The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess Volume 1 Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Score: 8/10

Review of Clockwork Planet, Volume 1

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

A long time ago, the Earth died.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Score: 9/10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© nagabe / MAG Garden

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

Score: 9/10

Erased Volume 1 Review

Last March I started watching Erased, a mystery story that was being adapted by A-1 Pictures. Over the course of its airing many anime fans took notice of the series and by the end of its run we were all very engrossed in the story and how it would turn out. Fast forward a year and the manga is now being brought to English thanks to Yen Press, and I’m here to give my thoughts on it.

For those of you who don’t know, Erased tells the story of Satoru Fujinuma, who is a fairly ordinary guy to the average eye. He’s a published mangaka but struggling to pen his next hit, so he’s also working part-time as a pizza deliverer guy. However, Satoru has a special ability that randomly triggers when someone around him is in danger. This ability sends Satoru back in time to a key moment before a fatal incident occurs – how far back depending on the situation. Once in the past, he must focus on what is going around him in order to solve the incident at hand before time will move forward normally again. If he misses the obvious fix then time loops round again and places Satoru back at the beginning to relive the scene over and over again.

Usually this ability never sends Satoru back more than a few minutes, but after someone close to our hero is brutally murdered, he’s sent back eighteen years to when he was a child in elementary school. At the time many children in the neighborhood were being kidnapped and murdered, including a classmate of his: Kayo Hinazuki. Remembering the incident, Satoru vows to protect Kayo and discover the connection between the murder in the present day and the disappearance of the children so many years ago. With so much on the line, can he figure it out or will be forced to relive these days forever?

Now I’m someone who likes a good mystery story, so when Erased came along I was more than happy to give it a shot. Apart from the fact that the series doesn’t outright explain Satoru’s abilities very well, or even why he has them, the story at hand is a good one. Even for someone like me, who has watched the anime through to the end, it’s not obvious who the kidnapper is, which so far has made revisiting the story enjoyable. There are just enough hints and revelations to keep readers on their toes and it’s easy to find yourself considering the numerous possibilities as the story unfolds. It’s a series that really makes you think and that’s the real charm it has going for it.

This volume might be labelled as Volume 1 but actually it’s an omnibus that includes the first two volumes that were released in Japan. This is a good way of releasing the series in the west as the first volume doesn’t really drag you into the mystery as well as it could. It’s not until the end of the first volume that Satoru is sent to the far past, and as the real meat of the series takes place during this period, I’m glad that we had a second volume included to read through.

A problem that I do have with the manga though is sadly quite a big one. My complaint lies with the artwork itself, which spends the majority of its time looking very disjointed. Characters’ heads are drawn at too sharp an angle, so they look much more pointed than they should. There are a few scenes where a character’s hair is blowing in the wind and not once does it look natural. Instead the hair looks very flat and, as with the faces, far too rigid in design. The artwork completely ruins any attempts the series makes in conveying emotion as the expressions never feel like they fit, and throughout the two volumes the eyes of our cast look completely empty – almost dead to me. Sure, pupils are drawn okay but they’re just black circles with almost no highlights to speak of. The other problem with the eyes is that, on the whole, they’re not circular enough and often drawn to a point (I think you can see where I’m going with this). It all makes for a very jarring experience.

Initially I wondered if the issues with the artwork came about because the manga was older (not that there is anything wrong with old manga!). I honestly didn’t know. However, it turned out that Erased was first published in 2012 in Japan, so it’s not actually old at all. After that I wondered if maybe mangaka Kei Sanbe was just inexperienced, but with numerous titles to their name that appears to not be the case either. Erased ran in Japan from 2012 until 2016 and a part of me hopes that the artwork will improve in time, but I’m not willing to bet on it. It’ll be disappointing if the art doesn’t improve, because the anime of Erased was very emotional, and to lose that depth due to the artwork would be a crying shame.

Overall I liked Erased enough as an anime to continue the manga for now, but I do think the manga is a hard sell for others who perhaps weren’t big fans of the anime or haven’t seen the series at all before. If you like the sound of the story then I recommend checking out the anime, but if you can overlook the artwork then the manga isn’t a bad starting point. The Erased manga is by no means bad, it just isn’t quite as good as I was hoping it would be.

Title: Erased Volume 1
Publisher: Yen Press
Genre: Fantasy, Mystery
Author(s): Kei Sanbe
Type: Manga
Original vintage: 2013
Format: Book (digital edition available)
Age rating: Teen
Length: 384 pages

Score: 6/10

Review of The Ghost in the Shell: Deluxe Edition

“Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts… A graphic representation of data abstracted from banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding…” – William Gibson

The new Ghost in the Shell film, made in America and to be released at the end of March, has already attracted plenty of comments. Most of this commentary is along the lines of: “How come they cast Scarlett Johansson as Major Motoko Kusanagi? This is whitewashing and racist!” or “*sigh* Oh no, not another attempt by the Yanks to make an anime adaptation.”

What is it with Hollywood and their seeming inability to adapt anything that isn’t American properly, especially when it comes to anime? Personally speaking, I have no problem with us in the west adapting stuff from Japan for our own audiences. Take The Seven Samurai – that was turned into a film set in the Wild West, and became The Magnificent Seven, a perfectly good film. The difference, however, is that they clearly changed the location and thus casting American actors in the roles was perfectly fine. The new Ghost in the Shell film fails to do this, at least from what we currently gather. It would be fine if they had set the film in the USA and changed the entire cast, but they haven’t. They still got Japanese actors to play other parts, including major roles, like Takeshi Kitano playing Chief Aramaki. If they can cast a Japanese actor as Aramaki, why not cast one for the Major? I don’t think I’m qualified to say if this is racist or not (excuse my cowardice), but I do feel that it is wrong.

If there is at least one good thing about the new film, it is that it gives everyone a chance to re-evaluate the original work. Manga Entertainment is re-releasing the films [[and the Stand Alone Complex TV series]] on both DVD and Blu-Ray on 20th March, and now Kodansha Comics have released “Deluxe Editions” of the original manga, in hardback and, for the first time, printed in the correct right-to-left unflipped format.

For those who are unfamiliar with the story, it takes place in the fictional floating Newport City in Shinhama Prefecture, and begins on 5th March, 2029. By this point in time, technology has become so advanced that people are able to possess “cyberbrains” that allow their bodies to interact with various networks. People can also gain various forms of prosthetics and even complete prosthetic bodies. The problem with all this technology is that you can be hacked and made to do things by whoever controls you.

The action follows Public Security Section 9, group of ex-military officers and members of the police who investigate crimes that normally involve the hacking of cyberbrains. They are led by Chief Daisuke Aramaki, who everyone always comments looks a bit like a monkey, while most of the main work is done by Major Motoko Kusanagi, who has undergone full-body prostheses.

There are some individual cases in this manga, but there is also the overriding case involving “The Puppeteer”, a criminal who is hacking into humans to commit a wide range of crimes. Major Kusanagi and Chief Aramaki attempt to get the bottom of these cases along with the other members of the team, including Batou, who is recognisable by his cylindrical cybernetic eyes; and Togusa, one of the few members of the team not to have any cybernetic enhancements. All the time, Kusanagi believes she able to solve the cases because of what her “ghost” is telling her, but what is her ghost? Is it a soul? Can someone so mechanical have a soul?

If you are confused by the plot, don’t worry: everyone seems to get confused by the plot of Ghost in the Shell. It and Akira are two of the most cyberpunk manga/anime around, and two of the hardest to get your head around. It is made even harder by the inclusion of loads of notes in the margins of the pages. If you turn to the back of the book, it even gives you a note of caution saying: “This book contains a great number of margin notes and commentary. If read alongside the narrative, this may cause confusion and interrupt the flow of the story, so it is recommended that they be enjoyed separately.” You know when some people tell you to read a book twice because you might miss all the hidden references and jokes in it? With Ghost in the Shell you have to read it twice to make sense of everything.

Also, because it was written in 1989, it has dated badly in some places. This is a story with all kinds of futuristic technology, but also one in which the Soviet Union still exists. There also appear to have been some problems with translation. At one point, a Tachikoma (an intelligent tank) says to Kusanagi: “We demand the use of use of natural oil!” It is odd that this error has occurred, especially when you compare it to Dark Horse’s release of the manga in 2004, which has the line correctly written as: “We demand the use of natural oil!”

Where Ghost in the Shell really stands out, however, is the artwork. Now, it should be mentioned that the quality of the art does vary. For example, sometimes it looks like Batou’s eyes are a bit out of place. But on the other side, especially when you get to the colour pictures, the artwork looks brilliant. The shading and the details all look wonderful, and the characters are also great in colour, especially Kusanagi. This does lead to one of the issue that some readers might have, which is that creator Shirow Masamune is someone who is also known for doing erotic art, and thus a few of the outfits worn by the female characters may be a bit too revealing for some tastes. Put it this way: it appears that in Masamune’s vision of the future, nurses are more than willing to wear uniforms that show off their sexy knickers.

However, arguably the fact that you are not seeing something even sexier is worse. A quick bit of research is enough to show you that Kodansha have made some changes. At the beginning of the third chapter, we see a swimsuit-clad Kusanagi on holiday on a boat. We see her jumping into it with two women already on board, also in swimsuits, waiting for her. At least that is what you see in the Kodansha version. If you read the 2004 Dark Horse version, you see that Kusanagi and the other two women are in fact naked. Not only are they naked, the two women already on the boat are having sex, and Kusanagi is about to join in, which she does in the Dark Horse version. What then follows are two pages of a raunchy, lesbian threesome, in colour – at least in Dark Horse’s copy.

In Kodansha’s “Deluxe Edition”, a title which should at least imply that it includes all of the manga, they not only put clothes on the women and moved the characters so they sit separately rather than making love, they removed two entire pages of the book. Now, if they were doing this because they were trying to make the manga more accessible to the public by getting it down to a 16+ rating for example I can at least understand the reasoning even though I would disapprove. Yet Kodansha’s version still has a 18+ “Mature” rating. If the manga is still being aimed only at adults, why censor anything? It serves no purpose.

When I was writing up the conclusion to this review I was going to argue that while there are many reasons to not buy Ghost in the Shell – including the varying quality of the art, some errors made in translation, the difficulty in understanding the plot, the fact that it is not the most feminist story out there in the way some women are depicted, and also the issue of it dating badly in certain places – it was still worth investing in. After all, it is a rare release of a hardback manga, it is now finally in the correct right-to-left format, the wonderful quality of the colour pages outweighs some of the dodgier segments, the chance to see the earliest origins of one of the most famous characters in all of manga, and then there is the biggest reason of all – it gives you a chance to enjoy the Major as she should be enjoyed, before Scarlett Johansson has any chance to potentially spoil things.

However, the censorship tipped me over the edge. Not only are there all the other issues, but Kodansha made this stupid decision to cut out a bit of the story. Yes, it doesn’t add anything to the plot, but the fact they felt the need to do this is just wrong, especially when it serves no purpose at all. This has made me so angry as to change my view, to get rid of my defence of this new book. I originally want to say “read it before the Yanks ruin it”. Kodansha have already ruined it for me.

The worst manga I have ever reviewed is Cardfight!! Vanguard, which I principally hated because it was too commercial among other reasons. Only the artwork prevented me from giving it a 1 out of 10. I think The Ghost in the Shell: Deluxe Edition may well tie with it. The only things saving it are the colour artwork, and that it’s in hardback, it’s unflipped and the Major is so iconic as a character. However, publishing a book in hardback is not a difficult thing to do; the unflipped nature of the manga is just something we now expect, unlike back in 2004 when flipping was more commonplace; and removal of the sex scene also removes another major aspect of Kusanagi as a character, in that this scene clearly proves she is also an LGBT character.

In conclusion, you can cope with it being flipped. Save your money and get the older, paperback Dark Horse version instead.

Title: The Ghost in the Shell: Deluxe Edition
Publisher: Kodansha Comics
Genre: Crime, Cyberpunk, Sci-fi
Author(s): Shirow Masamune
Type: Manga
Original vintage: 1989
Format: Book (digital edition available)
Age rating: 18
Length: 352 pages

Score: 2/10

Review of Battle Rabbits Volumes 1-3

Kokoryuu Kaguya’s high school life takes a turn for the unexpected when he’s struck by a bolt of light while waiting for a bus. Then he’s accosted by Mao-chan, a pink-haired, rabbit-eared girl who claims to be from the moon. Next minute, he’s fighting for his life against a murderous ogre that’s taken over the body of one of his fellow high-schoolers. It’s only then that Kaguya undergoes a life-changing transformation. Later, Mao explains to him that he – like her – is one of the Battle Rabbits, a force established to defend humanity from the ogres. Kaguya realizes that his father was killed by just such an ogre.

Battle Rabbits is the new manga from Yuki Amemiya and Yukino Ichihara (Ameichi), whose first major collaboration, 07-Ghost, won many admirers (including me). 07-Ghost was made into a 25-part anime TV series (still available on Crunchyroll) and ran to 17 volumes. So I had great hopes for their new series (originally published in Zero Sum, the magazine that has also brought us Loveless, Saiyuki and Karneval). However, as with Bisco Hatori’s new series, Behind the Scenes, sadly, those hopes have not been fully realized. The problem? The story is presented to the reader in full-on, ‘hit the ground running’ fashion – not a bad thing, in itself, if it can be fluidly delivered. But it’s all over the place. The concept of Battle Rabbits who come from the Moon to protect the Earth is wonderfully daft and the sight of the dashingly handsome warriors with their cute bunny ears is distinctly moe. Mao, the bunny girl Battle Rabbit who becomes Kaguya’s companion, even – annoyingly – says ‘desu’ at the end of every sentence. Are Ameichi gently sending up the whole fantasy action genre?

Volume 2 is a distinct improvement on the first. Kaguya learns more about his role as the bearer of the golden Rabi-Jewel and is put through a harsh shounen-style training by Battle Rabbits Earth Force Defense Commander Hijiri who, it seems, has been watching over him for some time. We get to see Kaguya’s difficult and painful childhood, which makes him a more sympathetic protagonist, but by the end of the volume, the golden Rabi-Jewel cracks in battle and it seems as if his life is over. Which is when he finds himself on an endless staircase (very familiar to readers of 07-Ghost) talking with a black-garbed, fair-haired man wielding a death-scythe. Yes, to all intents and purposes, it’s Frau. Is all finished for Kaguya before he’s achieved his aims, protected the earth and avenged his father?

Volume 3 brings answers – not as straightforward, of course, as Kaguya (and the struggling reader) could wish. Unfortunately, it becomes clear that neither the two mangaka nor their editors were sure which direction was right for the story and the downside of this is their failure to build up Kaguya as the viewpoint character. Too many needless digressions into other characters are annoying when the main character has not been given enough time to let us relate to him (a large part of this volume is taken up with the backstory of another battle rabbit and his little sister). This exudes a rather tired vibe, as if the mangaka were being forced by their editor to take the story in directions they hadn’t intended. A major plot twist occurs in the very last pages which seems promising after all the digressions and confusing background material piled up in the preceding pages. And more names from 07-Ghost are tantalizingly yet frustratingly dropped into the mix. I suspect that there’s a lot of foreshadowing embedded in the text but because of the clumsy way that the story is being revealed, it just adds to the confusion.

Battle Rabbits looks good; the character designs are attractive and distinctive and the action scenes are thrillingly (if sometimes confusingly) depicted. The translation by Jill Morita flows smoothly and each volume of the Seven Seas edition boasts two glossy colour images. Ameichi’s quirky sense of humour is allowed to show through sometimes with some cute chibi designs and one 4-koma strip per volume.

So why the disappointment on this reader’s part? Well, it’s difficult for any writer to follow up on a very successful title and 07-Ghost was deservedly very successful in the josei fantasy/action field, inspiring a 25-part anime series. However, 07-Ghost was set in a fantasy world with a dark, compelling and well-developed mythology/belief system and Battle Rabbits labours under the disadvantage of being set in the present day. This ought not to present problems (Harry Potter, after all, is set in the real world too) but instead of this being helpful, the story has to keep stopping to explain the many fantasy elements that intrude – and the whole warriors from the Moon set-up ends up feeling awkward and underdeveloped. There are allusions to Japanese moon mythology: the rabbits, Tsukuyomi (the Japanese moon deity), Kaguya’s name (as in the recent Ghibli film The Tale of Princess Kaguya, in which the moon princess visits the earth) but much more intriguing yet frustrating are the appearances of familiar names from 07-Ghost. Will these characters make more than a brief appearance? There’s only one more volume to go as the series was brought to an abrupt end, presumably because it didn’t do well in reader polls in Zero-Sum.

In Summary

Battle Rabbits is drawn with all Ameichi’s considerable skill and flare but the story it tells is all over the place and lacks focus. Nevertheless, if you loved 07-Ghost, you’ll definitely want to give it a try.

Title: Battle Rabbits
Publisher: Seven Seas
Genre: Fantasy, Action, Josei
Author(s): Ameichi
Type: Manga
Original vintage: 2015
Format: Book
Age rating: T 13+
Length: 180 pages

Score: 7/10

Feature: A Guide to the Odagiri Effect

AUKN Banner (Ian Wolf's Feature)

“If men knew all that women think, they would be twenty times more audacious.” – Alphonse Karr.

It is a question that many anime fans have asked themselves: what is it about high school male sports teams that make them so sexy? This is also probably going to be the first question put to me, if I should ever end up in court about why so many sports anime have a “special” following, in which most people think the characters are gay, and why there is so much fan fiction about these youthful characters.

The answer is something called the “Odagiri effect”, which has been around for a while, however little has been written about it in-depth. This is something that is worth looking into as it deals with many of the most popular anime series around, and it is something that has begun to influence British media as well, but no-one has talked about because so many mainstream TV critics have never heard of the term. But first…

What is the Odagiri effect?

The Odagiri effect is a phenomenon first seen on TV where a show gets a surprisingly higher-than-normal number of female viewers, because they find the male actors or characters in a show attractive.

According to The Dorama Encyclopedia by Jonathan Clements and Motoko Tamamuro, the term is named after Japanese actor Joe Odagiri, who starred in the 2000 children’s superhero show Kamen Rider Kuuga, about a masked motorbike-riding superhero. The producers noticed that the series was attracting two main audience groups. One was children, which isn’t surprising as that was the target audience. The other group was surprising: women around the age of 30. The producers discovered that these women, most of whom were mothers, were tuning in to see the rather sexy Odagiri in action.

Thanks to his performance, Odagiri went on to have a successful acting career, while the producers of the show repeated the success in the next series, Kamen Rider Agito, which had three male actors as the leads. It did attract the women, although many men disapproved of the way the show was being changed. [p. 182]

Does the Odagiri effect happen in British TV?

Yes, but because so few people have heard of the effect, most are unaware of it. There is one British TV show where a sexy male actor has boosted the viewing figures considerably: Poldark, starring Aidan Turner.

When the series began, most of the papers at the time were reporting about how many women were tuning in to see musclebound Turner and his topless scything. It was so popular, that in a 2015 poll by the Radio Times, this topless scything scene was voted the top TV moment of that year. This year, another topless Poldark scene, in which Turner is seen in a tin bath, came top of the Radio Times’s poll for the top TV moment of 2016.

Interestingly, coming third in the same poll was a scene in The Night Manager in which Tom Hiddleston’s bare backside was briefly on show, so we can see the Odagiri effect here too. Even more interestingly was what came fourth in the poll, which was Poldark again, but for something that caused a lot of anger among female viewers, as the moment was where the character of Poldark appears to commit rape. I’ll be returning to this later, but as we are an anime website, let’s turn to the animated art form.

Where can you see the Odagiri effect occurring in anime?

In my personal experience, when I first began getting into anime properly in the early-to-mid 2000s, I came across a show with a surprisingly large female audience: Hetalia: Axis Powers.

The wartime comedy manga which began in 2006 has a considerable female following, which is odd for a series featuring moe anthropomorphic stereotyped personifications of the nations of the world fighting in World War II. Presumably the women were attracted to the use of pretty boys – “bishonen” – as the main characters.

It seems that any anime with bishonen is likely to experience the Odagiri effect. According to Lauren Orsini, these tend to fall into two particular groups of anime shows: sports series, where you have athletic characters who obviously need to keep fit and look in shape in order to perform well; and musical idol series, concerning the interactions between the male characters in each group.

However, it isn’t just limited to these kinds of anime. You can arguably see the Odagiri effect in other kinds of anime too. For example, take Cute High Earth Defense Club LOVE!, the series that parodies magical girl shows by featuring magical boys. Like the traditional magical girls, the boys are obviously made cute to appeal to audiences, but you also have the added bonus of the rather too-cute outfits that give the characters both extra appeal and comic value.

How do fans change the way the series is seen?

This is where things seem to get really interesting.

Let’s create a hypothetical example. As the main type of anime involved in the Odagiri effect tends to be sport, we will make a fake sports anime. I’m going with cricket as there not that many anime that cover it (it appears in Black Butler which is set in Britain, and baseball anime Star of the Giants has been adapted to cover cricket for the Indian market, but that’s about it).

Now, let’s imagine that this cricket anime follows a boys’ school cricket team, and you have all the students who make the team there, training, playing etc. You have all these fit guys in the show, so the Odagiri effect takes place and women start tuning in. However, because this is an anime, it is a fair bet to say that some of these women watching are fujoshi: yaoi fans, interested in male homoerotic anime. There might even be some fan service design to appeal directly to them.

Because of this, you then get the fujoshi tuning in because not only do they find the characters sexy, but they are also thinking that behind the scenes something else is happening, and that the characters might be “getting it on”. This leads me to reveal why I’ve chosen cricket as my hypothetical choice, because let’s be honest, in terms of cricket and double entendres, you have a lot to play with. We can all enjoy the sight of leather on willow, while the balls knock into those massive stumps. You would certainly need to have a long leg then, but things might be too kinky in cow corner.

Anyway, getting back to the main point. We have the large collection of women fans, and some of those are fujoshi who are of the opinion that the characters may be gay. Some of them may even be making yaoi fan works like dojinshi and selling them on. Because you have this possible homosexual element, you also attract male yaoi fans – fudanshi. Then on top of that, you may also attract men who are gay, but are not anime fans.

How has the Odagiri effect changed anime?

The main change is that now many anime are now exploiting the effect. As sports anime are my own particular area of interest I will stick to examples from here.

While my first personal experience of the Odagiri effect was in Hetalia, arguably the first sports anime to have been influenced by it was The Prince of Tennis; the manga began in 1999 and the anime in 2001. Although it started soon after the effect was noticed, it ran for so long that there was going to be some influence.

It seems that Kuroko’s Basketball was the first sports anime where the effect began to be seen, and then the swimming series Free! really began to push things with the Lycra-clad main characters, all of whom had girly names. Even coach Gou doesn’t make any attempt to hide her muscle fetish. You get even more body-tight Lycra in cycling series Yowamushi Pedal, but if leather is more your thing, you always have motorcycling manga Toppu GP.

Even making up an entirely new sport doesn’t stop the effect from taking place. Take Prince of Stride, for example, which covers a sport that is a kind of relay parkour. The fact that you happen to have the main female character giving out information in a position that is officially called the “Relationer” certainly sparks a few thoughts along the lines of, “Yeah, and we know what sort of relations too.”

However, there is a big issue when it comes to these shows: because these are mostly school sports teams and most of the characters are under 18, there is the whole question of legality. It is fine under Japanese law because there are few laws covering this kind of thing, but in the US and UK it is obviously more of an issue. There are obviously older characters in these series too, so it all depends on who is depicted. In terms of adults in sports anime, there are still some examples such as the Breakers, the all-male cheer leading team in Cheer Boys!!, which on the downside is one of the most unintentionally camp anime ever made – but on the upside, it is set in a university rather than a school, so at least all the main characters are adults and thus there are no legal issues in terms of any yaoi activity.

In the last anime season, there have been four different male sports anime series on the go: the long-running volleyball series Haikyu!!; football-based series DAYS; rugby anime All Out!! which attracted plenty of comment before it began due to the promotional poster featuring a particularly handsome backside; and the series that got everyone talking…

The Odagiri effect and Yuri!!! On Ice

Come on, if we are talking about homosexuality, sports anime and a large female following, we had to get to here sooner or later.

Any anime fan that has been following the events of recent months will be more than aware that this season we got a sports anime where the gay stuff was no longer just in the minds of the viewers. OK, it might have stopped short of actually showing a kiss fully uncensored, and Yuri and Victor may not actually say “I love you”, but even I, with my Asperger’s syndrome and thus my difficulties in understanding relationships and people’s reactions at face value, can tell that Yuri and Victor are gay. Whether it was the original kiss scene, the exchange of rings, Victor crying at the thought of the relationship ending or something else, Yuri!!! On Ice gave us the closest depiction of a same-sex relationship in a sports anime yet seen. There are also a relatively mature couple, as both characters are in their 20s.

However, there are still plenty of people out there who say that the whole relationship thing is speculation, and still refuse to believe Yuri and Victor are a couple until they actually admit it. Why? All the evidence clearly shows they are gay. Whenever someone has suggested that they are not, they can’t provide any evidence to support themselves other than the fact that Yuri and Victor never actually do “it” on screen.

Let me put it this way: all the evidence points to the fact that Yuri and Victor are gay and in a relationship, although the characters themselves have not admitted it – in the same way that all the evidence points to the fact that Monkey D. Luffy from One Piece will probably get a heart attack or bowel cancer from his almost exclusive meat-only diet before he ever becomes King of the Pirates. How much more proof do you need in order to be totally convinced? It couldn’t be more gay unless there is a second series and end up calling it something like Yuri!!! Again On Ice, for the sole purpose for giving the series the acronym “YAOI”.

There is one other thing that makes Yuri!!! On Ice stand out in comparison to most of the other series mentioned. One of the reasons why this series appeals to women is that it is actually made by women: namely director Sayo Yamamoto and writer Mitsurō Kubo. The reason so many women like this series is because the people making it know what women want because they themselves are women.

Overall, the series has sparked up debate about the depiction of homosexuality in anime and the media in general. Many were pleased to see the relationship, but some were critical of the fact that the relationship was not realistic enough, which leads me to the next point.

Is the Odagiri effect good or bad?

Well, the effect is certainly good at pulling in viewers. Some series have increased debate among the depiction of sexuality in anime. But the Odagiri effect has its downsides too.

The main one of these is that anime such as these, and yaoi in general, do not depict homosexuality realistically. For example, yaoi manga often feature rape. While a more mainstream show like Poldark that features male/female rape scenes will usually result in complaints from angry viewers, a yaoi that depicts male/male rape is often more accepted. A study back in 2008 by Dru Pagliassotti, Better Than Romance? Japanese BL Manga and the Subgenre of Male/Male Romantic Fiction, published in Boys’ Love Manga: Essays on the Sexual Ambiguity and Cross-Cultural Fandom of the Genre, which she co-edited with Antonia Levi and Mark McHarry, found that out of 391 people responding to a survey on Boys’ Love (BL) / yaoi manga: “fifty percent thought that rape, explicit sex, sad endings, physical torture, ordinariness, bed-hopping, cruel heroes, and weak heroes were all acceptable in BL manga. Of the remainder, twelve percent said that rape should never be included in BL” [p. 67-68].

Another issue is the fact that there is a difference between how different audiences react to a show. To reference another section in Boys’ Love Manga, Alexis Hall in his study Gay or Gei? Reading “Realness” in Japanese Yaoi Manga, looks at the ways that we western audiences read yaoi in comparison to how it is read in Japan. He talks about one gay man, who thinks his views on yaoi are more valid than most yaoi fans because he is the sort of person depicted in the works. However, this man is American and not Japanese, so does that mean that in the context of reading a yaoi manga or anime that sexuality is the most important thing rather than ethnicity? [p. 217] It is safe to say, that I have been guilty of doing this myself.

We may think that we are more forward thinking than the Japanese in terms of gay rights because we have things like gay marriage, but for most of history it has been Japan that was more forward thinking because for most of the time they were no laws prohibiting it. [p. 218] In the 1960s, the Japanese weren’t imprisoning gay people like we British were doing at the same time. It’s just that at present we are currently being more progressive.

There is also the one other, big, glaring factor relating to whether the Odagiri effect has a bad effect or not which is this: the fact that we are talking about it in the first place. If this was the other way around, and that we had noticed there was an observable effect in which men were more likely to watch a TV show if there women actors or characters were sexy, we would probably be saying that this was sexist, or for that matter that this is something that actually goes on all the time anyway. We can probably come up with a massive list of TV shows, films, adverts, books etc. which have used sexy women to try and make men watch or read them. Reversing that and naming things that use attractive men to get women to engage with them is harder.

You also got the fact that because these shows are relying on a male cast to get women to watch them that these shows are perhaps not going to be the most feminist programmes around. It is hard to imagine any of them passing the Bechdel test.

What does the Odagiri effect say about ourselves?

What we are actually kind-of saying to ourselves when we observe the Odagiri effect is: “Wow! It turns out that women have some kind of sexual desire! I never realised that before. Turns out that women quite like men who are sexy.”

If you can get a positive out of this you could say the effect has pointed out that there is actually a lack of cultural material, across all media, that is aimed at women. The fact that this effect occurs points out that we need to do better, because whenever something using the Odagiri effect does gain the public’s attention, it shows that there is a gap in the cultural market that is now being filled.

For instance, let’s take another example of a work that became surprisingly popular with women: Fifty Shades of Grey. This is something that we have been repeatedly told that we are not meant to like: it’s sexist, poorly written, an inaccurate portrayal of a BDSM relationship etc. But let’s examine it more closely. For starters, Fifty Shades is fan-fiction. It began as Twilight fan-fiction, so it has connections with yaoi fan works based on sports anime. Like Yuri!!! On Ice, it is made by a woman for women.

Also, as is common with the Odagiri effect, the media were reporting on the surprising number of women who were buying it, even though it was supposedly a bad book. I would argue that women were going out to buy the book because there was so little else like this that was aimed at them, even though everyone else thought it was terrible. See also the Muslim community and Citizen Khan.

The point is this: it doesn’t matter if you are getting a thrill from Yuri Katsuki, Ross Poldark or Christian Grey. What matters is that people can get some enjoyment out of what they like.

What can we conclude from this?

Personally speaking, my main hope is that the Odagiri effects will be discussed wider afield, especially in the more mainstream media as it is something that seems worthy of discussion, on the grounds that it is of interest to those who work in TV, to feminists and to the LGBTQ+ community.

Also, while acknowledging the whole problem of being a western observer wishing to impose his views on a Japanese art form, it would be nice to see anime cover homosexuality more realistically. We may not get to see that in Yuri!!! On Ice, but perhaps the next generation of anime shows might cover it more in-depth.

Yuri!!! On Ice is thus more of a stepping stone to something that is perhaps going to be greater. I do suspect that there will be a second series, possibly to tie in with the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, which may explore Yuri and Victor’s relationship more fully.

One other thing to conclude is that there needs to be debate on the relationship between TV and women in general. We can conclude that little TV caters for women, and women appear to be on TV less than men, especially in formats such as comedy – a recent study shows that there has never been an all-female comic line-up on a panel game on British TV since 1967, and only once on radio during that time.

This gets to something that has annoyed me in recent weeks concerning Yuri!!! On Ice. I know there are plenty of people who are sick of the show being discussed so much, at least in our anime bubble. The big problem however is that I don’t think Yuri!!! On Ice is being discussed enough by mainstream media. If you look up any list of “The Best TV Shows of 2016”, the lists are totally dominated by shows that are in English. I’m not saying Yuri!!! On Ice should be in these best show lists, I’m saying that they need to come out of their bubble and we need to come out of ours. It feels as if mainstream TV critics can’t be bothered to watch shows “in foreign”, and the only way they would be interested is if there is some sort of British connection, like a guest appearance from some British skaters. Mind you that’s no bad idea: I for one would love to see Torvill and Dean skating just before Yuri and Victor.

Really though, we need to make more of an effort to cater culturally to women, across all forms of media.

We should also keep eye out on some anime coming out later this year in terms of the Odagiri effect striking. Two series that spring to mind are another pair of sports series, Welcome to the Ballroom and DIVE!! – both of which are being turned into anime in the summer, and both of which cover activities that already have LGBT stars: thank you Bruno Tonioli and Tom Daley.

Anime UK News Review of 2016 – Part 2

Welcome to Part 2 of the Anime UK News 2016 Review of 2016 in which the staff recommend manga and light novels they’ve enjoyed this year. And then we look in our crystal balls to see what’s coming up in 2017..

Manga

punpun

IncendiaryLemon:

I’ll fully admit that I don’t read a lot of manga. Shameful, I know, and it is something I’m looking to remedy as we enter the new year. However I did read a handful of manga this year, and one in particular really stood out to me: Goodnight Punpun.

I only stumbled across this series by pure chance when I saw a screengrab of one of the pages on some website, and it made me chuckle, so I looked into reading it and, boy, was I not prepared for this series. Don’t get me wrong, this manga is amazing: it has a whole host of complex characters that you can really get invested in and you’ll find at least one, most likely the titular Punpun, depressingly relatable in a lot of scenarios. However, this is also a dark series. It’s strangely refreshing and unlike anything I’ve ever seen or read before, as it just absolutely wallows in the misery of the characters. It is peppered with some black comedy, but this is no means a fun ride, and each volume just gets progressively darker and you just can’t predict where it’s going next; it’s incredibly engrossing. This will not be a series for everyone, but if this sounds remotely appealing to you, I’d highly recommend checking out Goodnight Punpun.

Demelza:

This year I haven’t found myself starting too many new manga series, but those I did start are definitely series I want to share with others. To start with there are the two-volume omnibus editions of Orange, which I reviewed for the site earlier this year here and here. It’s a short series and already completed in English, so I think everyone should give it a shot.

Complex Age volume 1

Another series that I started this year is Complex Age; I reviewed the first volume here. The artwork and the plot are what drew me in to start with but I stayed for the cast of characters and their everyday adventures that are well written and put together. It’s not a series for everyone and I can definitely see why it might be cast aside at a glance, but it quickly became a favourite of mine and I can’t wait to continue it through to its end.

Sarah:

liselotte-1It’s been another good year for manga. One of my favourites is Liselotte & Witch’s Forest by Fruits Basket’s Natsuki Takaya (her slice-of-life Twinkle Stars has just begun its Yen Press 2-in-1 release). It’s frustrating to know that Liselotte is currently on hiatus as this series shows all of Takaya’s strengths: a resilient and determined heroine, dry humour as well as some heart-breaking moments combined with her attractively distinctive art style. Here we have the bonus of a fantasy story set in a Brothers Grimm-style mittel-European country but it’s her character interactions that impress and involve the reader. Recommended.

battle-rabbits-1

Battle Rabbits (Seven Seas) is by ‘Ameichi’ – Yuki Amemiya and Yukino Ichihara – the mangaka who created one of my favourite series 07-Ghost. This is a shounen story with a shoujo vibe: Kaguya, living in present-day Japan, discovers that he is a Battle Rabbit, destined to fight against a group of powerful ogres hell-bent on destroying the Earth. In spite of the attractive art, this gets off to a rough start – but matters improve in Volume 2 as hints of a crossover with 07-Ghost appear.

10-count

Ten Count  (2 volumes released so far in English by SuBLime) a sensitive yet distinctly disturbing series by Rihito Takarai depicting the relationship between a young man with mysophobia (fear of germs) and the psychotherapist who offers to treat him. Exquisitely drawn and rated ‘M’ for Mature readers for a reason.

 

 

Ian Wolf:

rg-veda-cover

For me, the stand-out manga of the year, and the only one I gave full marks to in my manga reviews at MyM, was Dark Horse’s release of RG Veda, the very first manga series created by Clamp. Firstly, because Clamp like to mix up their characters so much, it was good to see their original work be re-released (having been previously been made available by the defunct TokyoPop label) allowing new fans to start from scratch, but also because the sheer quality of the artwork makes it a joy to read. It is admittedly a long read, as each book contains over 3 volumes’ worth of material, but it is worth the devotion.

love-stage-5

Also worth mentioning is a series that has been going for a while, but I feel deserves highlighting. Namely, Volume 5 of the yaoi manga Love Stage!! from SuBLime, for having the four funniest pages that I have read in a manga for a long time. To give some context, the story reaches a point in which Izumi, the otaku uke in the relationship with seme actor Ryoma, decides to become the seme in the relationship. Following this we get a sequence in which Izumi is a hunky seme, which then cuts to Izumi sleep-talking in the car, while his terrified manager Rei is sitting behind the wheel thinking to himself: “Somebody is having a dream I’d really rather not know about.”

Digital Manga

Sarah:

vanitas

Pandora Hearts mangaka Jun Mochizuki has begun a promising new series set in a steampunk alternate Paris; the first printed volume is out this month from Yen Press but I’ve been following this through their monthly chapter downloads. It has all the twisted and dark motivation that made Pandora Hearts so addictive – as well as her own unique take on the vampire mythos. And gorgeous art.

 

Ian Wolf:

Sorry to bring it back to sports series again, but there is a bit of a change in that at my two choices are both motorsports. Also, while one is brand new, the other is an old series that got an English-language release this year.

The new series was the motorbike manga Toppu GP by Kosuke Fujishima, with monthly chapters released by Kodansha, which has been entertaining so far, and also seems to highlight that even if you have just started a sports manga, the chances of fans turning it into something gay quickly are high. For those who don’t believe me, I just have one word: “leathers”.

The other, older series is F, a manga about Formula 1 that began in 1985, way before this Odagiri Effect trend. Just to prove it, the lead character Gunma has sex – with a woman! Can you imagine such a thing? It is a fun series – can you think of a manga that features a tractor fitted with a super-charged Porsche engine? Credit goes to Japanese company Creek & River for releasing it in English.

Light Novels

Demelza:
danmachu-volume-1When asked about my favourite light novel there is only one clear winner and that’s Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls In A Dungeon?. This year the series finally surpassed the content of the anime adaptation and set out on adventures brand new, which are shaping up to be quite exciting indeed! I’d also like to drop a mention to both Sword Art Online: Progressive and The Devil is a Part-Timer! as they have also continued to be really good reads.

If I have to talk about new light novels though I think my pick would be Re:Zero because the story is finely crafted and after watching the anime it’s clear that there is a lot it’s trying to accomplish. It’s going to be a long time until the English translations surpass the anime, but that’s okay. I’m enjoying experiencing the story from the perspective that the novels give us and by the time we do get to new content I’ll be thankfully for having been able to recap all that has happened up until that point.

I can’t finish off this section without dropping a mention to J Novel Club who launched this year and have brought 8 new light novels to the English market (at the time of writing). While they might not have titles to break into the mass market with (how many of you see the name Mixed Bathing in Another Dimension and want to run for the hills?), but what they do have of note is Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash. I mentioned back in the anime section that the series was one of my favourites of 2016 and that rings true for the novels as well. So far the first volume of the series has been released in English and it leaves me eager to read more. Fantasy fans definitely need to check it out.

Ian Wolf:

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At the back end of last year AUKN ran the Anime UK News Awards to find out what were the people’s choices for their favourite shows. In the category of “Anime we most want to see released in UK”, one of the shows that came out on top was the space opera Legend of the Galactic Heroes. While we don’t have the anime yet (although a new adaptation comes out next year), the original novels were released this year released by Viz Media under their Haikasoru label, and have been a great read.

Based on the European wars of the 19th century, the story of the conflicts between Reinhard von Lohengramm of the Germanic (or rather Prussian)-like Galactic Empire, who dreams of becoming Emperor himself, and of master tactician and historian Yang Wen-li of the Free Planets Alliance, have made for thrilling reading so far. Or indeed fun listening, as it is one of the few such books to be released on audiobook as well.

Things to Come in 2017…

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Demelza:

When I think of 2017 what instantly springs to mind for anime is the Sword Art Online movie as well as the second season of Blood Blockade Battlefront. I’m also keen to watch the next season of KonoSuba and Attack on Titan, but what I really can’t watch to watch is the adaptation of Fuuka which is due next season.

For light novels I’m eagerly awaiting the release of KonoSuba, but I’m just as excited for the continuation of some of my favourites (mentioned earlier in the article). I also can’t wait to see what J-Novel Club bring to the table and hopefully by the end of 2017 there will be a whole bunch of light novels to talk about!

Finally, with manga I’ll be happily buying up the release of Erased, more Haikyu!! and finishing off series like Your Lie in April and Say I Love You. It will be a year of goodbyes as series like Tokyo Ghoul also come to an end, but hopefully there will be a lot of new series to pick up in order to fill the hole left behind.

Rui:

I’m not looking forward to any series in particular yet, though in the continued absence of the promised Legend of the Galactic Heroes release from Sentai in the US I’m quite looking forward to the new adaptation next year.

For me, the most exciting developments are in the industry itself. I can’t believe that at this point in time almost every new anime show is streaming in the UK day-and-date with other English-speaking regions, and almost all of them are on the same site (Crunchyroll). It’s never been cheaper to have access to more anime than anyone can realistically ever watch. Funimation has entered the UK to share its simuldubs, and I’m very interested to see how their DVD/BD releases here turn out over the next few months as they seem to be experimenting to find a release model which works for our tiny market. Digital manga has improved a lot too; I can’t believe I can subscribe to a simultaneous release of Shounen Jump for almost nothing and read the latest chapters of some of my favourite ongoing manga so soon after they’re first published. The increased push for anime movies has also been wonderful; we’ve already been promised some gems in that department for next year.

My main wish is for more access to content for people outside the US so that I can indulge in as much anime as I can next year, good or bad. Oh, and for Toei Europe and Animatsu/Manga to start embracing legal simulcasts the way their counterparts in other regions have, so I can stop moaning about not being able to see any of their respective titles even when a simulcast would normally exist.

Darkstorm:

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I’m a big kid at heart, so count me in the ‘excited for Yu-Gi-Oh!: The Dark Side of Dimensions‘ club when it comes to cinemas in February. For 2017 I hope we finally get some information on the last Rebuild of Evangelion film, and perhaps a sneaky screening of Fate/Stay Night: Heaven’s Feel movie in the UK? Unlikely but one girl can dream!

In 2016 we’ve had several older, nostalgic series make a come back on DVD/Blu-ray from Pokemon to Transformers to Cowboy Bebop. The UK is also getting the Tenchi Muyo GXP series (finally) in 2017 so would it be a stretch to hope for a Cardcaptor Sakura or Sailor Moon to make a come back? In terms of things that might ACTUALLY happen we’ve got Attack on Titan finally coming back for Season 2 in April 2017, so we’ll see if it can live up to the hype!

IncendiaryLemon:

As with most years, there isn’t much that I’m actually looking forward to in the next year just yet, at least, not in terms of simulcasts. There are some shows which I’m sure just about everyone is looking forward to, such as Attack on Titan Season 2, as well as the return of some classic series such as Cardcaptor Sakura and Full Metal Panic, but most of the series I end up loving by the end of the year I haven’t even heard of before I watch the first episode, so what I’m most excited about in 2017 is being surprised by something totally out of left field that I’ve never heard of, and it blowing my socks off.

When it comes to home releases in the UK, one of my personal favourite shows, Kiniro Mosaic, is finally getting a release thanks to Manga UK, as well as my AOTY from last year, School Live!, from Animatsu. 2017 will also (hopefully) see the release of the long belated Mobile Suit Gundam: Zeta from Anime Limited, which I’m looking forward to, as well as some of my favourites from this year such as Re:Zero and Love Live! Sunshine!!. Although nothing is official yet, Funimation has licensed beloved comedy series Nichijou in the US, and seeing as Anime Limited has close ties with Funimation, I’m crossing my fingers we might see that in the UK too.

In terms of both manga and light novels in the coming year, Viz Media will continue putting out my Manga of the Year, Goodnight Punpun, as well as the gorgeous hardcover editions of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. After about a year’s wait, we’ll also see Vertical bring out the first volume of the Bakemonogatari light novel in December of 2016, and continue putting them out into the new year, with Nisemonogatari following it.

Ian Wolf:

The thing I am most looking forward to is Your Name being nominated for an Academy Award; partly because I’m positive it will happen; and partly because deep down you know it is as far as it will get. We all know the Oscar judges have no imagination and will just go with whatever Disney/Pixar release has come out this year, so it is probably best to go in with low expectations.

There is some returning anime series that of interest including Attack on TitanBlue Exorcist and FLCL, as well as shows like Atom: The Beginning, a prequel to Osamu Tezuka’s Astro Boy. Meanwhile in manga Viz are releasing omnibuses of Rurouni Kenshin and the finale of Bleach, Dark Horse has an omnibus of Blade of the Immortal, and Yen Press have hardback copies of ERASED and the return of Durarara!!

Kodansha is also bringing out hardback versions of Ghost in the Shell, which reminds me of the one thing I’m not looking forward: Hollywood adaptations of anime. Will the Americans do justice to GitS or Death Note? Well, like I said, it is probably best to go in with low expectations.

Sarah: 

shouwa-manga-1On the manga front, I’m delighted that Kodansha have licensed Descending StoriesShowa Genroku Rakugo Shinju, the original manga by Haruko Kumota with Volume 1 due out in the spring! Seven Seas bring us Volume 1 of Seven Princes of the Thousand Year Labyrinth by Yu Aikawa, another Comic Zero-Sum josei fantasy adventure series that looks intriguing.

 

I’ve already mentioned the hotly anticipated Season 2 of Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinju but I’m also looking forward to the return of Blue Exorcist with the new Kyoto Saga; I’m hoping that both these series will be simulcast in the UK and not region-blocked (unlike others I could mention this year).

Also recently announced are the anime adaptation of The Royal Tutor, the charming comedy of manners set in an alternate 19thc Vienna and ACCA 13-ku Kansatsu-ka, a very tempting-looking anime version of Natsume Ono’s espionage thriller manga, if the promotional material is anything to go by!

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UK Anime and Manga Christmas Gift Guide 2016

It’s currently [insert number found on this site] days to Christmas and you’re either in two camps; calm as a cucumber and ready for the big day whether you celebrate it or not, or stressing out because once again it’s the day everyone is pressured to give SOMETHING to someone and fulfil an unwritten Christmas law. We promise ever year we’d start sooner or worry less about spending as much money, but we never seem to learn the lesson.

But I’m here to say ‘don’t worry’; I have once again compiled a list full of ideas to fill your head and internet baskets up with. So put the kettle on, get comfy and open up those tabs as we get ready to cross off that Christmas list of yours!

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“I’m not made of money”
Gifts under £10

Just because you’re strapped for cash, doesn’t mean you can’t give the gift of anime or manga!

Many single volume manga fall safely into this: Tokyo Ghoul, The Ancient Magus’ Bride, Is It Wrong to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?, Attack on Titan, and much more. Introduce your loved one to a new series or get the latest volume they’re reading. Does a friend have a Kindle? They can purchase several manga omnibuses for a cheaper price, so why not get them a voucher?

Although TV series are hard to come by within this price bracket you can get the Bleach series in parts for cheap, if you’re unsure they want to dive right into a full set. Older, shorter series such as High School of the Dead sneak in here and can be a bloody surprise on Christmas Day. Even Supernatural: The Anime Series just makes it into this margin. But you’re more likely to find films for under a tenner; ranging from Makoto Shinkai’s Five Centimetres Per Second, to Mamoru Hosoda’s Summer Wars. Studio Ghibli’s Spirited Away just makes it in here too.

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“I suppose they were extra nice to me this year…”
Gifts £10 – £25

If you’re sold on getting them literature, omnibus manga is the way to go, especially for long-running series such as Tsubasa and Oh My Goddess! which can be a salary by themselves if you purchase them all. But there are also many other wonderful series to invest in; the collector’s editions of fan favourite Fruits Basket, the classic Astro Boy is out in bigger volumes, plus the Evangelion main series AND spin-offs have had the omnibus treatment. The murder mystery series Monster has all volumes out in the same format and vampire fans will love Dance in the Vampire Bund. In addition, you can grab some light novel collections, such as the yuri series Strawberry Panic in omnibus form, within this price bracket.

In terms of physical discs, a lot of newer series that are split into parts (television series for example) or are shorter in length can be purchased for this budget. The Devil is a Part Timer or part of Kill La Kill would make great little gifts. You can grab RWBY seasons 1 – 3 in steel book form for this price bracket, or DVD editions of Another and Elfen Lied if you happen to be buying for a horror fan.

For movies, Studio Ghibli has most of its library (including double play) within your budget but there’s also an eclectic variety of anime films from A Letter to Momo to The Empire of Corpses that shouldn’t be ignored. Got a friend who loves a nostalgia trip? The 30th Anniversary steel book edition of the original Transformers movie is the right way to go, or even the Pokemon movie collection to satisfy the 90s kid at heart.

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“I earnt it so I’m going to spend it!”
Gifts £25 – £50

Did a friend of yours go see Makoto Shinkai’s Your Name in cinemas and love it? Treat them to The Place Promised in Our Early Days/Voices of a Distant Stars twin pack. The Miss Hokusai Ultimate Edition would make a delightful surprise under the tree as well.

As for TV series, there’s loads of stunning Blu-ray collections to brighten up your friend’s faces for old and new shows. Just think how pleased they’ll be when they unwrap Chobits, the new Death Note complete collection, or Yurikuma Arashi on Christmas Day. You can’t go wrong with the new shinier collection of Cowboy Bebop as well, especially if they’re a veteran anime fan.

At the top end of the scale there’s also several limited editions to snag: Eden of the East, Assassination Classroom, Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo and Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun make it within this budget.

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“I’m making it rain!”
Gifts £50+

Got someone special who deserves the extra few pounds spent on them? Luckily in recent years the UK has been fortunate to receive special editions of many series.

The movie collection Garden of Sinners can be snagged for £60, whereas buying just one season of Fate/Stay Night UBW will set you back easily £70 if you’re going for the Blu-ray editions.

Anime Limited have lots of lovely special editions for those with the money to splash such as Aldnoah.Zero, Terror in Resonance and The Tatami Galaxy, just to name a few.

Taking another step up the price bracket is the Ultimate Blu-ray edition of Vision of Escaflowne; 760 minutes equals £100+. The full Blu-ray edition of Full Metal Panic has all 3 seasons for a similar price. If you really want to push the boat out, however, Fullmetal Alchemist fans can practically drool over the limited edition version of the 2003 classic anime, and that’s just for the bonus features written on the web page! It technically comes out on Boxing Day, but imagine how surprised they’ll be when they see this delightful set appear on their doorstep when they least expect it.

Don’t forget about manga; if single volumes or omnibus aren’t cutting it, you can grab many box sets of several long running series. Give someone a complete collection (e.g. Claymore, Death Note, Ouran High School Host Club) or the first push into a lengthier running story (Bleach, One Piece and more).

All prices are correct at the time of writing this article.
Have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from everyone at Anime UK News!

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