Persona 3 The Movie #1: Spring of Birth Review


Persona
is a series of video games that act as a spin-off to the Shin Megami Tensei franchise and arguably it was when Persona 3 was released that the series became a real hit. Since the huge success of the Persona 4 video game and its various spin-offs and anime adaptations, it’s no real surprise that starting in 2013 (two years following the Persona 4 anime) Persona 3 was adapted into a series of movies – the first of which I’m reviewing today.

Persona 3 The Movie 1: Spring of Birth follows the story of Makoto Yuki, who has just transferred into Gekkoukan High School. Due to a delay with the trains, our young protagonist finds himself arriving at the Iwatodai Dormitory (where he’ll be living from now on) at midnight, but with coffins lining the streets and a ghoulish green moon in sight it appears that not everything is right with the area.

Upon arriving at the dormitory, Yuki meets Yukari Takeba and Mitsuru Kirijo, who are both suspicious of how Yuki managed to make it to the dorm at this time of night. It turns out that Yuki had stumbled into a strange space known as the “dark hour” where electricians stop working and people become unconscious and appear as coffins (only those with a potential to wield creatures known as Persona can move around in this hour). During this hour monsters known as “shadows” rise out of the ground and cause havoc, something which Mitsuru and Yukari are trying to combat as part of a group known as SEES.

Knowing that Yuki might have the potential to become a member of their group, Mitsuru and Yukari start observing him for any odd activity. However, before they can come to a concrete conclusion, the dorms are attacked and Yukari is tasked with protecting Yuki while escaping. As the two are chased by a powerful shadow, Yukari fails to summon her Persona (this involves shooting yourself in the head with a special gun) and is injured by the enemy, dropping her gun in the process. Yuki picks up the gun and awakens to the power of Persona himself, calling forth a Persona known as Orpheus.

After fully realizing his power, Yuki is accepted as a member of SEES and introduced to Akihiko Sanada, another member of the team. After recruiting an additional new member in the form of Junpei Iori, the team set to work defeating shadows and working to discover what the true meaning behind them and the Dark Hour really is.

The Persona 3 game has been adapted into four movies, and with so much to adapt, it means that a lot of this first movie is restricted to set-up and bringing the whole cast together. It’s not a bad thing and we do get some good battle scenes and character interactions, but from having played the game, I believe the later movies will be more interesting than this one. That said, and again being someone who’s played the game, it’s been very interesting to see how Yuki is handled as a character.

In the Persona series of games, the protagonist never really has a personality. That’s because the games are filled with various choices for us to make and our character is simply meant to be a window for us to experience the story as we wish. In the movie this obviously wouldn’t work, but at the same time there is a fine balance between injecting a personality into Yuki and creating someone that fans of the game wouldn’t be able to recognise. Thankfully, development of Yuki has been handled well and although he’s fairly bland, he’s still progressing along with the story. His backstory is that his parents died in a car accident and because of this, he’s been shoved around from family member to family member and school to school. This has left Yuki as someone who, frankly, doesn’t care about the world, anyone in it, or even his own life. To me he’s a bit of a blank slate and lacking in personality, but, actually, as the movie progresses, I realised this wasn’t true. There are reasons that he’s so uncaring about everything (beyond the fact he doesn’t have a personality in the games) and I’m confident that he’ll continue to evolve, thanks to the input of the other characters. He’s starting to care about this team and beginning to understand the value in life itself. As the mysteries of the world unfold, so, too, will those of Makoto Yuki.

As far as characters are concerned, the rest of the cast are varied and seem interesting enough. It turns out that Yukari is also a bit of a newcomer to the group and so she, Yuki and Junpei are grouped together when fighting shadows. Yukari is quiet and lacking in confidence but she cares deeply about her teammates, and her desire to protect them often overrides how scared she is. Meanwhile Junpei is overconfident and jumps into battle without thinking and without concern for his life, but he and Yuki watch one another’s back and so more often than not they come out unharmed. The whole cast appear to have secrets for us to discover and undoubtedly they’ll come to the surface within the next couple of movies.

Persona 3 The Movie 1: Spring of Birth has been handled by studio AIC, who also handled the anime adaptation of Persona 4 The Animation and Humanity Has Declined. It has to be noted that the character designs are true to those of the original game and although they do look quite old in style (the colours and such don’t look like what you’d expect of more modern designs), for a game that was released more than 10 years ago in Japan this isn’t unexpected. Once you get over the initial introduction they slip into the art style for the movie really well and overall AIC have done a good job conveying the mystery and intrigue of the story.

The music has been handled by Shoji Meguro, who composes all the music for the Shin Megami Tensei and Persona games as well as the Persona 4 anime adaptions. Due to the fact Meguro has long worked on the series, the music for this movie fits very well with the action unfolding on screen and the tracks are memorable enough that I’ve been left really wanting to own the soundtrack for myself.

The voice actors for the movie are all returning to their roles from the game, which really helps those of us who have played the game to properly immerse ourselves in this world. My favourite actors are, firstly, Akira Ishida (Shusei Kagari in Psycho-Pass, Fyodor Dostoyevsky in Bungo Stray Dogs), who plays Yuki, because I think it’s difficult to play a role where you have to express so little emotion to begin with and then slowly trickle it in as things progress. Secondly, I also have to point out Rie Tanaka (Juana in Horizon on the Middle of Nowhere, Ren Mikihara in Full Metal Panic? Fumoffu!), who plays Mitsuru, because she does so with a real flair for the action scenes and works well as the mature upperclassman that Mitsuru is meant to be.

This release comes to the UK thanks to Anime Limited on Blu-ray in a collector’s edition format and on DVD. The collector’s edition contains the movie on both DVD and Blu-ray and comes packed with a 36-page booklet containing artwork, character profiles and so on. There are no on-disc extras and this release is Japanese audio with English subs only as no English dub for the movies exists.

Overall Persona 3 The Movie 1: Spring of Birth proves to be a good watch. The later entries will no doubt be better stand-alones due to the fact that much of this first movie is given to introducing the cast, but if you’ve played the Persona 3 game, you’ll find a lot to like here. If you’re a newcomer, then I’d advise to stick it out until at least the second movie where the plot really gets going, but even then I think there is something for everyone to like here.

Title: Persona 3: Movie #1 Spring of Birth
Publisher: Anime Limited
Genre: Fantasy, Supernatural
Studio: AIC
Type: Movie
Original vintage: 2013
Format: Blu-Ray and DVD (Blu-Ray version reviewed)
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles
Age rating: 12
Running time: 91 minutes

Score: 8/10

Review of DRAMAtical Murder

Aoba lives with his grandmother Tae and works part-time in a junk shop in the Old Residential District on Midorijima, an island divided in two. An entrepreneur, Toue Konzern, has converted the other part of the island into Platinum Jail, an exclusive luxury resort. Aoba and his AllMate AI pet dog, Ren, navigate their way through the various turf wars taking place on the island until they are both propelled into the dangerous online game ‘Rhyme’ set in a virtual world. This unleashes another personality buried deep within Aoba, ruthless and possessing a dangerous psionic power. Aoba’s peaceful life begins to crumble around him as sinister strangers seek him out and those closest to him go missing.  What lies buried in his past that is triggering these events – and how can he solve the mystery without harming those he holds most dear? But as Aoba and his friends are invited to enter the futuristic paradise of Platinum Jail, it becomes apparent that the answers to the mysteries in his past – and the other Aoba – can only be solved by walking into enemy territory and confronting Toue Konzern.

DRAMAtical Murder (2014) is based on a popular Japanese BL visual novel from Nitro+CHiRAL, the company famous (infamous?) for their adult-rated BL series like Lamento and togainu no chi. A lot of artistic talent goes into the creation of these games, with high-end character design and top-notch voice actors. Not surprisingly, they are very popular in Japan, inspiring cartloads of doujinshi and special cafe events and, inevitably cute and collectable merchandise! The manga that have come out based on these series have been less successful, and – like this anime TV series – they don’t portray anything of a sexual nature other than the occasional smooch. It’s also significant that DRAMAtical Murder was made before the recent phenomenal success of Yuuri!!! On Ice which, one hopes, along with the charming film Doukyusei (not yet available in the UK) will make it possible for more Slice of Life, character-based BL stories to be told well in anime and reach a wider audience. DRAMAtical Murder most definitely ain’t Slice of Life, placing itself firmly in the cyber science fiction category, allowing for the presence of AIs, virtual reality and altered minds.

So, yet another anime series based on a popular visual novel, only this time the male protagonist has the choice of several very different male partners. The main challenge is to gently tease the audience as our hero meets each of his potential love interests (could this be The One?) but – in the interests of creating a satisfying drama – the writers may well opt for a path that diverges from the one the viewer personally favours. This can result in a bland, unsatisfying storyline as nothing is ever properly resolved. Touken Ranbu, another recent series based on a popular otome game, almost imploded under the weight of characters that the writers felt duty-bound to introduce so as not to offend any fans by omitting a few. And when watching such a series, there’s always the nagging feeling that the creative team are writing solely for the existing game-playing fans. However, that isn’t really a problem here as the writers have produced a self-contained story that – after a few initial hitches – delivers the goods: it actually resolves the issues that it sets up at the beginning. And how many anime series do that?

Who is Aoba? Why does he suffer from immobilizing headaches and loss of memory? We get to learn more about him in his interactions with the various men he gets embroiled with in his search, ranging from his tattooed childhood friend Koujaku, through IT genius/hacker Noiz to strong, silent, bike-riding activist, Mink. All of the men he encounters have tragic back stories which lend them greater depth and interest as Aoba learns the truth about them. One of the deepest and most philosophical conversations occurs in Episode 4 with Clear, the mysterious gas-mask wearing, umbrella-carrying stranger who insists on calling him ‘Master’. In fact Aoba’s interactions with Clear deliver some of the most touching moments in the series as he comes to realize that Clear is probably not human… but would really like to be. Kudos to this series, as well, for the depiction of Tae, Aoba’s dynamic and feisty grandma, who knows more about the sinister goings-on in Platinum Jail than at first she is willing to share. We need more feisty grandmas!

When I first watched DRAMAtical Murder weekly on Crunchyroll I was rather underwhelmed, but returning to it (some early animation quality issues resolved) I was pleasantly surprised. As science fiction, it’s not very original, but the issues it explores about identity and consciousness through Aoba, Clear and Ren are compellingly and relatably done.  DRAMAtical Murder relies on a street-smart grunge to lend it some authentic street-cred, hence the different gangs like Morphine, Dry Juice and Benishigure with their tags, allegiances, tattoos and territories. Oddly enough this gives it a slightly old-fashioned feel, as if it’s trying a little too hard to combine the gritty realism of togainu no chi with a futuristic VR gamer-vibe. However, the character designs are attractive and the comic potential of the AI AllMate pets is milked (but not too much) alternating between the cute (little blue doggie Ren with his protruding red tongue) and the distinctly eccentric Beni and Tori birds belonging to Koujaku and Mink respectively.

Music is by Yuuki Hayashi (who has recently provided some fine soundtracks for My Hero Academia, Kiznaiver, Haikyu!!) and delivers here an appropriately futuristic palette of electronic sounds and tracks (synthesized and guitar) to enhance the futuristic world of Platinum Jail and Rhyme. A nice touch is the retro game music vibe that accompanies the teasing game clues Aoba receives. Nevertheless, it’s Hayashi’s understated and subtle theme for piano and strings which underscores some of the more emotional scenes that is by far the most effective.

The Opening Theme “Slip on the Pumps” (frankly not my favourite) and main Ending Theme “Bowie Knife” are by rock band GOATBED and are notable mostly for their unintentionally funny lyrics. There are also four different Ending songs for each of the other main characters: “BY MY SIDE” by Kanako Itou (Ep. 7) for Koujaku; “Felt” by Seiji Kimura (Ep. 8) for Noiz; “Lullaby Blue” by Kanako Itou (Ep. 9) for Clear and “Soul Grace” by VERTUEUX (Ep. 10) for Mink.  These play over a sequence of luminous and attractive character stills.

A US dub script by George Manley flows more colloquially than the subtitles (although with some questionable choices) and the delivery by the voice cast is way too variable in quality. Veteran VAs like Greg Ayres as Clear and Andrew Love as Mink deliver but, disappointingly, in the crucial main role of Aoba, Gabriel Regojo just hasn’t got the range or the charm that the excellent Atsushi Kisaichi brings to the role.  I’d recommend the Japanese cast every time.

The inclusion of the unaired 30 minute OVA “Data_xx_Transitory” is a bonus that will make this Animatsu set very attractive to BL fans as it includes slightly more edgy material (and is probably what earned this set the 15 certificate in the UK). My own feeling is that it doesn’t really add that much to the story as it’s a tad repetitive (and, if it’s only taking place in Aoba’s mind, suggests a rather more masochistic personality than the one we’ve been shown throughout the episodes).

The DVDs are reviewed here – but the set on sale from Manga-Animatsu is a Blu-ray/DVD combo comprising 5 discs. The only extras are Clean Opening and Endings and four trailers.

In Summary

DRAMAtical Murder works rather well as a sci-fi mystery adventure with sympathetic main characters, luminous backgrounds and an attractive, versatile soundtrack. If you’re a BL fan, however, there’s very little to get excited about as it’s all (bar the OVA) very chaste.

Title: DRAMAtical Murder
Publisher: Manga Entertainment
Genre: Science Fiction, Action, Adventure, BL
Studio: NAZ
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2014
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: 7/10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Score: 4/10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Score: 5/10

Review of Battle Rabbits Volumes 1-3

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Summary

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

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

Score: 7/10

Review of One Piece, Collection 15

Episodes 349-372, may contain spoilers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Score: 8/10

Seraph of the End Season One: Part Two


Seraph of the End
is a title I’ve been especially fond of since Weekly Shonen Jump started publishing the manga in English a few years back. When the anime aired back in 2015 I regarded it as one of my favourites for the year, and now I’ve gotten the chance to sit down and rewatch the second half of this series.

As a general note, this review contains spoilers for both parts of Seraph of the End. If you missed the review of Part 1 written by my good friend and coworker, Joshawott, you can find it here.


This part of the series kicks off with Yu and his comrades being sent on a mission in Nagoya, however this is after the higher ups interrogate Yu to determine if he’s working with vampires. Part 2 of
Seraph of the End is heavily dedicated to exploring the relationships between Yu and Captain Guren and Yu and Mikaela, but that’s not to say there isn’t plenty of time for some fun vampire hunting. This part also gives us some focus on the vampire society and works to develop them as characters.

The mission Yu and his team are sent on with Guren and other members of the Japanese Imperial Demon Army is to kill numerous noble vampires, who have been spotted in the area. It’s a life-or-death mission and sadly it doesn’t always go to plan – but thanks to our team’s misfortunes, we’re given some remarkable action sequences as the humans fight for their lives (more on those in a minute). On the flip side, the new perspectives on Mikaela and the vampires leaves us to ponder if they’re really the bad guys in this world, especially as it becomes clearer that the Imperial Demon Army is up to no good.


While I usually wouldn’t go too in-depth into the end of a season, I want to talk about a couple of episodes closer to the end of this set because they really made the series for me. Episode 21 sees Mikaela finally find Yu and his team and features some truly stunning animation as Mikaela storms through hordes of enemies to reach his long-lost family. The scene is set to a remix of the first ending for the series (“scaPEGoat” performed by SawanoHiroyuki[nZk]:Yosh), and between that and the way the camera pans in and out, the sequence looks fantastic. I’ve watched a lot of anime by
Studio Wit but I think this scene stands out as some of their very best work to date. It’s animated, choreographed and executed extremely well and I cannot praise the scene enough for the lasting impact it left on me as a viewer.

The other episode I want to talk about follows directly afterwards . It’s titled “Yu and Mika” and largely focuses on an exchange the two have, in private, away from the battle raging on elsewhere. It’s the first real interaction the two have had since Yu escaped from the vampires as a child and at this point, after suffering a mortal wound which requires human blood to fix, Mikaela is struggling with the decision to remain as he is or become a full vampire. The two argue and bicker and the conversation flows so naturally, and is filled with so much emotion, that it really stood out to me and remains one of my favourite episodes. I’d usually talk about voice actors later on but today I’m going to break my usual trend and mention that Miyu Irino (Koshi Sugawara in Haikyu!!, Ritsu Kageyama in Mob Pyscho 100), who plays Yu and Kensho Ono (Takato in Charlotte, Slaine Troyard in Aldnoah Zero, Phichit Chulanont in Yuri!!! on Ice), who plays Mikaela, both perform exceptionally well for these scenes. I rewatched the scene in English, French and German and none of those dubs even held a candle to the emotional weight that the Japanese VA’s put into their take.  


As previously mentioned, animation for the series has been handled by
Studio Wit and looks really nice. Action scenes were always detailed and fluid, and even the scenes where the characters just stand around talking look great, thanks to some exceptional work on the backdrops. Wit have gone for a pastel-shaded effect for the backgrounds, so they always look very detailed, which it means any action scenes played out against them looks even better than usual. It creates a nice contrast between the smooth, neatly drawn characters and the messy, less detailed backgrounds. It’s a style I really like and would enjoy seeing more of from the studio.


The music for the series has been handled by Hiroyuki Sawano and is fairly impressive. It’s full of piano and orchestrated arrangements which really work with the tone of the series, but as mentioned earlier the track that I especially like is the remix of the previous ED for the series. I do have to admit that a lot of the music for Seraph of the End reminded me of the work of Tomoki Miyoshi, who provided the music for the I Am Setsuna game released last year, which is by not a bad thing but means that it didn’t seem as unique to me as it should have done. The opening for this set of the anime is “Two souls -towards the truth-” by fripSide and the ending is “Orarion” by Nagi Yanagi. Both tracks are rather forgettable but work within the context of the show (and at least the animation is very nice for both).

This release comes to the UK thanks to Universal, who have been nice enough to provide AnimeUKNews with a full retail set for our review. Thanks to that I have all of the extras for the release on hand, and what a nice collection it is! Seraph of the End Season One: Part Two is available on both Blu-ray and DVD and the physical extras include four trading cards, a poster depicting the art on the cover of the box, a set of 12 3D stickers (which, it has to be said, are really cute), four artcards, and, if that wasn’t enough, a 31 page booklet! The set is well, made with the trading cards and artcards being produced in a thick enough grade that I’m not too worried about them bending. The stickers being 3D is a welcome touch and although (as is usual with stickers) I don’t actually want to use them for anything, they’re at least more fun to look over than stickers normally are. It’s worth pointing out that the booklet contains a gallery of the end cards for each episode, which I like a lot.

Physical extras aside, this set also contains clean opening and ending videos, as well as a
Seraph of the Endless bonus episode/special, trailers for the series, and music clips. My only real complaint about the release is that the box is top-loading and I know that many members of the community commented about this with the previous release. It’s something Universal are apparently looking into for future anime sets but at least in this case I’m glad it’s consistent with the previous release. It’s also nice that the spine doesn’t make it clear that this is a DVD set as my version of Part 1 is a Blu-ray, so despite being different formats at a glance you wouldn’t know any different.

Seraph of the End is a remarkable shounen series. While the season doesn’t conclude the whole story because the manga is on-going, it ends in enough of a satisfying manner that it’s easy for me to recommend. If you’ve watched the first half and enjoyed it then you certainly won’t be disappointed here – and if you didn’t then what are you doing reading this? Go and buy Part 1 right now!

Title: Seraph of the End Season One: Part Two
Publisher: Universal Pictures UK
Genre: Action, Drama, Shonen
Studio: Studio Wit
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2015
Format: Blu-Ray and DVD (DVD version reviewed)
Language options: Japanese audio with English/Dutch/French/German subtitles and English/French/German dub audio
Age rating: 12
Running time: 265 minutes

Score: 9/10

Invaders of the Rokujyoma!? Complete Collection Review

My final anime review of 2016 was none other than Fullmetal Alchemist Part 2, and so going into 2017 I wondered what title I’d be tackling first. Something fantastical set in an alternate universe, with heroes straight out of my favourite stories? Or perhaps a slice of life/romantic series to warm my heart in the cold winter months?

Well, actually, I was completely off the mark, and instead I’m here reviewing the harem series Invaders of the Rokujyoma?!.

Invaders of the Rokujyoma!? tells the story of Kotaro Satomi, who thinks he’s found a bargain when he moves into Room 106 of Corona House – only 5,000 yen a month in rent! With a part-time job at an archaeology site and a friendly landlady in the form of Shizuka Kasagi, Kotaro believes that he’s going to live out his highschool years peacefully and content. What he doesn’t know is that Room 106 is said to be haunted, and all who’ve lived there previously have ended up fleeing the scene, scared out of their wits. The place being haunted isn’t the only problem either, as suddenly strange females begin appearing one by one with desires to claim the room for themselves. It seems that Kotaro may have found himself in quite a predicament…

Kotaro is first visited by Sanae Higashihonogan, the notorious ghost haunting Room 106, who begins to fight with him over which one of them should live in the room. It’s not long before they’re interrupted by the appearance of a magical girl, Yurika Nijino, who wants to occupy the room due to the high levels of magical power within it. If that isn’t enough, Kotaro is then visited by Kiriha Kurano, who is a descendant of the Earth People and wants to take over the room as the first step in invading the surface. And just when you thought things couldn’t possibly get worse, our cast is invaded by Theiamillis Gre Fortorthe (later shortened to Theia), an alien princess who wishes to claim Room 106 for herself in order to prove herself as a worthy successor to the throne.


After the room is almost destroyed during the squabbling over who should live there, landlady Shizuka goes into a rage and punishes Kotaro and the girls. After making repairs, she lays out a contract instructing that the debates over the room must be conducted peacefully. To determine who will obtain the room (without destroying it in the process) Kiriha proposes that they should decide through games.

I’d explain more about the games but by the fourth episode the series starts to move away from the girls wanting to claim the room and instead focuses on their daily lives, so I shall skip forward a bit instead.

Earlier I labelled Invaders of the Rokujyoma!? as a harem series, and while that’s true, it’s not the kind of harem series that I usually dislike. As the girls spend time living with Kotaro they all become fond of him, but it’s not played up to an extreme level as in some other anime. While the girls are fond of Kotaro, only one of them truly appears to have any romantic feelings towards him. It makes the whole thing a lot more watchable for me as I’m not usually someone with a lot of patience for a series such as this, and it ends up being fairly enjoyable for what it is.

The series is split into arcs focused on each of the girls, taking a deeper look at their reasons wanting Room 106. This does mean that if you don’t like one of the girls, their set of episodes will be fairly uninteresting (for example, I wasn’t fond of Theia and therefore I found her episodes boring) but it gives Invaders of the Rokujyoma!? the chance to develop its characters fairly well. I haven’t come away from the anime feeling like I didn’t know any of the main girls and, actually, while they were all very one- dimensional in personality (we had the clumsy one, the quick to anger one, the smart one…) they weren’t a bad cast. I even managed to become quite fond of Sanea!

The anime is based on a light novel series that is on-going in Japan and currently sits at 23 volumes. As the anime is only 12 episodes, it will come as no surprise to anyone that it doesn’t really have a satisfying conclusion. There is a lot more to this story than what we get to see in the adaptation (the final episode makes this quite clear), and it does feel throughout the shows run that two semi-important characters are pushed to the sidelines: Harumi Sakuraba, who is the president of the school knitting club that Kotaro is part of at school, and Kenji Matsudaira, who is introduced as Kotaro’s best friend. Despite the two being large parts of Kotaro’s life, it feels asif we never get to know them properly. In some respects I feel like this could be because Sakuraba becomes more important to the plot in later volumes of light novels, but I think in Matsudaira’s case the issue really comes from the series introducing him as a ‘best friend’. Had he simply been dubbed as just a friend, I might not have noticed his absence so much.


The series was handled by animation studio Silver Link (who I’m quite fond of for their adaption of Strike the Blood) and their work here is passable. Character designs and the overall style is smooth but I can’t help but feel that the anime was a low budget affair. It was aired in Japan in July 2014 but despite that, the animation looks a good couple of years older, which is a shame as some of the battle scenes dotted throughout the story were animated much better in comparison. It’s not bad animation but it’s nothing special either.

Invaders of the Rokujyoma!?’s soundtrack is provided by Ryosuke Nakanishi, who has also provided soundtracks for High School DxD, Kuroko’s Basketball, and Sakura Trick. While the work on display here didn’t really stand out and certainly isn’t memorable away from the series, it’s not a bad soundtrack within the context of the show. The opening is called “Koukan win-win Mujouken” by Heart Invader and is a fairly generic song both musically and in its animation. The ending is “Love is Milk Tea”, which is sung by the voice actresses Aoi Yuki and Ayana Taketatsu. This seems odd to me as the two only had minor roles in the series as Kiriha’s servants/battle drones but as far as the ending itself goes, it’s certainly a nice piece.

Speaking of voice actors, I’d like to drop a mention to Eri Suzuki (Hikari Kohinata in Amanchu!, Chinatsu Kuramoto in Flying Witch), as I really enjoyed her work as Sanae. The character is quite emotional and flips into various different emotions quickly but she’s also a lot of fun and very energetic, which Suzuki gets across wonderfully. The other voice actor of note for me is Yuichi Nakamura (Greed in Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood, Gray Fullbuster in Fairy Tail, Guren Ichinose in Seraph of the End), who plays Kotaro. I always find it fun when such a prolific actor does a series like this and gets to let loose with a slightly less serious character than those they’re usually cast for. Nakamura provides a fun performance, even if it might not be as intensive and interesting as some of his other roles.

This release comes to the UK thanks to MVM Entertainment, who have released the series on both Blu-ray and DVD. The release contains all 12 episodes in Japanese with English subtitles and the only extras to speak of are clean opening and ending videos as well as a scattering of trailers. This release is subtitle only as an English dub has not been created for the series.

Overall Invaders of the Rokujyoma!? was an enjoyable start to my year. It might come from a genre of anime that I’m not a huge fan of, but it manages to be interesting enough so as not to matter. The series may not end in a satisfying manner but it’s a fun ride all the same, so it’s worth checking out if you like this kind of thing.

Title: Invaders of the Rokujyoma!? Complete Collection
Publisher: MVM Films
Genre: Harem, Fantasy, Comedy, Slice of Life
Studio: Silver Link
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2014
Format: Blu-Ray and DVD (DVD version reviewed)
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles
Age rating: 15
Running time: 300 minutes

Score: 6/10

One Piece, Collection 14 Review

Episodes 325-348, may contain spoilers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Score: 8/10

Review of Nerima Daikon Brothers

Look at the darkest hit musicals – Cabaret, West Side Story, Carousel – they are exuberant experiences. They send you out of the theatre filled with music.”
– John Lithgow

While anime has covered many genres, one of the genres it has not delved into that much is the musical. Yes, there have been plenty of anime about music and bands such as K-On! and Love Live!, but in terms of a traditional musical, in which the characters often randomly burst into song, this is much rarer. One of the few examples is the comedy musical Nerima Daikon Brothers.

Set in the Nerima ward of Tokyo, the story focuses on a musical threesome. The central figure is Hideki, who owns his own field growing daikon (if you are not familiar with them, imagine a turnip that’s exactly the same shape as a thingy). His ambition in life is to build his own concert dome where he and the rest of his band, the Nerima Daikon Brothers, can perform to the locals. However, he is too poor to do so.

The other members of the band are Ichiro, the band’s straight-man who works in a host club. He is able to make just about anyone fall in love with him by giving them a slap across the face, but his main love is for small furry animals. The other brother is actually a female cousin. This is Mako, a former idol from Okayama (she still has the accent) who Hideki is in love with. Mako constantly points out to him that they cannot marry because they are cousins – although Ichiro frequently points out that under Japanese law, marriage between cousins is legal. Mako is actually in love with Ichiro thanks to his slapping. There is also arguably a fourth member of the band; Pandaikon, a small panda that is constantly eating Hideki’s daikon, but is spared by Ichiro thanks to his love of animals – a love that almost borders on the bestial.

In each episode, the trio are constantly trying to find a way to raise the money to build their concert dome. This normally leads them into conflict with several villains who are trying to make a quick buck (or rather yen) for themselves, so the Brothers are constantly in need of things to fight back and take the bad guys’ money. The person they go to is the owner of a rental shop – who is actually the show’s director Shinichi Watanabe reprising a role he previously played in surreal comedy Excel Saga. He offers the band useful tools in exchange for a song (actually it is always the same tune, but with the words tweaked every time to suit the situation).

The band’s schemes normally cause more damage than they’re worth, and their schemes later fall under the suspicious eye of local cop Detective Yukika Karakuri, a woman armed with all sorts of crazy gadgets. At first she suspects the band of being up to no good, but as the series goes on she ends up admiring the group, and Pandaikon especially, going crazy for him every time he touches her. Ultimately, the roots of all these plans find their way to the very top of Japanese society, including the Prime Minister – by which I mean a direct parody of then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, looking like a lion.

Obviously the music is the main appeal to the show. The music is great, full of funny numbers. These include not just the songs towards the rental shop owner, but Hideki expressing his love for Mako, Mako expressing her love for Dom Perignon champagne, and Ichiro expressing his disturbing love for Pandaikon. Some viewers may get tired of the fact that some of the tunes are used over and over again, but at least the dialogue is changed to suit the situation. The opening title song, “Ma·Ji·Ya·Ba” is wonderful, and one of the extras is the live-action music video performed by the actors. However, on the DVD menu this is seemingly hidden away, accessed by scrolling down the bottom of the menu on Disc 1, and the icon selecting your choice is not over any text. I slightly unsure as to whether this is an Easter Egg or just shoddy menu design. You also get the textless opening and closing, as well as episode commentaries on both discs.

The other main draw is the comedy, which differs from most comedy in anime in that quite a lot of it is satirical. For example, the character based on Prime Minister Koizumi looks like a lion because in real life his hair was described as looking like a lion’s mane and he embraced it. The character’s plans are to privatise the whole of Nerima, a reference to his then-real plans to privatise Japan’s postal service. All these topical references will fly by the average British viewer unless you look everything up, but on the surface there are still loads of laughs.

One example occurs in the very first episode. Ichiro is harassed in his host club by a gay customer who is a band manager, where all of the subtext indicates that he is giving Ichiro a hand job (cue lots of cutaways to sausages as Ichiro groans). Later on, the whole band meet the same manager, where Hideki tries to impress the manager similarly, with his thingy being represented by a daikon. This routine is based on an actual boy band manager, Johnny Kitagawa, who was once subject to claims that he had sexually abused the boys he managed. Thus you can either laugh at the satirical comments made against Kitagawa, or at some gags about wanking someone off.

I would definitely recommend giving Nerima Daikon Brothers a watch, partly because it differs to most anime in several ways: there are very few musical anime, very few satirical anime, and very few anime that can make you laugh as much while also providing you with rather catchy tunes.

Title: Nerima Daikon Brothers
Publisher: Anime Limited
Genre: Comedy, Musical
Studio: Studio Hibari
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2006
Format: DVD
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 15
Running time: 300 minutes

Score: 9/10