One Piece, Collection 16 Review

Episodes 373-396, may contain spoilers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Score: 8/10

Snow White with the Red Hair Part 1 Review


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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Score: 8/10

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

KonoSuba: God’s Blessing on this Wonderful World Season 2 Review

This time last year I sat down to review the first season of KonoSuba (a review you can read here) and at the end of the article I mentioned how excited I was for the second season. Fast forward a year and I’ve just finished watching Season 2. Has it held up to my original love of this fantasy anime?

The short answer to my question is yes: I am still deeply in love with this whacky comedy. This season kicks off with Kazuma and his party of idiots (Aqua, Darkness and Megumin) in deep trouble. It turns out that during the heated battle that took place at the end of Season 1, the team managed to destroy a nobleman’s mansion. Kazuma is quickly arrested and put on trial (a trial that cheerfully parodies the Ace Attorney series). Nothing could go wrong, right?

When Kazuma is put on the stand, many crimes seemingly come to light (although most have been committed by his party members!) and with only Aqua and Megumin to defend him (who quickly give up on the idea)  things can only go from bad to worse. It’s only when Darkness uses her own name as a noble that Kazuma is saved from certain death and lumped with a massive debt to repay instead. He might now owe millions and has had all of his belongings seized as partial repayment, but at least he’s alive and we’ve been welcomed back to this world with a bang.

This season follows the trend of last season with mostly self-contained stories early on and then one final big arc to finish the series. KonoSuba has always been at its best when the tales are short because it means the odd episode that you might not enjoy doesn’t spread into the following week – although unenjoyable episodes are overall less of a problem than last season. On the whole, the stories are a lot more fun (and sometimes even genuinely moving), offer ample character development and, most importantly, continue to show just how useless our team of adventurers are.

Although our cast are still pretty useless, between this season and last they have made some progress as a team. Kazuma and Aqua have both learnt new skills since we last saw them and Megumin, although still limited to a single explosion a day, has also powered up. It’s not just their skills that are improving, as it’s quickly apparent that their teamwork is also getting better and Kazuma better fits the leader role he fills.

This season offers an arc dedicated to Darkness and explains some more of her backstory, something I was very happy to see as until now we’ve not known much about her life. Meanwhile, the final arc of the season spends quite a lot of time with Aqua and Wiz, who again we’re glad to see more of. This is especially true for Wiz, whose introduction story last season was told in flashbacks in an effort to save time in the anime.

My only major complaint is down to Megumin, who is given a story arc involving a childhood friend. Once the episode involving their story is finished, Megumin’s friend, Yunyun, is mostly pushed aside and not seen again for any great length of time. Perhaps because of Megumin’s inability to produce anything but one explosion a day, she is also shelved for the majority of the season and only used for a few comedic scenes despite the fact that she’s usually always present. At least they gave her a new companion in the form of a cat, Chomusuke, to keep her busy, who is presumably the adorable mascot of the series now. It’s not that Megumin’s character feels undeveloped or lacking, it’s simply that she is my favourite among Kazuma’s team and I’m just disappointed that we didn’t see more of her.

It has to be said that overall the second season is very satisfying and the conclusion delivers one of the best anime endings I’ve seen in quite some time. It doesn’t finish off the overall KonoSuba story (the novels are still on-going in Japan), but it finishes off the tale it set out to tell very well while leaving the door open to return to this world someday.  The final episode is full of the silly humour I’ve come to love the series for, but most importantly it also shows just how much the characters have progressed as a team. Above all else, it’s just good fun.


The series has once again been handled by Studio DEEN and where animation is concerned the show does seem to have been given more budget (and it has to be said that the final episode looks much better than anything else the series has ever put out). Despite this newfound budget however, the animation is still terrible. The first episode is all over the place and even once things become more stable, it’s clear that DEEN have made a stylistic choice to lean into the idea of KonoSuba never being the prettiest show in the world. Character designs on the whole are smoother and I think the world has more varied colors and looks sharper, but overall things haven’t changed much at all.  I commented in my review of the first season that the poor animation adds something to the charm of KonoSuba and I still firmly believe this because fixing up the animation might have ruined the fun a bit.


When it comes to the music, composed again by Masato Kouda, things haven’t changed much since the first season. The soundtrack isn’t something I’d listen to away from the show itself, but within context it does wonders to ramp up the action scenes and play into the silliness of everything. The opening theme “Tomorrow” has been provided by Machico, who also worked on the Season 1 opening, and I have to say it’s a brilliant track that really captures what KonoSuba is to me. The animation for the song sees our heroes embark on a quest and throughout we’re shown the various trials and tribulations they face before they return home, bruised but successful. I love it. It’s fun and really sets up well for the show. The ending theme is “Ouchi ni Kaeritai”, sang by the voice actors for Aqua, Megumin and Darkness much like with the first season ending. The song is a slow and more somber affair than the opening but it works in contrast to the fast pace of the anime. It also wins points in my favour for featuring the flying cabbages in the animation (that I adored in the first season).

All of the voice actors do a wonderful job in their roles but my personal highlights this season are Jun Fukushima (Shoukichi Naruko in Yowamushi Pedal, Shinsuke Chazawa in Shirobako) as Kazuma, who manages to go from a very deadpan tone of voice to utter hysterics in seconds, and Sora Amamiya (Touka Kirishima in Tokyo Ghoul, Elise in Bungo Stray Dogs), who plays Aqua and manages some pretty impressive screaming for the goddess.

KonoSuba Season 2 certainly hasn’t left me disappointed and I highly recommend it to fans of the previous season. With many tales still left to tell in this Wonderful World (the anime series has only adapted four of the ten light novel volumes released in Japan), I hope that we get a season three sometime in the future. Even if the show doesn’t return, I think this wouldn’t be a bad way of ending it because the conclusion is so strong. My only hope now is that someone finally licenses the series for a release on Blu-ray and DVD in the UK (preferably with plush cabbages). Whatever happens, KonoSuba remains a firm favourite in this reviewer’s heart.

Title: KonoSuba - God's Blessing on this Wonderful World! Season 2
Publisher: Crunchyroll (streaming)
Genre: Comedy, Fantasy
Studio: Studio Deen
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2017
Format: Legal stream
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles
Running time: 250 minutes

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

Film Review: A Silent Voice

Shoya Ishida is a typical delinquent elementary school boy with a large group of friends and not a care in the world, that is until a new student– Shoko Nishimiya, who happens to be deaf – joins his class. Despite her shy and friendly nature, her presence stirs Shoya’s small world and he begins to bully her, with encouragement from his friends. When the bullying reaches its peak, and he is punished severely for it, his friends disown him and he becomes an outcast himself. Several years later, now in High School, Shoya crosses paths with Nishimiya once again and he slowly begins to reconnect with her, as well as make amends for his past actions.

The role of ‘the school bully’ is normally reserved for antagonists or side characters where they, for the most part, remain one-dimensional (mean for the sake of being mean). If they do have an arc, it’s almost always them getting called out on their behaviour usually by the protagonists, then they quickly reform from their bullying ways and the world is set to rights. However, A Silent Voice makes a bold move in making the bully the protagonist, and there’s no doubt that he is a bully; it starts off with childish lashing out at something (or in this case, someone) that he does not understand but escalates into outright horrible behaviour that makes it incredibly hard to watch. But then his world comes crashing down; he gets told off by the teachers, his friends and the rest of the school completely turn on him AND his mother has to pay a huge fine for Nishimiya’s damaged hearing aids. In a lesser movie, or a movie not set around Shoya, that would be the end of his arc, the audience would assume that he has learned his lesson and that the balance is now restored. But A Silent Voice dares to explore his character further: what happens after he’s punished for his actions? What becomes of his home life and mental state? The answer is that over the years of being exiled and living with the crushing guilt of his actions, he has become incredibly depressed, suffering from anxiety, and is suicidal. It would be easy to brush off Shoya’s plight and emotional state as ‘karma’: he deserved what he got. But A Silent Voice does not set out to do that, or attempt to take the easy route; it instead lays the groundwork and then sets off on a journey for an incredibly involving and significant film.

A Silent Voice talks about a lot of issues that many films either gloss over, sensationalise or wouldn’t touch with a 10-foot pole. This list includes but is not limited to depression, anxiety, loneliness, suicide, self-hatred and learning to forgive yourself. A person suffering from any of these things in media such as television would typically have it communicated to audience via actively saying what they feel or suffer from, looking miserable all the time, or having a cut-away of them taking pills (shorthand for medicating whatever they’re suffering from). A Silent Voice doesn’t do any of this, but takes a more realistic and natural approach; Shoya’s depression and self-deprecation is not limited to being expressed via dialogue but also in his body language and animation techniques. Whether he’s speaking or not, we see him constantly having his head down, struggling to make eye contact with other students, being apprehensive of taking actions if it involves other people and in one scene he even slaps himself as self-punishment for saying something embarrassing. Over the course of the film we discover that it’s not just Shoya who has problems but also other members of the student body, especially Shoko Nishimiya, whom we learn deals with her life-long struggle of deafness and the stigma that comes with it by putting on a friendly but aloof front, and in turn speaks very little about how she actually feels, which is just as damaging as the way Shoya goes about it. Then there are the other side characters who have reacted or thought differently about what happened in elementary school, whether it’s via denial or choosing to move on, and so forth. The side characters don’t get the same amount of attention as Shoya or Nishimiya but how they all interact with each other, and discuss or choose to ignore the issues hovering over them all adds layers to the important themes shown in the movie. There’s no one way to cope or live with these issues, and as the movie shows different sides of them, and uncovers what creates them – or how they remain if not treated – the results are both heart-warming and heart-breaking.

In turn, the animation allows the audience to see exclusively through Shoya’s point of view by having all the students’ faces covered up with a cross; a reflection of how he sees them all as people he cannot communicate with or reach out to. It’s over the course of the film, as he begins to work through his problems, that the crosses start to come off, but like a reflection of real life where we have setback days, the crosses are sometimes slapped back on as Shoya retreats once more into his shell. There’s also a variety of other techniques: blurry images, flares, water ripples/reflections and, right at the beginning of the movie, we see a long dark tunnel with an incoherent image at the end which comes full circle in the final scenes of the film. Although a lot of these images are eventually explained and make sense over the course of the story, when they are first introduced, they’re hastily thrown in back-to-back and therefore it feels a bit of a mess. Imagery and symbolism is important and should absolutely be used but for the first half of this movie they play out more like ‘ideas the director thought up and wanted to throw in there’ rather than strategically placed elements. Even the ‘cross over the faces’ trick, which is the strongest and most frequently used animation metaphor, only comes into play about 20 minutes into the film.

If you only looked at the trailers and did minimal research before seeing the movie, you could have easily been fooled into thinking that it’s a high school romance story with the unique selling point being that it involves a deaf girl. Whilst the ‘deaf girl’ angle is definitely interesting and a hook into the movie by itself, Shoko Nishimiya’s condition is more than just a gimmick. She expresses a lot of her personality in the way she moves, smiling at others despite what they are saying about her and in the way she tries to communicate with everyone despite her limitations. What’s also charming is that she’s not portrayed as a martyr, someone that everyone needs to love and she doesn’t have (for instance) super awesome intellect or heightened senses that have come about as a result of being deaf; she’s a normal high school girl with flaws like everyone else and a lot of emotional baggage, that in a way mirrors Shoya’s struggles but she chooses to bury it as her way of coping. The time-skip also serves as an important point in her character arc as well; her being deaf and a victim of said bullying absolutely would warrant such intricate dejected feelings, but having the bullying issues resolved by the time she enters high school doesn’t mean that the mental trauma suddenly no longer exists, or that they make up solely who she is as a person. Also, having a boyfriend or your bully coming back as a better person, wanting to make it all better doesn’t make the world suddenly a better place. Real life is more complicated than that; just like having Shoya being punished for his actions doesn’t make it OK that he grows up into a suicidal wreck of a boy, or Nishimiya choosing to forgive and befriend him makes her accountable for any emotional turmoil that happens to her later on in the movie. Nothing is black and white, there are all shades of grey, especially when it comes to the issues this movie chooses to talk about.

The pacing of the film is an odd one, especially since it plays out like a romance/coming-of-age story for the majority of its run time, so when it comes to the big emotional moment between Shoya and Nishimiya you expect the film to wrap up quickly afterwards. However, it continues on for a while but not because it has to resolve multiple plot points like, say, in Your Name. It’s important to note that it’s Shoya Ishida story, it’s his emotional arc, and the problems he has don’t automatically fix themselves in a single moment. Problems such as his, as many of those who have or are suffering from depression will know, are a constant battle and sometimes there are good and bad days. So even though the final scene of the movie feels (as a movie watcher) as if it takes ages to come after the big high, it’s an important moment for the character and wraps up the core themes very nicely.

Kyoto Animation, who produced the visuals for A Silent Voice, have a ton of experience with romance-themed and especially high-school-based stories with series such as Clannad, Air and K-ON! under their belts (the K-ON! series and movie being the series that director Naoko Yamada is best known for). As mentioned earlier, they use a lot of little techniques to get Shoya’s world across to the audience but outside of that, there’s much to admire, from the bright colours and the fluid animation, to the way the school environment is drawn to look familiar, yet different. It avoids the usual pitfalls of the main cast’s desks being on the window side of the classroom, or each room in the school looking exactly the same as the previous one. It’s a well thought out and drawn environment that the story is set in with beautiful imagery for the passing seasons.

Kensuke Ushio, the score composer, doesn’t have many credits aside from Space Dandy but his minimal yet emotional score complements the tender and sensitive nature of the film’s themes. Aiko provides the ending theme ‘Koi wo Shita no wa’ which is sadly rather standard fare but musically it flows from Ushio’s work nicely. However, the movie’s opening is edited to The Who’s ‘My Generation’, which sticks out like a sore thumb against the rest of the score. Lyrically, however, it adds a whole new level of negative connotations to the song, considering that it plays over a montage of young and naive Shoyo hanging out with his friends before the events of the movie properly kick off.

A Silent Voice is an emotionally important coming-of-age tale, it tackles a lot of themes that will resonate with audiences on numerous levels with its deep, delicate examination of uncomfortable but significant feelings without falling back on familiar tropes to gain an easy ending. It’s a beautiful, thought-provoking film that shouldn’t be missed.

Title: A Silent Voice
Publisher: All the Anime/Anime Limited
Genre: Drama, Coming of Age, Romance,
Studio: Kyoto Animation
Type: Movie
Original vintage: 2016
Format: Cinema screening
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles
Age rating: 12 A
Running time: 129 minutes

Score: 9/10

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 Brothers Conflict

World-famous adventurer Hinata Rintaro is newly engaged to successful fashion designer Miwa Asahina, so to give them some privacy, Rintaro’s daughter, Ema Hinata, decides to move in with her soon-to-be-step-brothers, all thirteen of them. Inside the huge mansion full of people, Ema finally feels like she has the family she can turn to; however for the boys all they see is the one person they have been looking for to spend the rest of their lives with…

From the looks of the cover art and screenshots, with the boys all having crazy anime hair plus the description of the series above, it would be easy to write off all thirteen brothers as one-dimensional trope-ridden characters who only serve as cheap love interests for the heroine and the audience to latch onto. However, whilst calling them all ‘one-dimensional’ wouldn’t be entirely incorrect, arguably it’s the brothers themselves that are the strongest element of the series.

First of all, you can’t deny that there isn’t a lack of variety in eye candy and due to the diversity of personalities, it’ll be easy to find at least one male that an audience can get behind or perhaps represent a type they like. Want a hard-working calm man who happens to be an excellent cook? Ukyo is the man of your dreams. Fancy some brothers that are very close, similar to the twins Hikaru & Kaoru from Ouran High School Club? Feast your eyes on Tsubaki and Azusa. Do you like Christian Grey from the Fifty Shades series but wish he was a young teen pop idol instead? Look no further than Futo.

Secondly; the brothers do act like they’re a close-knit family by taking fun jabs at each other, encouraging one another at their jobs and, of course, all having the romantic capacity of an old-school Disney princess – they don’t just like Ema, they fall head over heels in LOVE and want to spend the rest of their lives with her!

Thirdly; it also helps that not all thirteen brothers are the same age; it would have been easy (also lazy) to have them High School age but they actually range from 31 to 10 (the youngest one is kept out of romantic race… for the majority of the time) and they all have different jobs, from the down-to-earth doctor to the dream-job game designer. This creates opportunities to not only stay away from the typical school environment, but also for the heroine to spend time with each brother individually (as they all have different schedules), learn about their specific passions and give each male time to shine on their own. Due to the nature of the genre and shortness of the series however, some brothers get more screen-time than others and a few fail to get any quality time with the heroine. For example, it seems weird that Yusuke, a boy who has apparently known Ema for several years before the start of the series, never gets the opportunity to truly confess his feelings. This counts double for the tenth brother Iori, who is easily forgotten about due to having the same silver hair as his brother Tsubaki and being shoved into the background from the start. Lastly, there’s no denying that the story is very rudimentary and predictable, and comes with a truly terrible script. But thankfully, at the best of times, the script crosses the line into hilariously awful territory, so we get golden scenes of cross-dressing Hikaru practically trolling his helpless brothers which always provide a laugh, random dream scenes where the brothers have laugh-out-loud proclamations of love for Ema, and some frankly poor but hysterical lines, my personal favourite being: “I’ll protect you from the ultra-violet rays…with my lips!” (That’s from the English dub, but the original Japanese line is not far off from that either).

The object of their affections is, of course, the heroine Ema who plays as audience surrogate. Normally in these reverse-harem situations the main girl is the self-insert and therefore lacks personality, which works fine in video games where dialogue and actions are decided by the player, but they never cross over well into other fiction where the choice is gone. Ema is not as bland as, say, the heroine from Amnesia (whom you could replace with a googly-eyed sock puppet and not notice the difference); Ema does have SOME urgency and character of her own, however small. She works hard at her exams to get into the college she’s passionate about, loves video games and expresses interest in helping around the house.

However, when it comes to the interactions with the boys, and their individual confessions of love, any semblance of personality goes completely out of the window. It doesn’t seem like it at first; in Episode 1 she accuses perverted monk brother Kaname of ‘being a tease’ when he puts the moves on her, but from then on she merely acts as the ‘nice girl’ card-carrying character to the brothers and does nothing outside of blushing and remaining silent when the boys proclaim their love. If they kiss her she just lets them, and despite the swooping music and cheesy-as-hell dialogue from the boys, in the very next scene or in some cases next episode (if the confession was at the end of one) Ema and the other brothers continue as if nothing has happened; the status quo hasn’t changed and Ema stays oblivious to the boys’ painfully obvious affections. This kills any sort of romantic tension or drama that the series could have carried because Ema just acts so stilted and ignorant throughout it all.

This plays out in part with the ‘dates’ the characters go on; Ema is taken to a video games arcade, a fun fair and other colourful places, but the most we see of it is the beginning of the trip, and then fast forward to the end where the boys proclaim what a good time they’ve had… shame the audience never actually gets to see it or any possible development of chemistry. Then there’s the time scale over the course of the series; easily a year flies by throughout Brothers Conflict (e.g. Episode 10 takes place in the summer, whereas Episode 11 is at the end of January) but it doesn’t feel like it because the scenes feel so small, and the aforementioned lack of tension isn’t carried over, so nothing feels consequential or meaningful in any capacity. So, for instance, you have a weird situation where a boy confesses to Ema that he loves her in January, then the next episode takes place in the Spring, and only then does she finally do something to address it. I can’t imagine many people happily waiting at least 4 months+ for the object of their affections to finally get their act together and tell them yes or no.

Ema isn’t the worst thing about the series however; that honour goes to her pet squirrel Juli. He’s Ema’s constant companion and she just so happens to have the ability to communicate with him, so the audience hears Juli ranting over the boys fighting over her, as well as supporting Ema. However, his dialogue ranges from annoying to unfunny to sometimes offensive in places. Thankfully, the anime gently phases him out towards the halfway point, but every now and then he pops back just as the audience has forgotten him to remind us he’s still around, or worse, the anime gives him a human form (no, really).

Extras are plentiful and spread evenly across the discs; the given clean openings/closings and trailers are there but also commentaries for Episodes 9 and 12 plus 2 OVAs (Christmas and Valentine’s specials) plus an extra episode where the boys get a hold of a magic lamp. So if you do invest in the series you’ll be please to know that you’ll get everything that’s been animated and commercially available in one complete set, which is more than can be said for other, bigger franchises.

It’s important to note my review is based upon the DVD version of the series, which was cancelled not long before the eventual Blu-ray release of the series was confirmed, so my feedback on the animation quality may not truly reflect what the Blu-ray edition has to offer, however I cannot imagine it being any less lazily animated. Brains Base has done great work in the past (Penguindrum and Innocent Venus to name just two) but they really phoned it in for Brothers Conflict. From still backgrounds with lips barely moving filling up whole dialogue scenes, characters having backs turned to camera to save on animating more than one set of lips (in the Valentine OVA one character barely has a shoulder in the frame, so the brothers are practically talking to someone OFF camera), both opening animations take place on a plain white background and the first closing song animation is made up mostly of clips from the show. It wouldn’t be surprising if the previously mentioned abrupt dates were cut to save on animating anything stressful. The character designs are nice and mostly easy on the eyes, especially the heroine who does look quite pretty in several scenes, but they all barely move; this is not a great representation of Brains Base’s work.

The music score is provided by Takeshi Nakatsuka who compliments the rom-com vibe of the series with a soundtrack that varies from heart-pulling strings to comical jazz. “BELOVEDxSURVIVAL” is a serviceable pop/rock opener by Gero, with the OVA opening song “MY SWEET HEAVEN” by the same artist being near-identical to the first opening. But if you want to cringe in your seats or just burst out laughing, watch the ending themes “14 to 1” for the series or OVA ending song “I Love You ga Kikoenai”, both by Asahina Bros + Juli. Yes, it’s the Japanese cast of the brothers and the squirrel singing terribly cheesy pop about loving the main girl. It’s as terrible as it sounds.

Despite being a silly harem story the English dub does have a lot of high calibre male talent from the likes of J. Michael Tatum, Kyle Hebert and Vic Mignogna lending their voices to bring the rom-com scenes to life. Even Colleen Clinkenbeard tries her best to make the female lead as interesting as possible despite the script not always reflecting it.

Brothers Conflict is tricky to recommend because it swings back and forth between ‘so bad it’s good’ to ‘just bad’, sometimes within the same scene. If you want a safe purchase, a definitive ‘good’ example of a male harem then the likes of Fruits Basket and the already mentioned Ouran High School Club are better examples to put money towards. However, if you have a good sense of humour, thrive in potentially hilari-awful series and are happy to take the cons/pitfalls of the genre, then Brothers Conflict has a lot of laughs to offer.

Title: Brothers Conflict
Publisher: Funimation (via Anime Limited)
Genre: Harem, Romantic Comedy,
Studio: Brains Base
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2013
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

Konosuba: God’s Blessing on This Wonderful World! Light Novel Volume 1 Review

When the anime adaption of Konosuba first aired back in Winter of 2016 I was intrigued by the cast of characters and its setting but I wasn’t convinced that I’d really enjoy it. However, by the time I sat down to review the series, I’d fallen in love with it and hoped someone would license the light novels. Fast forward a year and now the first volume of the light novels has been released thanks to Yen Press, and I’m revisiting this wondrous world in text form to explain why you should give it a shot.

The series follows the adventures of Kazuma Satou, who wakes up in the afterlife having died saving the life of a girl. He meets with a goddess known as Aqua, who offers him three choices:

1. To be reborn as a human.
2. To live in heaven.
3. To be transported to a fantasy world where he’ll retain all his memories and can take one item with him, to help him live out his life to the fullest.

Kazuma chooses choice number three, but while considering the item he could bring with him he suddenly realises that perhaps the best thing to do is take Aqua herself! Surely a goddess would give him a much better shot at defeating the demon king that plagues this world? Well, little does he know that this is a terrible decision. Upon arrival in this new world, Kazuma makes his way to the adventurers’ guild, where he can register as an adventurer and take on quests. Sadly Kazuma’s dreams of being a mighty hero are quickly crushed when it’s revealed that, apart from Luck and Intelligence, his stats are terrible. On the other hand, all of Aqua’s stats are amazing apart from her Luck and Intelligence, which are simply dreadful.

Not to be deterred from his new life, Kazuma decides that he and Aqua should take on a quest that requires the two to kill five giant toads in three days. Unfortunately this doesn’t quite go to plan the first time around, so Aqua advertises for some new party members to help balance things out. This advertisement attracts the attention of Megumin, a powerful wizard who specialises in explosion magic. This all seems great at first but Megumin’s powerful image is soon shattered when it’s revealed that she can only fire off one blast of explosion magic per day! Worse still, once she has unleashed her magic she becomes unable to move and an easy target to attack. When the team is then joined by a Crusader, Darkness, who’s unable to hit a single target and loves to be hit, it seems life is going from bad to worse for poor ol’ Kazuma. Will he ever make use of this useless party?

Now I’ll be the first to admit that this story sounds fairly generic and like something we’ve all read before, especially considering that it’s technically a ‘character is transported to a fantasy world’ plot. That said, there is some real charm to the Konosuba cast and the various situations they find themselves in. For example, back in Japan Kazuma was a high-school shut-in who loved nothing more than to spend his time playing video games, so he’s stumbling through this world thanks to his gaming knowledge – and it’s great fun to watch this unfold. It also means that the series can comfortably take jabs at common video game tropes and make you smile by doing so.

One of my favourite parodies comes thanks to the “Cabbage Quest”. When I reviewed Season One of the anime, this quest was one of my favourite moments in the series, and that also rings true for the light novel. The quest involves Kazuma and co. rounding up flying cabbages (for some reason all fruit and veg in this world appears to have the ability to move around) and our hero comments about how this is such a low level quest that you’d ultimately want to skip it in a game. Being an avid JRPG player, the whole quest brought a smile to my face and left me excited to see what other quests the team would take on next.

Perhaps what’s most important for Konosuba is that Kazuma is an utter failure. He’s not someone who’s been transported to this world and become rich and famous; no, he struggles to make ends meet every single day and has no special powers to speak of. Aqua, Megumin and Darkness all have the potential to be overpowered characters but thanks to their flawed personalities or skills they’ve also been firmly grounded. Despite how flawed they are, the party works well together and it’s hard to imagine Kazuma working with anyone but these three idiots (although he would have an easier life if he could at least ditch Aqua).

Having watched the first anime adaptation of Konosuba (and what has aired of Season Two) prior to reading the original light novel, it’s difficult not to compare the two works and judge how the novel holds up against the anime. Although this first volume is quite short (only 160 pages), it covers quite a lot of the story we’ve been given in the anime. This volume was adapted into about 5 or 6 episodes of the first season of anime (and that’s after they skipped a shorter arc in the book, which was briefly told later in the anime), but surprisingly the anime didn’t rush anything. In fact, compared to the light novel, the two tell the story in a similar manner. This is great because I love this world and I’d hate to recommend the book or the anime to someone and have them miss out on something that the other did. Although that said, I do think the anime handles the cabbage quest better, simply thanks to the whole sequence being animated.

Konosuba is by Natsume Akatsuki and for the most part is well written. The series was originally a web novel (although according to the afterword some sections have been rewritten) and, like the early works of Reki Kawahara and his Sword Art Online series, this is fairly obvious. It’s not that the writing is bad, it just doesn’t feel quite up to the standard of Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? or Re:Zero, which are perhaps the best series I can compare Konosuba to. For example, a lot of words are repeated quite often instead of being substituted for something better. Ultimately though, Konosuba is a comedy and its writing doesn’t have to be perfect for the jokes to come off well. I have confidence that, in time, the writing will improve to the point of its roots no longer being noticeable.

The series has been illustrated by Kurone Mishima and the images scattered throughout the book are all really clean and well drawn. For such a short volume there is quite a lot of art on offer, including colour pages and a big character profile section at the start of the volume. Considering that at least three of the illustrations feature Megumin, who happens to be my favourite character, I was satisfied with the offerings. I think Mishima knows which scenes of the story are best to bring to life, such as when Aqua is eaten by a giant frog and only has her leg sticking out of its mouth…

Overall the first volume of Konosuba makes for a good read. It’s a short enough book that I finished it within a couple of sittings, but that also gives it an advantage against the other longer fantasy series on offer right now. The world and the cast are a fun combination and the comedy has translated well into English. While Konosuba has been one of my favourite anime series for a while, I think the light novel might also become a firm favourite. I’d definitely recommend it for fantasy or video game fans. You’ll find a lot to like here in our kooky collection of characters.

Title: Konosuba: God's Blessing on This Wonderful World! Volume 1
Publisher: Yen Press
Genre: Comedy, Adventure, Fantasy
Author(s): Natsume Akatsuki (Author), Kurone Mishima (Illustrator)
Type: Light Novel
Original vintage: 2013
Format: Book (digital edition available)
Age rating: 13+
Length: 162 pages

Score: 8/10