Naruto Shippuden Box Set 26

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Naruto Shippuden continues onwards with the 26th two disc “box”, this time containing Episodes 323 to 335. In the last set I complained (in a completely unsurprised way) that it was mostly filler, and uninteresting filler at that. Well, I’m happy to report that this set is the opposite. It’s non-stop manga adaptation episodes, with only a few flashbacks and little filler moments here and there.

To very quickly recap (as I have so many times!) the world of Naruto is in the midst of the Fourth Great Ninja War, fought between the Allied Shinobi and two rogue ninja and their army of immortal undead. This chunk of the story arc, a story arc I might add that is only just now coming to an end in Japan with episodes in the 470s, can be split into three separate storylines. The most important one focuses on Naruto and his allies Killer B, Kakashi and Guy, who fight the man in the mask we were all told was Madara, but found out at the end of the last set that wasn’t the case. The masked man, who I’ll call by his old name of Tobi for the sake of this review (his actual identity won’t come until the next set, sorry!) soon unleashes reanimated versions of the past Jincuriki, people who had tailed beasts trapped within them just like Naruto and Killer B had. This leads to a large-scale tailed beast battle that finally, and I mean finally, see Naruto and the Nine-Tails come to understand each other.

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Elsewhere on the battlefield, Sasuke is on the hunt for Kabuto, the man who is reanimating all these past ninja, though for his own goals rather than to save everyone. On the path to finding him he comes across the reanimated Itachi, his big brother that he once swore revenge on for killing his entire clan, only to find out, after killing him, that he wasn’t so bad… or at least he had sort of good reasons for doing it? Well, anyway, they have no time to chat as they soon have to deal with Kabuto, who has absorbed a great deal of Orochimaru’s power. As this set closes out we start to finally see Kabuto’s backstory, after being a bit of a mystery since back in the original Naruto days.

Finally, the five great leaders of the hidden Ninja villages (known as Kage), team up to take on the real Madara, who, of course apart from being extremely powerful and skilled, is now immortal due to the whole reanimation thing. This fight has plenty of crazy, high-level ninja techniques on display, but has slightly less impact on the story as a whole compared to the other two plots.

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“Niwaka Ame ni mo Makezu” by NICO Touches the Walls is once again your opening up to Episode 332, where it switches to “Tsuki no Okisa” by Nogizaka46 (who personally I find much better than Nogizakas 1 through 45). “Yume o Idaite ~Hajimari no Crissroads~” by Rake continues to close out the episodes until likewise ending its run in Episode 332, where it switches to “Black Night Town” by Akihisa Kondo. As per usual, the extras are trailers, clean openings and endings.

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When I say Naruto, a lot of people will roll their eyes, and I completely understand that this show does go through (often very long) periods of dull, repetitive filler that mostly involves Naruto being a really nice guy. If someone asks me why I like the show, I’d gladly point them in the direction of this “box set”. Well paced, full of great fight scenes and some story threads that date back to the start of the original series get addressed and closed. It’s these sets of episodes that make me wish there was a “Kai” version of Naruto with all the filler removed, as sometimes Masashi Kishimoto can tell a good story and the anime team can show a good fight. This set is Naruto at its finest.

Title: Naruto Shippuden Box Set 26
Publisher: Manga Entertainment
Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy
Studio: Pierrot
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2007
Format: DVD
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 12
Running time: 295 minutes

Score: 9/10

Haikyu!! Volume 3

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This is the third month in a row that I’ve gotten to review the
Haikyu!! manga for the site and I’m still loving every second! Volume 3 features some notable changes to the Karasuno team but these are for the better. With the third season of the anime due to begin at the start of October this is the perfect time for some volleyball fun and I’m happy to say that the Haikyu!! manga hasn’t disappointed me yet!

Volume 3 kicks things off by introducing a new character, Yu Nishinoya, who is a second year student at Karasuno High. Usually Nishinoya plays the role of libero in the volleyball team but he’s been absent due to being suspended from school for a week (which explains why we haven’t met him yet). Nishinoya is short, which gives him a lot of movability for the role he plays and leads to great joy for Hinata when he discovers he’s an inch taller! Having Nishinoya back surely means great things for the Karasuno team, but the situation isn’t quite that simple. Karasino’s libero declares that he won’t be rejoining the club if the team’s ace won’t return too!

The ace is a position held by Asahi Azumane (another new character being introduced this volume), who left the team after an extremely difficult match that Karasuno faced before Hinata and the other first years joined. The job of the ace is to break through the opposing team’s wall of blockers and score points wherever possible, but during the match in question every move Asahi made was completely shot down. Ultimately Karasuno lost the match, which Asahi feels is all his fault rather than that of the whole team and leads him to believe that the team would be better off without him.

While Nishinoya is stubborn and refuses to officially rejoin the team, he does practise alongside Hinata, who regards him as a ‘senpai’. When Hinata and Kageyama learn about the situation with Asahi they go to introduce themselves and try to convince him to rejoin the team, which eventually leads to a passionate speech from Hinata that triggers something in Asahi’s heart. Will it be enough to bring him back to the team?

This volume also introduces a potential coach for the team in the form of Keishin Ukai, who used to play for the Karasuno team while he attended the school. He’s also the grandson of the previous coach Ukai, who was famous for his brutal practises but produced a brilliant team in his time. At first Keishin isn’t interested in the role and flat-out refuses each time club advisor Takeda asks him to consider the job. However, after hearing that Karasuno will be holding a practise game with the previous coach’s old rivals, Nekoma High, he finally gives in and agrees to take a look at the team.

While this volume is packed full of new character introductions, it still finds time for some volleyball as well as more development for Hinata. After learning about the responsibilities and fame associated with being an ace, Hinata begins wishing he could be an ace as he reckons that his current role, a decoy, is extremely boring. Some harsh yet encouraging words from Kageyama hit home and convince him that, despite not having the flashiest title, he can be the very best (like no one ever was) when paired with Kageyama.

I think it’s safe to say that Haikyu!! is still a very strong shonen series. The characters introduced in this volume are all genuinely likable and have their own story to tell, as well as a reason to be on the Karasuno team. Placing the focus on Nishinoya, Asahi, and Hinata does mean that we don’t see much of the other cast, and Tanaka is notably absent for most of the volume except for the odd panel, but what’s important is that I wasn’t left feeling like it mattered. A story about a sports team is always going to have noticeable absences; it’s just common sense that a weekly series won’t feature the entire cast all of the time. However, the characters in Haikyu!! are all so interesting that even if we lose some of them for a volume, I’m just as happy with those being focused on, and mangaka Haruichi Furudate has a knack for making everything just work.

On the whole this is yet another volume that has been beautifully handled where artwork is concerned. The characters’ eyes especially are very captivating, which is interesting because the way Furudate draws eyes is very simple: they’re just ovals with pupils, highlights, and pencil lines from side to side. Furudate is so skilled at conveying such deep and powerful emotion from these simple designs that it’s breathtaking, and I really admire how much skill this must take to pull off. In the back of the volume there is a four-paged short story that is drawn completely in pencil sketches rather than being inked over, and I have to say that even for a rough extra it looks wonderful.

Character designs for this volume are also very nice because while Nishinoya, with his blond streak and very pointy hair, looks like he belongs in a shonen manga, we also have Asahi, who is more of the gentle giant of the series. While his design doesn’t exactly stand out, he’s still rather unique in appearance. There are a couple of off-model shots when characters are in the background of smaller panels, but considering the fact that this is a weekly series in Japan it’s not too unusual and I certainly wasn’t bothered by it.

Overall Haikyu!! continues to be a fantastic read and with the third season of the anime on the horizon it’s a nice way of keeping my excitement for the series intact. I don’t think I’ll ever fall out of love with Haikyu!!, but these monthly releases are making sure I definitely won’t.

Title: Haikyu!!
Publisher: Viz Media
Genre: Comedy, Drama, School, Shonen
Author(s): Haruichi Furudate
Type: Manga
Original vintage: 2012
Format: Book (digital edition available)
Age rating: Teen
Length: 192 pages

Score: 8/10

Bleach – Volume 67

Bleach 67

 “Black”

As the announcement of Bleach’s final chapter still rings across the manga and anime-related internet, Volume 67 is released here in the UK, still several volumes away from the announced end.

The battle between the Shinigami (or Soul Reapers) and the Quincy Wandenreich continues on, though now the focus is entirely on the fight between the Elite Sternritter group, the Quincy leader Yhwach and the Royal Guard, a.k.a. Squad Zero. After a brief battle between Sternritter D: “The Deathdealing” Askin Nakk Le Vaar (wouldn’t be one of these reviews without a weird name!) and Squad Zero member Oetsu Nimaiya. It’s your classic Kubo-written fight, Nakk Le Vaar describes his convenient and long-winded power to his stricken foe before the tables are turned via an equally convenient but not as hard to describe power. This is actually one of my favourite things about Bleach, most of the powers wielded by the characters aren’t just your plain fire and ice powers.

In the previous chapter I talked about characters who have been hyped up being defeated off-panel; well, in order to revitalise his Elite guard, Yhwach kills a bunch of them, without us finding out their powers or anything. Again, very annoying. The revived Elite cause major trouble for Squad Zero, leading to Yhwach confronting the cover man of this Volume and Captain of Squad Zero: Ichibe Hyosube.

Of the ten chapters in this volume, the fight between Ichibe and Yhwach takes up a good seven of them, which is good as I was beginning to worry for the pace of this story arc. Squad Zero may have, for the most part, failed to live up to all their hype, but I’m happy to confirm that Ichibe, the strongest of them, more than lives up to it. He’s playful and nice, and also terrifying at times, and has a very unique skill set based around the power names have on things. I mentioned enjoying the battles in Bleach where there is a back-and-forth of crazy powers out-trumping each other; they’re unique and fun, and this fight supplies that in spades. I’ll leave it at that and let you find out and enjoy the craziness.

The final chapter ends on a big cliffhanger, leaving you with hope that the story will enter a new phase now that some of the lesser characters have been cut (as annoying at the way that was achieved is…)

I’ve had reservations about how this final arc has shaped up, with some questionable and rushed actions, and although there are some traces of that within this volume, the majority of it is just one large, over-the-top and crazy fight between two fresh and powerful characters. The art is once again great, both the characters and the depiction of movement during the fight scenes.

This arc may well be the weakest of an admittedly great set of storylines in the manga, but this volume on its own merits is one of the strongest volumes in the series, and certainly worthy of your attention.

Score 9/10

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: VIZ Media LLC

 

Naruto Shippuden Box Set 25 Review

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The ever popular Naruto series continues its UK release with Box Set 25 of Naruto Shippuden, containing episodes 310 – 322. Unfortunately, though not surprisingly, most of this set contains filler episodes, with only the final two episodes of the set adapting Masashi Kishimoto’s original manga.

For a quick recap, everyone is deep in the Fourth Shinobi World War pitting the allied forces against the masked Madara and Kabuto, who has used his powers to resurrect a whole bunch of dead ninjas from the past, both recent and long deceased, who have no choice but to fight for him. Episodes 310 to 320 spin several tales to do with this concept, some of which lead to entertaining fights involving characters who were, for one reason or another, barely featured in the manga version of the story arc, including moments for the once popular bowl-haired Rock Lee and bug user Shino. Where as some just go down the old sentimental route, complete with Nartuo being the loving kind voice of reason again, and involving the childhood versions of the main cast for the hell of it.

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The final two episodes are rather important, however. At the end of Episode 321, Madara Uchiha, long-talked-about villain from the past that we thought was the man under the mask, is resurrected. This not only leads to some interesting questions, but also leads to a rather well animated and really enjoyable fight scene where Madara gets to flex his muscles and takes on a large squad of allied forces ninja by himself and defeats them using only hand-to-hand combat (or taijutsu, to use the in-universe term). It’s a really entertaining scene that not only gets across that this man is every bit the person he’d been hyped up to be, but also because it’s so fluidly animated. Plus there is another surprise in store right at the end of the last episode…

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“Niwaka Ame ni mo Makezu” by NICO Touches the Walls continues to be your opening for this set, whereas “I Can Hear” by DISH// is your ending theme up to Episode 319, when it switches to “Yume o Idaite ~Hajimari no Crissroads~” by Rake. As per usual the extras are the clean opening and ending, and some trailers.

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So, Naruto Shippuden Box Set 25 then. It’s hard to recommend this one, given 90% of it is filler that has no consequence on the story as a whole… or even the story in the next episode a lot of the time. That being said, if you skip it you are going to miss a rather large, plot-significant event and one of the better animated episodes in a long time. I mean, some of the filler is fine, it fills some time but at least it does so with new fights for underused characters, but others are a real slog to get through. Best to wait for the price to drop, but if you’re enjoying the key plot then you’ll want this in your collection eventually.

Rating: 5/10.

Age Certificate: 12

Run Time: 293 minutes

  • Studio: Manga Entertainment

Platinum End Chapter 9 Review

Platinum End

Ian Wolf’s review

Platinum End © 2015 by Tsugumi Ohba, Takeshi Obata. SHUEISHA Inc.

“There’s an ‘A’ bomb in Wardour Street. They’ve called in the army, they’ve called in the police too.” – The Jam

The ninth chapter of Platinum End sees hero Mirai continue to worry about whether or not he should attempt to kill someone.

It begins with serial killer Misurin, under the influence of Metropoliman’s red arrow, dumping her latest victim on the top of a large tower. She attracts the attention of the media and the local police, but she is able to deal with them with her own red arrows. Nanato and Mirai finally decide it is time to act and stop them.

In order to do this, Nanato has used his background working for an apparel company to get both himself and Mirai outfits to do the job. Nanato has a gigantic suit that was designed for the defence force, while Mirai has a rather fashionable suit that was designed to be used in motorsports, complete with a facemask with which to disguise himself. They then fly off to the tower with Mirai still unsure about using his lethal white arrows to kill Metropoliman, secretly preferring to use his red arrows instead. When they get to the tower, Nanato confronts Misurin, but she has something prepared for him: a bomb.

This chapter appears to be mainly setup for what appears to be a big battle between Mirai and Metropoliman. There is plenty of action, but this is just the build-up for something much bigger.

Therefore it seems that the main reveal for this chapter is the new costume that Mirai is given. His all-in-one suit made out of a special material, complete with hood and mask, gives Mirai a kind of cyberpunk look to him.

Score: 7 / 10

Title: Platinum End
Original vintage: 2015
Mangaka: Tsugumi Ohba (story) Takeshi Obata (art)
Published by: Viz Media
Genre: Action, Death Game, Drama, Fantasy, Supernatural
Age rating: 18+
Length (page count): 68

Ping Pong: The Animation Review

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“Table tennis is like an atom. To the ignorant it is merely microscopic and insignificant in existence, but to the dedicated, it is intricate in design and the building block to everything we know.” – Matt Hetherington

The Rio Olympics is just around the corner, while Tokyo is hosting the games in 2020. Sport is thus on many people’s minds so it seems the right time for Anime Limited to release Ping Pong.

Now, as we all know, sports anime these days to tend to attract a certain fan base – namely fujoshi who will try to make the series gay. This is a lot harder to do with Ping Pong, partly because the series has actually been around a lot long than you might expect, way before this fad. Although the anime came out in 2014, the original manga was released in the mid-1990s and there was a live action film released in 2002. Thus, it came out before the “fujoshi sports” series we now know were created. However, even with the challenging artwork, as you watch there is the odd moment where things do turn in that direction.

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Ping Pong follows two students who became childhood friends after bonding over table tennis, but both have distinctive personalities. One is Makoto Tsukimoto, who is ironically nicknamed Smile because he seems emotionless. As a child he was often bullied and called a robot because of this. His friend is Yutaka Hoshino, nicknamed Peco, who is loud, joyful and something of a glutton. Together they play for the same school club.

The boys then learn that a nearby school has brought in a Chinese player named Kong Wenge, a transfer student booted from the national team and desperate to return. Smile and Peco visit his school and meet him, where Kong plays and thrashes Peco to love, giving Peco’s confidence a knock. Meanwhile back at the club, the coach Jo Koizumi sees that Smile has great talent but lacks the drive to win. Thus Koizumi begins to train Smile personally.

They then take part in a major tournament, alongside Wong and the members of the elite Kaio school. These include Ryuichi “Dragon” Kazama, the greatest player around, and Manabu “Demon” Akuma, a childhood rival of Peco’s. In the tournament things begin to flesh out: Smile loses to Wong, but Smile’s potential as a robotic, ping pong winning machine is visible to Koizumi. Peco’s defeat to Akuma is so shocking to him that he loses interest in the sport and starts to slack off.

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As the story continues, we witness Smile’s training becoming more intense, slowly becoming seemingly unstoppable to those around him. Meanwhile Peco undergoes a great decline, one that almost kills him, before trying to redeem himself by attempting to train again at the possible cost of his health.

Let’s start by looking at the most obvious way this show stands out from the crowd: the artwork. If you are coming into this series expecting to see the usual pretty bishonen boys, you can forget it. Ping Pong’s animation is a lot rougher, harsher, manlier and aggressive. There are no cute curves, but instead it features sketchy lines. The ping pong balls are not drawn as perfect circles, but are either rather roughly drawn, bit-by-bit, or are computer-animated as perfect spheres. When you compare it to not just other sports anime but anime in general, it stands out. The animation looks a lot more expressive. It looks as if it has been done by someone who is saying to themselves: “It doesn’t need to look pretty – you just need passion.” We all like animation that looks neat, but something different is needed to stir things up a bit.

There is also evidence of this in the opening and closing sequences. The opening titles, which feature the loud, rocky “Tada Hitori” by Bakudan Johnny, features a range of animation styles in it. Some look relatively normal, but others look like they have been done in pencil. The end sequence, featuring the calmer music of Merengue’s “Bokura ni Tsuite”, features more pastel colours.

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If you are someone who is into the more fujoshi side of things though, there are some moments that still might attract you. There are little elements that still might suggest, even though there was no clear market at the time of its original creation, a slight whiff of the homoerotic. For starters, there are very few women in the series. The main female characters are the elderly Obaba, who runs the table tennis dojo where Peco first played Smile and who later trains Peco after his decline; and Yurie, who is in a troublesome relationship with Kazama. Also, there is an episode on Valentine’s Day where Smile is out doing his normal training, when Koizumi jokingly says that Smile should be his Valentine’s Day date. OK, the age gap is way too big so it feels totally dodgy, but there is a little bit of something there.

This collection has plenty of extras: two episode commentaries, episode previews, various Japanese and American trailers, textless opening and closing, TV shorts and promotional videos are included.

Ping Pong is a series that stands out from the crowd. It certainly deserves to be watched simply because it does something different.

Score: 9 / 10

  • Title: Ping Pong
  • UK Publisher: Anime Limited
  • Genre: Coming-of-age, Shonen, Sport
  • Studio: Tatsunoko Production
  • Type: TV series
  • Year: 2014
  • Running time: 275 minutes