The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 160 – Deadman Wonderland

May 23, 2016 by  
Filed under Features

Deadman Wonderland 1

Last week the government announced prison reforms during the Queen’s Speech. Thus I feel like covering an anime that is set in the nick – albeit a very twisted one.

Deadman Wonderland is a sci-fi horror manga created by Jinsei Kataoka and Kazuma Kondou, which ran between 2007 and 2013. An anime version ran on TV for 12 episodes in 2011, with a bonus prequel episode released separately later that year. You could try and argue that the show is an argument against privatised prisons, but really it is all about the action and violence.

The series is set in the near-future, follow the events of the “Great Tokyo Earthquake”, in which three-quarters of the city is destroyed and is now underwater. Ganta Igarashi survived this earthquake as a child, and now a student 10 years later, is coping fine as he has little memory of the incident. But then, one day at school he finds a strange man, covered in blood, hovering outside the classroom window. This figure, who Ganta refers to as the “Red Man”, kills everyone in Ganta’s class, embeds a red crystal in Ganta’s chest, and vanishes. As the sole survivor, Ganta is assumed to be the murderer, is found guilty, and sentenced to death.

Ganta is made to serve his sentence in “Deadman Wonderland”, Japan’s only privately-run prison which is also operates as a theme park, in which the prisoners are made to perform to the public and funds raised go towards helping reconstruct Tokyo. Ganta and the other Death Row inmates are forced to wear collars that constantly inject poison. The only cure is to eat a form of disgusting “candy” once every three days, which they have to earn by entertaining the crowds. Ganta’s main objective is to clear his name and find out the identity of the Red Man while trying to survive this twisted world, something which becomes even worse when the red crystal starts giving him a strange power: he can turn his own blood into a weapon. This phenomenon, known as the “Branches of Sin”, results in Ganta being given special treatment as being one of the prison’s so-called “Deadmen”. He is therefore forced to take part in an event called “Carnival Corpse”, a gladiatorial battle with other Deadmen that people put huge bets on.

Ganta also has to deal with both his fellow prisoners and those running Deadman Wonderland, in particular Tsunenga Tamaki, who acted as Ganta’s lawyer during his trial, but is actually the prison governor and wants to gain total control of the Branches of Sin. There is also someone else in Deadman Wonderland, not an inmate, who appears to know Ganta. An albino girl named Shiro claims to know him from when Ganta was a child, before the earthquake, and wants to help him, but there appears to be more to her than that first seems.

If there is one thing this anime is not short on, it’s violence. There is blood by the bucket-load, and because of the Branches of Sin it also comes in a lot of shapes. The characters turn their blood into all kinds of weapons such as scythes and whips. In Ganta’s case he simply fires his blood out like bullets, leading to some characters nicknaming his weapon the “Ganta Gun”. Not only that, but those who survive but lose the Carnival Corpse battles have to take forfeits, which come in the form of losing a body part. There are characters for example who have an eye removed or lose their voice as a result of their defeat.

However, while there is plenty of action, there is very little else to recommend this series. The main problem with the show is that it was made before the manga had finished. This means that the anime’s storyline is never really concluded satisfactory, so by the time you get to the end it feels disappointing. While you do seem to find out who the Red Man is, in the anime how Ganta is able to solve these mysteries is never revealed. You can read the manga, which is in English however, so you can find out what happens. Also, while the British commercial release does feature plenty in the way of extras, the subtitling is a bit sloppy at times.

Therefore, Deadman Wonderland is not an anime I would recommend to watch. If you are interested in it, you are better off with the original comics.

Deadman Wonderland is released on DVD and Blu-Ray by Manga Entertainment.

The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 159 – Super Lovers

May 16, 2016 by  
Filed under Features

Super Lovers 1

This week we return to the genre of yaoi: male gay romantic and erotic fiction normally aimed at women. It is also a series that proves, to quote an old expression, that you should never judge a book by its cover.

Super Lovers first began in 2010 as a manga by Miyuki Abe, and the anime version of the series began last month, currently 6 episodes into its 10 episode run. The series is notable because of the comments it attracted before the series began, with some people worrying about what sort of content was going to be in the show given how based on the advertising images of it, like the one above.

The series begins in Alberta, Canada, where a guy named Haru Kaido is visiting his biological mother. He himself was adopted by another family, becoming the eldest son of a family which already had a pair of identical twin brothers. During his visit he learns that the family has adopted yet another young boy, named Ren, who is a wild boy who mainly likes exploring the local wilderness, including the wolves. It is Haru’s job at first to civilise him: a slow process but the two eventually become close, with Haru even kissing him and promising that Ren will eventually live with him back in Japan. However, when Haru returns back home he is picked up in the airport by his adoptive parents, and on the road trip back the end up in a car crash. His adoptive parents are both killed, and Haru remains in a coma for a month. When he wakes up, he has memory loss, resulting in him forgetting about Ren.

Five years later Haru is now having to work in a “host club” (a place where attractive men entertain women, see also Ouran High School Host Club, N0. 3) in order to make ends meet and put his twin brothers, Aki and Shima, through school. A lawyer then meets up with Haru to tell him about Ren, who is now in Japan having obeyed Haru’s promise. Haru now has to act as Ren’s legal guardian, despite not remembering who Ren is, and thus not being able to inform Aki and Shima about his existence. However, it is not long before Haru is expressing the feelings he once felt for Ren again.

As expressed earlier, the most interesting aspect of Super Lovers is how people first reacted to the show, particularly in the west. The series was picked up for streaming by Crunchyroll, they promoted it with images from the show, like the one posted above. As you can see, in the picture Ren is still clearly a young boy. Because of the age of Ren and the fact that this series was a yaoi, many people complained to Crunchyroll because they believed that the series was going to be paedophilic. However, all that happens in the first episode is that they kiss, and then the series moves forward five years, so Ren’s age becomes less of an issue. Also, as both Haru and Ren are adopted, the relationship is also strictly speaking not incestuous.

Other elements of interest include the relationship not just between Haru and Ren, but also their relationship with Aki and Shima, whose reaction to when they learn about Ren being another adopted brother differs considerably at first, with one not liking it at all and the other being more understanding. There is also the comedy in the show, most of which comes from Ren trying to get to grips with urban, Japanese life. For example, he learns about the raccoon dogs that life in Japan, and believes that Haru’s landlord has one. What he actually has is a Pomeranian dog. There is also a scene in which Haru kisses Ren, but Haru makes Ren angry during the kiss and thus bites Ren’s tongue, causing to cough up a comically large amount of blood.

The best thing to be said about Super Lovers therefore is that it does surprise you. You are at first worried about what the show is going to be about, but once you enter the end of the first episode and move onto the second, all becomes clear.

Super Lovers is streamed online on Crunchyroll.

The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 158 – Space Patrol Luluco

May 9, 2016 by  
Filed under Features

Space Patrol Luluco 1

This week we return to my favourite anime director, Hiroyuki Imaishi. He has made some of the most best anime series around in my view, including my personal favourite anime of all, Gurren Lagann (No. 50).

His most recent series though, Space Patrol Luluco, which started in April, appears to reference many of his other shows. The use of short, 8-minute long episodes harks back to his adult comedy series Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt (No. 19), and it appears to feature elements taken from Imaishi’s last big project Kill la Kill (No. 80).

Space Patrol Luluco is a sci-fi comedy. It takes place in a place called Ogikubo, a location somewhere on Earth which serves as a frontier zone for visiting alien immigrants who wish to reside in Earth. Although the place is extraordinary, our heroine wants nothing to do with such bizarreness. 13-year-old schoolgirl Luluco has one wish: to live a perfectly ordinary life. She lives with her father Keiji, who works for the Space Patrol, a law-enforcement agency whose job is to arrest aliens breaking the law.

However, an accident results in Keiji freezing his entire body. Luluco takes her father to work, but his boss, the skeletal Over Justice, says that Luluco must take over Keiji’s work until he returns to normal. Luluco’s work now sees her doing things that are, to her horror, not normal. This includes a siren flashing from her head whenever a crime is committed, and undergoing a process called “Judgment Gun Morphing”, which sees her turn into a large gun in order to attack criminals.

During her work, two of her fellow students join the Space Patrol, both of whom are aliens. One is handsome transfer student Alpha Omega Nova (spelt AΩ Nova), who Luluco slowly begins to fall in love with. The other is Midori, who at first is arrested for selling an illegal phone app, but who gets out of it by agreeing to work for the Space Patrol. Luluco now tries to manage a normal life while dealing with not-so-normal people, one of whom happens to her own mother Lalaco, aka “God Speed”, an infamous space pirate.

Although this anime hasn’t been around very long (six episodes at the time of writing, all eight minutes in length), there is still plenty of things to like about. There is the rather surreal comedy, rather cartoonish at times, which again goes back to Imaishi’s fondness for western animation as evidenced in Panty and Stocking. There are also what look like references to other series he has made. For example, Lalaco’s mother wears a long pirate coat, the inside of which appears to be made out of long red strands of fibre. These appear to be references to the “Life Fibres”, which form a key part of the plot in Kill la Kill, a series set in a school with a fascistic policy on school uniforms. Over Justice also wears long, pointed sunglasses, similar to those sported by Kamina in Gurren Lagann. It thus seems that Space Patrol Luluco is Imaishi’s way of paying respect to his earlier work.

It is hard to say in what direction the series will go, seeing as how not much as being broadcast even though it has been on for over a month now, but it is definitely a show keeping an eye on: not least because it contains small doses of the work that makes Hiroyuki Imaishi such a talented director.

Space Patrol Luluco is being streamed on Crunchyroll.

The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 157 – My Hero Academia

May 2, 2016 by  
Filed under Features

My Hero Academia 1

Returning again to Funimation’s new streaming service which recently launched in the UK, this week’s series is the one anime that they have been plugging the most. It was their most high-profile acquisition this season, but I want to highlight for personal reasons.

My Hero Academia began as a manga in Weekly Shonen Jump, the biggest manga comic, by Kohei Horikoshi in 2014. The anime began at the beginning of April. The series fits into what I see as the “non-school” genre of anime set in schools that would never exist in real-life, but what interests me about this show is that I think in a peculiar way it deals with the subject of disability.

Chronologically, the story begins in China when a bioluminescent baby is born. Following this, other people around the world start exhibiting strange abilities. It spreads so rapidly that these “Quirks” as they are eventually known, become commonplace. Thus moving to the present day, the setting for the story is set: a world in which 80% of the world’s population have superpowers. This results in superheroes and supervillains emerging across the globe.

Unfortunately, our hero, Izuku Midoriya, is not much of a hero. He is one of the 20% “Quirkless” people with no superpowers at all. He is completely normal, and is thus bullied for it, especially by his classmate Katsuki Bakugo, whose Quirk is to create explosions by sweating nitro-glycerine from his palms. Despite his lack of ability, Izuku still wants to become a hero.

On the way back from school one day, Izuku is attacked by a villain, but is saved by his favourite hero: the super-strong All Might, the greatest hero in the world. Izuku follows All Might, where Izuku learns that his idol’s always-smiling public image is not all that’s cracked up to be. Due to an injury, All Might can only keep his bulky, muscular image up for a few hours a day. The rest of the time, he is very thin and vomiting blood. All Might says that Izuku is unlikely to become a hero, but then they discover that the villain he trapped earlier has escaped. Izuku and All Might both reach the scene, in which the villain is attacking Katsuki, but none of the heroes at the scene are able to stop him. Izuku thus decides to rush out onto the scene, and although he cannot stop the villain, he inspires All Might to go back to his super-form and save the day.

Afterwards, All Might decides to offer Izuku his Quirk, “All for One”, which becomes more powerful the more people it is given to. Thus All Might starts training Izuku to use his new Quirk, and to study at U.A. High School, the school that trains the next generation of superheroes. He manages to join the school, as does Katsuki, and so Izuku begins the long process of training, while at the same time trying to hide from everyone the fact that All Might is helping him and how weak he sometimes is.

At first My Hero Academia seems to be typical boys comic fair: a male lead trying to achieve a seemingly impossible task, in this case being a great superhero. It also is able to create characters easily, just by adding superheroes with new abilities. In Izuku’s class other characters include Ochako Uraraka, who can control gravity (but she becomes sick if she uses her ability too much); Tenya Iida, who has super-speed thanks to engines in his legs; Shoto Todoroki, a boy whose left-hand side of his body controls fire, and his right-hand side controls ice; and Yuga Aoyama, who has the strange ability of firing a laser from his belly button.

However, there is more to it than just plain superhero action. Firstly there is the artistic style of some aspects of the show. For example, All Might is drawn in an American style when he is in a superhero form, referencing US superhero comics. But for me, this title has another element to it, which is this: My Hero Academia is set in a world where superhuman abilities are normal, therefore it is not normal to have no ability. To me, being Quirkless in this world is the same as being disabled in real-life.

Speaking as someone who has a disability, namely Asperger’s Syndrome, the reason I like My Hero Academia is because this is a story about someone who in his world has a form of disability, but someone is able to help him and let him achieve his dream. While many people with disabilities are fine with who they are and would not want to change (including myself), it is also true that there are times when you wished you could be perfectly able bodied, where you would take up that offer of living a normal life, to be free of so many problems and prejudices.

Plus, there is that bit of me that thinks that I’d rather describe my Asperger’s as a Quirk rather than a disability. It sounds less negative to me. I’d rather be known as quirky than disabled.

My Hero Academia is streamed on Funimation.

The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 156 – Yo-Kai Watch

April 23, 2016 by  
Filed under Features

Yo-Kai Watch 1

This morning something they big happened in terms of anime in the UK: a new anime series was aired on British television. This almost never happens, so it deserves a closer look.

The only anime that ever tends to get shown on British TV are children’s shows and Yo-Kai Watch is no exception – don’t expect any anime for adults to be on UK TV any time soon (or even ever). Yo-Kai Watch was originally a video game released on the Nintendo 3DS in 2013. Since then a manga comic has been released in English, and then an anime TV series began in January 2014. But this series has only just been made available for British viewers today, with new episodes airing on weekend mornings at 7.30 on Cartoon Network (sorry to those who just have Freeview, I’m afraid you’re left out), and repeated on the same day at 19.00.

Yo-Kai Watch follows the adventures of a young boy who in the English-language version of the series is called Nate Adams (Keita in the original Japanese). While out bug-hunting with his friends Eddie (Kanchi), Bear (Kuma) and his love interest Katie (Fumi), Nate is upset that Katie only finds him average. Nate tries to impress Katie by capturing an impressive-looking glowing insect, but while doing so he comes across a lone, large tree, next to which is an old capsule-toy machine. After hearing some ghostly cries asking him to feed the machine, he does so, takes out a capsule and opens it. Upon doing so, out comes a strange ghost.

The ghost, who calls himself Whisper, thanks Nate for freeing him. Whisper claims to be a “Yo-Kai”, which are a form of supernatural being in Japanese folklore that affect the lives of those nearby. Whisper offers to help Nate by becoming his butler, assisting him in any way possible – not that Nate is interested at first. When Nate gets back home however, he spots his parents arguing. Whisper tells Nate he can find out the cause of the problem by using a special “Yo-Kai Watch”, which Whisper offers and Nate uses. The watch shines a bright light to reveal other Yo-Kai, which only Nate can see. In this case, the problem is caused by Dismarelda, a Yo-Kai that spreads misery. The problem is solved when her husband, the joy-spreading Yo-Kai Happierre appears; causing their effects to be cancelled out and the two leave the house.

The rest of the story sees Nate trying to find other Yo-Kai, and becoming friends with them either by negotiation or confrontation. For example, he meets Jibanyan, a cat Yo-Kai who used to be a normal cat but was killed by a truck. Since then he possesses humans in order to fight back against all road vehicles. Nate stops him, the two become friends, and as a sign of their friendship Nate is given a special medal. The rest of the series sees Nate and his new medal-giving friends trying to stop troublesome Yo-Kai and spread goodwill around town.

Upon hearing this plot you might be thinking: “Hang on, a story based on a video game in which you collect strange monsters? That sounds familiar.” You would be right. It is hard when talking about Yo-Kai Watch not to make comparisons to perhaps the most commercially successful anime to hit Britain, Pokémon (No. 25). Therefore, Yo-Kai Watch is not the most original of stories which may put off some anime fans. Plus, you can only watch it in English, not the original Japanese, and personally speaking I’m not too keen on the opening and closing title sequences.

However, the actual content of the show, while not being a brand new idea, is actually pretty good. The quality of the animation is top notch; the characters are entertaining; the jokes are pretty decent; and while you can only watch it in an English dub, it seems to be handled pretty well, which is unusual for a lot of anime. One of the problems I normally have with dubs is that the American voice actors performing the roles often sound a bit too childish for the characters, but that’s not a problem when the main characters are either children or small ghostly creatures.

But the best thing that can be said for Yo-Kai Watch is that it is actually being shown on British TV, which is so rare. I would therefore recommend people watch it, mainly to show support for anime being televised. Admittedly this is a problem for those who don’t have access to the channel, but with the original video game coming out next week as well, support can be shown in other ways. Ultimately my hope is that be encouraging support for this anime, it might encourage not just Cartoon Network, but other TV networks to venture into anime as well.

Yo-Kai Watch airs at 07.30 on Saturday and Sunday mornings and repeated at 19.00 on Saturday and Sunday evenings on Cartoon Network. The original Yo-Kai Watch video game is released on Nintendo 3DS on Friday 29th April. More information on the show is available on the Cartoon Network website.

The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 155 – Assassination Classroom

April 18, 2016 by  
Filed under Features

Assassination Classroom 1

We continue to look at the anime on Funimation, the long-running streaming service that has only been made available in the UK this month. While this series is also on the older Animax streaming service, they only released the second series which seems pointless, but now we can watch this anime from the beginning.

Assassination Classroom started as a manga in the most popular manga magazine, Weekly Shonen Jump, beginning in 2012 and finishing just last month. Having first began as a one-off Original Video Anime (OVA) straight-to-video episode, the first anime series proper aired in 2015 and the second is currently on air (although the latest episode has been postponed due to the recent earthquakes that hit Japan). It has also been adapted as two live action films. The series is a mixture of science-fiction, action, comedy, and what I referred to as the “non-school” genre, of anime set in schools that would never exist in real-life. As you might have gathered from the title, it is set in a class where the students are all assassins, and the picture illustrates that their teacher is certainly unusual.

The story starts of big: 70% of the Moon is destroyed, forever leaving it crescent shaped. While the public are not informed to the reason why, the governments of the world know that the thing that destroyed it was some kind of monster of unknown origin. The creature is a tentacled monster, with a gigantic spherical head and permanent toothy grin on his face. He can change the colour of his skin, can quickly regenerate parts of his body, can travel at speeds of up to Mach 20, meaning he can easily dodge bullets and outpace jet fighters.

The creature has said that in one year’s time, he will destroy the Earth, just like he did with the Moon, but he offers them a chance to avoid this fate. The creature will give humanity one year to save themselves, in which time they have to try their best to kill him. In exchange, the creature wants a job as a teacher, which the governments of the world agree to as they can keep an eye on him. As part of the deal, the monster cannot harm any of his students.

The class the monster teachers is Class 3-E of Kunugigaoka Junior High School. The class itself was created by the school’s chairman, Gakuho Asano, as a way of motivating everyone else in the school. Class 3-E is the class for underachievers and designed to be as horrible as possible, with no hope of a decent future for anyone who ends up in it. Not only is it terrible, but everyone is encouraged to openly discriminate and humiliate them, and the class is taught in a remote building far away from the main campus. In order to motivate the students in the class, a member of Japan’s Ministry of Defence, Tadaomi Karasuma, offers an award of ¥10 billion ($100 million) to any student who manages to kill the monster, who the students name Koro-Sensei, meaning “Unkillable Teacher”. The students are all given weapons designed to only harm Koro-Sensei, and are all taught the ways of assassination by Karasuma, who becomes their P.E. teacher, by their Slavic buxom English teacher and assassin Irina “Prof. Bitch” Jelavich, and even by Koro-Sensei himself.

The story is narrated by one of the students of the class, Nagisa Shiota, a character so androgynous, it is not until half-way through the first series it is confirmed that he is a boy. Is main strategy is making a detailed list of all of Koro-Sensei’s weaknesses, ranging from his inability to swim and the fact he panics easily, right down to minor points such as his fondness for big-breasted women or loving gossip. Despite his appearance however, Nagisa is probably the strongest of all the students in terms of assassination skills, but like all the students in Class 3-E, they have a problem: Koro-Sensei is so good at teaching that they kind of become fond of him. All the students want to kill him, but Koro-Sensei is also so good at improving their grades that they are able to fight back against Chairman Asano’s prejudiced policies.

As you can see, it takes a while to set up the entire plot, but once you get into the series it starts to become more enjoyable. The best thing about the show for me it the ensemble cast. In terms of anime previously covered in this column, the closest series to this one is Baka and Test (No. 78), which also focuses on the worst class in a school which adopts a stupidly strict streaming policy. However, while Baka and Test tends to focus on a few particular students, Assassination Classroom is one of the few anime where the entire class get involved.

There are nearly 30 students altogether in the class so it would be too time-consuming to list them all, but apart from Nagisa other students particular of note include Kaede Kayano, a female student who is one of Nagisa’s closest friends and has a hatred of women with big boobs; rebellious Karma Akabane, another close friend of Nagisa’s who is probably the cleverest student in the class and who really wants to kill a teacher after being betrayed by one; Manami Okuda, who uses her knowledge of chemistry to try and poison Koro-Sensei; Yukiko Kanzaki, the class idol who has a secret passion for playing arcade games; Nagisa’s best friend Tomohito Sugino, who before being in Class 3-E was in the school’s baseball team; Yuma Isogai, the perpetually poor class president; Ryoma Terasaka, the class rebel who originally hates Koro-Sensei and does not want to be taught by him; and later on in the series Ritsu, originally named the Autonomous Intelligence Fixed Artillery, an artificial intelligence from Norway who at first just tries to shoot at Koro-Sensei indiscriminately, but later develops a conscience and becomes friends with the rest of the class.

This leads to another positive to the series: its diversity. While it does not look like that on the surface, mainly because nearly all the students are Japanese except for Norwegian Ritsu, this is a show which has a fair balance between male and female characters, rich and poor characters, brainy and brawny characters, and Irina is one of the few anime characters of Slavic origin. Some sources even claim that she is even first anime character to come from Serbia.

But perhaps the best thing about the series is Koro-Sensei, primarily because the character is so fully rounded (not just the head). The thing that really appeals is that Koro-Sensei wants to wipe out the planet, he doesn’t come across as the central antagonist in the story because he cares so much for his students. Other characters come across as even worse, normally other assassins who don’t just want to kill Koro-Sensei but the students too. The character who really comes across as vile is Gakuho Asano, with his believe that the strong students must always defeat the weak, leading to him treat his own son cruelly, to brainwash other students into hating Class 3-E, and a seemingly fascistic mind-set.

Assassination Classroom is full of action, plenty of comedy, and lots of entertaining characters that people can relate to – or as close as you can relate when their teacher is intend on destroying the world.

Assassination Classroom is available on Funimation in its entirety, while just the second series is available on Animax.

The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 154 – Prince of Stride: Alternative

April 11, 2016 by  
Filed under Features

Prince of Stride 1

This week has been a big one for anime fans in the UK, with the launch of the streaming service Funimation in this country for the first time.

For many years, Funimation did not stream in the UK or Ireland. If they announced that they were going to stream a new show, the news was met with disappointment in this country, as we had to hope it would be stream by another website. The problem was that often the website would be inferior in quality. It was even worse if no-one streamed the series at all, because it just promoted piracy.

But now we can finally watch all the shows they have on offer. The website contains many series previously covered in this column, including Ouran High School Host Club (No. 3), Junjo Romantica (No. 5), Attack on Titan (No. 11), Hetalia: Axis Powers (No. 26), Hellsing (No. 27), Fairy Tail (No. 52), Fruits Basket (No. 55), Strike Witches (No. 72), Baka and Test (No. 78) and Cute High Earth Defense Club LOVE! (No. 94). Plus there are other recent series, which is what I’m covering today.

When Funimation announced their plan to launch in the UK around February, my plan was to compare a series they were going to stream but not accessible via them, with a version of the same show streamed via a different service that was available. This was a slightly difficult task, partly due to due Funimation delaying their launch until April, something that annoyed many fans as Funimation had previously said they would launch in March.

The series I have picked is Prince of Stride: Alternative, a sports series that was available in the UK via streaming service Animax before being released on Funimation. However, it is a rather loose definition of “sport” given that the sport in the series is fictional. The series began as a series of novels simply entitled Price of Stride, created by Shuji Sogabe in 2012. It has been also turned into a video game, a manga, and an anime that ran between January and March 2016. It features an interesting mix of bright animation, nice music, and great character design, the latter of which is especially good because of the fan base, the same fan base of shows like Free! (No. 17) and Haikyu!! (No. 116): people, mostly women, who think that all guys on male high school sports teams are gay.

The series revolves around the sport of “stride”, which is best described as a parkour relay-race. It involves two teams of six players: each having five runners, and the “relationer”, whose communicates with the rest of the team via ear pieces. The race starts with the first runners setting off, and then their relationers telling their second runners to go off at the right time so that they meet up. The teammates then must high-five each other. After that the first runners stop, the second runners continue. The relationers then tell the third runners to set off and so on, with the fifth crossing the finishing line. Not only to the runners have to out-run their competitors, they also must deal with obstacles by performing “tricks”, and figure out which route to take, as there are several paths you can run.

Nana Sakurai is a girl who loves stride and one school team in particular. As a result she moved to Tokyo to study at Honan Academy to join its stride team. Upon arriving at the school she meets two other students who also seem to be interested in the sport: Riku Yagami, who is seemingly always cheerful and whose speed impresses all; and stride-obsessed Takeru Fujiwara, who is cool, calm, collected, and has the odd habit of grabbing people’s legs to see if they are good at stride too. However, then they try to join the school’s Stride Club, they notice a problem. The club is not as grand as it used to be.

There are now only three members of the once great Stride Club. Well, to be strict, there is only two: third-year team captain Heath Hasekura, and the cute “Trickster of Honan” Hozumi Kohinata. The “third” member of the club, Ayumu Kadowaki, is actually the sole member of the school’s “Shogi Club” (shogi being a board game also known as “Japanese chess”), but as the school as a rule of closing down any club that has fewer than three members, the three guys are members of each other’s clubs to keep them going.

The guys have a race to decide to whether the newbies deserve to join. The end result is a tie and so the Stride Club ends up having its required six members, with Nana becoming the relationer. The club’s aim is to win a nationwide stride contest called “End of Summer”, but before that they have other difficulties: the club used to have another member, Kyosuke Kuga, but he had fallen out with the team and now they have to figure out how to get him to join the club again. They also have to secure sponsorship for the team, and then there is simply the problem of trying to win their races. Their main friendly rivals are the “Galaxy Standard” team, who are so popular that they have a side-line as a pop idol band (they even perform the anime’s end theme). Worst of all is the problem of Riku living in the shadow of his older brother Tomoe, probably the greatest stride runner ever.

The positives of Prince of Stride include the quality of the animation from studio Mad House. It is bright and colourful, making it a pleasant thing to watch. You also have the soundtrack that makes for good listening, and then we get onto the main characters themselves. As mentioned earlier, sports anime like this tend to attract people who are into gay fiction, and there is plenty to titillate the fans. Not only do you have the guys working out and odd occasional glimpse of flesh, but when they do finally find a sponsor it is for a fashion-line run by Heath’s sister, so you get to see the guys dress up, and in Hozumi’s case even being forced to cross-dress.

The main flaw of the story though is that because the sport is fictional, you don’t connect with the characters as much as you do with a sports anime set in a real-life sport. It just isn’t as dramatic as other sports anime. To give you an example, recently when watching Haikyu!! the central characters managed to win a important match, and when they did I fist-pumped celebration. I was ecstatic about watching a fictional sports team win, in a sport I have never actually watched with real-life players, either on TV or radio. It is hard to get the same emotional connection when people are playing a game that no-one actually plays anyway. Therefore, Prince of Stride is a bit of a mixed bag, but on the whole it is worth a watch mainly because of the production.

Now let’s move onto Funimation’s handling of it. While there have been some teething troubles with the launch, actually watching the video is wonderful. Animax’s main problem (for they are many) is the quality of their videos, which often pixelate badly and result in terrible quality. There doesn’t seem to be any such problems with Funimation. You can also easily skip forwards and backwards in 10 second intervals, and has a range of video definitions to suit your computer. It also offers a nice range of prices, so you can go for cheaper service offering just the subtitled versions of the shows, or a more expensive option offering shows dubbed into English if you prefer it.

The best thing though is simply the fact that Funimation is now available. We have waited for years for it to arrive on our shores, and now we can watch tits shows, as wells as give our money to a service that we actually like.

Prince of Stride: Alternative is available to stream on Funimation and Animax.

The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 153 – The Tale of the Princess Kaguya

April 4, 2016 by  
Filed under Features

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya 1

Many people complained about this year’s Oscars, mainly because of race. However, the awards have lots of problems. I would argue that one of them is that when it comes to the Oscar for “Best Animated Feature Film”, you can be almost certain that no matter how good the other nominations are, the award will go to Disney/Pixar.

This was seemingly most evident in 2014, which was won by Big Hero 6, where many people complained that The Lego Movie was snubbed because it was not even considered for nomination. However, it could also be that other films that were nominated were unjustly overlooked, including Studio Ghibli’s The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, directed by Isao Takahata, released in November 2013, and noted for its use of hand-drawn animation. The evidence for its claim for being snubbed was that one of the judges thought that the film was Chinese.

The film is an adaptation of the classic Japanese folk story known as “The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter”. It begins with the said bamboo cutter chopping down a bamboo shoot, and discovers a young girl inside it, who he believes to be divine. He takes the girl home to his wife, and together they raise the girl who they call “Princess”. However, they experience some problems: namely that like bamboo, she grows very quickly. So quickly in fact that the other children who live nearby call her “Little Bamboo”, including Sutemaru, the eldest of the children who begins to fall in love with her.

The bamboo cutter then finds more things in the bamboo, such as fine clothes and gold. Again, he takes this as a sign of the Princess’s divinity. Thus he decides to take the family away from the country and to the capital, to raise her as an actual princess. The Princess is at first hesitant, not wanting to leave her friends, and disliking the practices she has to go through in order to be a respectable woman, including painting her face white, blacking-up her teeth and using a tweezer to shorten her eyebrows. However, she eventually comes to accept her role, and is later given the name Princess Kaguya. The story continues to see her trying to strive for happiness, avoiding unsuitable men who want to marry her for she too has a fondness for Sutemaru, and coming to terms with an unwanted fate.

The most notable feature about The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is the animation. Takahata is probably the most innovative of Ghibli’s directors. He made the studio’s first entirely digitally animated film, My Neighbours the Yamadas (No. 106), and then he decided to move from up-to-date technology to something more traditional, with this hand-painted film. For us Brits, we associate hand-painted animation with things like The Snowman, which is a classic of Christmas TV, and about 30 minutes long. This film is over 2 hours long. To give you an idea of the time scale, Takahata announced that the film’s subject in 2009, so it took around 4 years to complete.

Also, like so many Studio Ghibli films, there is what we would consider to be a surprising amount of stuff that appears in it which at first you think would not be suitable for children. For example you see a nude boy, something which appeared in Takahata’s first feature film, The Little Norse Prince (No. 102) back in 1968; Kaguya herself appears naked too; and Kaguya is also breastfed by the bamboo cutter’s wife, so at one point you see her breast taken out. This is a film rated by the BBFC with a “U” ranking.

Perhaps one of the most telling things about this film is that it shows the ignorance of the people who vote for the Oscars. A report which interviewed some of the people who voted for the awards that year talked one judge, who was angry that The Lego Movie was not nominated. While that person is happily entitled to that opinion, they also ignorantly say, in relation to Princess Kaguya and the Irish animated movie Song of the Sea get nominations instead: “When a movie [The Lego Movie] is that successful and culturally hits all the right chords and does that kind of box-office — for that movie not to be in over these two obscure freakin’ Chinese fuckin’ things that nobody ever freakin’ saw?”

With levels of ignorance that great, not just confusing China with Japan, but also with Ireland, you truly to despair at the Oscars, not just for attitudes to things like race in their own country, but their cultural awareness of the entire globe.

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is released on DVD and Blu-Ray by Studio Canal.

The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, Extra VIII – Will an anime or manga ever be X-Listed?

April 1, 2016 by  
Filed under Features

Censored

WARNING: This column deals with subjects considered to be deeply offensive, including rape, paedophilia, bestiality, graphic violence, murder, bigotry etc.

Past columns have talked about censorship and freedom of speech in anime. Most of time, you can do pretty much anything: you can have gory violence, or graphic sex including rape and paedophilia. Some manga have come into trouble because some people think they are racist, but the government have never prevented a manga or anime from being sold outright in Japan. The only thing that tends to be censored is genitalia.

However, there are plenty of people in Japan who worry about censorship of the industry. Many want to find out what exactly are the limits. Could there ever be a point where a manga or anime was so scandalous that the government would step in and say: “You cannot do this. This cannot be sold or displayed.” Some people have tried to find out, resulting in the “X-Listed Contest”.

This idea was created by a group of friends running an anime convention in Sapporo, Hokkaido, in 1985. After the event finished they were busy celebrating, having a few drinks, and then started talking about fan-made manga, known as “dojinshi”. Some pornographic dojinshi had been sold at the convention, and so they had the idea of creating a really seedy, rude, fetish-filled, bad-taste manga. Named Rape Me Now!! and published under the group name of Satsujin 1 (Murderer 1), it not only featured the lead character, a 9-year-old boy, being raped, but also beaten-up, forced to have sex with a dog, eat his own faeces, cut off and eat his own penis, and finally being choked to death by sucking a horse’s member. They self-published it, and managed to get it printed without being arrested, by making sure to blur out only what needed to be blurred out by law.

The comic spread like wildfire among certain circles, not just for fans of pornographic manga, but people working in the “alternative manga” circuit who were interested in more obscure works. At the following year’s convention, more people became interested and tried making their own bad-taste works. Works that are in such bad taste, that I dare not post any images because I’m worried they might break British obscenity and/or extreme pornography laws.

It was decided to turn it into a competition, which became known as the X-Listed Contest, the name being reference to X-rated material. The “listed” bit came from the description of the contest’s objective: “The winner will be the creator of a manga or anime so scandalous that the government would block any commercial release of it, and would put on a list of works that would be deemed too offensive to show.”

The main rules are:

  • It has to be either a manga or an anime. No other format is allowed.
  • The maximum length for manga is 20 pages.
  • The maximum length for anime is 5 minutes.
  • It can be offensive in any way you choose. It can be racist, sexist, homophobic, violent, pornographic, politically contentious etc.
  • All authors who submit work must also act out a brief scene from their work, live on stage.

This last rule was put in to add humour to the ceremony. Obviously most of what is depicted in these works is illegal, so it has to be acted out carefully. Entrants in the past have acted out murders, rapes, cannibal feasts, have blacked-up, made mock speeches attacking minorities and so on. Some people have won the contest by doing very realistic performances of their work. One winner, Takeshi Tobe, wrote a story called The Last Supper about a man who eats himself, and before the performance he had part of his flesh surgically removed, and then he ate it on stage. Not only that but he act out his scene faithfully, which involved eating it raw (he vomited much it back up again during the performance), from a dog bowl and laced with powerful laxatives. He then defecated on stage and started throwing his faeces at his “dinner party guests”, who he claimed were the audience.

The prize of the winner is to have their work released commercially, either in print if it is a manga, or as an Original Video Anime (OVA) depending on the format. Despite the fact that every single winner is terribly grotesque, the Japanese government have never blocked a release, meaning that the entrants are always looking for new ways to cause offence.

Below are some of the winners from previous years:

  • XXX/1999 by Yuto Ashihara – A pornographic rendering of the popular manga X (No. 70). It featured the central character Kamui Shiro being raped by fellow character Fuma Monou, having a sword rammed up his anus and out his torso, and a second sword stabbed through his groin. Kamui also has his head repeated banged up against a wall, then his face is burnt off by a blowtorch, and finally Fuma removes the two swords, slices open Kamui’s belly, and Fuma forces Kamui to eat his own intestines. This entry was noted for being the first to use characters from another work, so was considered controversial not just for the graphic content, but also for the copyright infringement. However, there are many fan-works released based on other people’s shows so that was not considered a problem. In her stage performance, Ashihara used make-up to created what looked like a badly damaged face, and ate pig’s intestines.
  • Abe’s Reich by Hiro Ohtaka – One of the more recent winners and one of the few presented as an anime, this was a vicious, satirical work attacking Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Critical of Abe’s right-wing stance on several issues, he made a anime portraying him as an Adolf Hitler-like figure, exterminating anyone who disagreed with him. People wondered whether a anime that attacked a current prime minister might get censored, but it never did.
  • The Korean Dependency of Japan by Katsura Kubo – On the other side of the political spectrum, this manga was designed to be as racist as possible. It was an alternative history story set in a world were after World War II the Koreans were given Japan as an award by the Allies. The story depicts the occupying Korean forces in every negative light, with them murdering, raping, abusing and violating every Japanese person in sight in what they see as “divine punishment”.
  • Nuclear Justice by Shuzo Okazaki – Probably the most sensitive subject in Japan is the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This conspiracy thriller followed a Japanese man who wants to bring peace to the country. Instead of the Americans dropping the bombs, he makes them and plants them in the towns himself. This story is the one that has attracted the most anger, especially in the towns that were victims of the bombings, but again, it somehow managed to be published.
  • My Private Harem by Moonlight Kunt – The most commercially successful of all the winners. It is a shotacon (male paedophilia) series in which the central character, whose name is never revealed and is simply called “God” by all the other characters, is a serial kidnapper, paedophile and fetishist who targets boys. He castrates them, brainwashes them and forces each boy to become “top” of a particular kink. The opening, winning story, sees a 5-year-old boy named Shinji to become a “pain-slut”. When acting out her scene Kunt performed on a doll. The series is now in its 11th print volume and has been turned into an OVA series.

The series has becoming increasingly popular as a cult event, although it still fails to get much mainstream media coverage due to the adult content of the contest. It is now tradition that the X-listed Contest is held annually at 10pm on 10th October (as X is 10 in Roman numerals). Although the venue for the next event is not yet confirmed, it is rumoured to be organised by Department-H, a fetish event in Tokyo.

Most people will no doubt see this contest as utterly horrible, and that none of these series should be published, certainly not in English. However, it still helps continue the debate into freedom of speech, artistic licence and so on. Should the government ever step into sensor a work at all? Should creators self-censor? Are we to blame for wanting to read and see such material? It is such questions that the X-listed Contest forces you to answer.

In case you failed to spot it – April Fool!

The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 152 – Ichi the Killer

March 28, 2016 by  
Filed under Features

Ichi the Killer 1

As you might have gathered from the title, we turn to one of anime’s more violent titles this week. While the original manga comic has never been released in English, this small anime, as well as the live action films based on it, give a taste of the violent offerings it has.

Ichi the Killer was first a manga that ran between 1998 and 2001 by Hideo Yamamoto, which ran for 10 volumes. The first adaptation of it was a live action film in 2001, followed by a prequel in 2003. However, between these two there was straight-to-video Original Video Anime (OVA) made in 2002, which was also a prequel to the original series, that was 45-minutes long.

The anime tells the story of the title character, Shiroishi “Ichi” Hajime, who in the present day lives a mental asylum. He has a mental age of six due to him repressing his memories, which he does by doing lots of physical exercise. Despite this, he still has the sexual desires of an adult. He is released when a parole officer named Kakihara agrees to help rehabilitate. In this anime, we learn how he ended up in the asylum, and the consequences of his release.

Ichi got there for a number of reasons: when he was a student he was bullied by his classmates; his parents keep pressuring him to get good grades, and then at night Ichi can hear his parents having sadomasochistic sex. He then goes out one night, and sees a cat badly injured in a road accident. Ichi goes to help the cat, which bites him. This results in Ichi going into a violent craze, beating up the cat until it is dead. He also finds causing violence to be erotic.

He later kills some rabbits kept as pets at his school. Ichi’s best friend finds out and starts to blackmail him to be quiet. Eventually Ichi snaps again, killing his friend and his parents. The modern day story sees how Kakihara starts to actually manipulate him into doing his violent bidding, namely by killing members of the yakuza.

The main appeal, and to be honest, is the violence. Although it is easy to be desensitised by TV and film violence, even here there are things to be shocked by. The scene in which Ichi is surprisingly bitten by the cat which he then beats to death, is one that grabs your attention in a horrific way because you are not expecting it at first (although I do admit that I have given it away somewhat).

Later on there is a sex scene in which Ichi meets a woman who is a masochist. At first Ichi does not want to hurt her, but eventually he does. It is somewhat scary to witness such a horrific act. Later on you see Ichi, having fled this woman, in a park crying, where three men try to beat him up. Ichi kills these men in incredibly graphic ways. He snaps necks and he breaks jaws – and at the end of all this, he gets an erection and masturbates at what he has done, which is equally disturbing.

There is much to dislike about Ichi the Killer in terms of the quality of the animation, or the fact that is so horribly violent, particularly the sexual violence, but if this something that you are able to stomach, then this show is a short blast of fast-paced action.

Ichi the Killer was released on Region 2 DVD by Premier Asia. In Britain, only second hand copies remain.

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