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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

Score: 9/10

Streaming review of Yuri!!! On Ice, Episodes 1-8 (Crunchyroll)

yuri-on-ice-1

“Galocher – to kiss with tongues.”
“La galoche – an ice-skating boot.”
– Definitions from Petit Robert, France’s most popular dictionary.

It seems that in France ice skating and kissing go hand-in-hand (I know neither of those definitions involves hands, but it feels weird referring to it as “foot-in-mouth” because you keep accidentally thinking of “foot-and-mouth” which is a very different area), so perhaps many a French fujoshi and fudanshi may have been watching in awe last week when they (kind of) got what they finally wanted – a sports anime where the central characters were both gay and in a relationship, as indicated by what has probably become the most talked about scene in anime this year. But to reference another gay icon, Kenny Everett: “I’m giving away the plot! Go and see it – it’s all done in the best possible taste!” Let’s stick to the chronology before we get to the big moment.

The “Yuri” in the title is a bit confusing. Firstly, it is not “Yuri” as in “lesbian manga”, this is guys we are talking about – and it’s guys in the plural as there are two Yuris. The first is 23-year-old Japanese figure skater Yuri Katsuki (who for the purposes of this review we shall refer to as Yuri K.), who is pretty talented in his sport but recently has been in a slump. He doesn’t cope well under pressure and as a result has slipped down the rankings. The other Yuri is a Russian figure skater named Yuri Plisetsky (later referred to as Yurio), a 15-year-old with natural talent and a punk-like attitude. This is made clear at the end of one tournament when Yurio finds Yuri K. hiding in the gents, upset, and tells Yuri K. to quit the sport.

Yuri K. does unofficially leave figure skating, distancing himself from his coach and returning to his hometown where his family run an onsen. During this time, Yuri K.’s hero, 27-year-old Victor Nikiforov of Russia, wins his fifth consecutive Grand Prix Final. Yuri K. decides to visit his local skating rink, where he performs Victor’s winning routine in front of the rink’s owners (and his childhood friends) the Nishigori family. His performance is perfect, but there is one problem: the triplet children of the Nishigori family record Yuri K.’s performance, then post it online, and the whole thing goes viral.

yuri-on-ice-2

The fallout from this is pretty dramatic. While Yuri K. tries to relax in the family springs, he gets an unexpected visitor – Victor Nikiforov – who saw the clip and was so impressed that he demands to be Yuri K.’s new coach. As a result Victor moves in and makes the shock announcement that he is having an ‘off’ season. When the press track Victor down, Yurio then arrives on the scene and tries to take Victor back to Russia, because Victor has promised him that he would coach him for his senior debut. To sort out the problem, a contest is held at the rink and whoever does the best out of the two will be coached by Victor. Yuri K. wins with a routine based on the theme of “Eros”, and thus Victor does become Yuri K.’s coach, with both Yuris promising that they will win the next Grand Prix.

Thus Yuri K. and Victor begin their competition, facing off against fellow Japanese competitors and challengers from overseas. After qualifying to represent Japan in the Grand Prix, their first assignment is in China where Yuri K. is able to perform under huge pressure. Despite his nerves, he is able to skate wonderfully, to the delight of the crowd and Victor especially, which leads to the big scene referred to earlier, which occurs at the end of the seventh episode. After the end of his routine, Victor and Yuri K. rush to each other, arms open wide, and as a close-up indicates, with their lips very close together. However, just before you see anything, Victor’s arm blocks the sight of it, although the reactions of just about everyone watching the event in the stadium and at home seem to indicate that what actually happened was that these two guys kissed – and as if that is not enough, the next assignment will see the duo in Russia taking on Yurio.

Obviously the main talking point of Yuri!!! On Ice has been the kiss scene, but before we talk about this, let’s look at the ups and downs of the show so far. Dealing with the negative points to begin with – first, there is annoyingly little explanation of how figure skating works. One of the problems with sports anime is that it often covers sports that many people don’t know the rules to, and thus they have to explain what certain things are: this is down in Haikyu!! and more recently All Out!!, but Yuri!!! On Ice (which at least does come top in the list of the sports anime that overuse exclamation marks) don’t explain what all the fancy jumps are, which for me has always been one of the major put-offs of any of these sports in real-life. It would be nice if the show explained the scoring system or told you what a “Salchow” is – for anyone wondering, it’s a jump where you start off from the back inside edge off one foot.

Another issue comes from the fact that much of the time rather than getting on with the plot, you are seeing all the other competitors doing their routines, which again is a problem given the lack of explanation in some of the terminology. All you can really judge the characters by is their passion as explained in their internal monologue, and whether or not they fall down at any point. As a result, you kind of care less for some of the minor characters because often you don’t know what is going on.

yuri-on-ice-3

On the plus side, there is the overall quality of the animation, as well as the impressive soundtrack – not just the opening and closing music, namely “History Maker” by Dean Fujioka and “You Only Live Once” by Wataru Hatano – but also the incidental music, such as the tracks the skaters perform too. But for me, the main plus point is the diversity. Anime is often a closed shop when it comes to characters of different ethnic backgrounds, but Yuri!!! On Ice is able to make up for this. Not only is the central relationship between someone from Japan and someone from Russia, but we also have characters from China, Thailand, Switzerland, Canada, Italy, South Korea, Kazakhstan, the Czech Republic, and the main American skater is Hispanic. Perhaps this is not surprising given the director of the series, Sayo Yamamoto, is the same woman behind Michiko and Hatchin, which is set in Latin America.

If you want a more detailed argument, you are probably best reading the posts on the AUKN forums by our reviewer IncendiaryLemon, who dropped the series after six episodes, and editor Rui. I can assure you it is about ten minutes of your life you will never get back (sorry guys).

But now it is time to finally discuss the key moment. The one that has got so many people talking over the past week: the scene at the end of the seventh episode in which all the evidence suggests that Yuri K. and Victor kissed. If you look at some of the social media websites, in particular the more American-dominated ones like Tumblr, you will see post after post explaining how, even though you never actually see the kiss, it definitely happened.

You can see people drawing lines behind Victor’s arm showing that if it wasn’t there you would have clearly seen the two kissing each other; you can look at the claims that the reactions of everyone watching the moment are a clear indication that nothing other than a kiss would have proved that shocking; you can even examine the claims that the show references actual real-life gay figure skaters: namely footage of a young Victor shows him wearing the same outfit as Johnny Weir, an openly gay American skater who has reportedly faced much prejudice in his career, which I find amazing – in the sense of finding figure skating to be a homophobic sport, when it comes across as one of the glitziest, showy, camp sports around. These are people dressed in sparkly suits, dancing around and in Yuri K.’s case being taught by a ballet teacher. To a figure skating layman like me, if you were to ask me about homosexuality in figure skating, I would have said that I was less surprised that openly gay Weir was facing discrimination and more amazed at the fact that Torvill and Dean were married to each other. The only sport I can think of as being camper is an all-male cheerleading squad (I can’t watch Cheer Boys!! without regrettably sniggering).

yuri-on-ice-5

However, despite all this and all the support that this scene has, my reaction has been one of frustration. Part of this is partly due to my own background – I’m pansexual and have been in a long-distance relationship with a genderfluid American for six years, as of 1st December. As someone who is pansexual, a fudanshi, and a fan of all these sports anime that appeal to someone of my personal tastes, I’m frustrated at the fact you don’t see the actual kiss yourself, on screen. You go by everyone else’s reaction. Because you don’t see the kiss, you still have that tiny seed of doubt in your head that the kiss didn’t actually happen. I’m 99.999% sure the kiss did occur, but that 0.001% is horribly getting to me. I don’t want to go by what everyone else sees – I want to see what is actually going on, and share in the reaction of the characters at the same time as them.

One of the problems is the pressure to accept that the kiss just happened. Thanks to Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and the other social media outlets, you sometimes get the feeling that if you say that the kiss didn’t happen the immediate reaction is fans will accuse you of homophobia, or will say that you wouldn’t feel like that if it was a straight kiss or perhaps a lesbian kiss. One article I’ve read concerning Yuri!!! On Ice was on Anime Feminist where Amelia Cook writes:

“Since the episode aired I have seen raw, vulnerable reactions from LGBTQ+ fans openly stating how deeply it affected them to see queer subtext made text, how they hoped it would be seen by young people who aren’t yet old enough to feel comfortable with their identities, how much seeing such a moment would have meant to them at that age. Why on earth would anyone in our fandom actively seek to reduce such an impact?”

Well, maybe it is because of my age (I’m 30), or maybe it is because I’m British and our country has had a troubled history concerning gay rights – yes, we now have gay marriage, but it wasn’t until the 1960s that homosexuality was legalised; it wasn’t until 2003 when Section 28 which banned teaching anything positive about homosexuality in schools was finally lifted; in Northern Ireland there is a big row over a Christian bakery refusing to bake a pro-marriage cake for a gay couple, bringing up debates on gay rights and freedom of speech on both sides – but I don’t think we have reached that far yet. Yes, it has made a great impact, but the impact is still a little short for me. Mind you, in terms of gay rights we Brits are still further ahead than the home countries of the main characters. Japan only recognises same-sex partnerships in some areas and with no legal standing, while Russia’s negative attitude towards gay rights is pretty well known. Cook also writes:

“Victor’s arm obscuring where his lips meet Yuri’s cannot possibly be an artistic decision; either we see them kiss or there was no kiss. Disagree? Prove it. Never mind that obscuring a kiss is completely consistent with the show’s storytelling style so far, leaving deliberate information gaps and inviting viewers to read between the lines. Pics or it didn’t happen.”

I’m sorry, but I genuinely don’t think we’ve reached that point yet where simply implying that a gay kiss happened means the characters are certainly gay. That is a future step, the one beyond, that the next wave of anime might take us. But what Yuri!!! On Ice can do is take the next immediate step and actually show an on-screen kiss, uncensored, beyond all doubt, showing that these characters are definitely a gay couple. Now it should be highlighted that the eighth episode also features kisses, but one is of Yuri K. blowing a kiss to the judges, which, while not that romantic is certainly fun; and the other is another blocked-off kiss in which Victor kisses Yuri K.’s skating boot, which is not as exciting as flesh-on-flesh contact and thus not really any further indication of anything romantic – unless it turns out that Victor has some form of foot fetish.

yuri-on-ice-4

I wish to say that I bear no animosity towards anyone, in particular to Cook whose article makes many great points and I would urge people to read at their leisure. What I am trying to say is this: it is good that we seem to have a canon gay relationship in a relatively mainstream sports anime series and that these characters appear to kiss. It would be great if we could actually see those lips meet, for the characters to declare their love and their relationship openly, to rid my and indeed anyone’s mind of that 0.001% of doubt.

Let me put it this way: in a year that, let’s be honest, has been pretty shit for just about every decent human being concerned, one of the ways that I would definitely be cheered up would be to see Yuri K. and Victor do a kiss on screen. It doesn’t have to be a big kiss. It’s doesn’t have to be a galoche, it can be a simple peck. But I do want it to be one where I and everyone else in the 3D world can clearly see happening.

For me, personally, I would be ecstatic if I saw it. It would be for me, personally, not just the anime event, but the TV event of the year, because after years of being a fan of all these sports anime like Free!, Haikyu!!, Kuroko’s Basketball, DAYS, All Out!!, Cheer Boys!!, Yowamushi Pedal, Prince of Stride and so on, it would be great not to have to simply imply the characters are gay, but say that they definitely are, and that they love each other, no matter what hardships they may face.

Title: Yuri!!! On Ice
Publisher: Crunchyroll (streaming)
Genre: Shonen-ai, Sport
Studio: MAPPA
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2016
Format: Legal stream
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles
Running time: 200 minutes

Score: 8/10

Autumn Anime Season 2016

 

march-comes-in-like

Autumn Season 2016 – the leaves are falling and just as we finish watching and discussing Mob Psycho 100 or Re:Zero or Sweetness and Lightning, the anime studios are already tempting us with the next slew of goodies. And there’s so much to choose from these days! (Crunchyroll and Funimation, you’re spoiling us – but please don’t stop. We’ve been the poor relations for a long while in the UK, so it’s nice to get some choice.)

But how to decide which series are the duds and which the hidden treasures? The staff at Anime UK News are here to offer some suggestions of their own. We’re not infallible, of course, and personal tastes can differ wildly! We’re always very interested to know what you think too.

IncendiaryLemon:

Going into this year’s Autumn Season, I wasn’t expecting to watch a whole lot of shows. I had one or two in mind, but after seeing what was cropping up on Crunchyroll, my curiosity got the better of me and I ended up picking up eight! Whilst everything I’ve picked up has been at least good, there are some definite stand-outs among the crowd.

euphonium2kv

My favourite from the season so far definitely has to be Sound! Euphonium Season 2. I’ll admit, it might be a little unfair to pick a show with a whole season under its belt as my front runner, when all the other shows only have an episode or two out, I just can’t deny how fantastic the first two episodes of Sound! have been, easily being on par with the first season. From the amazing animation from Kyoto Animation, to the excellent characters and drama on display in just these first two episodes, there’s no doubt in my mind that Sound! will definitely be somewhere near the top of my ‘best of’ list for the year, never mind the season.

flip-flappers

In terms of non-sequels starting this season, the one that instantly grabbed my attention from the get-go was Flip Flappers. It was a little hard for me to grasp what exactly it’s about (I hope the second episode will shed some light on that) but, from a pure animation standpoint, Flip Flappers had my jaw on the floor. I haven’t seen an anime by Studio 3hz before, but their visuals rival the greats, and I genuinely couldn’t tear my eyes away from the bright colours and fluid action on display, it was truly a marvel. If the future episodes can match the level of the animation with character and story, then I think Flip Flappers will certainly be a contender for the best of the season.

Another show I’d be remiss not to mention would be Mahou Shoujo Nante Mou li Desu Kara 2nd Season. Both the first season and this current season seemed to fly under the radar a bit in terms of popularity and I definitely think both seasons are worth a watch. More akin to a Slice of Life Comedy than you’re regular magical girl offering, Desu Kara always manages to get a good laugh out of me, and at only 4 minutes an episode, there’s really no reason not to give it a go.

Demelza:
haikyu-season-3-imageWhen I first looked at this season, I didn’t think there would be much to catch my interest. However, over the last couple of weeks I’ve found myself pleasantly surprised in the vast quantity of good quality anime hitting
Crunchyroll. Thanks to the service picking up so much, so I’ve found myself watching quite a lot and already have some firm favourites that I can recommend everyone give a shot.

As IncendiaryLemon mentioned above, this season is a season full of sequels and so I’m happily watching the second half of Bungo Stray Dogs, Sound! Euphonium season two and most importantly (for me) the third season of Haikyu!. Bungo Stray Dogs continues to be an example of Studio BONES at the top of their game with some exceptional action scenes, animation and their fun blend of comedy that I always fall deeply in love with. Sound! is off to a worse start and hasn’t really gripped me but then I was never that fond of the first season, so I’m really only sticking with it because of Kyoto Animation and the hopes of things improving (they never did in Season One for me though…). By far the best of the sequels though is Haikyu! which promises to spread a 5-set game against Shiratorizawa Academy across the whole 10 episodes of the season. Usually I’d be worried about stretching one match across that many episodes, but with Production I.G at the helm and a wonderful first episode I’m just left with pure excitement for what’s to come. I truly believe that if any sports anime is going to pull this kind of idea off well it’s going to be Haikyu!.

As far as new anime goes my favourites are definitely Girlish Number, Izetta: The Last Witch and Yuri!!! On Ice. It seems as though Girlish Number is going to fill my New Game! hole by telling the story of cute girls doing cute things in an industry I’m really interested in learning about. The story is about a new voice actor, Chitose, who so far hasn’t had the chance to play any named roles, but her big break comes along by the end of the first episode and she finds herself playing a lead role! The first episode was full of good humour and digs aimed at anime adaptations of light novels, so I can see myself having a lot of fun with this. If nothing else I might learn something interesting about how the voice acting industry works.

izetta-the-last-witch-animeI think my favourite of my favourites has to be Izetta: The Last Witch. I’m sure many of our writers will pick this one as well because it’s pretty universally likable no matter what your tastes are. I love magic and witches so the show won me over on that alone, but I’m also aware that it has some of the Code Geass talent behind it and that intrigues me to no end. Set in a world currently stuck in a war with a feisty princess who wishes to protect her kingdom, it sounds pretty generic but trust me, it’s better than it sounds. The first two episodes have been busily setting up the world and cast, but pretty animation and a strong selection of characters has kept me on-board so far. If you watch nothing else this season then at least give Izetta a chance.

yurionice-png

My final pick is Yuri!!! on Ice which tells the story of Yuri Katsuki, an ice skater who loses in the final of the Gran Prix competition and begins to question what he’s even doing with his career. After a video of a private performance back in his hometime goes viral on the internet, Yuri is suddenly visited by his idol Victor Nikiforov who wishes to coach Yuri! The first two episodes have displayed some captivating animation and so far Yuri and Victor are both interesting characters with a lot of depth to them. I’m writing about this one because it was a show I passed by originally (because I’m not that big on ice skating really) and went back to watch after seeing a number of friends really enjoying. I don’t want anyone else to miss out on trying this because they overlooked it the same way I did – trust me, it’s well worth your time this season.

Sarah:

Putting aside my annoyance about not being able to watch Kiss Him, Not Me!  (because, UK) and wondering if it’s worth signing up to Amazon Prime to watch one of the series I was really interested in this autumn, Ame no Funi, I’ve found plenty to watch and enjoy. For me the stand-out so far is Yuri!!! On Ice. That OP! Such a heart-stopping blend of animation and song! (Watching this reminds me how enthralled I felt when seeing/hearing the OP of Vision of Escaflowne for the first time.) Director Saya Yamamoto deftly blends humour with the poetic, artistic side of ice skating and those oh-so-naughty teases. But in spite of the comedic moments, there’s much that will chime with anyone who has ever striven to excel in the arts or sports; Yuuri’s utter devastation when faced with his own failure at the Gran Prix Finale competition will create a strong feeling of sympathy in many hearts and minds. I can’t wait to see where this goes next…

alloutgal

Another new sports anime is All Out! Which is all about the rugby! Coming from a rugby-mad household, I couldn’t wait to see this (with fingers firmly crossed that it wouldn’t turn out to be a damp squib like Cheer Boys!!, juggling too many characters and not enough animation budget). It’s early days yet but the distinctive manga-based character designs (and an OP that shows a realistic match in the mud and the rain) are encouraging. Facts about rugby have been fed in quite subtly, so if you don’t know the game, you won’t feel left out. Typical shonen hero, first year (and short of stature) Gion, proves almost impossibly stubborn and determined to join the team, unafraid to take on the truly intimidating captain Sekizan, even though he knows nothing of the game. His new friend, timid giant Iwashimazu, has his own reasons for not wanting to play rugby ever again but somehow you just know…  This has been a fun watch so far and is well worth catching if you’re looking for a sports anime with a difference.

classicaloid

ClassicaLoid and Nanbaka although ostensibly very different, the first based around classical composers and their music, the second about four prisoners whose unusual gifts allow them to break out of any jail in the world, are both as many technicoloured shades of crazy as the animators can splash onto the screen. I’m enjoying both – because I like crazy when it’s done with imagination and even affection – but, as a musician, I’m probably better qualified to talk about ClassicaLoid.  (I’m going to cheat by quoting the Crunchyroll blurb) :

Kanae and Sosuke are two high-school students living in the suburbs in Japan where music flourishes. One day, they encounter Beethoven and Mozart, two suspicious men who call themselves ClassicaLoids. The “Musik” they play have mysterious powers, such as causing meteor showers and summoning giant robots. Kanae and Sosuke’s daily lives suddenly turn chaotic! Adding to the commotion are the appearances of other ClassicaLoids such as Bach, Chopin, Liszt, and Schubert. What is the big secret behind their powers? And are they a threat to humankind, or could they be saviors?

The first episode, in which Kanae’s amazingly eccentric house, complete with pipe organ (originally her grandmother’s) is threatened with demolition, is satisfyingly over-the-top and gets the series off to a fine start. Different teams of musicians have been given the task of arranging music from the named composers and a theme from Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony gets a full-on 70s rock orchestra interpretation worthy of Jeff Lynne or Rick Wakeman. Less successful, I feel, is the second episode’s rather perfunctory interpretation of ‘that’ theme from Mozart’s ‘Eine Kleine Nachtmusik’ (the one everyone knows) which hardly gets any airtime at all. But will this attract any new listeners to classical music? We shall see what happens when Liszt turns up next time (in this series, Liszt is a glamorous woman, not the 19th century musical superstar who had female audiences swooning in the aisles and throwing themselves at him). And who knew that Beethes was so obsessed with gyoza…?

march-lion-1

Last but not least of my picks, March comes in like a lion tells the story of loner and seventeen-year-old pro-shogi player, Rei Kiriyama, and is a complete contrast to the other series I’ve mentioned. This is a Slice-of-Life show based on the manga by Chika Umina (Honey and Clover) and, although gentle in pace, has some striking imagery, wonderfully animated, as well as a touching depiction of a young man struggling to deal with loneliness. The lively family of three sisters (and their cats!) with whom Rei is beginning to interact provide a fascinating contrast to his solitary existence. One to watch for lovers of Slice-of-Life – and cats!

Cold Cobra:

I have to repeat what my fellow staff have said above in that I wasn’t expecting much going into this season. I was happy to find Gundam: Iron Blooded Orphans once again able to be streamed straight to my TV via Crunchyroll, even if it is on a weeks delay. As a Gundam fan of over a good decade and a half I’ve been thrilled to see the property once again find its footing with another slice of war stories and drama mixed with giant robots shooting at each other. Fingers crossed this second half goes better than the second half of Gundam 00, which struggled to recapture what it created in its opening season a fair few years ago.

drifters

Continuing with the returning shows theme, I too am watching Bungo Stray Dogs, with its great mix of comedy and action. Lastly, the only new show on my personal “must catch every week” list: Drifters. I was interested in the idea of the plotline: a bunch of historical figures are plucked from their time periods the moment before they’re historically killed and forced to fight each other on two (or three, seemingly) sides. It was a good concept, and throw in the fact that it is based off of a manga by Kouta Hirano of Hellsing fame and I was in. The first episode has already seen a bit more humour mixed in with the expected gore, and some fine laying of groundwork that has me excited to strap in for the 12 episode ride to the end of the year.

I also feel I should given a quick mention to Part IV of the JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure story, Diamond is Unbreakable, coming to an end this season. While not a new or returning show, it’s a favourite and the fact that this is the home stretch feels like a big event for the season.

So there you have it, only three new or returning shows in this season, but three shows I’m very happy to continue to follow in the run up to the end of the year.

Publisher: Crunchyroll (streaming)
Genre: Action, Sports, Comedy, Slice of Life, Fantasy
Type: Movie
Format: Legal stream
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles

Re:Zero Anime Review

rezero-poster

This year has undoubtedly been a strong one for new anime but the summer 2016 season has seen perhaps some of the biggest shows. One of those shows is Re:Zero, which I’m here to review. You may remember that I also reviewed the first volume of the Re:Zero light novel series, which the anime is based on, so if you’re interested you can find that here.

Re:Zero tells the story of Subaru Natsuki, an ordinary teenager who is suddenly summoned to a fantasy world. Once Subaru recovers from the surprise of being in a new world he is saved from some muggers by a pretty young women named Emilia (who originally introduces herself as Satella), but little does Subaru know that his destiny will be tied to hers.

When Subaru first meets Emilia, she informs our hero that she’s looking for something that’s been stolen from her, and in order to repay his debt to her, Subaru agrees to help in the search. Eventually the two discover where the thief is trying to sell off Emilia’s item, but when they get there, they discover two dead bodies. It’s not long before the killer, who was hiding in wait, also attacks and murders Subaru and Emilia.

re-zero-5Usually when a main character dies that signifies the end of an arc or perhaps even the end of a series, but in Re:Zero’s case Subaru awakens perfectly fine – just right back at the moment where he was first transported to this world. As our story progresses Subaru discovers that he has a special ability, which he calls ‘Return by Death’, that allows him to rewind time by dying. It appears that Subaru’s return point changes for every arc and almost always after he’s ensured the safety of Emilia.

This life-and-death circle is an interesting one because, although it means we sometimes relive the same story loop numerous times, more often than not the scenario plays out differently. What’s more, with each do-over Subaru experiences, he gains new insights of what needs to be done. Sometimes things will get worse, sometimes things will be better, but each time the mystery of why Emilia (or other members of the cast) are being killed off slowly unfolds until Subaru finally manages to break the cycle. It’s a really interesting gimmick to watch and even after 25 episodes the series has managed to find ways to keep things fresh.

re-zero-4
It’s very difficult to talk about Re:Zero without spoiling the plot because this is a series that I feel really doesn’t hold up if you know what’s going to happen. Much of its charm is in wondering how Subaru is going to prevent the current problem and being on the edge of your seat from week to week as we’re delivered the latest cliffhanger. I’m not entirely sure that the show would be as enjoyable on a second watch either, as knowing what’s coming will leave you focusing on the numerous problems that Re:Zero is home to.

A problem many light novel adaptations suffer from is when an animation studio adds their own content in among what they’re adapting. I think studio White Fox have done an excellent job with Re:Zero (more on this later), but they’ve also created some inconsistencies by either taking out pieces of the novels or bridging together certain points with their own content. My best example comes thanks to Puck, Emilia’s spirit familiar who directly introduces himself to Subaru in the initial loops and vice versa for the first arc but not during the final loop. In this section there is a scene where Puck says Subaru’s name, almost as though he’s fully aware of who Subaru is, but as the two of them never introduced themselves in this loop it’s not possible for Puck to know Subaru’s name. It’s not really a big problem, but if you were watching the series for a second time and not as focused on the unfolding drama I think these inconsistencies would stand out more prominently.

re-zero-6If you’ve been keeping up with the anime on social media, or even discussions on this very site, you’ll probably have noticed that people usually aren’t fans of Subaru. Generally speaking, Subaru is just not a character who was made to be likable. He’s not your run-of-the-mill shonen protagonist, he’s hopeless, and frequently runs his mouth, but in a way that actually makes him more likable to me. It’s difficult to like Subaru when he simply appears to be protecting Emilia because he fancies her, and his tendency to say every little thing that crosses his mind leaves him sounding obnoxious. However, as much as we viewers are learning about this world and the cast, so too is Subaru. When he finally begins to put the effort into finding his place in the world, he comes off a lot better for it. It might have taken me the best part of half the series but eventually Subaru did become likable, and by the end I found myself rooting for him to save the day.

Where other characters are concerned, things were pretty good overall. Emilia, who is quiet and very reserved, finds it difficult to interact with people, due to being shunned for resembling the white witch (an unspoken evil in this world). As she slowly opens up to Subaru, and as we see more of her and Puck, it’s clear that they’re both strong characters who always shine when they’re on-screen. There is also the case of Rem and Ram, two maids who work for man named Roswaal (the owner of the mansion that Emilia calls home) and are definitely fan favorites. The two may not seem like the most interesting of characters to begin with, but we come to see their true depth once we’ve had the chance to spend more time exploring their story. All round, it’s a pretty good cast and there weren’t any characters that I outright hated. I’ve only focused on a brief portion of them, simply because to talk about the others would result in spoilers.

re-zero-2
Animation studio White Fox (they also worked on Akame ga Kill! and Steins;Gate) have done a marvelous job where Re:Zero’s animation is concerned. For a fantasy setting such as this, White Fox have provided some very colourful settings and characters but they’ve also mastered the darker and more soul-crushing scenes as well. To their credit they’ve also managed to make a decent use of CGI for some of the busy town scenes where other studios may have used it more clumsily.

Music for the series has been provided by Kenichiro Suehiro, who is a bit of a newcomer when it comes to handling anime soundtracks. His most notable work besides Re:Zero is Space Patrol Luluco, but considering how light-hearted that series is (and the fact it’s made up of 7-8 minute shorts) it’s safe to say that Re:Zero is more his breakout work. The soundtrack provided for the series is quite good and home to both electric produced tracks and more basic piano scores. It’s a mishmash of a few different genres of music but that works surprisingly well for a series like Re:Zero as it keeps the content fresh and with an edge of surprise. The opening themes (“Redo” by Konomi Suzuki and “Paradisus-Paradoxum” by MYTH&ROID) and endings (“STYX HElIX” by MYTH&ROID and “Stay Alive” by Rie Takahashi) are all very solid pop tunes and work exceptionally well for the series. That said, it’s not actually that often we get to watch the openings and endings because White Fox tends to leave them out in favour of adding more time to each episode!

re-zero-1Like the music and animation, the voice actors on offer have also done a wonderful job, especially Yusuke Kobayashi (Daisuke Hiraoka in Shirobako, Zenji Marui in Food Wars) who plays Subaru. Subaru goes through a lot of emotional whiplash throughout the series and his moods and tone of character change drastically over the course of the story, but Kobayashi manages to capture these transitions perfectly. This performance leaves me eager to see how he’ll play future roles. Rie Takahashi (Miki Naoki in School-Live!, Megumin in KonoSuba) provides a good performance for Emilia, capturing her quiet nature and shy profile rather well – although it’s not quite as good as Kobayashi’s. I will also take a moment to point out that Yoshitsugu Matsuoka (Kirito in Sword Art Online, Soma in Food Wars), a personal favourite of mine, also voices a character in the series but not until later on. It’s a delightful performance and quite different from his norm, which makes for an interesting performance. 


Overall, I recommend
Re:Zero to everyone as it breaks the trope of the ‘being transported to another world’ genre and offers something new. If you can look past Subaru’s annoying personality for a few episodes then you’ll be fine, and even if you can’t, you’ll probably be too busy being amazed by the latest cliffhanger to really care. There are little things to look past, but provided you can this is a solid series. Perhaps it’s not the best anime of 2016 and maybe we won’t even remember it in a year’s time, but for now, it’s one of my favourites of the year for sure.

The Re:Zero anime can be streamed over at Crunchyroll and Anime Limited have licensed the series for a future home video release.

Title: Re:ZERO -Starting Life in Another World-
Publisher: Crunchyroll (streaming)
Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Thriller
Studio: White Fox
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2016
Format: Legal stream
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles
Running time: 625 minutes

Score: 8/10