properties including Tokyo Ghoul √A and Psycho Pass, and there’s also a Funimation short where four members of the English voice cast discuss the movie, its themes, the characters, and so on. It’s an enjoyable little watch but be sure to watch it after you’ve seen the film as it’s full of spoilers! The collector’s edition comes in a very nice steel case, complete with dual formats and an art book.

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To summarise it in more modern wording, The Empire of Corpses can be described as a ‘hot mess’; it’s very fast paced with too much location jumping, leading to abrupt character development and world building that looks amazing but isn’t explained fully in the context of the story. The name-dropping of real and fictional characters is often no more than that. However, that doesn’t mean the film isn’t a blast to watch; a thrilling, wacky ride bursting with passion and imagination with lots of lovely Easter Eggs to get whilst watching or discover afterwards. If the idea of British, French, American, Russian characters coming together in one big corpse-slaying army interests you, then check it out.

One last note; stay through the credits for an added bonus scene that includes many more glorious cameos which will either have you squealing in joy or scratching your head in confusion. But it’s worth the watch either way.

Title: The Empire of Corpses
Publisher: Anime Limited
Genre: Horror, Action, Sci-Fi
Studio: Wit Studio
Type: Movie
Original vintage: 2015
Format: Blu-Ray and DVD (Blu-Ray version reviewed)
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 15
Running time: 120 minutes

Score: 7/10

Parasyte -the maxim- Collection 2 Review

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Parasyte -the maxim-, the anime adaptation of Hitoshi Iwaaki’s late 80s/early 90s manga, returns for its concluding half. When we saw Shinichi last he had just come to terms with one tragic loss, only to promptly suffer another. On the flipside, his romantic pursuits seemed to be bearing fruit, and he had become a fighter able to hold his own against attacking parasites. However, this increase in his abilities, caused by the fusion of Migi’s cells with his, seemed to be coming at the cost of his humanity…

And as Shinichi loses his humanity, this half of the series sees Migi and the other parasites start to exhibit it. Initially this is in selfish ways: parasites begin to partake in human politics, primarily so they have access to more information, which will allow them to feed on humans while evading capture. But they also demonstrate other forms of human behaviour, which are less easily explained by any kind of self-interest. Migi, for example, appears to develop feelings for Shinichi that are more than parasitic, and instead almost friendly in nature. Some parasites also begin displaying human emotion, smiling and laughing, making them somehow even more disturbing than the ones who remain stone-faced.

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Whereas the first half of the series was about Shinichi’s own experiences and development, that seems to take a backseat in this second half to looking at the existence of parasites more generally. It makes sense – in the battle against monstrous parasites there is only so much one teenage boy, even one with a parasite for a hand, can do. As such, a lot of time is spent on the police and their efforts to crush the parasitic menace, as well as on the parasites and their own internal power struggles. While this makes for an interesting story, it may be off-putting to those who prefer a straightforward hero’s journey – and they would have every right to be put off, as prior to this point Parasyte has very much presented itself as the story of Shinichi and Migi, as seen through Shinichi’s eyes; now Shinichi seems to spend a lot of his time on the periphery of the show. For example, while a large-scale battle is ensuing between the police and the parasites, Shinichi is just sat in the back of a van the whole time, with the scenes of action and gore occasionally cutting to him just so he can say, “hmm, maybe I should be doing something about this”.

The benefit of this shift of focus is that we now get more of an insight into the parasites and they become, to an extent, more relatable as characters in their own right, rather than being purely monstrous. That’s not to say that this second half of Parasyte is all friendly – just as you think the parasites are becoming more reasonable, there is a shocking scene which demonstrates just how callous the majority of them are towards humanity. It is these scenes, often combined with some amount of gore, which make for many of Parasyte’s most memorable moments.

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The series also starts getting more philosophical, using the existence of parasites to explore what it actually means to be human; it questions whether it is not humans who are the true parasites, with how willingly we kill other animals and pollute the earth for our own convenience. To some degree, this is done quite well: these ideas are explored in a mature and thoughtful way, and are several tiers above the typical “It turns out it’s man” level of depth that one is accustomed to seeing in gory anime. Where this fell flat for me were the times when characters decided to engage in these environmental debates while in life or death situations – call me a traditionalist, but if someone’s trying to kill me, I am fighting or flight-ing, not debating. The other problem I had with some of these debates I think stems more from me being a bad person – while Shinichi is deeply affected by the moral dilemma of whether it is okay for humans to destroy other life, even life as seemingly monstrous as the parasites, I just found myself rolling my eyes. However, I am a man who can happily ignore the moral contradiction of eating lots of animals and yet also loving my pet cat more than anything in the world, so maybe I’m not quite the target audience.

Satomi Murano, Shinichi’s love interest since the start of the series, begins to grind a bit in these later episodes, seemingly stuck in a continuous cycle of getting freaked out by Shinichi and pushing him away, and then getting sad whenever he’s gone. Speaking of annoying characters, there is also the private detective who was hired to tail Shinichi, who makes some bad decisions that stand out as being very illogical – although an effort is made to justify why he makes these decisions, it still makes him difficult to relate to as a character. We do get introduced to some new characters who are actually interesting, the foremost of these being the convicted serial killer, Uragami, who has the strange ability to tell parasites apart from normal humans. Uragami is interesting just because he is such a scumbag, and yet due to his unique power the police have no choice but to rely on him to support their investigations. He hits all the right notes: creepy, pathetic, and horrible, and somehow also highly entertaining to watch.

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Parasyte’s animation continues to be competent, albeit it with a bit of an increase in the use of dodgy CG background characters. The complaint I made about fight scenes in my review of part 1 still stands: battle animation often isn’t particularly exciting as we just see bladed tentacles flashing through the air with repeating speedlines, while Shinichi slowly walks towards (or runs away from) his opponent. That’s not to say that the fights are boring, just that the animation is not what makes them good. There are a few impressive battles, including one which is particularly interesting as it’s between fellow parasites, with Shinichi being nowhere near at the time. Another highlight is when Shinichi and Migi have to face off against a single human body which is hosting multiple parasites – while up until this point Shinichi and Migi have been relying on the tactic of the two of them being separate entities to essentially outnumber opponents, this time their opponent is using that same tactic against them.

Ken Arai’s dodgy soundtrack is still present, but I found that by this point I had gotten used to it, so it didn’t stand out as being quite so obnoxious. It also seems that someone in the production team felt the same way as I did about the weird electronic beats being ill-fitting with the more emotional scenes in the first half of the series, as a couple of the later emotional climaxes feature classical pieces instead. The opening and ending songs remain unchanged, with the studio presumably wanting to get its money’s worth out of Fear, and Loathing in Las Vegas and Daichi Miura.

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Parasyte’s conclusion ticks all the right boxes in theory, but in execution doesn’t quite pull it off. This may be because the conclusion focuses back in on the personal experience of Shinichi – and yet for much of this second half, the show has encouraged us to disregard him somewhat. At least it is a definitive ending; while there is no excuse for it not to be, given that the Parasyte manga ended in 1995, it does feel quite refreshing these days to see an anime which doesn’t concern itself with sequel-baiting.

Parasyte -the maxim- is a very good anime, bursting with interesting ideas and freaky monsters. Its latter half loses its way somewhat, switching to a more holistic view of the parasites in Japan but then expecting the audience to be able to go back to caring only about Shinichi at the very end. This unfortunately lessens the emotional impact of the finale, which could have been so much better had more of an effort been made earlier on to properly portray the relationship between Shinichi and Migi. Despite this, and despite other minor issues with the music and animation, Parasyte -the maxim- is still a compelling watch, with certain scenes that are likely to stick with the viewer for a long time.

As with the Part 1 collection, extras consist only of clean opening and ending sequences, and trailers for other releases.

Score: 7 / 10

Anime Quick Information

  • Title: Parasyte -the maxim- Collection 1
  • UK Publisher: Animatsu
  • Genre: Action, Sci-fi, Horror
  • Studio: Madhouse
  • Type: TV series
  • Year: 2014
  • Running time: 300 minutes
  • Classification: 15

Future Diary – Part 2 Review

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This review will contain spoilers for Future Diary – Part 1

The game to win the title of God is still afoot, and all major players seem to have their eye on eliminating Yuki Amano first and foremost. How does Yuno Gasai attempt to fix the problem? Drugging, kidnapping, stripping and chaining Yuki inside a large abandoned building, setting up traps around them so no one can get in, and waiting it out until all the other players have kicked the bucket. Yuki’s friends plan on rescuing him and getting Yuno far away from him as possible, but our pink-haired psychopath has other ideas which come into full view once the remaining players start dropping one by one.

In the review for the first half of Future Diary I barely mentioned the infamous Yuno, and there were reasons for that. One of them is mostly due to spoilers. Granted; the nature of her being utterly insane is not a spoiler as it’s very clear from Episode 1, but the way she gradually deteriorates over the first half of the series is. There have been series in the past that toy with the idea of a protagonist being a crazy love-struck borderline-abusive person but normally it’s played for laughs and eventually disregarded, or the ‘craziness’ aspect of said person’s character is ‘fixed’ in some fashion or another by the power of love (normally from the opposite sex). Future Diary plays with the latter early on when Aru Akise says that Yuki is Yuno’s only hope to maintain her grip on reality. But Future Diary doesn’t hold onto that for too long and instead goes full throttle with the logical path a crazy person in love with a clueless other half would take: straight up kidnapping and drugging them against their will. This happens just at the end of Part 1, and Part 2 picks up right afterwards.

In a surprising twist, Yuki finally realises that Yuno’s threats about killing others weren’t just a bluff and promises to never go near her again. In another series this would be the turning point for their relationship, with Yuno getting what she deserves (imprisonment or electric chair) and poor Yuki finding a way to move on from his traumatic experience. But of course, this is not what happens, for this is Future Diary where the writing quality is poor and cheap shocks take precedence over actual character development. So despite what happened to him, in the next episode Yuki ends up questioning whether to trust Yuno AGAIN when things get rough, and falling right back into her devilish grip. And it doesn’t stop there; in Episode 19 Yuki goes through a traumatic event that shakes him to the core, and results in the next episode completely changing his personality and motivations, making grand speeches and offing other players like his psychopathic girlfriend. It comes completely out of nowhere and feels really shoe-horned in as if he’s been replaced by a completely different character. Granted; brushing with death every day as he has over the past few episodes would cause a mental strain and eventually snap him, and if the series spent time weaving it into his past actions to see him slowly devolving it could have been a really tragic turn for the hero, but they don’t do that at all. It’s also incredibly rage-inducing when Yuki goes back and forth between whether to trust Yuno or not; there are at least four scenes where he says “You’re insane!” to her over these batches of episodes, like it’s the first time he’s seen her for what she is; dude, if you haven’t accepted it by now than you deserve to be stabbed by the pink-haired teen.

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The same whiplash effect also affects the plot and side characters. In a violent game such as this, where all players are meant (for the audience) to have an equal chance of winning, sudden story twists and ‘gotcha!’ moments are to be expected. Future Diary loves the execution of them but refuses to do the groundwork needed to make them work. There are plenty of scenes where a character suddenly pops out a major story twist that alters the course of the game or results in someone dying, but they come at the cost of making no sense within context, completely changing a character’s motivations or personality; having characters forget their powerful diaries within the moment, or sometimes all at once. None of the big twists have been built up over time or are particularly clever; rather they’re just ideas that the writers have thrown at the wall and gone with whatever’s stuck, without thinking about the lead-up. It’s all for shock value, and it ranges from groan-worthy to outright laughable.

Going back to Yuno; having her sent to jail and/or the electric chair would be suitable punishment for her crimes but in some odd way it’s a good thing she isn’t because she is, by far, the best character in the show. She’s the most active player and unlike the rest of the cast and plot she’s the most consistently written, having a clear arc across the series. There’s a reason her face is the most recognisable; yes, her wacky actions and bloodlust play a part, yet nevertheless out of all the characters, she’s the best written by leaps and bounds. There are plenty of twists and turns that she brings and then the plot throws back at her; however, they work because it’s clear that the writing from day one has been leading up it. Yuno also has the most volatile personality, so she is able to do wilder things to keep the plot moving without coming across as being out of character.

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While her character is handled steadily, the way the show (and other characters) treat her is not; it constantly flip flops between painting her as an irredeemable villain and victim of circumstance, while also one minute trying to sell her connection to Yuki as ‘true love’ and the next a horrible relationship that can only end in disaster. It doesn’t help that by the end the show turns itself on its head to try and make her awful actions forgivable. The ending itself, while providing a conclusion to the show for the majority of the side characters and the main plot, will most likely be widely disliked. It wants to have its happy and angsty cakes and eat them too, but can’t seem to get a solid balance to please everyone, much like the tonal imbalance of the show itself. The additional OVA that expands on the ending (Redial) is sadly not included in this set; in fact, the only extras are the clean opening and closing.

Future Diary belongs on the thin line between ‘so bad it’s good’ and ‘just pure trash’; its mileage will vary depending on whether you have the patience and sense of humour to put up with inconsistent tone, wild plot developments that come out of nowhere and badly written characters. Future Diary is a lot of things, but boring is definitely not one of them.

Rating: 5/10

Anime Quick Information

Title: Future Diary
UK Publisher: Manga Entertainment (Kaze)
Genre: Psychological Thriller, Action, Romance, Horror
Studio: Asread
Type: TV Series
Year: 2012
Age Rating: 18
Running Time: 325 minutes

Parasyte -the maxim- Collection 1 Review

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Hitoshi Iwaaki’s manga Parasyte has long been considered a masterpiece, particularly in the west where it was released back at a time when most people thought that manga were videos (thanks to the name of one particular distribution company), and when it was rumoured that James Cameron had bought the rights to adapt the series into a Hollywood blockbuster. When it was announced that Parasyte would finally be getting its long overdue anime adaptation, people were understandably overjoyed – after all, many of them had been waiting over 20 years to see Iwaaki’s combination of shape-shifting monster story and environmental allegory on their screens. So, now that it’s finally here, how does it stack up?

Firstly, a primer for those who haven’t previously enjoyed Iwaaki’s source material. Shinichi is a regular high schooler who spends his days pining over the girl he likes and lazing about at home. While engaged in some of the aforementioned lazing about, he seems to get bitten by a snake that has come in through his window. This is no snake, however, and the creature crawls inside his hand, before Shinichi manages to tie up his arm to prevent the intruder from getting any further into his body. The next day Shinichi dismisses his experience as a dream – that is, until, his hand starts operating independently of its owner. Shinichi’s hand is now controlled by some kind of strange intelligent lifeform who can manipulate itself at will to take on different forms, and who, it turns out, had intended to infiltrate Shinichi’s brain so as to take control of his whole body. Named Migi (meaning “right”, after the hand that he took over), the parasite and its host form an uneasy alliance in order to fight the other members of Migi’s species who were able to successfully take over their hosts, and now kill and eat humans to survive.

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Parasyte -the maxim- is definitely not a series for the faint of heart. Over two decades before the gore of Attack on Titan or Tokyo Ghoul, Parasyte was giving us monster heads splitting open and bloodily devouring humans. The anime adaptation does not shy away from this, and presents these scenes in all their gory glory. As one can probably imagine, a series which involves so much death is quite dark at times – but never excessively so. For example, where titles based on more contemporary manga feel the need to give their protagonists tragic backstories right from the get-go so that the whole story is always underpinned with darkness and depression, Parasyte’s Shinichi begins his story more surprised that anything else. He’s a normal, happy kid, and initially Migi’s existence is more of a freaky situation than anything especially grimdark. However, as the story goes on we see the negative spiral of Shinichi’s life beginning to unfold – this makes for a far more interesting series of developments, as opposed to other anime where the audience is just watching some teenager whose life was already crap at the start, and so find it hard to care when it gets any worse (see the aforementioned Attack on Titan and Tokyo Ghoul for two of the worst recent offenders).

While Parasyte can be pretty unpleasant, that’s not to say it’s all doom and gloom. The series has many moments of levity to contrast with all the nastiness, and Shinichi’s relationship with Migi is the perfect example of this. While there is always the sinister undertone of Migi being a monster who had been intending to kill his host, and who threatens to do so still should Shinichi ever get too out of line, there is also a lot of humour between them: for example, while Shinichi is at the urinal in school, Migi decides it wants to learn more about human anatomy by trying to stimulate Shinichi into getting an erection – and hey, if a bloke getting publicly pleasured against his will by his own hand isn’t funny to you, then I don’t know what to say…

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Due to the age of the source material some changes obviously had to be made: the character designs were made more contemporary; smartphones exist; Migi was given a cute female voice (that of Aya Hirano, the somewhat controversial lady behind Haruhi Suzumiya and Lucky Star’s Konata). A change that may at first seem random is giving Shinichi glasses, and using this accessory to turn him into more of a nerdy character, whereas in the manga he was just normal (don’t be offended, fellow four-eyes – I rock a pair of specs myself). This initially struck fans of the original manga as an unnecessary change, at first taken as a ham-fisted attempt at pandering to the bespectacled otaku who are the main consumers of anime. However, adding the glasses is actually a smart move – throughout the series Shinichi transforms as he becomes more integrated with Migi, and he starts to change both physically and mentally. Beginning the series with Shinichi as a weak, glasses-wearing geek means that as this change occurs its impacts are more immediately obvious to the audience and other characters.

Parasyte has good animation overall, though it can be somewhat inconsistent. The nature of the parasite battles, with Migi and its opponents being super fast and super powerful, mean that the fighting animation isn’t particularly exciting, as it consists mostly of lines flashing back and forth across the screen while the characters debate speciesism. While this is the same as in the manga, in the medium of print using excessive blur to depict fast action is necessary, whereas in animated form it just comes across as lazy.

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The music for Parasyte is a bit all over the place; it is composed by Ken Arai, a guy whose bio suggests he is very much DJ first, soundtrack composer second. This is great news if you’re a fan of wub-wubs and sampled snare drums, but not so good if you favour subtle soundtracks. Please don’t write me off as an old fogey just yet – I do actually enjoy the Parasyte soundtrack in its own right, but it just isn’t great as an accompaniment to a TV show. As the saying goes, the best score is the one you don’t notice – during certain scenes in Parasyte, the soundtrack was all I could notice. In fitting with the tone of the OST, the show’s opening is an enjoyably fast-paced number from increasingly popular electronic screamo band Fear, and Loathing in Las Vegas. The ending song, meanwhile, stands in stark contrast by being one of the most obnoxiously sappy Japanese pop songs in recent memory.

Both Japanese and English dubs are very competent, although Migi’s English voice feels somewhat lacking as a creepy but loveable monster-limb simply because it’s hard to sound as weird as Aya Hirano. It does feel strange as a big fan of the manga to hear Migi with a female voice anyway, as its dialogue and attitudes always felt more masculine to me (then again, that could just be my unconscious sexist bias at play) – but after taking a bit of getting used to, Hirano does actually do an incredible job in portraying a character that is equal parts unnerving and intriguing. Fans of Kana Hanazawa will enjoy her doing her thing as Shinichi’s cute love interest, while Nobunaga Shimazaki captures well Shinichi’s transition from wimpy nerd to brave hero.

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Overall, Parasyte is a series well worth checking out, whether you’re a fan of the manga or not. The twelve episodes in this set see Shinichi learning to live with Migi, and getting embroiled in the turf wars of the monsters as he tries his best to save the lives of his fellow humans. The episodes are good in their own right, but they whet the appetite for greater things to come – fortunately there isn’t long to wait, as Parasyte -the maxim- Collection 2 is due to be released at the end of July.

In terms of on-disc extras, this release is sparse: clean opening and ending songs, and the usual smattering of trailers for other releases.

Score: 8 / 10

Anime Quick Information

  • Title: Parasyte -the maxim- Collection 1
  • UK Publisher: Animatsu
  • Genre: Action, Sci-fi, Horror
  • Studio: Madhouse
  • Type: TV series
  • Year: 2014
  • Running time: 300 minutes