Aldnoah.Zero – Season 2

 

Aldnoah.Zero, the entirely original anime by Gen Urobuchi of Madoka Magica, Fate/Zero and Psycho-Pass fame, reappears in its second season, but does it make good on the shocking end to Season 1?

Before we get to that, a quick recap: Thanks to an ancient hyper-gate that connects to Mars found on the moon, humanity creates a new Kingdom on the red planet named Vers. Vers gains a new type of power known as Aldnoah and soon decides to attack Earth, but the resulting battle ends in the gate and a good half of the moon exploding. The “Orbital Knights” of the Vers Empire that remain after the attack settle on several large space stations in the debris belt and a ceasefire is agreed on. In Season 1 we saw that peace get broken when an assassination attempt on Princess Asseylum of Vers, set up by the Count Saazbaum of the Orbital Knights so they can have a valid excuse to start attacking Earth, drives the two sides into war. The war ends up including some students, one of whom, Inaho Kaizuka, is a natural at fighting in a Kataphract (this series’ name for mechs), as well as dedicated Asseylum follower and Earth-born member of Vers, Slaine Troyard, who was caught in the middle of the war when he discovers the Princess with the “Terrans” and finds out about the assassination plot by his own master.

This lead to the big cliffhanger at the end of the season where Slaine kills Saazbaum after he shoots the Princess dead, then in turn shoots the injured Inaho at close range in the head. A shocking ending and it makes you wonder who, if any of them, are going to survive as the plot picks up 19 months later…

MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!!!

Well, sadly, it didn’t really capitalize on the shock value. Inaho survives sans an eye, which is fair enough, he’s the main character. The Princess is still alive though in a coma-like state, which is alright I guess, though seems a bit of a backwards step (and unsurprisingly she wakes up about halfway through the series). Then it turns out Saazbaum is still alive! The lead villain lives and is saved by Slaine, who wishes to climb the ranks of Vers under him, so long as he saves the Princess’s life. Really makes you wonder why create such a great cliffhanger if you’re not going to do anything with it? Especially since Saazbaum ends up being killed a few episodes in anyway.

So we then get a blonde-haired antagonist who starts climbing his way up an off-Earth military with the goal of killing the one who wronged him (once he gains enough power) having a rivalry with the Earthling teen (a naturally gifted pilot) who has ended up in the military due to chance. This rivalry is set in stone after a girl they both loved is (seemingly) killed in front of them, and they blame each other for it. In other words, it’s Amuro vs. Char from Mobile Suit Gundam. I’ll give them credit in that by the last few episodes it’s a bit different, but it hovers far too close to the mark for me. I always take a few similarities to Gundam as being fine, it pretty much created the “real Robot” war type anime so some connections are expected, but the first half of this series felt far too familiar.

The ending too is a bit flat. I won’t tell you everything, but the season overall feel as if it starts going round in circles, refusing to give anyone but Inaho and Slaine something to do, and then it picks up before suddenly – and flatly – ending.

MAJOR SPOILERS END HERE

Storyline aside, the mix of CG and traditional 2D animation is still okay, sometimes jarring, but both, for the most part, are fine. I still love the Orbital Knights’ Kataphract designs. Some in this season have crazy X-Men powers that they try their best to explain with actual science, which is doubly enjoyable. The background soundtrack is largely unchanged from Season 1, including a remix of the great second ending theme from that season, apparently called “MKAlieZ” (the original ending song being called “aLIEz”). The opening is “&Z” by SawanoHiroyuki[nZk]:mizuki (bloody hell, can’t they shorten that down a bit?) and the ending is “Genesis” by Eir Aoi (that’s more like it!), although Episode 23 (or S2 E11) is “Harmonious” by Sora Amamiya.

The 12 episodes are once again spread across four Blu-rays, each containing three episodes. That’s still crazy to me, but as I said in the last review, it’s so weird that there must be a technical or other-region disc-authoring reason for it. Also, once again, it’s Japanese with English subs by default, if you want to hear the English voice track (which is fine, though unspectacular) you have to set it in the Set Up menu each disc. The extras are clean openings and endings, plus a few trailers. The usual jazz. You also get a nice artbook along with it.

So, Aldnoah.Zero Season 2. Well, it’s not as good as Season 1. For a start it feels as if the first 6 or so episodes have no clear focus, then the next few pick up, leading to a rather flat and rushed finale. That being said, it’s nice to look at and pleasant to listen to. If you want a flashy mech anime to watch over a few days, all 24 episodes of Aldnoah.Zero will do the trick, though you’ll be in for a roller coaster ride of a plot, with highs and lows, and ending on a flat bit when you get off (which in terms of a roller coaster is good, but a storyline, not so much)

Title: Aldnoah.Zero - Season 2
Publisher: Anime Limited
Genre: Action, Mecha
Studio: A-1 Pictures, TROYCA
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2015
Format: Blu-Ray and DVD (Blu-Ray version reviewed)
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 15
Running time: 300 minutes

Score: 5/10

The Transformers – The Movie 30th Anniversary Edition

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The classic, and often controversial, theatrical special of the original Transformers cartoon is now 30 years old and Manga have released the restored version on Blu-ray, but does the film still have the touch? Does it still have the poweeerrrrrr? (Sorry, couldn’t help it…)

Before anyone wonders why it’s being reviewed here on Anime UK News, it’s simple: it was written by the American cartoon team, but it was animated by Toei Animation in Japan, which includes the cinematography. Rule of thumb is if it’s animated in Japan, it’s an anime, if it’s animated in the US, it’s a cartoon, but let’s not go down the route, that way lies madness…

So the plot is quite… odd. It’s set a full 20 years after the end of Season 2 of the TV series, and the war on Cybertron isn’t going well for the Autobots. In fact the Decepticons have conquered the planet, leaving Optimus and co. hiding out on the planet’s two moons, as well as their old Earth base. The obnoxious little boy Spike Witwicky is now an adult and working with the Autobots on one of the afore-mentioned moons, but … ahem… luckily, his son is about the same age as he was back in the day and is on Earth, so… thank goodness for that, nearly didn’t have an obnoxious kid in an 80s animated property for a second there!

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Here is where things get unexpectedly dark. Megatron, leader of the Decepticons, after over 20 years of constant war (and never-ending retreats where nothing gets accomplished) finally realises that a good way to win a war is to kill your enemy. I’m talking Megatron and co. arriving on an Autobot shuttle, Megatron declaring he’s going to kill them, and then transforming into his gun form followed by four friendly Autobots being gunned down and killed. That’s only the beginning! The Decepticons soon arrive on the Earth base and so begins a would-be-bloody-if-they-weren’t-robots war where several characters on all sides either die or are near death, including a fated showdown between Optimus Prime and Megatron, where instead of one standing while one falls, it ends in pretty much a draw, with Optimus dying (spoiler! … for a 30-year-old film…) and Megatron being all but dead. This is all pretty shocking coming off of a “nobody is killed, let’s not even mention the words kill or die” cartoon.

Newly introduced Autobot Hotrod is to blame for Optimus Prime’s death, getting involved with the fated duel and getting Optimus shot several times in his bungled attempt at help. It’s actually quite amazing that beyond having a “cool” flame paintjob, Hotrod is a pretty bad attempt at creating a new lead character, which is what it was all about. Anyway, as if things couldn’t get any worse, a giant sentient transforming planet named Unicron arrives and is disturbed by the “Matrix of Leadership” that Optimus once held, that was then passed to the dull-as-dishwater Ultra Magnus. He sees the object as the one thing that could defeat him, and so regenerates Megatron and a few other near-dead Decepticons that had been thrown into space by their new “brave” leader Starscream, and uses his immense power to force them to hunt down and destroy the Matrix.

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This sets up the rest of the film, where the remaining Autobots are chased around several newly introduced planets by Galvatron (the new Megatron) and eventually have to rally to defeat Unicron before he destroys Cybertron. I could go on for many more paragraphs about some of these characters, planets and a certain universal greeting, but I’ll leave it there on the off-chance you haven’t actually seen the film already (and for the sake of review length!)

On to some other points. Firstly, the soundtrack. If you like 80s power ballads and rock, it’s great. Hell, even if you don’t I’d like to see you not get a little more excited and invested into the film when “The Touch” or “Dare” comes on in the background. Even the moody (and synth-filled!) music that plays when Unicron is introduced is great, top marks to composer Vince DiCola on that front. There isn’t a mention of whether the audio mix was upgraded along with the picture, but everything was definitely loud and clear on my end. The voicecast is also worth mentioning, the classic cartoon actors return, but are joined by the likes of Leonard Nimoy and… Orson Welles! In his last ever performance… always a weird fact. The animation is often fluid and the art switches between really detailed drawings come to life (particularly the scenes with Unicron devouring planets, so many little lines and bits everywhere) and more simple drawing that’s closer to the TV series. The (4K, although it’s still a standard Blu-ray) restoration is great too, everything is really bright and clear, yet still featuring some film grain for that touch of authenticity.

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It’s worth saying that this is the full, unedited version of the film. That means Spike Witwicky exclaims “Oh shit! Whadda we do now?!” when Unicron eats the second moon of Cybertron unaffected by their attempts to blow it up, and there is no “Optimus Prime will return” message at the end that was quickly added after the supremely negative feedback from their decision to kill the character off. I don’t know if this is the first time the unedited version has been released in this country, but the swear word wasn’t on the VHS or DVD version I’ve seen in the past, though I know there have been a few different DVDs, so I can’t say for sure.

It should be noted that this comes in two discs, one labelled “Full Frame” and the other “Widescreen”. Much like most of the films by Toei at this point, it was created using 4:3 animation with the intention of it being zoomed in to fit the cinema’s widescreen. This also meant that the film could be released on VHS and fill up the 4:3 TV screens without the need for black bars. The “Full Frame” version is the full 4:3 version, meaning it’s not zoomed or stretched, but it is a 4:3 box in the middle of your now standard 16:9 screen, and the “Widescreen” version is the cinematic version and therefore fills your screen, but you lose some of the top and bottom, but that was always taken into account when it was created anyway and is therefore the more authentic way to view it. What’s nice is that the full compliment of extras is on both discs, meaning whichever way you choose to watch you won’t have to switch discs to watch the extras.

As for the extras, they include a well-made and interesting Making Of Documentary titled “Til’ All Are One”, Audio Commentary on the film with Director Nelson Shin, story consultant Flint Dille and star Susan Blu, a few featurettes, storyboards and trailers (both cinematic and TV). It’s a good chunk of extras, that’s for sure, and again they’re all on both discs.

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So should you buy this? Well… yeah. I mean, if you grew up with the film like myself, or you’ve come to like it, or even if you want to try it out, there is no better version of it out there, picture, audio and extras-wise. Hell, the steelbook box is nice as well, by the looks of it. If you have no intention of watching an 85 minute 80s-fest based on a cartoon that’s being more and more lost due to never-ending Michael Bay-created films, then that’s a shame, because to answer my question from earlier, this film does indeed still have the touch… and the poweeeerrrr

Title: The Transformers - The Movie 30th Anniversary Steelbook
Publisher: Manga Entertainment
Genre: Science Fiction, Action, Adventure
Studio: Toei Animation
Type: Movie
Original vintage: 1986
Format: Blu-Ray
Language options: English dub audio only
Age rating: PG
Running time: 84 minutes

Score: 10/10

The Place Promised in Our Early Days / Voices of a Distant Star Twin Pack Review

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Makoto Shinkai is currently known as the director of 2016’s biggest Japanese animated film, Your Name. But many years prior he was a beloved director of shorter, more unconventional pieces, originally starting out as a one-man production powerhouse – doing everything from the storyboards and animation to even voice acting – with only a few movies to his name. Back in 2013 Anime Limited announced they had licensed his earliest work, Voices of a Distant Star and The Place Promised in Our Early Days, as a Blu-ray and DVD combo, however it was subjected to numerous delays. It probably wasn’t planned at first, but its eventual release conveniently falls just after Your Name comes to UK cinemas, ready to satisfy newly-made Makoto Shinkai fans eager to see where his anime filmmaking skills started. This is the first time that both of these films are available in the UK in Blu-ray format.

Voices of a Distant Star is his earliest commercially available work; an OVA written, directed and produced by Makoto Shinkai telling the story of two teenagers whose relationship is torn apart when school girl Mikako is recruited into the UN Space Army to pilot a mecha against an alien race called the Tarsians, whereas Noboru stays on Earth and continues his education. The pair attempt to keep in contact via cell phones, with Mikako sending her friend texts from the battlefield, but as she travels deeper into space, the time it takes for her messages to reach him become impossibly further away.

The OVA is 25 minutes long so does not go into great detail about when the war come about, how Mikako learnt to pilot the mecha or why the aliens are as they are, but in this instance it does not matter. The OVA focuses on the main characters’ relationship with the themes of long distance communication and the loneliness it creates. Like the war backdrop, we do not see the full journey of Mikako and Noboru’s relationship but their simple interactions and emotions resonate clearly. The pair have a few intimate moments and clearly defined character motivations so it’s heart breaking to see the pair yearn for each other from a vast distance. Even if you haven’t experienced a long distance relationship you can empathise with Mikako as she chokes up realising that her simple message will take years to reach Noboru. It’s also refreshing to have a female as the mecha pilot fighting in the war and the male waiting for her to come home whilst staring at his phone, praying for it to ring – it proves that such emotions are universal, regardless of gender.

A premise such as that of Voices of a Distant Star could have easily drifted into Evangelion territory with a traumatised pilot, or even contained She the Ultimate Weapon melodramatic vibes but it avoids them both beautifully. Mostly because of the restricted running time but also at the end of the day, although they miss each other, they have to keep going. Mikako doesn’t stop fighting in the war because of her lost love, nor does Noboru grow old without moving on with his life; it’s a tragic but relatable tale.

Originally released back in 2002; visually it hasn’t aged well, and not because it’s in 4:3. The backgrounds are gorgeous, especially when we’re shot into space with Mikako, and the planet designs are unique too, but the characters themselves, especially in the facial department, are uneven and bland. The 3D is especially bad in places with the mecha units themselves most guilty of it. Harsh criticism considering Makoto Shinkai did it all by himself, but I will say that the little action we do see is choreographed well, and there are far worse looking anime out there with longer time frames and bigger budgets.

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The second movie of the combo pack, which is more prominent on the packaging, is The Place Promised In Our Early Days, which takes place in an alternative timeline where Japan has been divided after the second world war, with Hokkaido taken by ‘the Union’ to conduct experiments inside a mysterious tower built so high into the sky that it captures the interest of three teenagers: two boys Hiroki and Takuya, and a girl named Sayuri. The two boys are planning on building a plane and flying to the tower themselves to see what’s beyond it, but their plans are halted for three years when Sayuri suddenly disappears. Where she went holds the key to what’s going on in the mysterious tower.

This is Makoto’s first feature-length film that actually has many elements from Voices of a Distant Star all the way to his latest work Your Name, and its fascinating to see how his ideas have developed over time and been refined in latter works. Place Promised is clearly his very first attempt at a feature-length however as there are a lot of pacing issues and ideas that feel like separate mini-films tacked on into one. The opening act focuses on the relationship between the three teenagers; first the two boys who have been friends for ages, then the girl tagging along for the summer of 1996 where their relationship blossoms. Understandably it’s important to develop the relationship considering how central it is to the plot, however this act does drag and it doesn’t help that the characters themselves are all quite similar in looks (all sporting young faces and the same shade of brown hair) and more importantly, similar in personalities – idealistic, hardworking and rather bland overall. There are no big emotional outbursts or variety in character traits to help divide the group up; it’s easy to confuse the boys especially with each having their own intimate scene with Sayuri in the past. Even in the latter scenes when the stakes are higher, the three characters fail to really express much emotionally to drum their turmoil and character into the audience’s hearts.

Like Voices of a Distant Star, Place Promised has a rich history and an impending war threatening the relationship between the three characters that the film either glosses over, rushes out via technobabble, or leaves for the audience to look it up with Google. However, in Place Promised the lack of information actually hurts the film, especially in the second half when it starts to take over the main conflict of the film and directly affects the three teenagers. You could get away with this if the backdrop and main science fiction elements were simplified but sadly this film takes place in an alternative timeline, where parts of Japan have been split and owned by different parts of the world that’s not explained in the film itself, then there’s a terrorism conspiracy plot going on in the back ground and the scientists in the tower have their own plan of exploring the concept of parallel worlds. The parallel worlds idea is a fascinating one which is hinted in the easy-breezy opening act mostly via Sayuri, but doesn’t feel fully realised within Place Promised itself; they hint at multiple different ‘dreams’ existing at one time, and yet we’re restricted to just the two we’re shown in film. It feels like a wasted opportunity. Elements of people existing and being connected in different realities is thankfully explored again in Makoto’s Your Name, with far better results, but in Place Promised a lot of the film ends up being either a drag or half baked.

The animation for Place Promised shares Voices of a Distant Star’s stunning backgrounds but thankfully steps up the animation budget; everything is visually more fluid and brighter in colour, and despite the characters all suffering from very similar faces and hair colours/styles, they’re better drawn and animated compared to his previous short.

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Although it’s not advertised in the Blu-ray’s packaging there’s actually another Makoto Shinkai short in here; She and Her Cat, a five-minute short that he developed completely by himself aside from the score and the female voiceovers. Originally released back in 1999 it tells the simple story of a year in the life of a male cat and the relationship with his female owner. It’s a simple yet sweet tale and really worth a watch; even in five minutes you can see how much work Makoto put into it and his writing talent shines through. I wish, however, that there was an English dub for it; some of the subtitles go by fast but pausing breaks the poetic nature of the piece.

The short can be found in the extras menu; alongside alternative Japanese audio for Voices of a Distant Star with Makoto voicing the main male character, plus storyboards and a trailer collection. For Place Promised there’s a trailer collection alongside interviews with the Japanese cast of the three main protagonists. There are also two interviews with Makoto talking about the production of the films separately.

The Voices of a Distant Star and The Place Promised in Our Early Days Blu-ray combo is an important collection whether you’re a long-term fan or new to Makoto Shinkai’s work. It’s fascinating to see how Makoto’s vision, unfiltered by bigger budgets and studios, unfolds on screen, and know that all the hard work he put into them brought him into the limelight we see him in now. The films are not perfect by any means but they are clearly the result of one man’s hard work and joy for the medium regardless of the obstacles he had to overcome to create them. This a collection to pick up if you’re a film buff, Makoto fan, have a curiosity for anime production or all of the above.

Title: The Place Promised in Our Early Days / Voices of a Distant Star
Publisher: Anime Limited
Genre: Sci-fi, Mecha, Drama,
Studio: CoMix Wave Studios
Type: Movie
Original vintage: 2002
Format: Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack (Blu-Ray version reviewed)
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 12
Running time: 116 minutes

Score: 7/10

Gundam Reconguista in G Review

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“About time!” screamed Gundam fans when Gundam Reconguista in G was announced. Yoshiyuki Tomino, the man behind the original 1979 Mobile Suit Gundam series, was returning to write and direct a Gundam series for the first time since 1999’s Turn A Gundam. In a world where recent Gundam series had been either heavily kiddie-focussed (Gundam Build Fighters) or just plain bad (Gundam AGE), the return of “Kill ‘em all Tomino” as director was pre-emptively heralded as a revival of Gundam’s glory days. The fans hyped themselves up, eagerly anticipating new and interesting worlds, philosophical musings on war, and major characters getting suddenly killed off.

Then Gundam Reconguista in G finally arrived, and reaction was… mixed. Some claimed it was a masterpiece, labelling it Tomino’s most impressive work yet; others dismissed it as a confusing mess. After the series had finished airing, Tomino himself famously said of his work that “I’d only get 15 points out of 100… Frankly, I didn’t think it would be this horrible.” However, he did go on to imply, in his trademark way, that people today weren’t clever enough to fully appreciate it, and that he would be vindicated in 50 years’ time. Now that Gundam Reconguista in G, G-Reco for short, has reached British shores in the form of Anime Limited’s Limited Edition Blu-ray release, we must ask the question: is G-Reco the magnum opus of a genius, or the confused ramblings of a disgruntled OAP? The answer is somewhere in the middle…

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For decades the nations of Ameria and Gondwan have been at war, with the Capital Territory caught between the two as the owner of the Earth’s space elevator, Capital Tower, and ostensibly a neutral party. In this future world, certain technology is forbidden and humanity is forced to rely on Photon Batteries for energy, which are sent down to Earth via the Capital Tower by mysterious space entities. Ameria wants to reverse engineer these batteries so that the Earth may gain independence from relying on the space people, but the teachings of the Capital Territory’s religion forbids it. Ameria, Gondwan and the Capital Army are all drawn into an arms race as they break the taboo on producing space weaponry, using the threat from the other parties as justification. This draws the ire of the spacenoids who, it turns out, have been producing their own weaponry, and have their own plans for Earth’s future… Into this situation falls, quite literally, the G-Self, a mysterious mobile suit which seems poised to turn the tides of war in favour of whoever gets their hands on it. Bellri Zenam, a young recruit of the Capital Guard, manages to retrieve the G-Self from the pirates who first grabbed it, but takes a romantic interest in its beautiful pilot, Aida. When Aida escapes from the custody of the Capital Army, Bellri goes with her to the pirate ship Megafauna, and unwittingly gets dragged into a war which he cares little about.

While that may seem excessive as a plot summary, believe me, it’s barely scratching the surface of G-Reco’s story. That is, in fact, the series’ primary weakness: it attempts to cram far too much content into a 26-episode run, meaning that there is always a whole lot happening, but no time to explain it. As such, Tomino makes liberal use of the oft-ignored, particularly in anime, storytelling mantra of “show, don’t tell”. While many anime feel the need to explain every detail of the show’s history and setting through excessive exposition, G-Reco just drops the audience right in. It gets straight into the plot and then describes the world in pieces along the way, so there’s a lot of time spent wondering what the hell is going on: why are these people fighting; where do these spaceships come from; what’s this taboo thing; why does the Megafauna’s captain have a woman wearing a bikini painted on his chair? (Okay, the last of those may be slightly less integral to the plot).

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G-Reco is therefore difficult to follow, and this is the main gripe that people seem to have with it. Toshio Okada, co-founder of anime studio Gainax and now an ‘anime scholar’, said of the series, “Gundam Reconguista is really bad!… I watch a fair amount of anime, and I can’t figure out what’s going on. Ordinary people watch this and don’t know what’s happening, but Tomino thinks it has to be like this.”  I take issue with this view. While things do move at a breakneck pace, and it is sometimes necessary to make use of the rewind button to fully grasp the meaning of what’s just been said, with a little effort it does (mostly) make sense. Honestly, I found this understanding process to be part of the appeal – it made watching G-Reco more of an active experience, akin to, as silly as it sounds, reading a mystery novel and trying to work out the culprit. But all the effort I put into following G-Reco was more than paid off by the depth of the world on offer.

In fairness, it doesn’t help matters that every other word out of the characters’ mouths is one that Tomino has dreamt up: for example, when a character says, “Klim, I’ll position the Hecate behind the Salamandra and take on the Garanden,” you better have picked up the meanings of those four proper nouns or you won’t have a clue what’s going on. This is nothing new for Gundam, which thrives on its made-up names, but when there is so little exposition it makes these things more difficult to follow than usual.

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There are other symptoms of the story being rushed. One is that while characters’ motivations can be interpreted, they are rarely properly shown. In an early battle Bellri chooses to fight against the Capital Army on behalf of the pirates, despite himself being from Capital Territory. While we can infer from his single glance towards Aida that he’s probably doing it for her sake, we aren’t shown any of the inner turmoil that a character must presumably experience when betraying his friends and family in such a way. Rather than this being poor writing, I believe it’s simply that Tomino and co. didn’t have the running time spare to dwell on the emotional side, and needed to plough onwards with the battle. This isn’t a one-time thing; characters often become either allies or mortal enemies at the drop of a hat, and then flit back and forth between the two with little justification. Tomino has always been one for characters changing allegiances, but in the past he’s handled it better than he does here.

It is worth noting that the tone of G-Reco is mostly quite light-hearted, at least by Gundam standards. Despite engaging in many battles, it is rare that the characters feel as though they are in any real danger, and for the first half of the series it seems as if Tomino has outgrown his “Kill ‘em all” moniker somewhat. However, once the action moves to space and mobile suit pilots can no longer hop out of their cockpits once things go wrong, the death toll does increase quite drastically; even so, there is relatively time spent bemoaning the horrors of war, something which is typically a staple in Gundam.

Humour is more of a focus than any moral preaching, and G-Reco’s comedic edge really adds to the series. We are treated to some classic toilet humour when Bellri is forced to use the G-Self’s ‘facilities’ to go number 2, while awkwardly sharing the cockpit with three girls. Another highlight is when a ship’s captain is asked to pull up data on an attractive enemy commander, but inadvertently opens a load of her bikini pics alongside her battle statistics. Not all jokes are so bawdy; my favourite is the Amerian Lieutenant Klim Nick, who insists on calling himself “Genius” Klim. The rest of the cast consider him to be a bit of a hot-headed idiot, but make use of his nickname in a sardonic way – a subtlety that the genius himself never picks up on.

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The setting of G-Reco is no doubt an interesting one, with Earth being caught in a stand-off in which all parties both fear the mysterious spacenoids and their superior technology, and yet also want to use them to further their own schemes. A nice twist is that even within this new setting, much of the core of G-Reco is borrowed from the original Mobile Suit Gundam. It has a ragtag crew roaming around on a spaceship which relies mainly on a single mobile suit, it has cool mechs, a diverse cast of characters, and space politics. There is a more literal link to the old series, too: G-Reco is set around 1,000 years after the Universal Century era, meaning that while it technically takes place in the timeline of previous series, this has little material impact on the plot. It does allow for a few cool mobile suit cameos though, either as statues in museums or as ruins scattered around old battlefields.

Industry veteran Kenichi Yoshida, who previously worked with Tomino on Overman King Gainer, outdid himself with G-Reco’s unique and brightly coloured character designs. His achievement becomes even more impressive when one considers the size of the cast; the only downside of this large cast is that it sometimes feels like a waste that an interesting character can end up getting only two and a half minutes’ screentime before they explode in a fiery death.

It wouldn’t be a Gundam series without an adolescent mobile suit prodigy as the main character, and Bellri fills that role pretty well. He initially doesn’t take much interest in the world around him and tends to go with the flow, but he does eventually develop more of a personality and his own reasons to fight. We also have that other Gundam staple, the protagonist’s masked rival – this time named, hilariously, Captain Mask. Mask’s motivations are less amusing than his codename: he is from a race of people called Kuntala, a group that were once cannibalised during food shortages in ancient times, and are still racially discriminated against. Mask’s goal is to succeed in battle so that he may bring pride to Kuntala people, and change the rest of humanity’s perception of them – however, this noble motivation becomes corrupted as Mask fights, until he grows less concerned with improving the status of his own people than with tearing down those from more privileged backgrounds.

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There are a lot of appealing secondary characters – one of my favourites was Happa, the Megafauna’s disgruntled mobile suit engineer, who openly tells Bellri that he’s only working on improving the G-Self so that it will be able to better protect him. While most of the Megafauna’s crew are great, the other particularly notable character is the Megafauna’s attractive helmsman, the appropriately named Steer, who always seems to be in a terrible mood unless she’s piloting the ship into an exciting situation. It’s characters like this that make the world of G-Reco come alive – while fairly minor, their idiosyncrasies make it feel real, rather than just a means to telling a story.

This release contains Japanese audio with English subtitles only, as no English dub has been produced. Fortunately, the voice acting on offer here is superb. The brilliantly varied characters each have unique voices to match, and they are all so competently done that it is difficult to name any stand-outs. Takuya Satou is perhaps worthy of a special mention for his cool portrayal of Captain Mask, giving a performance which echoes all the strengths of Shuichi Ikeda’s famous Char Aznable, the original masked antagonist.

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A primary concern to anyone watching a Gundam series is the quality of the mecha designs, and G-Reco certainly delivers in this regard. While the main mobile suit this time around, Bellri’s G-Self, is rather run-of-the mill (aside from its eyes and antennae making it look like a giant mechanical bunny), the other suits can be great. The Capital Guard’s Recten and Recksnow have wonderfully retrofuture designs, with heads shaped like old computer monitors and adorably clunky frames. As we get introduced to more mobile suits, particularly those in space, we see more sleek and futuristic designs, with all sorts of ridiculous weaponry. The rate at which these get introduced can be a little overwhelming, but any serious mech-head will struggle to complain once they’re all in space shooting, slashing and smashing the crap out of one another.

Another great feature is the thought that has been put into the peripherals of mobile suit operation. G-Reco often shows pilots making toilet while in their mobile suits, a need which makes perfect sense but has typically been skimmed over in the past (just as Jack Bauer apparently never takes a dump), and we see mobile suit airbags activating as pilots get smashed around their cockpits. Toilets and air bags are hardly the most exciting of mecha innovations, but it all goes towards developing the world of G-Reco.

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G-Reco’s animation is one of its strongest attributes; it is consistently stunning in its fluidity, whether that be the expressive body language of the characters, or the wild battles of the mobile suits. While the space-based battles tend to be more exciting, Episode 10 sees one of the best Earth-based battles: it contains some awesome animation of mobile suits brawling, with the G-Self punching and kicking an enemy unit as pieces fly off it – interestingly, this episode was storyboarded and directed by Attack on Titan’s Tetsuro Araki, who is no stranger to intense fight scenes between giant entities.

The scenery all looks excellent, and in every shot there are tons of minor background details which add great depth to the setting. Characters can be talking in the mess hall of the Megafauna, and through the window in the background one can see the deck chief shouting at his men – it’s a small detail, but helps make the ship seem real and alive. Also of note is the series’ CG: G-Reco contains what is possibly the best blend of CG and 2D animation in any anime series I have seen. The CG is used sparingly, mostly for complex space equipment like Capital Tower and space colonies, and its sleekness highlights the detailed designs, without ever seeming at odds with the traditional animation alongside it.

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G-Reco’s music is by Yugo Kanno, and he provides a high quality orchestral score, well suiting the tone of a sweeping space opera with exciting battles. There’s an occasional issue with it being used poorly, though: some battle scenes use music that’s a little too cheery, which kind of kills the tension, and also seems inappropriate given that the pilots can (and do) die at any moment. Both of G-Reco’s openings are fairly bland J-Pop fare, but the ending theme, G no Senkou by Daisuke Hasegawa, is a pleasantly upbeat song which repeats the show’s title a bunch. It is well suited to the ending animation which displays all the characters, friend and foe alike, arm in arm doing the cancan – an odd choice, sure, but an amusing one that highlights G-Reco’s slightly brighter tone compared to previous Gundam series.

While it clearly has its flaws, for those viewers willing to put in the effort Gundam Reconguista in G delivers some great entertainment. Its mecha designs are weird and wonderful, its battles exciting (particularly once the action moves to space), and its massive cast are varied and largely likeable. Somewhere deep within the series there even lies a philosophical message: a message about moving forward as humanity despite historical divides, about not judging other peoples without first judging yourself, and about the dangers of relying on weapons to maintain peace. However, when most of one’s effort is taken up on simply trying to understand what’s going on with the story, it’s easy to see how these messages remain buried. Still, by the end of G-Reco­ it really does feel like you’ve been on a journey. And while that journey was confusing, and at times even nonsensical, it was bright, exciting, occasionally thought-provoking, and always a lot of fun.

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On-disc extras consist only of clean opening and ending sequences, and a promotional video. The release does come, however, in a very nice box, complete with art cards and a ‘Gundam Collection’ spine which will ensure it fits well on the shelf next to Anime Limited’s other Gundam releases.


 

 

Title: Gundam Reconguista in G
Publisher: Anime Limited
Genre: Action, Mecha
Studio: Sunrise
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2014
Format: Blu-Ray
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles
Age rating: PG
Running time: 650 minutes

Score: 8/10

Yurikuma Arashi Review

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“Always respect Mother Nature. Especially when she weighs 400 pounds and is guarding her baby.” – James Rollins

It rather rare to see a yuri anime released in the UK. I, for one, don’t recall ever reviewing one before so it makes for an interesting experience. It certainly becomes more interesting when a lesbian romance series features a surprisingly high number of murderous bears.

In Yurikuma Arashi (Lily Bear Storm) the world has undergone a dramatic change. A minor planet called Kumaria exploded and the resulting meteor storm showered the Earth. The result of this was that it made the bears on Earth intelligent, man-hunting killers, and thus bloody conflict between humans and bears took place. In the end, a giant barrier called the Wall of Severance was built to keep bears and humans apart. If a bear makes its way into the human side it is shot on sight.

It is possible for bears and humans to cross from one side to the other, but in order to do so they have to go on a Severance Trial before three male bears named Life Sexy (the judge), Life Cool (the prosecutor) and Life Beauty (the defence attorney). If one agrees to the terms they can cross, which normally means having to give up on the thing you hold most dear to you.

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On the human side of the Wall, at Arashigoku High School, schoolgirl Kureha Tsubaki is in love with classmate Sumika Izumino. She also has a deep hatred of bears, her mother having been eaten by one. One day her class gets two new students: Ginko Yurishiro and Lulu Yurigasaki, who are actually both bears in disguise – admittedly not very good disguises due their habit of constantly saying “growl” at the end of each sentence.

Soon things start to go wrong for Kureha and Sumika. First, the flowerbed at school which they have tended so lovingly is vandalised; then when they tell the class rep Mitsuko Yurizono they narrowly avoid being hit by a brick. Then, worst of all, the following day Sumika vanishes.  Kureha gets a mysterious phone call asking whether her love for Sumika is genuine, and tells her to go to the school roof to prove it. She does so, rifle in hand, where she finds Ginko and Lulu in (chibi) bear form. What follows next is a Severance Trial with Ginko and Lulu in the box, the result of which appears to be some form of dream sequence in which they transform into beargirls and lick nectar from a lily growing out of Kureha’s torso, and you can’t help be feel that the lily stamens are meant to represent a penis. While this is a yuri series, the target demographic is seinen.

Anyway, after this Kureha wakes up in the nurse’s office at the school. She wonders whether what she has experienced is a dream and goes outside. There, behind the flowerbed, she discovers two bears eating a girl. She then learns that Sumika has been declared dead, but she refuses to believe it. Thus she attempts to prove that Sumika is alive, while all the time the human forms of Ginko and Lulu keep pestering her. As the series progresses, we learn that there are several humans and bears keen on Kureha’s past and future. Some are in love with her, some want her dead, and some think she is evil. The result will ultimately change the relationship between the humans and the bears.

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There is an awful lot going on in these twelve episodes. For starters there is the romance. You have the relationship between Kureha and Sumika, then between Ginko and Lulu, then Kureha, Ginko and Lulu together, and then other characters become involved too. While there is a lot of nudity, it is never full frontal and don’t see anything untoward. There is hugging and romantic relationships, but anything more physical is normally just implied, like in the stamen-licking sequence.

Another recurring theme is that of prejudice. You obviously have the whole case of the bears and humans excluding one another, but in this series “exclude” can have many meanings, even going as far as murder and execution of those who stray outside of what are considered social norms. As the series progresses, we learn that Kureha is someone who is excluded by her classmates and frequently treated with disdain, and thus Sumika is treated similarly because of their relationship. Further on in the series, we see this exclusion has been dogging her for a long time, and ultimately the series is about the bears and the humans being able overcome the prejudices of human society with the power of love.

The artwork is probably the best thing about Yurikuma Arashi, partly because of the designs used, such as the chibi bears, but also because of the use of certain visual images to deliver messages to the viewer. A frequent one is that when one of the girls begins to form a new loving relationship with one of the others; it cuts to a shot of a white lily opening and someone singing the line: “the lily opens”. As you may have gathered, “lily” in Japanese is “yuri”, so it indicates the blossoming of lesbian love. However, when it is one of the bears who develops similar feelings, the shot is of a black lily and the line sung is: “The bear opens.”

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Regarding extras in this collection, you have some episode commentaries, promos, trailers, and the textless opening and closing. Personally, I thought that the end song, “Territory”, sung by the actresses who play Kureha, Ginko and Lulu, is better than the opening “Ano Mori de Matteru” by Bonjour Suzuki. However, concerning these releases and others ones recently made from Anime Limited, I have become annoyed by the way Funimation have affected them. Namely, when you load the disc you have to sit through adverts that you can’t skip through. They must also annoy Anime Limited in some way because some of the stuff advertised is content they don’t sell. For example, the second disc advertises Michiko & Hatchin, which in Britain is released by MVM rather than Anime Limited.

The anime itself however is an enjoyable watch with many elements going for it. What would be really interesting, however, would be a release of a yuri title that is actually aimed at women.

Title: Yurikuma Arashi
Publisher: Anime Limited
Genre: Fantasy, Magical Girl, Romance, Science Fiction, Yuri
Studio: Silver Link
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2015
Format: Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack (Blu-Ray version reviewed)
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 15
Running time: 300 minutes

Score: 8/10

Psycho-Pass The Movie Review

psycho-pass-the-movie-collectors3dDue to the huge success of the Sibyl System, a surveillance and biological monitoring system that gauges the likelihood that individuals will commit a crime before they do so, Japan has begun the process of exporting the technology in the hope that one day Sibyl will be in use all around the world. The first country to receive the system as a test bed is the war-torn state of the South East Asian Union (SEAUn) in the hope of restoring peace and stability to the town of Shambala Float. However, when a group of anti-Sibyl rebels arrive in Japan, the Ministry of Welfare’s Public Defence Bureau discovers evidence that former enforcer Shinya Kougami is working with guerillas. Inspector Akane Tsunemori is sent to SEAUn to bring him back.

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After the somewhat disappointing follow up to the original series in Psycho-Pass 2, original series creator and writer Gen Urobuchi (Madoka Magica, Fate/Zero) reteams with Production IG (Ghost in the Shell, FLCL, Eden of the East) to deliver a worthy successor to the first season.

Whilst I don’t think season two of Psycho-Pass is awful, probably the most disappointing thing about it was how it didn’t follow up on the cliffhanger ending of the original series. Given that the first season definitely teased a follow-up with the after credits scene of Kougami on a boat of some kind, you couldn’t help but feel that season two was jogging in place a little, a fact that certainly wasn’t helped by the fact it was lacking both the original studio and the original writer. However, with all the talent back on board this movie finally delivers on the promise of that cliffhanger, as this movie it completely centered on what happened to Kougami after the events of season 1. Psycho-Pass 2 isn’t completely ignored, with characters from the sequel making brief appearances at the beginning and end. However, this does feel like it was written as a direct follow up to the original, and I think you could probably go straight from season one to this film without missing anything, which only makes season two feel a little bit more illegitimate than it already did.

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The biggest difference between both previous series of Psycho-Pass and the movie is that the movie is no longer really a detective show. You won’t find any grand mystery to unravel here or any kind of serial killer terrorists; instead it feels more like a traditional sci-fi action anime, with a whole lot more action sequences than either of its predecessors, and honestly, I think this was a change for the best. Given that the original show was 22 episodes long it had a lot of time to set up and execute its mystery, and the 11-episode follow-up felt really rushed in its second half, if they did try and pull off a similar mystery story it would have felt even more rushed than even the second season, and more than likely would have turned out messy. With that in mind, I actually really quite like the plot, despite its more simplistic approach. The idea of Sibyl expanding globally to gain more control feels like a natural progression of the story from previous seasons and seeing how other countries would react to such a system being implemented is interesting.

psychopassmovie_1With the film having a more simplistic story you’d think this would allow for a bigger focus on the characters, so I can’t help but feel a little bit underwhelmed by that aspect. I’m not entirely sure what I was expecting, but the reunion between Akane and Kougami felt very underplayed, and somewhat disappointing considering that it was one of the biggest selling points of this movie, at least to me. In general, I felt that characters were lacking in growth or development, although given it’s a film and limited on time, I was kind of expecting that anyway, and I don’t think it really harmed my enjoyment. Something I would have liked to have seen, however, is more of the supporting cast. Given that Akane is shipped off to another country about 15 minutes in, the recurring cast of the other seasons are reduced down to cameo appearances, with only about 20 odd minutes of screentime between them. With Kougami back in the picture, it would have been nice to see how both the old cast from season 1 and the new cast from season 2 react to him.

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Along with the return of Urobuchi, it’s also great to see Production IG back at the helm of Psycho-Pass The Movie. Not that Tatsunoko did a bad job with season 2, but the quality of IG’s animation is undeniable, and whilst Tatsunoko replicated the visual identity of the first series, this film has a unique look of its own. Since the story takes place outside of Japan for the first time, we get to see the what a country not under the control of Sibyl looks like. This allows IG to mix the slick sci-fi visuals from previous entries with the more run down environment of a war-torn country, including a lot of scenes taking place in abandoned capital city, which is in stark contrast to Season 1.

Including both a 5.1 English audio track and a 5.1 Japanese audio track with English subtitles, both the English and Japanese cast return to reprise their roles from earlier seasons. As per usual for Funimation, the quality of the dub is excellent with not a bad voice actor among the bunch. Everyone delivers fantastic performances, with Kate Oxley (Darker Than Black, My Hero Academia, Fullmetal Alchemist) and Robert McCollum (Barakamon, Dragon Ball Z, Attack on Titan) taking center stage as Akane and Kougami respectively. The band Ling Tosite Sigure contribute their third opening song for the franchise, “Who What Who What”; probably the least memorable OP they’ve done out of the three but isn’t bad, and the first ending theme from Psycho Pass, “A Best Without a Name” comes back as the film’s credits song, which is a nice call back.

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As for extras, the limited edition release by Anime Limited includes a rigid box, digipak and artbook, as well as both a Blu-ray and DVD copy of the film. On-disc extras include trailers, ad spots and a commentary track from the dub cast.

In Summary

It isn’t quite as good as the original Psycho Pass, but it’s still a brilliantly entertaining film and a great return to form for the franchise, finally resolving the cliffhanger ending of season 1 and expanding the world in an interesting way.

Title: PSYCHO-PASS - The Movie
Publisher: Anime Limited
Genre: Action, Sci-fi, Military, Police
Studio: Production IG
Type: Movie
Original vintage: 2015
Format: Blu-Ray and DVD (Blu-Ray version reviewed)
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 15
Running time: 113 minutes

Score: 8/10

Review of Assassination Classroom: Season 1, Part 2

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Ian Wolf’s Review

“The fighting in academia is so vicious because the stakes are so low.” – Henry Kissinger.

The second half of the first series of this comic show about students trying to murder their monstrous, tentacled teacher Koro-Sensei, begins with an entirely different sort of battle.

The first episode deals more with Class 3-E’s struggles with the rest of Kunugigaoka High School, with the boys in the class taking part in a match against the school’s baseball team, which is actually meant to be an exercise in humiliating the bottom class. The class are able to turn things around, but still manage to ignite the sinister wrath of the school’s fiendish principle Gakuho Asano.

After this they face a much more violent anger when a new P.E. teacher, Akira Takaoka, comes in to replace their current teacher from the Japanese MoD, Tadaomi Karasuma, who uses extreme violence in order to try and make the class bend to his will. But of all people, the small, androgynous Nagisa Shiota is able to put him in his place. This is followed up by troublemaker Ryoma Terasaka taking some money to help with an outside assassination attempt after it is discovered that one of Koro-Sensei’s major weaknesses is that he can’t swim.

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What comes next is the start of the main story of this collection. The final exams are approaching and Koro-Sensei motivates the students by saying that any student that gets the best overall score and/or the best score in each subject, beating every other student in the year, will have the right to shoot off one of his tentacles in a forthcoming assassination attempt. This puts them in direct competition with the best class in the school, Class 3-A, which includes the principal’s son and the school’s top student Gakushu Asano. As a result another bet is placed: whichever class performs best can force the other class to do whatever they want. Class 3-E want to go to a luxury resort in Okinawa normally saved for Class 3-A; whereas Class 3-A want Class 3-E want them to obey a contact agreeing to a list of incredibly harsh demands, including not holding any secrets from them – such as the fact their teacher is a monster that destroyed most of the Moon. The aftermath leads to more assassination attempts and even the students of Class 3-E having their own lives threatened.

As with the earlier episodes, what makes these episodes great is the ensemble cast. We get to know more about some of the minor students in this collection. Among them are Hinano Kurahashi, a lover of nature and collector of insects; Taiga Okajima, the class pervert who tries to kill Koro-Sensei using a massive pile of porn; quiet kids Ryunosuke Chiba and Rinka Hayami, who are class’s expert snipers; Kotaro Takebayashi, an anime lover who is good with computers; and Yuzuki Fuwa, a girl with a passion for shonen manga. The more established characters also grow more. The disturbing top-level student Karma Akabane matures more after he suffers a personal setback, while Terasaka’s attempt at assassination sees him mature more and changes his attitudes toward Koro-Sensei.

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The other great appeal of Assassination Classroom is the situations the characters find themselves in. For example, a group from the class have to infiltrate a hotel in order to help the rest of the class who suddenly fall ill. During this sequence we see Akabane torturing someone using mustard, wasabi and ghost peppers, while Nagisa ends up having to gain access to a party by dressing up as a girl.

Aside from the poor opening theme, “Jiriki Hongan Revolution” performed by some of the show’s cast, there are no real negatives in this collection. The extras in this collection are episode commentaries, textless opening and closing, previews, trailers, and the “Top 10 Moments” from the series as chosen by the English dub cast.

The first series has been great, so let’s hope All the Anime bring the second series out quickly.

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Score: 9 / 10

Title: Assassination Classroom: Season 1, Part 2
Publisher: Anime Limited
Genre: Action, Comedy, Non-School, Science Fiction
Studio: Lerche
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2015
Format: Blu-Ray and DVD (Blu-Ray version reviewed)
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 15
Running time: 265 minutes

Score: 9/10

The Empire of Corpses Review

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Project Ito may seem like a studio name but it’s actually a synonym for Satoshi Ito, a Japanese science fiction writer who produced four novels before his passing in 2009. Most of his books have been translated and released in the UK, including his novelisation of Metal Gear Solid 4. In early 2015 it was announced that his three original novels would be made into anime films, each with their own animation studio and directors to bring the stories to life. Two of these films so far have been licensed for UK release: Harmony and The Empire of Corpses – not only was the latter’s original book released posthumously but it has not yet been released in English (however, a small sample can be read here.) Luckily each film is its own entity so they do not need to be watched sequentially.

Set in the late 19th Century; the great Victor Frankenstein’s technology to raise the dead has become common knowledge. Although the ability to bring back one’s soul has been lost, along with the location of his first creation, the ability to reanimate corpses has become the backbone of society the world over; enabling easily-controlled corpses to do work such as waitressing, carrying cargo to boats, and even serving as soldiers in wars. Dr John Watson is a growing expert in this technology and he has been scouted by the British Empire as an agent to locate Victor’s original notes; however, he’s not the only one searching for such information and many other parties are willing to do whatever it takes to get their hands on it.

To make it clear: the main character is John Watson from the Sherlock Holmes books, and besides Victor Frankenstein, there are also cameos from real-life adventurers, presidents and inventors from the same period (for example Fredrick Burnaby). There are characters from classic French and Russian literature such as The Future Eve and The Brothers Karamazov, and a lot more British icons that I won’t spoil. Basically it’s a buffet of characters that join in the worldwide journey to recover Victor’s notes and stop a ‘zombie apocalypse’ (not really, but it’s a similar situation). That premise in itself is crazy enough to be a comic book, or wacky fanfiction, but half the fun is seeing the characters in a new environment outside their norm and having the audience figuring out who’s who – because unless you’ve read the relevant British, American, Russian and French material to know all of the name-drops, you’re only going to get a few. If you have read them all, good on you! You’re in for a treat.

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Outside of the iconic names however, most of the characters are very different to their original counterparts to the point that many would question why they are even named the same at all. Fredrick Burnaby and the Frankenstein mythos are the closest to their originals; the former maintaining his adventuring spirit and battle prowess, the latter drawing the most heavily from its work in terms of story and mythology. The others have little to nothing in common, but for the majority of the time whilst the movie flows from one stunning location to another, and action scenes keep the pace going, it really doesn’t matter because the characters are interesting in their own right regardless of what material (or country, in terms of the real life people) they come from. John Watson, for instance, is still a doctor but not the post-war Veteran kind, and he doesn’t show any physical health issues until close to the end of the film. However, he maintains his astute senses and curiosity about the unknown. It’s also a breath of air for the character that he’s able to shine alone; John Watson and Sherlock Holmes often come as a package deal for several obvious reasons, but it’s a great idea to let the character stand on his own, allowing him to take charge for once rather than just being in Sherlock’s shadow. We don’t need more Sherlock and Watson stories when we’ve got tons already, but we could do with more Watson tales; especially this one.

Adapting a text-heavy source to a visual medium often has lots of complications and issues, and these do not start to become apparent until the second half of the movie. The opening scenes are very engaging and set the tone fantastically, explaining the alternative history that has unfolded. The worldwide journey from England, to India, to Russia, to Tokyo to America not only gives the animators opportunity to really stretch their skills but also creates an epic feel to the whole movie. However, two thirds of the way into the film the characters start to play a cat and mouse game, merely chasing the villain to catch up with him before he does untold damage. That equates to jumping back and forth to locations we’ve already visited, a lot of action scenes with characters breaking into monologues over the top of them, hastily-paced character development and exposition to keep the movie going. It’s clear that there was so much material and world building going on in the original novel that there was simply no room to fit it into a standard movie running time. Enough is explained here and there to grasp the themes, character motivations and understand mostly what’s going on but there are many unanswered questions left at the end. For example, why does Hadaly have the unique powers she exhibits in the second half? What was the full extent of Friday’s and John’s relationship? How did they meet and come to reanimate corpses together? Why did the US president Ulysses Grant want the notes for himself? It’s clear a lot was cut from the source material and some of it was squeezed in to explain plot threads, but a large chunk of it could have been saved if they had dropped the constant travelling back and forth in the latter half. Credit to the production crew for not just having the movie all set in Japan, but the locations for the big finale and the previous fight scenes leading up to it could have been set anywhere so leaving it in one place would have saved a lot of ‘travelling’ animation and unnecessary scenes.

Despite the grand finale battle being weighed down by a lot of exposition and unanswered questions, the heart of the story – Watson’s mission to save Friday – remains strong even after repeated watches. Friday never says a word but you can see how much Watson adored his friend even after he’s long gone; Watson’s constant calling after him, the way he looks at him like he expects his friend to suddenly jump back to life, and the tiniest moments from Friday that give Watson hope to go on are really touching, and make the final scene at the very end all the more potent and heartbreaking.

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Wit Studio (the animators behind Attack on Titan) handled the visuals for this film and it does not disappoint. Aside from the aforementioned welcome changes in locations outside of Japan to set the film, the characters are designed marvellously with the corpses’ dead-eyed look and fractured movements making them appear just human enough to be recognisable but creepy enough to make the viewer wary of them whilst they’re on screen – they’re not just zombies, they’re something more and seeing them moving around with other humans, mostly blending in, is a freaky world to consider living in. Also a big thumbs up to the excellent use of 3D animation for the group corpses that loiter around the film; a common complaint with 3D animation is that it often looks out of place or flat compared to the anime style, but here that works to its advantage. Take the opening scenes, where you have rows and rows of corpse soldiers for example; the 3D-animated corpses look odd to the eye, moving awkwardly and inhumanly, but that’s exactly what they are. It’s a genius move on the studio’s part. There is some use of 3D for the last battle, which goes from high science fiction into fantasy territory, but its implementation makes the finale look as glorious as the story builds it to be.

Yoshihiro Ike provides the music for the film, and, like the animators, he gets to work with elements from the various countries the characters visit to his advantage to create a sweeping score. The theme song ‘Door’ by EGOIST is a jazz-inspired slow number that fits very nicely with the heavy British backdrop and mood of the final scene. Speaking of British; applause goes to Funimation for giving the characters the appropriate accents from English to Russian that make them sound as diverse as they are in the story. Although the accents aren’t completely perfect and some actors struggle more than others (you can practically hear Jason Liebrecht’s mind working in overdrive to say the word ‘corpses’ in the English way) it’s great they’ve gone the extra mile for the film, rather than just having everyone speaking in an American accent.

On disc extras include movie trailers, promos for other anime properties including Tokyo Ghoul √A and Psycho Pass, and there’s also a Funimation short where four members of the English voice cast discuss the movie, its themes, the characters, and so on. It’s an enjoyable little watch but be sure to watch it after you’ve seen the film as it’s full of spoilers! The collector’s edition comes in a very nice steel case, complete with dual formats and an art book.

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To summarise it in more modern wording, The Empire of Corpses can be described as a ‘hot mess’; it’s very fast paced with too much location jumping, leading to abrupt character development and world building that looks amazing but isn’t explained fully in the context of the story. The name-dropping of real and fictional characters is often no more than that. However, that doesn’t mean the film isn’t a blast to watch; a thrilling, wacky ride bursting with passion and imagination with lots of lovely Easter Eggs to get whilst watching or discover afterwards. If the idea of British, French, American, Russian characters coming together in one big corpse-slaying army interests you, then check it out.

One last note; stay through the credits for an added bonus scene that includes many more glorious cameos which will either have you squealing in joy or scratching your head in confusion. But it’s worth the watch either way.

Title: The Empire of Corpses
Publisher: Anime Limited
Genre: Horror, Action, Sci-Fi
Studio: Wit Studio
Type: Movie
Original vintage: 2015
Format: Blu-Ray and DVD (Blu-Ray version reviewed)
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 15
Running time: 120 minutes

Score: 7/10

Immortal Hounds Volume 1

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In an alternate reality Earth, humans cannot be killed. Even if they are shot in head or stabbed in the heart, they will instantly revive in perfect health. However, a disease is spreading, RDS, or  Resurrection Deficiency Syndrome, that prevents humans from coming back when killed. After his sister dies as a result of RDS, Kenzaki Shinichi is put in charge of the Anti-Vector Task Force, a special group of investigators who hunt Vectors, humans who carry the fatal disease. Opposing the task force is a mysterious organisation who protect the Vectors at all costs, with people known as Escape Artists rescuing and protecting the Vectors. Despite this, Kenzaki is determined to put a stop to RDS once and for all and discover the secrets behind the shadowy organisation that opposes his team.  

If you’re looking for a manga series with buckets of blood and gore, you can’t go wrong with Ryo Yasohachi’s seinen action splatterfest Immortal Hounds. The idea behind Immortal Hounds – that everyone can instantly come back to life in an instant – is genuinely quite genius for a manga all about trying to be as violent and gory as possible, and it takes great advantage of its concept. Kenzaki and his team of investigators are killed and mutilated in a bunch of different and increasingly violent ways throughout the first volume and the sheer amount and intensity of the action here is incredibly over-the-top and very enjoyable, if you can stomach that kind of thing.

Whilst Immortal Hounds’ insane violence is certainly the element of this first volume that I enjoyed the most, the story is more than just an excuse for mindless violence and is an intriguing start to a larger story. The premise alone was engaging enough to keep me invested but these initial chapters set up plenty of plot threads that left me wanting to know what happens next. Despite the story being quite straight-faced and taking itself pretty seriously, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the comedic in-universe public service announcements that pop up in-between some of the chapters. Not only are these shorts darkly hilarious, poking fun at real life PSAs, they also help to flesh out the universe by having the characters explain how RDS works and how people with the disease are treated. This makes the universe feel much more believable whilst also delivering some surprisingly good laughs.

When it comes to the characters, there isn’t really much to talk about, at least in this first volume. We do find out a little bit about Kenzaki and Rin, but there isn’t really a whole lot to them at the moment, although the ending of Volume One certainly leaves them in a good place for future development.  

Considering artist and author Ryo Yasohachi has never done an action manga before, with his only other notable work being the sci-fi/romance Uwagaki, Immortal Hounds is actually quite the impressive looking manga. It’s nothing particularly unique, but the action and gore look great. If I did have one complaint, it’s that I found it occasionally hard to follow in the more hectic scenes, but it was never really a huge issue.

In Summary

With delightful amounts of over-the-top gore and violence and an interesting premise, the first volume of Immortal Hounds provides a promising start to what could be a great splatter series.

Title: Immortal Hounds Volume 1
Publisher: Vertical Comics
Genre: Action, Seinen, Supernatural
Author(s): Ryo Yasohachi
Type: Manga
Original vintage: 2013
Format: Book
Age rating: 16+
Length: 204 pages

Score: 7/10

Queen Emeraldas – Volume 1

Queen Emeraldas Cover

Leiji Matsumoto is one of those names that you hear all the time when you start getting into anime and manga, often in sentences that start with “classic authors like…” His most famous works include Space Battleship Yamato, Galaxy Express 999 and Space Pirate Captain Harlock, and Queen Emeraldas is certainly a lot closer to the latter than the others, though they obviously all share similarities in terms of setting. Emeraldas herself is a Space Pirate (and a Captain, I guess, as she has no crew…) and is in the same universe as Harlock, confirmed by various characters talking about the character.

The stories in this pleasingly hefty and well-crafted book (more on that later!) can be broken down into two categories: stories centred around Hiroshi Umino, a kid who wants nothing more than to travel the stars in a ship he’s built himself, and stories centred around Emeraldas, which is normally her arriving just before or after Umino and gently helping him achieve his goals, as they were goals she had at that age too.

The Umino stories are the heart of the piece, though they are often quite harsh. More often than not, the unpleasant adult types try to kill him for one reason or another, leading to the poor boy having to kill his fair share of people to achieve his goals. It doesn’t seem to bother him too much, and he often justifies these actions by saying he was upholding the “laws of space”. He does meet a few friendly people, though they frequently encounter rather unpleasant fates themselves. Umino is quite hard to like after a while. First you’re happy to see a boy with a presumably unpleasant upbringing chasing his dreams against all odds, but after a while you want him to stop being so cold and stoic and be a bit more… child-like. It probably doesn’t help that Emeraldas is also cold and stoic, so I guess I was expecting a more contrast to the two story types, even if she is following him around because he reminds her of herself.

Having said that, the Emeraldas stories are a bit more varied. Sometimes she just arrives in classic “bad-ass” cloaked fashion, everyone makes fun of her, finds out who she is, regrets their decision and then gets killed in either a fair duel or as they’re running away. There is a story about her background and how she met her faithful ship, the Queen Emeraldas (it has the same name as her, coincidentally… or perhaps not so coincidentally? We don’t know yet) which includes an interesting planet full of huge cities that has been completely abandoned by its natives and is now in the control of a small band of colonists. They refuse to share any of their now ample resources with anyone, despite having literally entire cities that are empty. It’s wandering the deserts of this near-empty world that has her come across the ship and its mysterious owner (who, it seems, gives the ship to Emeraldas as she reminds her of herself…).

The art is an interesting one. Emeraldas and a few soldier types are drawn very realistically, very thin with properly defined features, whereas the kids and some of the more regular people (doctors, mechanics et al) are drawn in a very cartoony style, full of big noses and hair that completely covers characters eyes. It reminded me of the original Gundam series, where the children and a few character looked cartoony, and the rest presented as regular looking people. I assume this isn’t a coincidence and that Gundam was simply using a style that was popular at the time, probably due to Leiji Matsumoto’s earlier work.

The last two stories in the book have never been reprinted before and actually had the original manuscripts lost (they were scanned from the magazine they appeared in), so although they didn’t feel any different to the other stories in this volume, it’s always nice to hear of more material being collected and released rather than being left to fade away. The book itself is of very high quality, hardback with top quality glossy pages. A lot of love and care has gone into this release.

So, overall, do I recommend you pick up Queen Emeraldas Vol. 1? Well, if you’re a fan of sci-fi, particularly more pulpy, 60s sci-fi, then there is a lot to enjoy here, likewise if you’re a fan of vintage manga or Leiji himself (though I imagine if you are, you don’t need to be convinced to buy this!) Otherwise some of the story points do start to wear a bit thin over the 400 odd pages, the amount of times someone dies due to the “harsh laws of space” was starting to grate a bit, and Umino’s custom ship crashing was a bit overused to get the story to a new location. Still though, there are a lot of fun sci-fi ideas, some great art and all collected in a very lovely hardback book. If you’re on the fence, I definitely give this book a high recommendation.

 

Title: Queen Emeraldas - Volume 1
Publisher: Kodansha Comics
Genre: Space Opera
Author(s): Leiji Matsumoto
Type: Manga
Original vintage: 1978
Format: Book
Age rating: 16+
Length: 415 pages

Score: 8/10