Details of We Are X Steelbook release announced

Manga Entertainment have revealed the details and artwork of their release of rockumentary We Are X, about Japan’s biggest rock band X Japan.

The Blu-ray Steelbook cover features artwork depicting the band’s frontman, drummer and pianist Yoshiki, drawn by Italian-born American comic book artist Becky Cloonan, who is most famous for being the first woman to draw DC Comics’ main Batman series of comics.

The release also features the following extras:

  • An eight-page booklet.
  • A fan video of the song “Born to be Free”.
  • Live video performances of the songs “Forever Love” and “Kurenai”.
  • Extended interviews with all the current members of X Japan.
  • Deleted scenes.

The Steelbook, which is the first Manga Entertainment’s Mondo x SteelBook® line, is scheduled to be released on 22nd May. A DVD release is also out on the same day. The soundtrack to the film is out now on CD and download – and on the first week of its release it topped the UK Rock & Metal Chart, came third in the UK Soundtrack Albums Chart, and 27th in the main UK Albums Chart – making the soundtrack the first X Japan album to chart in this country. It also came fourth in Japan’s Oricon Albm chart.

Click here to read Anime UK News’s review of the film.

One Piece, Collection 16 Review

Episodes 373-396, may contain spoilers.

A man’s face is his autobiography. A woman’s face is her work of fiction.” – Oscar Wilde.

This collection marks several landmarks in One Piece: it sees the end of the “Thriller Bark” arc and the start of “Sabaody” arc; we witness the official addition of the ninth and currently final member of the Straw Hat Pirates; and as there will be 781 episodes of the anime broadcast by the time this review is published, it means that with this collection we pass the half-way point of the entire anime adaptation.

We begin with the Straw Hats finishing their duel with Gecko Moria on Thriller Bark, with Monkey D. Luffy being able to regain his strength to return the shadows stolen by Moria to their original owners. This means that 1,000 people, including Zoro, Sanji, Nico Robin and Brook, can now safely live under the sun’s rays again. However, there is little time to celebrate as Nami recognises another terrifying figure who makes his appearance: Bartholomew Kuma, another of the Seven Warlords.

Kuma has been given the job of killing Luffy. Everyone tries to stop him, but Kuma has the powers of the “Paw-Paw Fruit” which allow his hands to reject anything he touches, as well as the ability to warp instantly from one place to another. He also reveals himself to be a type of robotic weapon called a “Pacifista”, made by the world’s greatest scientist, Dr. Vegapunk.

Kuma uses his powers to create a high-pressure bomb that devastates the whole ship, with only Zoro still being able to fight Kuma. Zoro asks for his life to be taken instead of Luffy’s, but in exchange Kuma uses his powers to make Zoro feel all the pain that Luffy felt in his battle with Moria. Kuma then departs and Zoro collapses from the pain, while Luffy ends up being perfectly fit. The Straw Hats then rest for a while, with Luffy inviting Brook to join the crew. Brook agrees, in order to fulfil his previous crew’s promise of reuniting with Laboon the whale, and thus the Straw Hats end up with nine pirates. During this time we also learn that Blackbeard has been made a Warlord and that Ace is in grave danger.

After a small bit of filler, mainly consisting of a flashback of Brook’s backstory and an encounter with an old enemy, we return to the main story. After crossing a dangerous current which includes a sea filled with waterspouts, the Straw Hats reach the Red Line, meaning that they have sailed halfway around the world. The issue now is how to cross it. Then the Thousand Sunny is attacked by a huge sea monster with Luffy defeats, but the monster vomits up two individuals: a talking starfish named Pappagu, and his master Carie, a mermaid who keeps getting caught by all sorts of monsters.

Carie learns that her fishman boss has been kidnapped by Macro, who works for a group called the Flying Fish Riders. The Riders plan to take him to the Sabaody Archipelago, which holds a slave market. Sabaody is also the only accessible route for pirates to cross the Red Line, so Luffy and his crew agree to help. Things soon go wrong however. Firstly the identity of Carie’s boss is someone known to the crew – someone who once helped to make Nami’s life a misery. Then there is the problem with the leader of the Flying Fish Riders, Duval, who is desperate to kill Sanji – because it was Duval’s sketchy face that appeared on Sanji’s wanted poster.

After finally dealing with this they make their way to Sabaody itself, which, while on the surface seeming friendly, is home to all sorts of shady business. For starters, there are 11 “Supernovas” on the island, these being pirates with bounties with over 100,000,000 berries on their heads. Two of them are Luffy and Zoro, but there are other pirates on Sabaody too, such as the “Surgeon of Death” Trafalgar Law. There is also Sabaody’s brutal use of slavery, and the power of the World Nobles, also known as the Celestial Dragons. These descendants of the founders of the World Government are so powerful that if a pirate harms them, an admiral will come down to punish the wrongdoer. It is not long before the Straw Hats end up in trouble on the archipelago.

As said at the beginning, this collection is important for being a landmark in several ways. The main one of these is that Brook is now confirmed as a Straw Hat Pirate, and we now have the full crew (at the time of writing). What we have therefore is the completion of what is arguably the best ensemble cast of characters in anime. With Luffy, Zoro, Nami, Usopp, Sanji, Chopper, Robin, Franky and Brook all finally together, we can enjoy the whole crew having fun and fighting it out among themselves. It is also interesting to see the reappearance of some old characters and the introduction of some new ones, with Trafalgar Law in particular playing an important role in the story later on, although he doesn’t say much in this collection.

Another plus point has been the pacing of the story. Although it was a tad perplexing as to why they ended the Thriller Bark arc in this collection rather than the previous one, this collection does end at a nice dramatic point in the story. The filler itself is not too bad either, nor is it too long. This is probably down to the fact that the two story arcs in this collection are among the shortest in the One Piece canon. Not only is the current story paced well, but we are given knowledge of a future storyline involving Ace; a plot that those who are familiar with One Piece will know counts as probably the most dramatic in the entire series.

There are however still some issues with the show, chief among these being the animation. The computer animation is still slow and clunky. Also, some of the normal animation looks a tad off. There is one short scene in which Zoro drinks a glass of water that looks a bit shoddy.

However, this aside, this is still one of the better collections, with the story building up to the next major battle. It is all looking good so far.

 

Title: Review of One Piece, Collection 16
Publisher: Manga Entertainment
Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy, Fantasy, Shonen
Studio: Toei Animation
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 1999
Format: DVD
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 12
Running time: 563 minutes

Score: 8/10

Manga UK License Yo-Kai Watch Anime For May Release

Based on Level-5’s hit Nintendo 3DS video game franchise, Manga Entertainment is very pleased to announce that the Yo-Kai Watch television anime will be coming to DVD in the United Kingdom on 8th May 2017. The release is currently available to pre-order on Amazon for £19.99.

Manga Entertainment describe the story of Yo-Kai Watch, as follows:

Primary school student Keita Amano’s curiosity is as innocent as any other child’s his age. But when one day he decides to venture deeper into the forest, he encounters a small and mysterious capsule. Out from its depths comes Whisper. After 190 years of imprisonment, this ghost-like creature is glad that someone has been kind enough to set him free. He decides to reward Keita by becoming his guardian against supernatural forces. Whisper is one of many Yo-Kai that exist in the world, and provides Keita with a special Yo-Kai Watch, which enables him to see and interact with all the other Yo-Kai. Yo-Kai Watch follows Keita, Whisper and the cat spirit Jibanyan as they encounter Yo-Kai, befriend them, fix all the trouble that they so often cause, and, with the help of the watch, use the powers of previously encountered Yo-Kai to aid them. Young Keita may have been just an ordinary primary school student when he first encountered the Yo-Kai, but the many adventures that follow his discovery provide him with invaluable experiences and precious life lessons that help him grow.

The first season of Yo-Kai Watch was originally broadcast on Cartoon Network last year. The second instalments in the video game series, Yo-Kai Watch 2: Bony Spirits and Yo-Kai Watch 2: Fleshy Souls will be released in Europe for the Nintendo 3DS on 7th April 2017.

Review of Yu-Gi-Oh! GX, Series 2

“Light thinks it travels faster than anything but it is wrong. No matter how fast light travels, it finds the darkness has always got there first, and is waiting for it.” – Terry Pratchett

It is now the second series and thus Jaden Yuki is in his second year at Duel Academy. Some old faces have gone, with Chumley having finally graduated and become a card designer for Maximillion Pegasus; some have gone on to greater things, with Dr. Crowler now the academy’s chancellor. Some new first years joining the school, with Jaden and Syrus duelling and later becoming friends with the dinosaur-loving, military-obsessed “Sergeant” Hassleberry of the Ra Yellow dorm.

Crowler and his new assistant, Vice-Chancellor Bonaparte, are constantly trying to come up with ways of boosting the academy’s profile, most of which concern getting rid of the Slifer Red dorm. This includes trying to trying to get Chazz to move back to Obelisk Blue, which he doesn’t do; and successfully getting Syrus to move up to Ra Yellow, but both he and Hassleberry decide to live in the Red Dorm.

Another supposedly new student joining is Aster Phoenix, who manages to beat Jaden in a duel and soon after leaves the island to make it big professionally, helped by his fortune-telling tutor Sartorius. Later, Aster manages to beat ex-Academy pupil Zane in a duel on TV, using a deck similar to Jaden’s. This causes Zane to go into a downward spiral, wrecking his career and forcing him to take part in shady “underground duelling”. Meanwhile, Aster revisits the academy to duel Jaden, with Aster using his own “Destiny Hero” deck to take Jaden on, and angrily stating that the reason that he duels is not for fun like Jaden, but for revenge. Aster’s father created the Destiny Hero cards, but he disappeared and the strongest card was stolen. He has spent 10 years trying to find them again. Jaden loses the duel and this is where things start to get really weird…

For starters, the loss is so shocking that Jaden ends up being unable to see his cards when  they are shown to him, meaning that he cannot duel and thus he decides to leave the island. While at sea, Jaden enters into a dream where he believes that some alien creatures called “Neo-Spacians” talk to him, which are based on a design for a card he drew as a child. These beings tell him that the universe is on the brink of destruction because the balance between light and darkness is wrong. If there is too much light it will cause devastation across the universe. The main force causing this is the “Society of Light”, whose main figurehead is Sartorius. He is told to return to the island to defeat the society, and when he wakes, he finds that he can see his cards again, including some new cards based on the creatures that he met and previously drew.

Sartorius, on the other hand, has been using his powers of divination and mind control to slowly make his presence felt on the island. When he defeats opponents in a duel, he brainwashes them to join the Society of Light. He manages to get Chazz, Alexis, Bastion and a whole other bunch of students under his control, setting up his own White Dorm. Jaden has to use his skills to stop Sartorius – a task that sees him meeting up with Yugi Mutou’s grandfather on a school trip to Domino City; teaming up with Aster when they discover the true cause of Sartorius’s behaviour; entering into a new “GX” competition with the students taking on professional duellists; and discovering that Zane’s experience on the underground circuit has corrupted him to become cruel and obsessed with nothing but victory.

Like with the first series boxset, there are still the same old problems with this collection: poor scene selection; English dub only; no subtitles; no extras; dodgy accents etc. There is less of an issue with the quality of the animation in this collection which is one of the few plus points, but this is outweighed by problems with dialogue. For starters, this collection does see Chazz describing Jaden as a “spaz” which is just wrong. It seems strange that 4Kids were willing to use what we in Britain at least would consider to be derogatory language, but it is concerned not to mention other terms it believes to be inappropriate.

The main examples of this come across in Sartorius’s fortune telling. Sartorius uses tarot cards and his duelling deck is based on tarot as well. It appears 4Kids did not want to use some of the normal tarot card names because they thought they were unsuitable, so while it is perfectly happy to refer to cards such as “The World” and “The Chariot” with no issue at all, it does feel the need to change “Death” to “The Reaper of Souls” and “The Devil” to “The Fiend”. Now, I can understand some people may not want children to know about the occult, but if that is your attitude, best not show them a series which features heavy use of the occult practice of divination

The plot might also be a bit too far-fetched for people, now that the show is introducing alien life into the mix and Jaden having to save the world. The idea of the lead being so heroic is nothing new in the Yu-Gi-Oh! franchise, but the plot of the original with the time travel story is more enjoyable than the plot in this collection.

On the more positive side, the characters are overall still enjoyable. The new characters are good, with Hassleberry being rather fun and Aster being motivated to fulfil his revenge. Meanwhile the old characters are developing nicely, with Syrus moving up to a higher class and Bastion becoming annoyed that no-one will recognise his abilities as a duellist. It is also nice to see some more of the original Yu-Gi-Oh! characters making a bigger appearance, the best one being Pegasus who gets involved in a duel between Crowler and Bonaparte.

Once again, I tried out my drink game theory again, this time on the second disc of this collection. I stuck with “Elemental Hero” and “Life Points” again, but this time my third choice was “Destiny Hero”. It started off slowly, because for most of the early episodes on this disc Jaden does little duelling of his own, but then one the episodes is a clip show and that helped boost things back up, and Aster duels later as well. Overall my score was 23 for “Elemental Hero”, 32 for “Life Points” and 15 for “Destiny Hero”, totalling 70, beating the last time I did the game by 14 utterances, totalling around three pints.

Series 2 is not as good as the first series, but it still has the odd element in it that still makes it just entertaining enough to make it watchable.

Title: Review of Yu-Gi-Oh! GX, Series 2
Publisher: Manga Entertainment
Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy, Gaming, Fantasy, Non-School
Studio: Studio Gallop
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2004
Format: DVD
Language options: English dub audio only
Age rating: 12
Running time: 1075 minutes

Score: 4/10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Score: 5/10

Review of One Piece, Collection 15

Episodes 349-372, may contain spoilers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Score: 8/10

One Piece, Collection 14 Review

Episodes 325-348, may contain spoilers.

On the day I was born, the nurses all gathered ’round;
And they gazed in wide wonder at the joy they had found;
The head nurse spoke up and she said leave this one alone;
She could tell right away that I was bad to the bone.”
– George Thorogood

A quick look at the DVD cover will reveal that this collection of One Piece is very special, as at last we see the debut of the final (at the time of writing) member of the Straw Hat Pirates.

However, we don’t see him right away. Following the conclusion of the “Water Seven” arc, the collection begins not with Monkey D. Luffy and his crew, but with his older brother Portgas D. Ace, who has tracked down Marshall D. Teach, aka Blackbeard. Blackbeard, a former member of the Whitebeard pirates of which Ace is also a member, is now wanted for murdering another Whitebeard pirate and stealing a Devil Fruit: the Dark-Dark Fruit that allows him to control gravity. Thus a battle between his crushing powers and Ace’s control of fire begins.

But this is just one episode. After this, and perhaps not surprisingly following the massive “Water Seven” arc that preceded it, there is a “filler” arc. Here, the Straw Hats find what appear to be an abandoned group of fishermen who were attacked by a group of pirates. They go to help, with Chopper tending to one member of the ship’s crew who is on the verge of death. It is discovered that this is not a crew of fishermen, but the “Phoenix Pirates” who have suffered the greatest of humiliations: having their Jolly Roger flag stolen. The man being tended to by Chopper happens to be their despondent captain, Puzzle the Phoenix. The Phoenix crew try to poison the Straw Hats, but they easily spot the trick and the Phoenix pirates tell them all that has happened.

Then, what appears to be a group of marines arrives. Fortunately, new crewmate Franky is able to use the modifications on the Thousand Sunny to help both crews escape, such as turning the ship into a super-fast cola-powered paddle boat. Unfortunately, it turns out that the marines are fake, and the pirates find themselves in an arctic region governed by a family of bounty hunters, the Accino family. The head of the family, Don Accino, likes to collect pirate flags and is responsible for the theft of Puzzle’s flag. The family then steals the Straw Hat’s flag, meaning that the rest of the crew have to try and get it back before Luffy finds out.

After this escapade (and a one-episode filler of spoof superhero “Chopperman”), the Straw Hats find themselves on the move again, and spot a barrel that is supposedly offering food and drink to the god of the sea. Luffy opens it to reveal the barrel is empty, except for a flare that is fired. The crew then find themselves blown into the dangerous and perpetually-dark Florian Triangle. Here they encounter an old, wrecked ship, which has only one resident on it: a rather pervy skeleton with a huge afro, singing to himself. Luffy, Sanji and Nami climb on board to investigate, and Luffy is so impressed by him he instantly offers the skeleton the chance to join his crew, which the skeleton, named Brook, appears to accept.

Brook tells his story, about how the crew for whom he was a musician were attacked by a much stronger force, but he survived by eating the Revive-Revive Fruit, which allowed his soul to return to the living world. But as the Florian Triangle is so dark, it took a year for his soul to find his body, by which time all that survived were his bones and hairdo. Brook also reveals that actually, he cannot join the crew, because someone has stolen his shadow. He can only live in the dark Florian Triangle, because if he is touched by sunlight he will be destroyed. Luffy decides to help Brook find his shadow again.

However, the Straw Hats find that the boat has somehow arrived on an island, which Brook knows to be the ghost island Thriller Bark. Brook leaves the rest to try and find his shadow on his own, while Nami, Usopp and Chopper venture out first, onto an island that is full of ghosts and zombies. There Chopper learns to that the island is reportedly the home of Dr. Hogback, the greatest doctor in the world, but they eventually learn that his experiments have a dark purpose.

Concerning the first arc in this collection, it is not that bad as far as filler stories go. The main entertainment comes from the rest of the crew desperately trying to prevent Luffy from realising that their flag has been nicked because of all the problems that would follow caused by him. Thus you end up with action and fight scenes being mixed in with some rather farcical comedy.

On the downside, neither the Phoenix Pirates or the Accino Family are really that remarkable. Out of the Phoenix Pirates, the best one that comes across is the cabin boy Jiro, the only member of the crew that seemingly hasn’t given up on finding the flag again. Meanwhile, in the Accino Family, Don Accino has a Devil Fruit power, but his Hot-Hot Fruit which allows him to raise his body temperature to up to 10,000 degrees feels too similar to Ace’s Flame-Flame Fruit.

In the Thriller Bark arc, the main point of interest is Brook. With him now in the show, it feels as if we have made a big development. The whole unit is finally here. Although, it has to be said he doesn’t appear that much in the first part of the arc. It mainly features the regular Straw Hats venturing onto Thriller Bark and battling the evil monsters on the island. These range from a zombie that Luffy attacks by simply pushing it back into his grave; ghosts that cause anyone they pass through to feel instantly depressed; and a gigantic bridezilla boar-zombie who tries to attack Nami whom she sees as a rival for the zombie she loves – but Nami gets out of it by claiming to be a crossdressing man.

One other detail of note is of cultural differences. The main fights the Straw Hats have on Thriller Bark are with these zombie creatures, but rather than in the west where they are killed by going for the head, they are instead frightened by fire. Thus all the really successful attacks are coming from cowardly Usopp using his “Exploding Stars”.

In this collection there are extras including episode commentaries, interviews with Luci Christian (English voice for Nami) and Stephanie Young (English voice for Nico Robin), and the really long textless openings – as there are no endings except for a “To Be Continued” caption and details of the next episode. Among these openings include a new one, “Jungle P” by 5050.

Title: One Piece, Collection 14
Publisher: Manga Entertainment
Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy, Fantasy, Shonen
Studio: Toei Animation
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 1999
Format: DVD
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 15
Running time: 563 minutes

Score: 8/10

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

Soul Eater NOT! Complete Series Collection

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With the majority of anime being sorted into either “action” or “slice-of-life” boxes, it’s almost expected for fans to prefer one over the other. However, the clash of steel and tender heart-throbs need not be enemies, for they can share a profound resonance – an idea at the core of Soul Eater NOT.

Rather than being a continuation of Maka Albarn’s quest to transform her partner into the ultimate witch-hunting weapon, our return to the distinctive Death City turns back the clock a bit and heralds the start of a new, more personal journey that is enjoyable to franchise veterans and newcomers alike.

Tsugumi Harudori was an ordinary fourteen year old girl in love with love until her body started changing in ways not covered by the normal remit of puberty, prompting enrolment at a special school some may find familiar – after all, I doubt many girls have to worry about their limbs transforming into blades!

Unlike the more well-known students of Atsushi Ohkubo’s main series, our protagonist’s enrolment at the DWMA isn’t as part of the action-orientated EAT (Especially Advanced Talent) class, but rather, she learns from a curriculum dedicated to controlling her powers for day-to-day living known as NOT (Normally Overcome Target). There, she quickly becomes friends with the upper class Anya Hepburn and the incredibly forgetful Meme Tatane; two meisters who land the girl in love with love in an entirely different triangle to the one she was expecting!

The relationship between weapons and the meisters who wield them has always been an important backbone of the Soul Eater franchise, but is brought to the centre stage as of this spin-off, with partnerships often treated as outright romantic unions. Tsugumi’s struggle with choosing Anya or Meme as her meister consistently feels like a genuine love triangle – with Anya’s adorable jealous pouts being icing on the cake. My favourite example of this mingling of relationships, however, is the budding partnership of Jacqueline O’Lantern Dupre and Kim Diehl.

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Introduced as recurring characters in the original series, the unconventional pair are elevated to the supporting cast of Soul Eater NOT, which delves into the origins of their partnership. The two couldn’t be more mismatched; Jacqueline is a strait-laced, rule-abiding girl who finds herself drawn to Kim, a troublemaking tomboy referred to as “The Witch of the Girls’ Dorm”. Jacqueline’s attempts to get closer to Kim and form a partnership are treated exactly the same as romantic approaches, with strategies like cooking Kim’s favourite food – which of course, has hilarious results. Unlike other anime that simply tease their audiences with subtle winks and nods, Soul Eater NOT doesn’t hide from Jacqueline’s desire for closeness being more than professional (I mean, she does dream about kissing her) and handles it in a way that is, honestly, a delightful breath of fresh air. No one questions it or runs off screaming “girls can’t love girls!” – the others don’t hesitate to jump in and help without treating Jacqueline’s feelings any differently to other orientations.

It’s not difficult to see how Jacqueline fell for Kim though; after all, she quickly outshone the main cast to become my favourite character! Perhaps the quintessential application of the “tsundere” archetype, we are introduced to her as a feared bully, but through watching the actions of those closest to her and sharing a secret with Kim and Jacqueline, it became clear that there was more to the antisocial extortionist. Before I knew it, I was charmed by both her rough thorns and the sweet flower hidden amongst them.

Soul Eater NOT isn’t all about the budding relationships though and staying true to the franchise, there is a magical threat lurking in the shadows. This side of the story is slowly drip-fed away from our principle cast in the earlier episodes, before the floodgates are blown open, leading to a shocking mid-season twist.

Unfortunately, the later episodes fail to even match that dramatic high point, with the choreography of the final fight possibly being the worst I’ve ever seen in anime. The series effortlessly made the human element of Tsugumi’s shared partnership with Anya and Meme feel natural, but the same can’t be said of the practical side. I don’t think I need to explain how a villain standing still as two people figure out how to share a halberd isn’t exactly an energetic climax.

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Potential viewers accustomed to Soul Eater‘s unique, quirky visual style may be in for a surprise with the more pedestrian, cutesy styling of NOT – an aesthetic shift with both pros and cons for the returning cast. Losing her kinetic, cartoony designs and expressions robs Patty of her identifiable charm, but the extra care and attention given to Kim and Jacqueline’s more detailed designs help breathe new life into the characters. Some characters sit somewhere in the middle though, like Maka, who is largely unchanged aside from a cuter face.

In regards to the special features, Soul Eater NOT has the usual extras you would expect from a title Funimation released state-side: textless songs, audio commentaries of two episodes and trailers intended for other markets (the curse of shared masters). The lack of a Blu-ray release was lamented when Manga Entertainment first announced the license, but having both Japanese and U.S. on-disc trailers advertise high definition releases does feel like adding insult to injury at times! Another extra is the “Soul Eater Whoops!” blooper reel compilation that failed to get even a mild chuckle out of me. Is there actually anything funny about an actor tripping over their tongue or saying obviously staged “random” lines? Bloopers work in live-action properties because there are other people there to witness and react to screw ups, but when we know that western voice-over work is usually done in isolation, that illusion is shattered.

In a way, Soul Eater NOT is a lot like a visit to the series’ Deathbucks Café; you may be served by a cute waitress and see a couple of familiar faces during your stay, but you’ll need an acquired taste to stomach the bitter coffee. While still set in the city Tim Burton no doubt aspires to vacation in, the love affair with madness being replaced with togetherness may alienate some existing fans, but “different” doesn’t always have to mean “awful”, nor does it have to mean “amazing”. If you can tolerate moe or are new to the franchise, Soul Eater NOT is a fun and sweet series, even if it won’t make the same waves as the main show.

Title: Soul Eater NOT! Complete Series Collection
Publisher: Manga Entertainment
Genre: Action, Slice Of Life, Supernatural, Yuri
Studio: BONES
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2014
Format: DVD
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 12
Running time: 300 minutes

Score: 7/10

Pokémon the Movie: Hoopa and the Clash of Ages Review

 

pokemon-and-the-clash-of-ages-bd I’m someone who has been a fan of Pokémon for as long as I can remember. I remember watching the TV show every afternoon and playing Pokémon Yellow at the height of summer, and since those years I’ve watched every movie, kept up with the TV series, and played almost all of the games. It’s safe to say that the series influenced my love of Japanese video games and animation, so when given the chance to review the latest movie, Pokémon the Movie: Hoopa and the Clash of Ages, I jumped at the opportunity.

Hoopa and the Clash of Ages is the 18th Pokémon movie in total and the second to take place during the Pokémon XY anime series. This movie is centered around the legendary Pokémon Hoopa, who has the ability to summon objects, Pokémon and people through the use of its rings. 100 years ago Hoopa used to be extremely powerful, but after going on a rampage its power was sealed away into the Prison Bottle.

hoopa-1-1Flash-forward to the present day, the time period where the Pokémon TV series takes place. While Hoopa is playing around with its rings, now trapped in its ‘Confined’ form (a smaller, less powerful form), it has a chance encounter with Ash, Pikachu and his friends. As Ash gets to know Hoopa and his human family members, Baraz and Meray, he discovers that Baraz has been searching for the Prison Bottle that sealed away Hoopa’s ‘Unbound’ form (otherwise known as Hoopa Unbound). Baraz wishes to return the sealed-off power to Hoopa when the time is right, however an evil energy from the bottle possesses him and manipulates him to open the bottle and release the power within. The freed power ultimately leads to Hoopa going out of control and Hoopa Unbound needing to be sealed once more.

With evildoers Jessie, James and Meowth of Team Rocket sniffing around in search of something to help them capture Ash’s Pikachu, it’s not long before the Prison Bottle is broken in a scuffle. Unlike when the bottle was previously opened, this time Hoopa Unbound manifests as its own evil entity instead of merging with Hoopa’s Confined form. As a result Hoopa Unbound goes on a rampage and begins attacking the city. Both forms of Hoopa end up clashing and begin summoning many legendary Pokémon through their hoops to battle alongside them. Can Ash and co. create a new bottle to seal off Hoopa Unbound, or will Dahara City soon be destroyed from the battle?

For a Pokémon movie the plot is actually fairly interesting and easy enough for a newcomer to the series to drop into. Ash only ever really uses Pikachu so a knowledge of what he’s been catching in the XY anime up until now isn’t of notable importance, nor does the movie’s story have any relation to what’s been happening in the television series. It’s comfortably self-contained and easy to recommend if you’re someone who just dips in and out of the series.

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However, if you’re more of a hardcore Pokémon fan like me then there are some stupid inconsistencies that will slightly nag at you. For example, some of the legendary Pokémon that Hoopa calls forth randomly Mega Evolve at one point, which just doesn’t make sense. In the video games and other media Mega Evolving a Pokémon must either involve a strong bond with their trainer or the Pokémon and their trainer must be holding a Mega Stone and Key Stone respectively. Neither of these things are true for the movie, so there was clearly some rule breaking going on.

The other problem I have is the inclusion of a Shiny Rayquaza. If you’re throwing so many legendary Pokémon into the mix then a Rayquaza would be fair game, but a Shiny variation? For reference, Shiny Pokémon are very rare colour swaps that are sometimes seen in the video games, anime series, and other spin-offs of the franchise. There was no reason for Shiny Rayquaza to be present and I’m slightly lost as to why they went for it beyond (maybe) Japan using it as an excuse for some kind of give-away for the games. There’s also the fact that the Rayquaza will listen to commands from Ash when in every other piece of Pokémon media it’s seen as a sort of god who listens to no one – yet suddenly it’s taking orders from a trainer it’s never met? Things just didn’t quite add up.

These mild problems aside, I have to say that I’m fairly impressed. With a run time of 76 minutes we managed to have some fairly impressive battles while also finding time for solid character development for the focus of our story, Hoopa. Hoopa by all means is a childish brat, who also has the ability to talk (which never goes down well in Pokémon dubs), but Hoopa and the Clash of Ages is a good example of how to do a Pokémon movie right. We’re not quite back to the days of the truly impressive stories the series had to tell (such as Pokémon 2000 and Pokémon: Lucario and the Mystery of Mew), but it certainly does far better than the previous entry, Diancie and the Cocoon of Destruction.

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Where animation is concerned studio OLM (who have always worked on the Pokémon anime and also provide animation for Yo-kai Watch) have done a good job. There is often some questionable use of CGI but that has been present in the Pokémon movies for awhile and is evidently just the direction the studio moving towards. It’s not amazing animation but for a series like Pokémon, overall, OLM have given it all it needs on a movie budget.

Music has been provided by Shinji Miyazaki and sadly, the quality of the music is rather lackluster and overall quite generic. Most tracks are very action-driven and blend in too much to really be appreciated or scenes just have no music at all. The ending theme has been provided by Dani Marcus and is titled “Every Side of Me”, which is a different ending theme than the one used for the Japanese version.

The English voice actors do a good job, especially Sarah Natochenny (Stephanie in Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D’s) who plays Ash. The only other shout-out I want to give in this department is to Lori Phillips, who plays Hoopa. Upon researching her name I was unable to find out about anything else she’s done but she certainly plays the Pokémon well.

This release comes to the UK thanks to Manga Entertainment, who have released it on both Blu-ray and DVD. There are no extras to speak of at all and the movie is dub only, like all of the Pokémon releases to hit the UK.

Overall I enjoyed my time with Hoopa and the Clash of Ages. As an existing Pokémon fan it’s an interesting watch despite some small issues and I think it’s not a bad starting point for a newcomer. We’re not quite back in the golden age of Pokémon but things are certainly looking up.

Title: Pokémon The Movie: Hoopa and the Clash of Ages
Publisher: Animatsu
Genre: Shonen, Adventure, Fantasy
Studio: OLM
Type: Movie
Original vintage: 2015
Format: Blu-Ray and DVD (Blu-Ray version reviewed)
Language options: English dub audio only
Age rating: PG
Running time: 76 minutes

Score: 7/10