The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 96 – Wicked City

March 4, 2015 by  
Filed under Features

Wicked City 1

When it comes to finding anime quite a lot the time it comes about from either online or at large events such as conventions. Sometimes however they come up closer to home, and this article covers an example this.

Sold on video cassette and now out-of-print in the UK, Wicked City is a rare find. Video anime tend to cover more cult-like titles and thus make for interesting viewing, although there are some issues of quality and you only get an English-language dub.

Wicked City began as a series of novels by Hideyuki Kikuchi back in 1985. The first of these novels was turned into an OVA (Original Video Anime) – a straight-to-video movie, in 1987. It was directed by Yoshiaki Kawajiri, who amongst other things would later direct the TV version of X (No. 70). The film was also later made into a live action movie in Hong Kong. Wicked City is a very controversial film: it contains graphic violence, strong language, rape, and the film has been accused by several critics as being misogynistic – and in Britain the worst bits were censored altogether (see Movie-Censorship.com for a list of changes).

A mixture of horror, fantasy and noir, Wicked City is based on the idea that there is our human world and a “Black World” inhabited by demons. Currently the two worlds are at peace, but there are groups on both sides who are keen on separating the two and causing war. An organisation called the “Black Guard” attempts to keep order and prevent humans from knowing about the Black World. The story follows two members of the Black Guard, male human Renzaburo Taki and female demon Makie, as they protect a lecherous 200-year-old expert on the supernatural, Giuseppi Mayart, who is about to sign a new peace treaty in Tokyo between the two worlds. All the time the Guards have to protect the dirty old man.

Concerning the film itself, as state the main criticism levelled at it are claims it is misogynistic. To examine this claim, I made a note of all the women in Wicked City to see what happens to them. With regards to the female lead Makie, she is sexually molested, attacked by a tentacle monster (for more on tentacle anime see Urotsukidōji: Legend of the Overfiend, No. 49), and is raped, both by demons, and by the tentacle monster in the uncensored American release of the film.

Regarding the other women in Wicked City, one is fellow co-worker of Taki who only appears in one scene and nothing much happens to her. The other three are all demons, all of whom use sex as part of their weaponry and who all end up getting killed. One of these is a spider-like demon who has a fanged vagina; another tries to hypnotise Taki and creates the illusion that her entire torso opens up like a vagina; and the third is a sex worker in a “soapland” (where clients engage in non-penetrative sex, and the normally male client is “bathed” in things like lubricant for example) who tries to capture Mayart by melting her body over him when he grabs her breasts. It has to be said it doesn’t look good for Wicked City in terms of defending itself.

While the British removed some of the scenes that were more sexually violent, they were more than happy to make the dialogue ruder. Wicked City appears to have been the subject of “fifteening”, the act of giving a film a higher certificate rating in order to seem controversial. Wicked City already features murder and rape, isn’t that enough? Not in the view of Manga Entertainment who released it in the UK. In one scene where a plane explodes, Taki is heard to say “Fuck!” in the British dub, but just “What? How?” in the American dub.

In terms of positives, the quality of the animation is good considering the period it was made. It certainly delivers in terms of shock value. I wouldn’t say that Wicked City is a film I would normally not recommend to people, but in terms of rarity for me the video is a keeper.

Wicked City is available on video from Manga Entertainment. The uncensored American translation was released on Region 1 DVD by the no-longer-in-running Urban Vision Label.

The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 95 – Naruto

March 1, 2015 by  
Filed under Features

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For many years in the world of anime and manga there has been great focus on three long-running series, often dubbed “The Big Three”. Now we’ve covered two of these titles some time ago: One Piece (No. 6) and Bleach (No. 15) – but we’ve yet to cover the third of these titles, which is odd because it covers something universally associated with Japan. This time, we are looking at possibly Japan’s, and certainly anime’s most famous ninja.

Naruto began as a manga in the best-selling manga magazine of them all, Weekly Shonen Jump, by Masashi Kishimoto. It started in 1999 and only just recently concluded, finishing in December 2014 – meaning it is the first of The Big Three to end (Bleach is in its final storyline; One Piece is still going on but the creator knows how it will end). The anime however is still going on. It is divided into two parts. The first, commonly known as Naruto Unleashed ran for 220 episodes between 2002-07. The second part, Naruto Shippuden, followed straight afterwards, and earlier this week (on Thursday 19th February) the 400th episode was broadcast. There have also been 10 movies and an 11th in production.

The series is set in a world dominated by various clans of ninjas in many countries, often dubbed the “Ninja World”. Set in Konohagakure (The Village Hidden in the Leaves) in the Land of Fire, the story begins when a giant nine-tailed fox monster attacks the village. The ruler of the Village, the Fourth Hokage, stops the problem by sealing the fox in his new-born son, at the cost of his own life. The boy’s name is Naruto Uzumaki, and as he grows up people shun him for the monster that dwells inside him. Naruto is determined that one day he will become the Hokage, despite his loneliness and his general incompetence.

Naruto, like all the ninja in training, is put into a three-person squad. He works with Sasuke Uchiha, who Naruto hates and considers a rival; and Sakura Haruno, a girl that Naruto has a crush on. The three are mentored by the elite ninja Kakashi Hatake. As the story moves on, the squad, known as Team 7, undertake various tasks and exams. However, during these many incidents various terrible disasters occur. People are killed, kidnapped and betrayed. One of these betrayals becomes the main focus and motivation for Naruto in the second part of the story which takes place two years later. Over the course of the story Naruto meets many people, fights many battles, and faces many challenges not just to bring happiness to his friends, but to protect his homeland and indeed the world from destruction.

Naruto is famous for its success and its fan-base. It has such a huge following, to the extent that Naruto is the third best-selling manga series in history, behind One Piece and Dragon Ball – which is another Weekly Shonen Jump title which I will be covering in a few weeks’ time. Since it began this series has become a phenomenon in terms of popularity. People love the plot, the grandness of the battles, and the characters: not just Naruto, but Sasuke, Sakura, Kakashi and pretty much everyone else in the series. There is such a huge range to pick from: too many to list here.

Having said this, Naruto has its critics. Some people have complained that the plots are predictable and that it just deals with the standard storylines you find in most manga series of its demographic. Also, there are at times huge amounts of “filler” – stories that don’t appear in the original manga. For example, because the anime adapted the manga so quickly, the amount of filler between the first and second parts of the story lasted, as near as makes no difference, 18 months.

It is for reasons like that this that I confess that Naruto is not my favourite anime, although it is an anime that I respect. You cannot help but respect it, but I personally prefer One Piece (or to put it another way, pirates beat ninjas), partly because it is a bit more original and is funnier. Also, it is a bit troublesome getting past all the jargon used in Naruto, and if you like your ninja stories to be realistic, this is anything but realistic. The “Ninja World” it is set in features some aspects of modern-day technology as well as some fantasy aspects. Naruto’s main technique for example involves making duplicates of himself. Sasuke meanwhile can control fire.

However, Naruto is still an all-important series in the history of anime. While it is not my favourite, it is a favourite of many anime fans. Even if certain incarnations of the series have finished Naruto will be remembered by all anime fans of its impact both in Japan and around the world.

DVD releases of both Naruto Unleashed and Naruto Shippuden are released by Manga Entertainment. Recent episodes can be streamed on the website Crunchyroll.

TV Films of the Week

February 27, 2015 by  
Filed under - Home, Features

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FILM OF THE WEEK: Kill List
Film4, Sunday March, 11.15pm

If ever there was a film for which your soul should don a flak jacket and blast helmet before watching, it’s Kill List. For like the metaphorical minefield, although everything may initially appear normal on the surface, it quickly becomes apparent that one wrong step will leave you well and truly FUBAR-ed.

At the heart of Kill List’s combustible mix is ex-squaddie Jay, a veritable ticking time bomb liable to go off in people’s faces at any given moment, be it that of his scalding wife or those of the extremely unpleasant types he is contracted to kill. But this is no mere hit man movie; director Ben Wheatley resolutely defies convention to create a film so skin-crawlingly disconcerting in tone that by the time it’s over you may require a stint in therapy, never mind worrying about what genre it should be filed under.

From the familiarly domestic opening to its portrait of the British hinterland that Jay and best friend/fellow assassin Gal operate in, every shot oozes threat, ably assisted by Jim William’s fantastically unnerving score. Wheatley refuses to spoon-feed his audience – an approach that may leave the average moviegoer frustrated but will reward those who like their horror truly horrifying. While a post-credits helpline number should have been mandatory, Kill List is an acutely contemporary and original vision of hell on earth.

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Wayne’s World
Channel 4, Friday February 28, 1am

Head and shoulders the best part of US comedy show Saturday Night Live’s 40th anniversary special a couple of weekends ago was the re-appearance of Mike Myers and Dana Carvey as twentysomething metal fans Wayne Campbell and Garth Algar – the stars of Wayne’s World. Not only did the two outshine pretty much every act that came before them, they also reminded us why Wayne’s World was pretty much the only SNL sketch truly worthy of two feature films. It’s just damned funny, and in an age where reboots are all the rage, how about giving Wayne and Garth a third outing, Hollywood?

If…
Channel 4, Sunday February 21, 11:05pm

When it comes to films about subversive teenage rebellion, the US might think it has a trump card with Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. But 18 years previously the UK had made a film that makes it look positively conservative, and that film is Lindsay Anderson’s if… Although its snapshot of the revolutionary spirit that gripped the 1960s looks dated now, if…’s allegorical thumb nose to the traditional British notions of class and authority mean it has still retained its significance after all these years. Just ask David Cameron, who, rather bizarrely, claims to admire it.

District 9
Film4, Friday March 6, 10:50pm

South African director Neill Blomkamp has caused a bit of a buzz amongst the movie-going community after he confirmed he is to direct a new installment of the Alien/Aliens franchise. Although his last film – the Matt Damon-led Elysium – was disappointing, if Blomkamp can rediscover the magic of District 9, his debut feature, then we are in for a treat. An exciting science fiction movie that is also a subtle critique of apartheid and segregation, District 9’s combination of awe-inspiring special effects and well-drawn characters are what make it a superior example of the genre.

TV Films of the Week

February 20, 2015 by  
Filed under - Home, Features

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FILM OF THE WEEK: Citizenfour
Channel 4, Wednesday February 25, 11.05pm

If, as bookmakers think is a dead cert, Citizenfour picks up the Oscar for best documentary on Sunday, then at least a sliver of justice will have pierced the iron shield of the largely corrupt world in which we exist. More than just the account of how whistleblower Edward Snowden lifted the lid on unprecedented and unchecked state surveillance of its own citizens, the film is in of itself a shocking revelation and an act of great bravery.

As director Laura Poitras states in her introductory text, this is the third part in a trilogy exploring how the impact of 9/11 changed America’s relationship with legality, both internationally and domestically. The previous two films had seen her placed on a secret watchlist, detained and interrogated – all of which, ironically, made her the ideal candidate for the then unknown Snowden to contact when he discovered that the Obama regime was actually advancing the extra-judicial interception of communications started under George Bush Jnr.

Why should we in the UK care about this? Well, as Snowden’s evidence proved, our government, through GCHQ, has established an even more invasive surveillance program to spy on us – phone calls, text messages, internet searches, the lot – too. It’s a shame Channel 4, one of the film’s co-producers, isn’t screening it earlier, so that more people can see just how tenuous the concepts of liberty and privacy have become under leaders who would paint themselves as the saviours of freedom.

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2001: A Space Oydessy
BBC Two, Friday February 20, 11:05pm

Last November the BFI re-released Stanley Kubrick’s transcendent science fiction epic, giving a whole new generation of moviegoers the chance to see what is widely regarded as one of the greatest films ever made on the big screen. Although its operatic majesty is somewhat reduced when shrunk down on a television, any opportunity to experience 2001 should always be taken. And an experience it is: from the opening bars of Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra to the beguiling closing sequence, no filmmaker has ever achieved anything quite like it.

Moonrise Kingdom
Channel 4, Sunday February 21, 11:05pm

Once derided as too whimsical by those lacking in the capacity for abstract thought, director Wes Anderson is now a Hollywood mainstay – his latest, The Grand Budapest Hotel topped the UK box office last year and is up for nine Oscars this weekend. Rightly so – it’s another poignant flight of fancy. As is the equally wonderful Moonrise Kingdom, TGBH’s predecessor. Although packed with stellar talent like Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton and Bruce Willis, it is Moonrise Kingdom’s two unheralded child leads that infuse it with a sense of innocence and humanity that cannot fail to satisfy.

Amour
Film4, Thursday February 26, 9pm

In our younger, more vital years, the dysfunction of old age is the last thing that all but the most prudent of us want to think about. Which might make Amour difficult viewing, but it is a film we must all watch anyway. The restrained performances of Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant, as a couple whose retirement is complicated when one of them suffers a stroke, provide Michael Haneke’s film its tender heart. Profoundly moving as well brutally honest, it is ultimately the sort of love story that puts most other cinematic depictions of courtship to the most severest of shame.

Follow Nick Norton on Twitter @OnlyForKoolKids

The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 94 – Cute High Earth Defense Club LOVE!

February 18, 2015 by  
Filed under Features

Cute High Earth Defense Club Love 1

Back in August 2013 I wrote an article about the sporting series Free! – Iwatobi Swim Club (No. 17), a series that is not so much appreciated for the sport, but for the attractiveness of the male characters, and its homoerotic undertones. Indeed I mentioned that some reviewers thought that Free! could be the gayest cartoon ever made not to feature anyone who is actually gay. At the start of this year though a new anime began which I can confidentially say has usurped Free!

Cute High Earth Defense Club LOVE! is a parody of the “magical girl” genre of anime, mocking aspects of series like Sailor Moon (No. 63) and Puella Magi Madoka Magica (No. 4). The main aspect of the show is that this contains magical boys rather than girls, but other than that it still features all the standard magical girl tropes such as long transformation sequences, strange speeches and unusual acting.

The story begins with two third-year high school students; bespectacled Atsushi Kinugawa and lazy En Yufuin from Binan High School for boys. While relaxing in a bathhouse they find their bathing disturbed by a strange talking alien creature that looks like a pink wombat. The wombat insists that Atsushi and En have to save the world with the power of love, but before he can explain anymore he flees the bathhouse, chased by the bathhouse owner’s son Yumoto Hakone: a first-year at Binan with an extreme love of cuddling cute creatures.

In school the next day, Atsushi and En are shocked to find their homeroom teacher, Mr. Tawarayama, carry the pink wombat under his arm. They try to flee them, but the wombat, controlling the teacher chases after the boys. But the wombat himself is chased by Yumoto who wants more hugs. Atsushi and En eventually make it to the relative safety of their school club, which consists of people who don’t really do anything and jokingly calls itself the “Earth Defense Club”. The other members are two second-year students: Ryu Zaou, who loves flirting with girls (not that he’s ever seen with any girls); and Io Naruko, who loves making money on the stock market.

However, the four cannot escape from the wombat, who in turn cannot escape from Yumoto and his relentless cuddling. The wombat explains his purpose to the five boys, including why he is being accompanied by a teacher: which is simply because Mr. Tawarayama fell down the stairs and ended up in almost death-like state. The wombat has to stay with Mr. Tawarayama otherwise the teacher would start to decompose.

The wombat gives each of the boys some special bracelets called “Lovracelets”, but before he can explain their function a bizarre monster starts attacking the school. The five boys attempt to stop the monster, which leads to a series of bizarre events. First, they find themselves making odd poses and uncontrollably making embarrassing statements about love to the monster. Then they end up kissing their Lovracelets while saying the phrase “Love Making”, which causes them to transform into a super-powered magical form known as the “Battle Lovers”, complete with rather camp costumes.

They successfully defeat the monster using the wombat’s guidance but are unaware of the cause. It is revealed to the viewer that the three boys on Binan’s student council – Kinshiro Kusatsu, Ibushi Arima and Akoya Gero – are actually members of the “Conquest Club”, who plan to conquer the Earth assisted by an alien green hedgehog named Lord Zundar. The series sees the Earth Defence Club battling monsters created by the Conquest Club.

When it comes to writing about this series, let’s be honest and start by saying that there is an element of homosexuality running throughout the series. The premise, the plot, the dialogue, the costume design – everything about it screams “gay”. One episode even features the club visiting a beach which is revealed to be full of really hunky men, except for one barman who is wearing make-up and in a harness. Even the Earth Defense Club suspect of some possible gay behaviour amongst each other.

However, there is more to Cute High Earth Defense Club LOVE! than that. It is actually a very funny series. All the parodying works, but you do not have to watch man magical girl series to enjoy it. You can just laugh at the surreal situations the characters find themselves in. Indeed, the main characters themselves are a big draw, themselves parodying many of the typical boy student tropes you see in anime. It is reminiscent of a show like Ouran High School Host Club (No. 3).

This show is funny and entertaining in its own right. Any extra thoughts you have about what the Earth Defense Club are a personal bonus.

Cute High Earth Defense Club LOVE! is streamed on the website Crunchyroll.

The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 93 – Ranma ½

February 15, 2015 by  
Filed under Features

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There are plenty of manga creators who are one-hit wonders. Creators of multiple successful titles are harder to come by, but one such person is Rumiko Takahashi, a woman who has created many popular works since the 1970s and is still going strong today. Her most successful series, which was also turned into an anime, is the subject of this article.

Ranma ½ ran as a manga between 1987 and 1996. It was first turned into an anime 1989 with the series running to 1992, but it has had many specials, straight-to-video releases and both anime and live-action movies since. The series mixes martial arts with romance and fantasy, but despite the battle aspect Takahashi deliberately aimed the series to be popular with female readers and with children too.

The story is mainly set in Nerima, Tokyo, at the “Anything-Goes School” of martial arts owned by Soun Tendo, where he lives with his three teenage daughters: kind and mature eldest daughter Kasumi, greedy middle daughter Nabiki, and grumpy martial arts exponent youngest daughter Akame. Soun tells all three that he has arranged a marriage between one of them and prominent martial arts student Ranma Saotome, whose father Genma is an old friend of Soun’s. But when Ranma turns up they find that she is a girl, accompanied by a giant panda. But the Tendo family get a bigger shock when they find a boy that looks like Ranma in the bath. In fact, the boy is Ranma Saotome, and the panda is his father.

It turns out that while the male Ranma and his actually human father Genma were training in China they fell into some cursed springs in Jusenkyo (guarded by a man with a dodgy Chinese accent). As a result they are both are now cursed. Whenever they are splashed with cold water Ranma turns into a girl and Genma turns into a panda. Being splashed with hot water returns them to normal. With that cleared up, it is decided that Ranma should be engaged with to Akame, but they both hate each other.

But the curse and the arranged marriage are just the start of Ranma and Akame’s problems as both find themselves the subject of various suitors wanting to marry them and martial artists wanting to kill them. These include among others Tatewaki Kuno, the head of the kendo club at Ranma and Akame’s school who is in love with Akame and later falls for the female Ranma too; Ryoga Hibiki, a guy with the world’s worst sense of direction and who blames Ranma for all his ills; and Shampoo, a Chinese Amazon girl who due to tribal custom has vowed to kill the female Ranma and marry the male Ranma, not realising they are the same person.

To make things even more complicated, many of Ranma’s foes have also fallen into the same cursed Chinese springs. Ryoga transforms into a pig when splashed with cold water. Akame adopts him as a pet, naming him “P-chan”, refusing to believe Ranma’s claims that the pig is also Ryoga. Shampoo meanwhile turns into a cat, which is the one thing in the entire world that Ranma is scared off.

To this day Ranma ½ is one of the most popular anime and manga series made. It is not just the best-selling of Takahashi’s works, but this series has been sold worldwide. It is probably the most popular Japanese anime in China, despite the whole thing with the man with the dodgy Chinese accent. Look at this way though, someone from Japan doing a Chinese accent is probably no more offensive than a British person doing a French accent. It does feel dodgier when the series is dubbed into English.

However, Ranma ½ still remains popular in the People’s Republic. This is mainly because of this mixture of comedy and kung-fu was translated into lots of local languages. Also, because the plot is mainly about romance and battles, there is little of the communist Chinese censors to object to.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect is this. Due to Ranma’s “gender bender” nature, this is one of the few TV shows where both the male lead and the female lead have just about equal billing: because they are both the same character. Plus, because there is only one title character, there is no debate about which character gets more prominence in that respect. Also, while you do see both versions of the character topless, there is no real sexual intent. After all, if you see Ranma topless in his male form it would be hypocritical not to show her topless in her female form.

The first two Ranma ½ films, “Big Trouble in Nekonron, China” and “Nihao My Concubine” are released on Region 2 by MVM Films. The TV series is being released on Region 1 by Viz Media.

TV Films of the Week

February 13, 2015 by  
Filed under Features

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FILM OF THE WEEK: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Film4, Saturday February 14, 3pm

Much like Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is a Western about men on the verge of being swept away by a new era of modernity. While both share a similarly climatic final scene and were released in 1969, the similarities ends there, however. George Roy Hill’s film is by far the softer, friendlier, less nihilistic of the two, and in many ways it set the mold for every buddy movie made since.

Paul Newman and Robert Redford play the titular characters as such irresistibly affable anti-heroes that it’s hard not to forget both men had a rather notorious habit of relieving others of their money at gunpoint. In essence, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is a three-way love story, given that Butch and Sundance are every bit as enamoured with one another as they are with Sundance’s girlfriend Etta (played with a similar charm by The Graduate’s Katharine Ross).

Combining the best aspects of the Western genre with a much more contemporary playfulness (anyone who has seen the film will never fail to recall Newman and Ross larking around on a bicycle whenever they hear Burt Bacharach’s Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head), and enlivened by the timeless charisma of its stars, the film is never less than a joyous pleasure to watch. Butch and Sundance may not have been able to outrun the modern world, but they sure had fun trying.

SET THE RECORDER FOR:

Black Swan
Channel 4, Saturday November 16, 9pm

There were reports of complaints from several well-to-do cinemagoers who went to see Black Swan expecting a film about a production of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, only to be presented with a film about a production of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake by the most bonkers ballet company conceivable. A mixture of body horror, psychological drama and erotic thriller, it was no wonder those of a more conservative disposition got such a shock. Natalie Portman is well worthy of the Best Actress Oscar she collected for the film, with equally excellent support from Mila Kunis and Vincent Cassel.

Drag Me To Hell
Five, Sunday February 15, 11:20pm

Having left horror behind him with 1992’s Army Of Darkness and achieved A-list success at the helm of the Spiderman films, it was a wonderful surprise when Sam Raimi returned to the genre with 2009’s Drag Me To Hell. Deciding against the full-on blood and guts approach of his youth this time he opted a more traditional tale of supernatural spookery. Don’t for a minute let that deter you – with jumps that will literally throw you out of your seat, Drag Me To Hell is the most enjoyable rollercoaster ride of a movie. Imbuing just the right amount of camp, the film still has the knockabout fun that made Raimi’s earlier work so memorable you’ll be talking about it for days afterwards.

Wadjda
Channel 4, Tuesday February 17, 1:30am

Given the circumstances it had to contend with, it’s remarkable that Wadjda was made at all. First of all writer and director Haifaa al-Mansour spent five years securing funding for a film about the struggle of being female in ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia. Then there was the fact that, whilst shooting on location in Riyadh, al-Mansour could not mix with the male film crew, and had to direct via walkie-talkies and a monitor. Her efforts were more than worthwhile, however, with the bittersweet tale of a girl and her dreams of owning a bicycle shining a light on a culture rarely represented in cinema.

Follow Nick Norton on Twitter @OnlyForKoolKids

The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 92 – Blood Lad

February 6, 2015 by  
Filed under Features

Blood Lad 1

The anime under investigation this time, as you might have guessed from the title, is about a vampire. Points off if the “lad” in the title made you think that this series was set in Yorkshire. Which is a shame because the idea of an anime set in Yorkshire has a certain appeal. I personally like the idea of a boys’ love anime, i.e. a Yorkshire yaoi. Two guys get trapped down the pit, there’s not much else to do, if you get me.

Blood Lad is a supernatural comedy series that first began as a manga by Yuuki Kodama in 2009. A ten-part anime series was broadcast in 2013, along with a special Original Video Anime (OVA) episode, although as the manga is still going not all of the story gets adapted. It is not yet known if another series will be made.

The “Blood Lad” is Staz Charlie Blood, the vampire ruler of an eastern domain of the Demon World. Staz however, is not interesting in consuming human blood. He is an otaku – an anime and manga obsessive. He is mad for anything Japanese. The only thing that troubles him really is when someone from another territory comes to change him for his land.

One day however, Staz learns that a human has somehow entered the Demon World. The human is a Japanese girl called Fuyumi Yangai. Staz is obviously very interested in her, but then he has to go off to fight someone using man-eating plants to gain his domain. Staz easily fends them off, but one of these plants manages to eat and kill Fuyumi, leaving just her clothes and her bones… and her seemingly alive naked body? Yes, because she died in the Demon World, Fuyumi has now turned into a ghost.

Staz vows to make amends and to revive Fuyumi as a human. But things are problematic from that start. The two encounter a treasure hunter named Hydra Bell, who is able to use teleportation and spatial magic, and informs them she found a book about human resurrection. She has however sold this book in the western part of the Demon World, which is controlled by Staz’s friendly but not imaginatively named werewolf rival Wolf.

The worst thing however is that the book is written in code so Staz needs to meet the author to get it translated. The author just happens to be Staz’s hated older brother Braz. This means Staz has to talk to both him and his violent younger sister Liz, who is nicknamed the “Prison Warden” and she has her own dungeon known as her “Toy Box”.

Blood Lad’s plus points include the art, which is bright and colourful. To some it may be a bit garish but I think it is lively and fits in the otherworldliness of the setting. Also the characters are entertaining. Staz especially is a fun character. You have this fun combination of a violent, powerful supernatural being, mixed with someone who is rather a nerd.

Aside from the fact the series is still going on in manga form, there are some minor issues with the DVD and Blu-Ray release of this series in Britain. Nothing terrible-– it is just there is an issue with chapter selection. Some chapter points in particular episodes occur in the middle of scenes or title sequences.

But apart from that, Blood Lad is an entertaining and fun series. This vampire might not be as scary as ones that have visited Whitby for example, but Staz Charlie Blood is an enjoyable creation.

Blood Lad is released on DVD and Blu-Ray by All the Anime, and can be streamed on Netflix.

The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 91 – Giovanni’s Island

February 1, 2015 by  
Filed under Features

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Once again we cover the ever-controversial subject of the war, or to be more precise the end of the war. This is something that has been covered before, such as in the Studio Ghibli film Grave of the Fireflies (No. 40). This article covers a much more recent film, but in some ways it connects with feelings and diplomatic issues that still exist today.

Giovanni’s Island is a 2014 film produced by Production I.G and directed by Mizuho Nishikubo. It is most notable for its setting: the northern island of Shikotan. It and various other islands to the north of Japan has been a continuing subject of diplomatic controversy between the Japanese and the Russians. At the end of the war the USSR as it was then invaded various islands including Shikotan and the Kuril Islands. The Russians did not invade Japan’s mainland because the war ended before they had the chance. Many of these islands are still controlled by Russia, and the ongoing dispute between who actually controls them has being going on so long that an end to hostilities between the two countries has never fully been declared. Thus you could argue that World War II is still going on.

Giovanni’s Island is told in flashback, beginning on 4th July 1945. It tells the story of young boy Junpei Seno and his younger brother Kanta, who live on Shikotan with their father Tatsuo amongst others, a man who is mainly obsessed with the children’s fantasy novel Night on the Galactic Railroad (which itself was made into an anime film in 1985, but that’s for another article). But on the 15th August Japan surrenders, and then on the 1st September the Russians invade, take control of the island, and the families of the Russian troops move onto the island.

Junpei first comes across many problems, as he ends up having to share the school and the best part of his house with the family of the Russian commander. There is one positive however, in that the commander’s daughter, Tanya, is very beautiful. They become friendly, but as the boys believe Tanya will never fully get the grip of Japanese, Junpei and Kanta claim that their names are actually Giovanni and Campanella, who are the two main characters in Night on the Galactic Railroad.

Over the coming months, the Japanese resort to more extreme measures to make live more comfortable. Tatsuo hands out a secret store of rice to the locals, while Junpei’s uncle Hideo begins a smuggling operation. But eventually both get caught, with the result that Tatsuo is taken to Russia. Eventually, the entire Japanese population is taken to an internment camp in Russia, separating Junpei and Tanya. But while in Russia the boys learn that their father is in a prison camp not too far away. Thus they decide to escape from the internment camp and try and see their father, walking across the frozen wastes, while Kanta becomes increasingly ill.

While there are certain aspects of this film that are questionable such as the quality of the animation, other aspects like the music are great. My favourite scenes occur in the school where the Japanese class and the Russian class, which are next door to each other, both have a music class. First they attempt to sing louder than each other, but then in another lesson the Japanese sing a Russian song and then the Russians sing a Japanese song, so the two sides become friendlier.

But the issue of the war is the main thing that comes across, especially in an area that causes so much tension today that you can argue that the war still is not over yet. Perhaps the best comment I have spotted was made by another anime critic, Jonathan Clements, in the sleeve notes for another anime series entitled She: The Ultimate Weapon, when talking about the Kuril Islands and Japan’s northern most part of the mainland Hokkaido: “Hokkaido is not merely the place where the Cold War looks Japan right in the face, it is a reminder that the Russian advance could have proceeded closer to Tokyo, dividing Japan into a communist north and capitalist south, like Korea. For the Japanese, it brings the most unpleasant thought of all – that the horrific devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in speeding a Japanese surrender, may have saved millions of Japanese lives from division and conflict.”

Films like Giovanni’s Island are a reminder that the war is something that we can never forget; no matter how much you would like to, but at the same time can bring a little bit of joy in the sense that while war can divide people it can also bring them together. While this film is not quite as good as Grave of the Fireflies, it is still a film of merit in its own right.

Giovanni’s Island is released by All The Anime as a DVD, Blu-Ray, and a limited edition “Ultimate Edition” including Blu-Ray, DVD and a book.

The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 90 – Lupin III

January 23, 2015 by  
Filed under Features

Lupin III 1

Lupin III, or Lupin the Third as it sometimes written, one of anime’s most enduring creations. First beginning as a manga in 1967 by an artist working under the pseudonym “Monkey Punch”. The character was first adapted for television as an anime in 1971, and various sequels and spin-offs have been released since. To be exact the series has had four anime TV series (with a fifth in production); five anime films, two live-action films and numerous specials and straight-to-video episodes. The series is best described as a crime-caper, but the plots vary so wildly that the title character has had just about every kind of adventure you can imagine.

The lead character, Arsene Lupin III, is a gentleman thief, the grandson of the fictional Arsene Lupin created by French novelist Maurice Leblanc. Lupin III is seemingly capable of stealing just about anything. He tends to give people warning about his crimes in advance, and then manages to get away with his schemes. Lupin is always assisted by his cohort Daisuke Jigen, a man with excellent marksmanship. The duo are also often helped by the stoic and rather old-fashioned master swordsman Geomon Ishikawa XIII, and Lupin’s love interest Fujiko Mine, a femme fatale who is quite happy to betray Lupin and the others if it means she ends with Lupin’s treasures instead.

Most of the stories are stand-alone plots, but Lupin does have one constantly recurring adversary; Inspector Koichi Zenigata of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police and Interpol, who is reportedly a descendant of the fictional Japanese detective Zenigata Heiji. The Inspector has made it his mission in life to arrest Lupin and bring him to justice. Most of the time his attempts to arrest Lupin end up in total failure, but he has managed to arrest Lupin on the odd occasion – only for Lupin to somehow find his way to freedom again. Despite their rivalry the two appear to have a slight respect for each other.

The main quality of Lupin III is its longevity. Including the manga Lupin has been around for nearly half a century. Clearly the formula is one that works. All of the characters work together well. Lupin himself has developed over time. As well as Leblanc’s Arsene Lupin the creator also mixed a bit of James Bond into the character. But all the characters appear to be popular. One of the most recent spin-offs was The Woman Called Fujiko Mine for example.

One problem Lupin III has had however is the issue of copyright. Monkey Punch never got permission to associate his character with Leblanc’s original. By the time Leblanc’s estate launched legal action Lupin III had become an established in Japan. As a result, when the series was first show in Europe and North American Lupin’s name had to be changed. He began “Rupan” or “Wolf”, and in France itself he was named Edgar de la Cambriole, with the series renamed Edgar, Detective Cambrioleur (Edgar, Detective Burglar). Leblanc’s character is now out of copyright so now this legal issue is less of a matter. Monkey Punch has defended himself saying that using a name is not legal, compared to using the entire character design.

Lupin III has had impact on other anime as well, due to the people who in the past have worked on the anime adaptations of this series going on to even bigger and more internationally known projects. Probably the most famous Lupin III story is the movie The Castle of Cagliostro, in which Lupin travels to a small European kingdom which is heading a gigantic counterfeiting operation. The significant thing about this movie in particular was that it was the directorial debut for future Oscar winner Hayao Miyazaki. So arguably, without Lupin III we might not have had Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (No. 38), My Neighbour Totoro (No. 39), Spirited Away (No. 42), Princess Mononoke (No. 58) and The Wind Rises (No. 73).

Lupin III therefore is much like the crime-wave caused by its title character: unstoppable.

The original TV series are currently being released on Region 1 DVD by Eastern Star. Spin-off series The Woman Called Fujiko Mine and the first Lupin film The Mystery of Mamo are released on Region 2 DVD by Manga Entertainment. The Castle of Cagliostro is released on Region 2 DVD and Region B Blu-Ray by Studio Canal.

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