Absolute Duo Review

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

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

None of these questions are answered in the anime.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Score: 5/10

Nisekoi Season 2 Review

Raku Ichijo, only son of the leader of the Shue-Gumi yakuza gang, and golden-haired Chitoge, only heir to the rival gang, have been made – unwillingly – to enter into an ‘engagement’ to bring an end to the rivalry between the two clans. But is Chitoge beginning to develop feelings for Raku? The sudden appearance of Hana, Chitoge’s formidable businesswoman mother, unexpectedly leads to Ichijo attempting to prove himself as her secretary. Can he make Chitoge’s wish to spend Christmas with her mother come true? And if he can, will this change the way the couple feel about each other? He still has not found the key to unlock his pendant – or the girl with whom he made that childhood promise ten years ago. And he still has feelings for sweet-natured Kosaki, the ‘girl next door’, not to mention orange-haired Marika (truth be told, she has feelings for him) and earnest bodyguard Seishirō… and now Kosaki’s younger sister Haru has just started high school and she won’t let Raku anyway near her beloved big sis…

And so we are treated to Marika’s parrot, the arrival of Seishirō’s rival Paula McCoy, the usual Valentine’s Day chocolate shenanigans, a swimsuit episode in which the friends clean the school outdoor pool, and an unexpectedly touching section where Raku’s infuriatingly upbeat friend Maiko reveals hidden feelings for someone at their school.

Raku makes an unusually likable protagonist for a harem series; he does his best, in spite of the many tribulations the adoring girls put him through. Their adulation (or love-hate) is expressed in so many increasingly ridiculous ways that it’s surprising he doesn’t snap and tell them where to get off. He is, after all, the son of a yakuza boss. But this is comedy la-la land and, in spite of the high school trappings of tests, uniforms, sempai and kouhai, Nisekoi is not striving for realism.

But what felt fresh and amusing in Season 1, begins to feel rather tired and repetitive in the second season. Nisekoi relies on the well-worn shtick of ‘which girl will he choose?’ with the all-important locket holding the clue. But as yet more girls are added into the mix, without any substantial progress in the main relationship, the series feels as if it’s spinning its wheels. It still looks a treat, with its bright colours and attractive character designs, and if you love the main girls (and their VAs) there’s a treat for you, as they all have their own Ending songs with kawaii animations to match. There’s even a spoof Magical Girl episode (#8) in which Kosaki becomes Magical Patissiere Girl.

Nisekoi benefits from a talented cast of experienced Japanese VAs (there is no US dub) with Kouki Uchiyama (Yuri Plisetsky in YOI) convincing and appealing as unfortunate hero Raku and a strong performance as Hana, Chitoge’s absent mother, from Megumi Toyoguchi (Winry Rockbell in Fullmetal Alchemist).

This review is about the DVDs (it’s also available on Blu-ray) and there are a couple of little issues that may bother some viewers. Four DVDs, with only three episodes per disc (and textless songs as the only extras). Subtitles in French or English (it’s from Kaze) – and they’re in white which makes them difficult to read against light backgrounds. Nice clear picture quality and sound but there were moments when I struggled to read the subtitles and keep up with the dialogue. Navigation is also a little clunky as you have to choose between French and English before you can proceed to the (always the same!) trailers which lead – eventually – to the main menu.

Tomoki Kikuya (Squid Girl, Hidamari Sketch) again provides the music which is appropriately lively. And I am indebted to the ANN database for the details of the many songs included in these twelve episodes! The main new upbeat OP, “Rally Go Round” by LiSA, accompanies a madcap bicycle-based sequence which soon escalates into flights of comic mayhem, setting an appropriate tone for this second series. The second, “Magical Styling”  by Kana Hanazawa (the VA for Kosaki Onodera) appears in Episode 8.

The cute Ending Themes, using the vocal talents of actresses playing the main female characters, are:

#1: “Aimai Hurts” by Nao Tōyama, Kana Hanazawa, Mikako Komatsu, & Kana Asumi (Episodes 1,3,6,9,12)

#2: “TrIGgER” by Mikako Komatsu/Seishiro (Episode 2)

#3: “Sleep zzz…” by Nao Tōyama / Chitoge (Episode 4)

#4: “Matadō Love” by Kana Asumi/Marika  (Episode 5)

#5: “marchen ticktack” by Ayane Sakura/ Haru Onodera (Episode 7)

#6: “Tōriame Drop ( Shower Drop) by Yumi Uchiyama/Ruri (Episode 10)

#7: “Crayon Cover” by Kana Hanasawa (Kosaki Onodera) (Episode 11)

Nisekoi relies heavily on the ‘will-they, won’t-they?’ variation on the harem scenario, teasing the audience (and the much put-upon hero) with many potential pairings as well as the main false ‘engagement’. By Season 2, patience with the ongoing audience-teasing is beginning to wear a little thin. All the little set-pieces are fine, but do they deliver any significant character development or advance the relationships at all? In summer 2016 it was announced by Weekly Shonen Jump that the manga (by Naoshi Komi) was building to a climax (shorthand for end) but the TV series is nowhere near anything so conclusive, leaving the viewer (well, this reviewer) longing for some proper plot resolution, not just hinting.

In Summary

Nisekoi still looks and sounds good and is a lively and colourful watch. But however fun spending time with Raku and the girls may be, this second season is little more than an entertaining diversion that doesn’t really deliver any answers to the underlying question. I guess we’ll just have to read the manga…

Title: Nisekoi Season 2
Publisher: Manga Entertainment
Genre: Romantic Comedy, Harem
Studio: Shaft
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2015
Format: Blu-Ray and DVD (DVD version reviewed)
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles
Age rating: 12
Running time: 290 minutes

Score: 7/10

Finder, Volume 8 Review

Copyright: Finder no Mitsuyaku © 2016 Ayano Yamane

WARNING: This article covers an adult title and may cause offense. May also contain spoilers from earlier volumes.

“A photograph is neither taken nor seized by force. It offers itself up. It is the photo that takes you. One must not take photos.” – Henri Cartier-Renoir

There will some people who will be annoyed by the latest volume of Finder, but not strictly because of the contents inside the book.

Among those who will be annoyed are Digital Manga Publishing, who in 2015 went to all the effort to re-release the entire series via crowdfunding, which they did successfully, bringing out all seven volumes that had been previously been released in English, and then they ended up losing the entire licence to Viz Media who have now published the latest volume under their SuBLime label. This in turn leads to another annoyed group: people who will be frustrated that the new cover sticks to SuBLime’s house style, and thus doesn’t fit in with the rest of the books released by DMP under their June label. You also other changes, like changes of staff. However, new translator Adrienne Beck seems to have taken over the reins from Sai Higashi perfectly well. However, we can only really judge when we get access to the volumes DMP have already published as opposed to a brand new book.

However, these issues are merely cosmetic. Once you get into the book itself you see that SuBLime have taken the effort to try and produce a good product, as the eighth volume of Ayano Yamane’s yaoi crime series features bonus side stories and a colour poster. On the down side, in the review copy I was given one of the pages is nearly cut off a bit too much (e.g. part of the “u” in “you” is missed of the page). It doesn’t affect the story really and again it is a cosmetic issue, but it is a sign that when it comes to printing the book you do need some care.

The eighth volume of Finder again continues to follow the relationship between freelance journalistic photographer Akihito Takaba and crime boss Ryuichi Asami. This time, Takaba goes undercover in a club run by one of Asami’s subordinates, Shu Sudo, in order to find a woman who has gone missing. Takaba finds the woman, but learns that she grew up with Sudo and she drugs Takaba.

When Takaba wakes up, he is bound up and attached to crane in a remote warehouse. Sudo has kidnapped him, because he is fed up of Takaba being so close to Asami all of the time, and so plans to kill him using a knife to cut his throat, but not before having his own wicked way with him in the process. It is not long however before the cops show up to arrest Sudo, while Asami is lurking in the darkness protecting Takaba. Takaba and Asami return to their apartment and… well you can guess what they do… but when Takaba wakes up from a nightmare concerning the events that have just happened he finds that there is a blackout in the apartment. Then suddenly a bunch of armed men burst in to try and take both Asami and Takaba down.

Now, clearly this series is not for everyone. There will be people who will find some of the sex scenes objectionable because they are non-consenting and thus are arguably rape scenes. Not only that, but Sudo is also using a knife to threaten to kill Takaba, and thus there is blood in the scene too. However, there are plenty of other sex scenes in the volume that are less of an issue, between Asami and Takaba themselves. Even after writing a series which this year turns 15 (it has taken two-and-a-half years for this volume to be published following the last one), Yamane is still capable of writing some good stuff.

Aside from the erotic side of things, there is still plenty of actual action in this crime-driven story. When the apartment is invaded, Asami gets his gun out to deal with the attacks while Takaba arms himself with a frying pan. There is still plenty in the story to thrill you.

While there will be debate about whether DMP should have lost the license or not, we should be glad that the story is still accessible in English and that the tale itself has not lost anything that makes it enjoyable. But if you are still annoyed by the fact the cover style differs from the rest, then don’t worry, because SuBLime are going to re-release the earlier volumes too, with some extras of their own, with the first volume scheduled for July.

 

Title: Review of Finder, Volume 8
Publisher: SuBLime
Genre: Action, Boys' Love, Crime,
Author(s): Ayano Yamane
Type: Manga
Original vintage: 2002
Format: Book (digital edition available)
Age rating: Mature (+18)
Length: 216 pages

Score: 8/10

Complex Age Volume 4 Review

“It’s probably not true for everything, but sometimes there are things about your hobby that just aren’t as fun.” – Shiho, Complex Age volume 4

It has been awhile since I reviewed the first volume of Complex Age. Back then I was really pleased with what the series was trying to portray but I didn’t think I’d have enough to say on Complex Age to warrant further reviews. However, volume 4 has left me with the urge to talk about just how special this manga is and why the problems it’s dealing with this time around are so important.

This review contains spoilers for Complex Age volumes 1 to 4, so if you hadn’t heard of the series before now then check out my first review here.

Volume 4 of Complex Age starts off with Nagisa dealing with struggles within her current relationship (which began in Volume 3). She begins debating if the partnership and cosplay can ever safely coexist after her partner becomes jealous of the pictures of her posted on the internet. However, this isn’t where the volume really shines, as the latter half of the book tells a much more interesting tale (for me anyway).

About a quarter of the way through the book, a new character is introduced, known as Riu, who Nagisa previously talked down to at a convention by telling her that she hadn’t put enough effort into her cosplay (this happens in Volume 1). It turns out that Riu has been working hard since that conflict to become better at creating her costumes and wishes to be involved with Nagisa and her group of friends. Everything seems fine on the surface and Nagisa invites Riu to a photo shoot with her group, but afterwards one of Nagisa’s friends, Aya, runs into some trouble online where photos of her are receiving nasty anonymous comments. When Nagisa and another of her friends, Shiho, get involved they quickly discover that Riu may not be all that she seems…

I picked the opening quote for this article because I truly believe it’s true to life. Every hobby has its ups and down, and one negative within the world of cosplay is attracting hate online. Of course hate messages aren’t limited to cosplay, and as a writer in this day and age it’s easy for people to single you out for no particular reason and have a laugh at your expense or send you hurtful messages (I’ve certainly been a victim of it). It’s a very real and important issue that I’m glad Complex Age dealt with in a realistic way. Not only did the series perfectly convey Aya’s thoughts and emotions as the victim, it also provides the perspective of a bully and why they picked out Aya.

Throughout its run Complex Age has never shied away from dealing with hard, genuine issues that young adults deal with and this volume just reinforces that. It’s something I really respect mangaka Yui Sakuma for because they’ve created a series that offers something different in the manga market that nothing else caters to. I also like that many of the issues we deal with, including the bullying in this volume, generally isn’t limited strictly to cosplay: much of it reflects anime/manga fans on the whole and can even stretch into other hobbies. This makes Complex Age easier to recommend because, provided you have the slightest interest in cosplay, the characters and story will carry you through the rest of it.

It has to be said that the artwork for Complex Age also remains a strong point with Yui Sakuma and showcases that she has a good grasp of how cosplay is put together and how the clothes should fit on a woman. Panels are well detailed throughout and the soft, rounded faces of the cast are always very welcoming to see as a reader. It’s not hard to slip into the series from volume to volume and feel right at home, despite there being months between releases.

Overall this volume of Complex Age is one of the best yet. It’s highly emotional but deals with issues that a lot of media shies away from. With a cliffhanger at the end of the book,I find myself hooked yet again and eagerly awaiting Volume 5. I always pegged Complex Age as a strong series, but I think this volume brings the manga to the point of being something truly special that I’d highly recommend to everyone.

Title: Complex Age Volume 4
Publisher: Kodansha Comics
Genre: Seinen
Author(s): Yui Sakuma
Type: Manga
Original vintage: 2015
Format: Book
Age rating: 16+
Length: 210 pages

Score: 8/10

Fairy Tail Collection 13 Review

Warning: Review contains episode spoilers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Title: Review of Fairy Tail, Collection 13
Publisher: Funimation (via Anime Limited)
Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy, Fantasy, Shonen
Studio: A-1 Pictures, Satelight
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2009
Format: DVD
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 12
Running time: 275 minutes

Score: 7/10

Persona 3 The Movie #2 Review

At the time of writing we’re just days away from the release of the latest Persona game, Persona 5, so what better way to get into the mood than with the second movie adaptation of Persona 3? This movie might be subtitled Midsummer Knight’s Dream, but it certainly isn’t dreamy for our cast…

The second movie kicks off in style with Makoto Yuki and the SEES group battling a tough Shadow, and then promptly drops us into some summer- themed fun. The first half of the story sees the team going on a getaway to a nearby island for some time at the beach (yes, there are plenty of swimsuit shots). While on the island they also meet Mitsuru’s father, who reveals some important secrets about the history of the Shadows. With their history now clear and the news that the Dark Hour can be stopped by defeating twelve Arcana Shadows (some of which SEES have already defeated), the team resolve to bring an end to the nights of terror.

Much of the 93 minute runtime is used to showcase the cast living out their summer mostly in peace, and it also introduces a couple of new cast members to the group. Most notable of these additions is a Shadow fighting android known as Aigis. Due to the fact that most of the more interesting story progressions happen so late, I’ll refrain from mentioning anything. Just believe me when I tell you that the sweet fluffy summer fun definitely doesn’t last. The news of bringing the Dark Hour to an end stirs up new conflicts inside Makoto, who believes that if it ends, he will no longer have a place in the world. Because of this, he struggles to fight alongside his teammates and this begins to create rifts and confusion that are likely to continue on into the next movie – possibly even beyond.

The animation for Persona 3 The Movie 2 continues to be wonderful and A-1 Pictures have created some really striking battle scenes for Movie 2. They’re well shot, fast and incredibly fluid. The scenes definitely appear to have had plenty of time and money put into them. Even away from the more action-packed shots there is a lot to be said for the creepy atmosphere A-1 builds for the Midnight Hour. It’s impressive work and I’m looking forward to seeing more of it in the future.

Musically there is little to complain about with this movie either. Composer Tetsuya Kobayashi continues to offer varied and emotional tracks that really fit the action or situations on-screen, and even away from the context of the movie, they’re memorable scores. The main theme song for this movie is “Fate is In Our Hands” performed by Lotus Juice, and is a quiet but emotional track that will also stick in your mind.

I wanted to write a quick note about the voice actors because while I don’t have too much to say about them, they all do a great job. Most notably, Akira Ishida, who plays Makoto Yuki (Yoshinobu Kubota in Haven’t You Heard? I’m Sakamoto, Fyodor Dostoyevsky in Bungo Stray Dogs), continues to perform the role wonderfully.

This release comes to the UK thanks to Anime Limited, who have brought out Persona 3 The Movie 2 on DVD and in a collector’s edition including both Blu-ray and DVD. The collector’s edition also includes a booklet. It’s worth noting that the movie is subbed only as no English dub for it exists.

As a quick note: I am aware of a problem with the 5.1 audio track for this release but have not mentioned it in this review as my system doesn’t work with 5.1 audio. The issue involves the central dialogue channel not coming from the centre speaker. If you wish to know more then myReviewer has a much clearer write-up for it.

Overall Persona 3 The Movie 2 feels like a bit of a stopgap between a brilliant starting point and better things to come in the future. It’s not bad by any means and the last 30 minutes are terrific, but I do wonder if we could have gotten away with cutting out some of the summer fluff. Still, a must-watch for Persona fans.

Title: Persona 3 The Movie #2 Midsummer Knight's Dream Collector's Edition
Publisher: Anime Limited
Genre: Action, Fantasy, Drama
Studio: A-1 Pictures
Type: Movie
Original vintage: 2014
Format: Blu-Ray and DVD (Blu-Ray version reviewed)
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles
Age rating: 15
Running time: 93 minutes

Score: 7/10

Busou Shinki Complete Collection Review

There is a saying that goes around about slice-of-life anime and how it’s often ‘cute girls doing cute things’. For this review of Busou Shinki I’ve decided to repurpose that saying to ‘cute robot girls doing cute robot girl things’ because while it looks like this series should be an action series (and you’d be forgiven for thinking this, judging by the cover art), it’s actually more of a slice-of-life tale.

The anime is based on telling stories about the Busou Shinki toys, which you can buy in Japan. These Shinki toys are small action figures which are always female and generally have the ability to transform into more mecha-like forms if the situation demands it. Despite being robots, in the anime the Shinki have a wide range of emotions and are generally always looking to make their owner, their ‘master’, happy.

In the Busou Shinki anime we’re introduced to four Shinki who all belong to high school freshman Rihito (last name is never given). These four – Ann, Ines, Hina and Lene – peacefully live out their day-to-day lives while looking after Rihito. The anime follows their adventures as they deal with the mishaps of daily life, such as Rihito forgetting an umbrella or his lunch. I wish I could say that there is an overarching story or an actual plot to be found, but sadly there isn’t. The series is very episodic. Apart from the first two episodes and the final two you could watch the show in any order and not really have any problems doing such.

It’s because of this episodic nature and the lack of a plot that I struggle to really recommend Busou Shinki. Admittedly I’m not someone who enjoys a series without an end goal of some kind, but even putting those feelings aside and looking at Busou Shinki objectively, it’s just boring. The series implies that Shinki can be, and usually are, used to battle one another in competitions, but because Rihito is against that kind of thing, we never see competitive battling in the anime. Had this kind of thing been included, I’d probably have been far more interested, especially as the action scenes that the anime delivers are often far more attention-grabbing than anything else it has to offer.

On the whole I don’t really know what Busou Shinki wanted to be. It’s clearly one big advertisement for the toys but beyond that it’s too boring to be a good slice-of-life, not funny enough to be a comedy, and the action is so sparse that labeling it an action series doesn’t really stick. If you really like the idea of robot girls looking after a master then perhaps you’d get something out of their daily adventures, but I think that audience is fairly limited. Ultimately it stands that the only thing Busou Shinki really has going for it is to be a moderately okay animated advert.


Speaking of animation, the series has been handled by studio
8bit, who are perhaps best known for their adaptations of Shonen Maid and Absolute Duo. Where Busou Shinki is concerned it’s difficult to get excited for the animation. There is a little bit of dodgy CGI, and even beyond that the colors are quite muted and limited for a show that was only released in Japan in late 2012. It’s not poorly animated but I’m not so sure that the quality is anything to write home about either. It’s firmly in the camp of being okay and nothing more or less. Also, it has to be said that although the Shinki are meant to be robots with the ability to transform, their designs are all fairly generic and not at all as interesting as the series would try and have you believe.

The music for Busou Shinki has been handled by Tetsuro Oda and on the whole is rather forgettable. The opening theme is “Install x Dream”, which is sung by the four main Shinki voice actors, while the ending theme is “The Sun’s Sign” by Azusa. Neither song will stick in your mind for long, perhaps like the anime itself. While there is nothing wrong with the voice actors for the series, they’re playing such stereotypical and bland characters that it’s equally hard to say anything notably pleasing about them. 


This series has been brought to the UK thanks to
MVM Entertainment, who have released it on both DVD and Blu-ray. The release is split across 3 discs on DVD and 2 for the BD and contains all 12 episodes of Busou Shinki as well as a 13th unaired episode. This release is sub-only as there is no English dub for the show and the only extras to speak of are clean opening and ending videos, as well as a selection of trailers.

Overall Busou Shinki isn’t a terrible series, it just suffers from being incredibly boring. I’m sure someone out there will get something out of it but a slice-of-life anime about robots that could be doing much cooler things (like battling) is just simply not for me. I walk away, not so much disappointed as wishing for my time back.

Title: Busou Shinki: Armored War Goddess Collection
Publisher: MVM Films
Genre: Slice of Life, Mecha
Studio: 8bit
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2012
Format: Blu-Ray and DVD (DVD version reviewed)
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles
Age rating: 15
Running time: 325 minutes

Score: 4/10

Sword Art Online The Movie: Ordinal Scale Review

Quick disclaimer; prior to seeing this movie, I had not seen a single episode of Sword Art Online. This particular reviewer only knows the basic concept of the show, can visually recognise a few of main characters based upon artwork seen on the internet and, as a Yuki Kajiura fan, has a few pieces of music from the series on my iPod, but that is it. If you’re looking for a review from a die-hard SAO fan, you won’t find it here. However, if you’re interested to know if the film can stand on its own outside of fan service or whether SAO-newbies can enjoy it too, please read on.

Now that that’s out of the way!

It’s 2026, and the survivors of the Sword Art Online game have moved on with their lives in the real world, including the now-famous heroes Kirito and Asuna who are planning their lives together whilst applying for colleges. However, a brand new augmented reality title has just been released and it quickly becomes extremely popular, allowing players to participate in a variety of games and earn rewards such as free food and gym vouchers, whilst remaining conscious in the real world. Of course, the SAO survivors have quickly taken a liking to this new game, but as secret boss battles start popping up around the city and players start experiencing real life consequences from said matches, things quickly become far more sinister.

If you are new to the Sword Art Online franchise, and are wondering if there’s any point in seeing this movie, you’ll be pleased to know that the film kindly takes time at the start to summarise the story of SAO. Granted, it’s as basic as they can get but it was enough to clearly show where the characters are at in this point of their lives; they’re survivors of a MMO that had them trapped for two years, fighting for their lives and losing friends along the way. Their actions are also legendary, with a book detailing the events and the names of survivors, who are now trying to move on from that monumental experience.

Saying that, the film does not go out of its way to detail character relationships and who is what, so a newbie like me was constantly wondering many things that veteran fans will most likely not blink twice at whilst watching. For example, why is there a pixie-like character calling the main characters ‘mum’ and ‘dad’ that seems to exist in the virtual and real world? How does Kirito know these seemingly important scientist/government people? And who are the various female side-characters that seem to know the main protagonists? (According to a wiki I read, one of them is supposed to be his cousin but I did not get that at all when watching the film).

The actual plot of the movie, thankfully, is very straightforward. Although it uses the pixie character and the other females to further push the plot in places, you do not need to fully understand who or what they are to comprehend what is going on. If you get the overall gist of the above summary and have general knowledge of video games, you’ll be fine to watch this without prior familiarity with the series.

The ‘Ordinal Scale’ part of the movie title is actually the name of the brand new augmented reality (AR for short) video game that requires people to purchase a headset, which then creates gaming challenges, shops, messaging capabilities and more but in the real world. The AR game itself, whilst incredibly creative, does stretch itself a little too far in terms of believability. The game is freshly launched at the start of this movie and yet it’s managed to integrate itself into the culture so quickly that it extends from video games to gyms to even how we pay for food; it’s quite farfetched to say the least. In a VR game the believability can be  stretched as far as you want because the player is stationary and taken out of the real world, but an AR is in real life, so the stretches of plausibility are at breaking point in parts of the movie. You could also argue that the random boss fights that occur in the city are pushing it, especially since the plot relies so heavily on having all the Sword Art Online survivors participating, but considering that last year we had a mass crowd of New Yorkers running into a park to catch a Vaporeon when Pokemon Go was released, suddenly it doesn’t seem so ridiculous. In fact, you could see the whole Ordinal Scale as a future evolution of Pokemon Go, which is both fascinating and terrifying in places.

Regardless of the plausibility, the game does allow for a lot of big scale battles and imaginative environments; some of which may seem like a weird clash of cyberpunk and fantasy. The final boss of the movie seems overly bombastic and cheesy but it’s all in the spirit of fan service, giving the characters a grand ‘hurrah!’ that fans will love and making the movie feel like a big-budget epic rather than just several episodes mashed together.

The weakest links of the story, however, are the villains and their overall goal that relates to the new character Yuna; the first villain we meet, Eiji, gets set up for what seems to be an interesting arc, having been part of the SAO experience. His relationship with Yuna is also established as being very important to him, but the end of it is flatly cut off so the build-up feels like it was for nothing. As for Yuna, her origins became clear once the main big baddie comes to the forefront; they both have a better payoff but sadly they’re still one-dimensional characters that attempt to go for the emotional tie-up without any of the proper groundwork set up to make it truly work.

At the centre of the story, though, are Kirito and Asuna. They are the leads of the series too but the movie does dedicate a lot of screen time, especially the quieter moments, to further develop their relationship. Going in I didn’t expect much from them and was surprised to find them quite endearing, even cheering for them as the film went on. What made them enjoyable to watch was the movie’s refreshing take on their relationship; for long standing couples in media, writers can get into a terrible habit of recycling the same gags and pointless drama to keep the brush of ‘early love’ going but only end up making the couple in question act like idiots and the writers themselves seem like they’re incapable of writing a proper relationship. I was fully expecting a series of boob gags, Asuna to be a token tsundere and Kirito a bumbling fool, but we get none of that in the movie. Instead, the couple have legitimate conversations. They are not afraid to be vulnerable around each other, and they also share tender kisses and discuss their future together, which is very rare in anime. Even when the movie does use a few older sappy tropes, such as them promising to see the stars together, you want them to get to that stage and live happily ever after because you’ve seen them grow and fight together, for each other and themselves.

Series composer Yuki Kajiura returns to score the movie and all of her established musical elements are in here; powerful strings, techno beats and female operatic vocal cues. There’s nothing in the score that really pushes what we’ve already come to expect from her, but fans will be pleased to pick up a few remixes of her well known tracks, such as Swordland, in the background.

Animation is a highlight for obvious reasons; fans who love the original style will be thrilled to see a bigger budget version with beautiful animated fight scenes which take full advantage of the extra cash to make them feel as impressive as possible. And since a few SAO bosses make a comeback, you can enjoy them on the big screen as well. There are a few lulls in the quality, however, as a couple of dialogue-heavy scenes rely too much on mostly static images; granted the conversations tend to take place either within an MMO world or AR alternative, but there’s a few scenes where more could have been done to make the exposition parts of the story flow better to help the audience feel less bored.

Sword Art Online Ordinal Scale is a fun romp; mostly for the fans for obvious reasons but the plot is simple enough for non-fans to enjoy as well. It’s larger than life, creative, a bit cheesy in places and sprinkled with a couple of unnecessary fan service shots of Asuna’s figure shoved right into the camera. But it’s easy to see why the franchise has become such a hit with fans, and the movie is a love letter to them as well as opening a new chapter for the characters. Oh, and there’s a post credit scene, so stick around to find an extra tease for Sword Art Online fans to lap up.

Sword Art Online: Ordinal Scale is in UK cinemas from 19th April. Purchase tickets from your nearest cinema here.

Title: Sword Art Online The Movie: Ordinal Scale
Publisher: Fetch
Genre: Action, Adventure, Science fiction,
Studio: A-1 Pictures
Type: Movie
Original vintage: 2017
Format: Cinema screening
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles
Running time: 120 minutes

Score: 7/10

Archive: Review of Gurren Lagann Ultimate Collection

On 1st April 2007, Gurren Lagann debuted. To mark its 10th anniversary, we have republished our review of All the Anime’s Ultimate Edition boxset which was first put on sale in 2014. The series has since been re-released as a Collector’s Edition exclusive to Zavvi (details here). Sections in italics (except the top quote obviously) specifically concern the Ultimate Edition boxset.

“‘Space’, it says, ‘is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist, but that’s just peanuts to space, listen…’” – The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams.

Past reviews of this anime, including on this website, frequently say that Gurren Lagann is not perfect. In response to this, I reference the following true story. When Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life won the 1983 Grand Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival it was seen by the film director Henry Jaglom, who claimed that it was the best thing Python had ever done. In response Terry Gilliam said to him: “No, there’s great bits in there, but there’s crap in there as well.” Jaglom replied: “No, that’s why it’s great, because the crap is there to balance the greatness.”

This is how I feel about Gurren Lagann. OK the humour is not the most sophisticated, the plot is perhaps not that original, and the animation of one episode was so shoddy that it led to one of Gainax’s co-founders, Takami Akai, having to resign because of the way he handled the criticism. However, when you look at the way that it was made as a whole, the story that was created, the characters that were portrayed, and the sheer scale of the entire project, it all combines into what is probably one of the greatest anime of all time.

People also said at the time that you “shouldn’t believe the hype”. I didn’t believe the hype, because I was unaware of any hype. This was because Gurren Lagann was one of the very first anime I had ever watched, and when it was first shown to me back when I was in the University of Teesside Animation and Comics Society back in 2007, I had never heard of it before. I knew very little about anime at all, but when I watched it I thought: “Yes, that just sums it up. This is one of the best things I have ever seen.”

It was because of Gurren Lagann that I am became interested in anime. Without it I would not be here reviewing stuff for this website, which in turn would mean I would not be reviewing manga for MyM Magazine, which was my first regularly paid job. This was my gateway show. Of course, a single piece of work cannot sum up an entire art-form, but if you wanted to encourage people to take an interest in anime, this would be an ideal title to show.

Now I realise that at this point some people may be rather annoyed that I haven’t actually started reviewing this collection yet, so let’s start.

This “Ultimate Edition” of Gurren Lagann has been in the pipeline for some time. All the Anime announced their plans to release the series back in June 2013, and eventually said this collection of just 2,000 sets would be released in June 2014. However, several problems have meant it has not come out until four months later. This of course is a big deal, not just for the fans but for All the Anime too.

For a six-disc Blu-ray box set with an RRP of £149.99, consisting of the entire TV series, both films (never released in the UK before), the OVA “Parallel Works” (also making their UK debut), a hardback art book and various other extras, this release needed to be perfect. If they messed this up it could ruin the entire company’s future reputation. Have there been any problems – well, there have been some complaints.

In some collections, and I have to report this is true with mine, the glue used on the third Digipack tray is loose and thus it slips around the box. In my opinion this is nothing major and it is not the fault of All the Anime, but of the people who put the box together and All the Anime have made complaints to the manufacturers. Other people have complained about images freezing in Episodes 5, 7 and 10, and some talk about a skip in audio. The company has since issued this statement saying that: “we had to switch in the DVD footage as the best solution since no re-supply was possible in this case. Otherwise, you would have had 9 seconds, 13 seconds and a momentary image freeze with ongoing audio in its place. Not ideal. These are the only instances and as you can tell they are not over any crucial moments, so whilst annoying it doesn’t impact the overall viewing pleasure & quality of watching Team Gurren on your big TV.”

Some people, including on our own forums, have expressed complaints about these cock-ups, especially given how major a release this was for them. Some have been put off by All the Anime altogether; others are complimenting them about their response to the problem. For me personally, I haven’t noticed anything major that disturbs my pleasure from this collection, and I would rather have this series available on Blu-ray, in Region B, that it not be available at all.

If you are unfamiliar with the story, Gurren Lagann is set in a post-apocalyptic future, in which humanity has been driven underground, living in isolated villages. The central character, Simon (pronounced “See-mon” in Japanese), works as a digger, using his conical drill to dig holes to expand the size of the village, as well as to find his own treasure. These bits of treasure include a rather small drill-like key known as a “Core Drill”, and later on some kind of large face. Simon’s friends consist of a shades-wearing “mole-pig” creature called Boota, and a troublesome guy named Kamina. Kamina, normally seen wearing a pair of trademark pointy specs, dreams of going to the surface where he once went as a kid, but no-one else apart from Simon believes him. Things all change however when a gigantic mecha crashes through the village ceiling and chaos ensues.

Kamina starts to fight it, with Simon wanting to hide away, but then a buxom girl named Yoko comes down from the surface with a big rifle and starts firing at the mecha, which she tells the guys is known as a “Gunmen”. Simon comes to realise that the big face he has found is actually that of a small Gunmen and his Core Drill is the key to activating it. Together they use their big-faced Gunmen, which Kamina christens “Lagann” and appropriately enough for Simon it uses drills as a weapon to defeat the Gunman attacking the village. Simon also uses the Lagann to help Kamina, Boota, Yoko and himself to escape to the surface of the world, now a barren wasteland.

Simon and Kamina learn from Yoko that the humans on the surface are constantly attacked by a race of creatures known as the “Beastmen”, who serve a man known as the “Spiral King”. To fight back, Kamina steals his own Gunmen, which he names “Gurren”, and eventually comes up with the idea that Simon’s mecha should combine with his. Amazingly Kamina’s idea works, with the combined “Gurren Lagann” seemingly being stronger than anything else.

With this humanity begins to fight back against the Spiral King, with Simon and Kamina gaining more followers. These include Leeron, a camp gay mechanic from the same village as Yoko; Rossiu, an intelligent boy who originally came from a village where they worshipped an old Gunmen as a god; two young and excitable children from Rossiu’s village called Gimmy and Darry; and a group of Beastman hunters known as the Black Siblings: eldest brother Kittan and his three sisters Kiyoh, Kinon and Kiyal. Together they continue to collect more mecha and fight against the Beastmen, with their most common foe being the shark-toothed Viral of the Human Eradication Army.

As the story progresses, we encounter comedy, tragedy and love in equal measure. The mecha become bigger, as do the battles and the danger. The story itself extends over a period of years. We see the characters, Simon amongst them, growing up but still encountering even more terrible dangers, which not only threaten humanity, but the whole of the Earth.

As stated already, there are several reasons why people might be put off Gurren Lagann, whether it be errors made in this box set or the quality of the series in general. But the positives by far outweigh the negatives. The first thing to mention is the way Gurren Lagann combines so many elements. There is comedy, drama, tragedy, action, romance and science-fiction. It works a bit like the “Gurren Lagann” mecha itself, in that one genre will combine with another to make the show more powerful.

It works brilliantly, and also rather strangely. You will be watching a sequence where there is a huge battle going on, and there is fighting, chaos, carnage and death – the whole scene is full of fear and tension, and while this is all happening, little Boota is hiding away, seeking shelter from all the horror and the hurt, hiding away… in Yoko’s huge tits. You get the feeling that this is what a mecha series would be like, if it was being filmed by the Carry On team.

This is most clearly demonstrated in the sixth episode which is set in a bathhouse. For most of the episode Kamina, Simon and Gimmy constantly try to get a glimpse of the ladies who are also bathing. In this episode there is one scene in which Gimmy sticks his finger up Simon’s arsehole, another in which you see Gimmy totally naked, and in the end Yoko’s bikini flies off Barbara Windsor style.

When this episode was first broadcast in Japan it had to be cut, but the “Director’s Cut” version is all the collections. You also have the original broadcast version of the episode as one of the extras in the “Ultimate Edition”. However, I think that this is one of the best moments in the series, as this is humour that we British can relate to. I feel that it is also important to state, given recent news events [i.e. the then recently introduced UK laws on cartoon pornography], that I feel that there is nothing wrong with the “Director’s Cut”, including the depiction of the naked Gimmy, whose penis is visible in the episode and in some of the other “Ultimate Edition” exclusive features. A person should not feel pressured into thinking that just because you are seeing a picture of a naked child that this automatically makes you some sort of suspect sex offender. Everyone in the world has been seen naked by at least one person, and you cannot and should not criminalise the act of just seeing a person naked, whether they are fictional or in real-life – if you did you’d have to arrest an awful lot of midwives who had just delivered new-borns.

The second reason for why Gurren Lagann is so great are the characters. The main characters especially are brilliant for varying reasons. Simon starts off as being timid, wanting not to fight and at times wishing to return home, but as the story progresses he overcomes obstacle after obstacle. Simon matures and develops into a stronger character. Things really start to happen when Simon encounters the character of Nia, who becomes his love interest and helps Simon to overcome some of the major tragedies that has recently had to face.

Kamina is one of the best anime characters, in my personal opinion. Acting as mentor to Simon, he is the Obi-Wan Kenobi to Simon’s Luke Skywalker. However, Kamina also has the added factor of being possibly the most over-the-top character in anime. He has some of the best lines I have heard in an anime series. How can you not like a character who says things like: “Don’t believe in yourself. Believe in me! Believe in the Kamina who believes in you!” or “Reject common sense to make the impossible possible”, and, “Who the hell do you think you are? Isn’t your drill the one that will pierce the heavens, the earth, and through to tomorrow?”

There are also lots of other elements that combine to add to the greatness. While the animation in the fourth episode is admittedly poor, to the point where it cost the jobs of two staff at Gainax, elsewhere it is brilliant. The character design, the landscapes, the mecha and 3D animation neatly fit together to create a believable setting. Plus there is the soundtrack. The opening theme song, “Sorairo Days” by Shoko Nakagawa, automatically acts as a hook. The end pieces – “Underground” by High Voltage, “Happily Ever After” by Shoko Nakagawa, and “Minna no Peace” by Afromania are also fun. But probably the best is “Rap is a Man’s Soul” by Spontania. I’m not a rap fan, but even I like this. There is also “‘Libera Me’ from Hell”, a combination of rap and classical. The soundtrack should be credited to the composer Taku Iwasaki.

But the best reason by Gurren Lagann is so good is because it is so big. It starts of small, with Simon in his village with his Core Drill. But his Lagann has a big face, which combines with Kamina’s large Gurren. Later they combine with other mecha, and take on bigger enemies. Kamina has his big glasses and a massive passion for what he believes in. Yoko carries a gigantic gun and has plenty of room in her bosom to support Boota. Then the mecha themselves get bigger and bigger. They get so big it seems almost impossible to talk about their size without having to go into bold block capitals for added emphasis. The whole series is so big, brash and loud that it is the sort of show that you want to project on the biggest screen you can find and shout at those passing by to stop whatever they are doing right now and just watch this!

While the series itself is great, we need to turn our attention to the matter of this particular collection, apart from the sliding Digipack and the issues regarding freezing images. Appropriately enough, for such a big series there is plenty extras and bonus material to keep you entertained. Both the “Ultimate Edition” and the standard Blu-Ray edition contain the following extras: Yoko Goes to Gainax!, a behind-the-scenes documentary presented by Marina Inoue, the Japanese voice-actress who provides the voice of Yoko; a collection of early 3D test animation taken from the second half of the series; an animated storyboard, which features the original illustrated storyboards played over the entire 15th episode; and clean opening and closing title sequences, which include the animated music video which is used as the ending for the 16th episode (the compilation episode).

Out of these extras, my personal favourite was the 3D test animation. This is mainly because it features some ideas that did not appear in the final cut of the anime. For example there are sequences in which Nia is riding on Gurren Lagann while they are fighting some mecha that in the end she does not encounter in the anime. The only problem is that none of the written text is translated.

When it concerns the extras that are just on the “Ultimate Edition”, these are plainly obvious as soon as you open the box set. One of these is a hardback 112 page art book, containing designs of the characters, mecha and landscapes. If you are keen on your art this makes for a rather useful reference work. You also get an art card, signed by the “El Presidente” of All the Anime (and the man who has had to deal with all the complaints) Andrew Partridge, which displaying the number of your release (in my case No. 816 out of 2,000). You also get, as previously stated, the original broadcast/censored version of the sixth episode (the one in which you don’t see Gimmy sticking his finger up Simon’s bottom).

But the really big extras are two discs containing anime previously unreleased in the UK: the two Gurren Lagann films – Childhood’s End and The Lights in the Sky Are Stars – and the Parallel Works OVA collection, which are on the fourth disc along with the final episodes.

The two films mostly contain old footage from the original TV series, but also include new material that sometimes gives more background information on the series, and sometimes tries to make the series bigger than it already was. Childhood’s End tells the story up to the battle between the Four Generals of the Spiral King. The Lights in the Sky Are Stars starts briefly with the Battle of Teppelin and then tells the second half of the story.

There are plenty of differences between the two films and the original series however. In Childhood’s End you learn more on how the Spiral King came to be; the contents of several episodes are significantly abridged, mainly the encounters Simon and Kamina have with new characters (Kittan, Rossiu etc.), and rather than the Four Generals attacking separately, three of them gang up on Simon and his followers in a single, climactic battle.

In The Lights in the Sky Are Stars, which in my few is the better of the two films, you see how civilization developed quickly after the Battle of Teppelin, and significant changes to the battles that take place in space. For example, certain characters which are killed in the series remain alive in the film. This seems to be an excuse for the creators to make more mecha, even bigger and more powerful, ultimately creating the final Gunmen which so large that even entire galaxies are dwarfed by it. Given how big Gurren Lagann already is this just knocks the series sideways.

The Parallel Works are a series of short stories with no spoken dialogue, set to music from the original soundtrack. The stories vary wildly in terms of plot and animation style, and most have no relation to the original anime. Stories range to a European medieval retelling of the story with Simon as a knight rescuing a Nia maiden; a steampunk wild west setting with Viral as the hero; a nude Gimmy stealing people’s clothes by sticking fingers up people arseholes; how Kittan got his Gunmen; a surreal sequence in which Gimmy and Darry find a series of strange doors leading to alternative worlds (my personal favourite); and a story with Kiyal as a magical girl. Some of these stories are funny, some are interesting artistically, and others help build the context of the series more. Like with the other extras, the written text is not translated which is annoying in some of the stories, but for most of the xx?, it is about the animation, music and mini-stories, which are made more interesting the lack of any speech.

To sum up, I think the reason I like, and indeed love Gurren Lagann is because that not only can I not imagine a similar programme being made in this country, but I also can’t conceive of a programme being made on such a scale ever again. Simply being so big in terms of the setting, it’s impossible to think of a way that you can top that. While some parts of Gurren Lagann are arguably not original, when it comes to scale it seems to have dwarfed everything before it, and I can’t see anything topping it while maintaining a similar level of quality. It is only fitting that such a big show should get such a big box set. I forgive this series for the faults it has in it. I feel sorry for All the Anime for the problems it has faced during its production and for all the delays it has had.

It is hard to for me to write up a clear view about Gurren Lagann without getting emotional. Yes, I can understand why some people are put off by it, and all the hype that goes along with it, and many people will be angry with the fact this release is not 100% perfect. But Gurren Lagann has never been 100% perfect. Since it began people have complained about it, and people will always complain about it. I don’t think you could ever have a 100% perfect collection of Gurren Lagann. Look at the extras they might have included but didn’t: when Beez Entertainment brought out the series, they had things like the soundtrack and various patches and props that you could use for cosplay purposes like a lighting-up Core Drill. Also, what about episode commentaries or specially made documentaries about the series? The other thing you have to remember is that more Gurren Lagann stuff is always being made. A stage play of the anime has been made, so a future release might have something about that.

Of course, this was always going to be a problem – for an anime so huge it’s truly impossible to include everything good about it in one box set. I know there are issues of cost and licensing, plus for some the idea of making an even bigger collection is daft. You couldn’t do that, it’s just plain common sense. But to quote Kamina, I think we should reject common sense to make the impossible possible.

Title: Gurren Lagann: Complete Series Ultimate Box
Publisher: Anime Limited
Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy, Drama, Mecha
Studio: Gainax
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2007
Format: Blu-Ray
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 15
Running time: 986 minutes

Score: 10/10

Mobile Suit Gundam Movie Trilogy Review

“The condition of man… is a condition of war of everyone against everyone.” – Thomas Hobbes.

The original Mobile Suit Gundam series that ended in 1980 was not a success. In fact, the series got axed. It was only afterwards when big sales of toys based on the series and repeats of the show indicated that the series had an appeal – and sure enough, Gundam has been around ever since.

One of the other factors that help to cement the success of the original series was a trilogy of three compilation films. The first, simply known as Mobile Suit Gundam I debuted in March 1981. This was followed by Soldiers of Sorrow in July 1981, and finally by Encounters in Space which came out almost exactly a year after the first movie. For the first time, these films are now available to buy, although they are only available via All the Anime’s own website, and there are only 500 copies. However, it is not just the location and number of copies which limit this collection. You can only buy it on Blu-ray, you can only watch it with subtitles as there is no dub, and there are no extras at all.

Also, remember that these are compilation films. These three movies mainly consist of material from the TV series, which is already available to buy on Blu-ray and DVD in the UK.

For those unfamiliar with the series, it takes place in year Universal Century 0079, and humanity has expanded from Earth and is now living in various space colonies called “Sides”, under the rule of the Earth Federation. One Side however, Side 7, has rebelled, declaring itself the Principality of Zeon and an independent nation. Thus a war has begun between the two sides that after eight months has killed half the human population and ended in a stalemate after eight months.

The Federation’s newest weapon to fight back against Zeon is the “Gundam” mobile suit. A young boy named Amuro Ray is caught up in a battle when he finds it and pilots the Gundam himself. This results in him and other civilians being drafted into the Federation’s army in the warship White Base. Amuro ends up fighting against the might of the Zeon forces, in particular the “Red Comet” Char Aznable, who has his own private reasons for fighting the war – namely his desire to eliminate the Zabi royal house who rule Zeon and in turn tried to kill his family. However, Amuro ends up battling his own personal demons, and finds himself slowly evolving into the next stage of humanity, the “Newtype”.

The first of the three films covers Amuro’s first battles in the Gundam up to the death of Garma Zabi; the second film continues from there and ends with White Base’s arrival and departure from the Jaburo base; and the third film deals with the final battles in space with Amuro gaining his Newtype abilities.

The main reason for getting this box set is to see the new material that is included in these films. These include making some elements more realistic than they were in the TV series, and more details about some of the battles.

However, at £34.99 it seems that you are paying too much for so little that is actually new. Most of the stuff in the films appears in the original TV programme, and at least in that you get a choice of sub or dub. This collection therefore is really for the completists. It is for that die-hard core of Gundam lovers who want to embrace all the aspects of the show.

Therefore, if you’re already a fan of the series and this is something missing from your collection then here is the opportunity to finally get what you want. If you’re a more casual fan however, best stick with the TV version and get the full, unabridged story.

Title: Review of Mobile Suit Gundam Movie Trilogy
Publisher: Anime Limited
Genre: Action, Mecha, Military, Sci-fi
Studio: Nippon Sunrise
Type: Movie
Original vintage: 1981
Format: Blu-Ray
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles
Age rating: 12
Running time: 413 minutes

Score: 5/10