The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 122 – Kiki’s Delivery Service

August 31, 2015 by  
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Kiki's Delivery Service 1

As with last week, we look at another Studio Ghibli film being aired this week on Channel 4. Another one by Hayao Miyazaki as it happens.

Based on a 1985 novel of the same name by Eiko Kadono, Kiki’s Delivery Service was released in 1989, and was one of Studio Ghibli’s most successful films. It was the highest grossing film that year in Japan, and it created a wonderful and charming lead character, who is described in The Anime Encyclopedia: Second Edition by Jonathan Clements and Helen McCarthy as, “a character who deserves to be the patron saint of freelancers, students and motorcycle messengers.”

Set in a seemingly fictionalised European-like land (most likely Sweden given some of written language displayed and the fact that Miyazaki had visited Stockholm in 1971), Kiki’s Delivery Service follows the story of thirteen-year-old Kiki, a girl who is training to be a witch. It is tradition that when a witch turns this age that she should leave home for a year to study further afield. Thus she travels on her flying broomstick with her talking black cat Jiji to find somewhere to live and work. She visits the port town of Koriko, but gets into trouble when flying under a low bridge and causes a traffic accident. During this confusion she meets a boy named Tombo, who admires Kiki’s flying ability, but she has little interest in him.

Kiki struggles to find somewhere to stay, but luck comes her way when a local baker named Osono learns that a customer has left a baby’s dummy in her shop. Kiki uses her flying skills to deliver the dummy to its rightful owner. Osono therefore offers her shelter, and Kiki decides that as her one and only good witchcraft skill is flying that she should put it to good use by setting up a flying delivery service.

The story then sees her trying to make deliveries, slowly becoming friends with Tombo, and witnesses Kiki’s transition from childhood to adolescence, and the consequences of this, which are both happy and sad.

The main theme of Kiki’s Delivery Service appears to be growing up. It is about a child who tries to make her own way in the world, leaving the family home and setting up her own business. The only difference is that she has magical powers. The film is very sweet and heart-warming. In terms of Miyazaki’s pervious out-put before this period, it would be most akin to My Neighbour Totoro (No. 39), in that it also has a main female lead and also has no central villain. Kiki might sometimes have snooty customers, but that are not really bad people.

Another interesting aspect is film is the subject of flight. You come to realise that flying is something that occurs throughout Miyazaki’s work. His father was the director of a company that made rudders for Zero fighter aircraft during World War II, and this seems to have stuck a cord. Before Kiki there was Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (No. 38), where the title character’s main transport is a special form of jet-powered glider. Last week we looked at Laputa: Castle in the Sky (No. 121) which features all kinds of strange airships. Later on Miyazaki made a film called Porco Rosso, in which the lead character is a former Word War I Italian fighter-ace who due to a curse is transformed into an anthropomorphic pig, and then his last film, The Wind Rises (No. 73) was a fantasy biography of the man who designed the Zero, the fighter plane Miyazaki’s father helped to provide parts for.

While Kiki’s Delivery Service is a very nice film, it must be said that not everyone was fond of it. There were complaints from conservative Christian groups in the USA who were concerned that this was a film aimed at children where the lead character was a witch. One group, the Concerned Women of America, demanded that people boycotted Disney, the company who released the film in the States, claiming the company was promoting witchcraft. This is of course nonsense.

However, the Americans do provide the saddest element of this fim. In the English language dub, the voice of Jiji the cat was provided by Phil Hartman, famous for his role in The Simpsons, who improvised some lines in the movie. It was his last film role before he was fatally shot in 1998. The English-language dub of the film is thus dedicated to his memory.

Kiki’s Delivery Service is released on Blu-Ray and DVD by Studio Canal. The English-language dub is on Film4 on Tuesday 1st September at 16.20.

The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 121 – Laputa: Castle in the Sky

August 24, 2015 by  
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Laputa Castle in the Sky 1

Over the course of summer Film4 have been and are currently screening the films of Studio Ghibli, so it feels right to have look at some of their films that this column has yet to cover.

While Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (No. 38) is often seen unofficially as the first Ghibli film because it was so similar in style to the studio’s output, the first feature film to actually be released by Studio Ghibli proper was the 1986 fantasy film Castle in the Sky, released in the UK and Australia as Laputa: Castle in the Sky. It was directed by future Oscar winner Hayao Miyazaki, and deals with themes common in his work, in particular the issue of pacifism. Also, this film has a rather surprising British influence, beyond the obvious one in the title concerning the floating island in Gulliver’s Travels.

The film begins with an orphan girl named Sheeta who is on board a gigantic airship which is attacked by pirates lead by the old woman pirate named Dola. While trying to escape by climbing outside, she slips and it seems she will fall to her death. However she is wearing a magic crystal necklace which slows her descent to a gentle floating. She falls into a small mining village where she is spotted by another orphan, a boy named Pazu. Pazu takes Sheeta into his home, where he talks about his late father who once photographed the legendary floating island of Laputa. Most people believed his father lied, but Pazu plans to fly to Laputa himself one day to prove his father right.

Soon however Sheeta is chased by Dola’s pirates again, and later by the army, both of whom want her crystal necklace. After just managing to escape down a mine thanks to the power of the crystal again, Sheeta and Pazu learn from an old man that the crystal comes from Laputa, as it is used to make the island float. Upon leaving the mine Sheeta reveals to Pazu that her real name is “Lusheeta Toel Ul Laputa”, and that she is the last living descendent of the native Laputans. However, soon after she reveals this the army arrive and capture them both. Muska, a villainous government agent, allows Pazu to go free when Sheeta agrees to work for him, ordering her to use her crystal to find Laputa, and to the possibility of operating an old robot from the floating island.

As a result, Pazu ends up having to work with Dola’s pirates in order to rescue Sheeta, while Sheeta discovers the power of the crystal by accident, unleashing the power the ancient robot in the process, which turns out to have destructive powers. Thus it is a race against time as Pazu attempts to free Sheeta and prevent Muska from gaining horrific military might, as everyone rushes to find Laputa itself.

Laputa: Castle in the Sky will be remembered as the true starting block for Studio Ghibli – their first feature film, the one that started the most famous anime studio of them all. However, there are other elements of interest. Miyazaki’s idea had been around for a long time. While some of the elements of the original idea formed this movie, others found their way into other anime such as Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water (No. 112). You can spot little connections in the animation. For example, the role of Dola and her pirates in the film is much like that of Grandis and her henchmen in Nadia, in that they start off as baddies but then join the forces of good later on. Also, the pirates in the film briefly wear similar outfits to Grandis’s henchmen, of white suits and hats.

Laputa: Castle in the Sky also has some interesting British connections. Aside from the relationship between this film and Gulliver’s Travels, there was also a strange connection with British political events. In 1984, two years before the film was released, Miyazaki travelled to Wales, and witnessed first-hand the Miner’s Strike that was occurring at the time. He admired the strikers, and the houses in Pazu’s village are based on the appearance of houses that Miyazaki came across during his time in country. It is strange to think that Welsh miners were part of the inspiration for a Japanese animated film.

This however is probably not the strangest fact about the film. This accolade goes to a rather bizarre record. At a key moment in the film one of the characters says the word “blasé”, and it is now a tradition in Japan when the film is televised to tweet the word at the exact time it is uttered. As a result, at 11:21:50pm on 2nd August 2013, 143,199 Twitter users all tweeted the word “blasé”, breaking the world record the number of tweets sent in a single second. Impressive to some, but I just think “meh”.

This is a film with Welsh roots, quirky online followings, and helped to establish the most famous anime studio of all. It is a film deserving of your time.

Laputa: Castle in the Sky is released on DVD and Blu-Ray by Studio Canal. It is being televised in English on Film4 on Monday 24th August at 12.45.

The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 120 – Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions

August 17, 2015 by  
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Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions 1

Past columns here have talked about the anime genre of “magical girls”, featuring super-powered girls (and sometimes boys too) battling each other out. This week’s anime looks at a character who thinks she has these powers, but doesn’t. After all, this is the real world.

Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions began in 2011 as a series of light novels by Nozomi Osaka. It was first animated in 2012, as a TV series and as a series of online shorts. Since then there have been Original Video Animations (OVA), anime films, and a second TV series that went out in 2014.

It begins with schoolboy Yuta Togashi, who has moved to a new school where nobody knows who he is. He has done this in order to get away from his embarrassing past. Yuta used to by a “chunibyo”, which translates as “second year middle schooler syndrome”. To put it simpler, he had delusions of grandeur. His overactive imagination led to acting like a character from some fantasy novel, referring to himself as the “Dark Flame Master”, dressing up in gothic clothing and carrying gigantic toy swords. Not surprising, this meant other people distanced themselves from him.

Now Yuta is trying to put it all behind him and behave normally, but things go a bit weird when a new girl moves into the flat above him, who first appears to Yuta by climbing down a length of rope. The girl in question is dressed in gothic clothing and wearing an eye patch. He later spots that this girl is in the same class as him at school. The girl in question, named Rikka Takanashi, turns out is also a chunibyo, and not one who is embarrassed at all. Among her other oddities include wearing Heelys, using an umbrella as a weapon, and wearing a gold contact lens in her patched-over eye which she believes has magical powers.

To make things worse, just before school began, Rikka observed Yuta acting out his “Dark Flame Master” stance for one last time, so she knows that Yuta also used to be like her. Thus Yuta has to go out of his way to prevent her from spilling the beans on his past behaviour. Not only that, but he ends up in the middle of fights between Rikka and her big sister Toka, who Rikka refers to as an evil high priestess.

Yuta and Rikka do however become friends, and also establish friendship with other people in their school. These include Shinka Nibutani, another girl who like Yuta was a chunibyo and is trying to forget how embarrassing she was; Kumin Tsuyuri, a carefree girl whose favourite hobby is napping; Makoto Isshiki, the boy who sits behind Yuta in class and is constantly thinking of way of attracting girls, eventually falling for Kumin; and Sanae Dekomori, another chunibyo friend of Rikka’s. Eventually they form their own school society which tries to combine all their interests: “The Far East Magical and Napping Society – Formerly Thereof”.

As the series progresses, Yuta becomes even more romantically involved with Rikka, and learns why she became the way she is. A series that starts off very comedic later on becomes rather tragic, as Rikka’s behaviour stems back to a terrible trauma she experienced several years earlier.

The comedy is probably the best aspect of this series. Much of the humour is slapstick, and very cartoonish slapstick at that. It is a fun and funny series, partly because of this physical comedy, and partly due to the embarrassment that Yuta and the other characters have to go through because of Yuta’s behaviour. Then the series changes somewhat when you learn about Rikka’s past trauma, and then the romantic and more tragic elements help make the characters more three-dimensional and give the series more depth.

The art is also another bonus. The series is made by Kyoto Animation, a company which has had much success making anime set in schools. Past series made by them include The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya (No. 14), Free! (No. 17), K-On! (No. 28), Clannad (No. 29) and Nichijou (No. 82). In terms of artistic style, it is most similar to K-On! and Clannad, but it combines it some fantasy elements. These occur when the chunibyo fight each other out, and you see their battle as they imagine them, fighting with fantastical weapons.

Kyoto Animation is also the company that publishes the original novels. This might explain why there are several differences between the anime and the novel. Several of the characters including Toka, Kumin and Sanae only appear in the anime, although they are key characters. The novel has not been released in English yet so it is hard to compare both versions, but it must be strange to read two different versions of the same story.

The anime version of Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions on its own however is a very good show. Very funny, sometimes moving and wonderfully animated. The only annoying thing is that when I wrote this article the series was going to be released on disc in August, but not it has been delayed.

The first series Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions is released on Blu-Ray and DVD by Animatsu on 7th September. Both series can be streamed online via Animax.

The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 119 – Mad Bull 34

August 10, 2015 by  
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Mad Bull 34

This week’s anime follows cops on the mean streets of New York. It is also described in The Anime Encyclopedia: 2nd Edition by Jonathan Clements and Helen McCarthy as, “odious”, “a stunningly infantile story” and, “one of the most puerile anime ever made”.

Having watched this four-part Original Video Anime (OVA), I have to agree with this statement concerning Mad Bull 34. Released between 1990-92, and based on a manga by Kazuo Koike and Noriyoshi Inoue, this series is filled with both grotesque violence and graphic sex, including rape – especially rape. The first episode is even called “Hit and Rape”. In the first two minutes a rapist gets his head shot off. Just about every single woman in it is either sexually assaulted, groped, or is working as either a prostitute or a killer.

It begins with newly employed NYPD cop Daizaburo “Eddie” Ban (born in America from Japanese parents) joining the force in the 34th precinct, the most law-ridden precinct in New York. On his first day he is partnered to the gigantic John Estes, nicknamed “Sleepy” by his fellow officers because he is often caught napping, and “Mad Bull” by his enemies because of his habit of being too violent. Estes’s policy tends to be “shoot on sight”, violently killing any criminal he spots. He often defends himself by showing that the criminal would have gone on to have commit a worse crime if they had gotten away. He is one of the few characters in fiction to go to a drugs bust with a load of grenades tied to his pubic hair.

The violence is just one side to Estes’s bad behaviour. Aside from all the killing he is constantly sleeping with prostitutes, and even steals their money. His defence is that he then gives the money away to help women who have been the victims of crimes such as rape, or to help fund STD clinics.

Each of the four episodes see the two cops trying to solve some sort of crime, ranging from murder, to corruption, to someone in a specially designed supervillain-like suit who is going around killing cops. Ban often ends up having to go along with Mad Bull’s violence. His one ray of sunshine is that he falls in love with one of the women on the force, Lt. Perrine Valley.

As stated earlier, in the first two minutes a rapist get his head shot off. This is just the start of a barrage of violence and sex. Also in the first ten minutes of the opening episode Mad Bull shoots dead two roller blading armed robbers, which scares a nearby woman so much that she wets herself and clings onto Ban out of fear. When Ban asks how to get her to release him, Estes tells her to stick his finger up her arse. Later on Estes tries to give Ban his first sexual experience by paying for a load of prostitutes to strip naked and lying on top of him.

For me the most shocking scene is again in the first episode, where Estes and Ban are fighting a murderer, a muscular black guy with a rose tattoo on his arm, on a subway train. The murderer is trying to push Estes out of an open door. After a while, Ban manages to shoot the murderer in the shoulder, weakening him, which allows Estes to overpower him. The way that Estes attacks him is to bite into and shatter the murderer’s sunglasses, causing broken fragments of glass to cause multiple cuts to his eyes. Estes then forces the murderer’s head out of the train, and his head is taken off by another subway train coming in the opposite direction. A surprising number of people in this series end up being decapitated. In the second episode someone has their head cut off by a table; in the third it is cut off by a female Chinese assassin using razor-sharp fingernails.

The violence is horrifically gory, and all the sex scenes and rape scenes are too much. In comparison to a series such as Urotsukidōji: Legend of the Overfiend (No. 49), the fantasy erotica series infamous in Britain for featuring rape scenes involving tentacled monsters, I find the rape scenes in Mad Bull 34 a lot worse because the rape is being committed by human characters, and is therefore much more believable than just some ungodly creature. The worst part is that because there is so much violence, sex and rape, the danger is that you start to become a bit desensitised to it. You starting thinking: “Oh god, here comes another guy whose going to have his head blown off” or, “Oh no, don’t tell me she’s going to raped too.”

While these are the worst things however, they are not the oddest. Perhaps the oddest aspects of this anime come in terms of the production. The end of each of the four episodes features a different theme song. Most of them are by a Japanese singer called Maizurah, but the first song is “Time to Get Busy” by James Brown. Yes, that is as in James “Godfather of Soul” Brown. I’m guessing he hasn’t actually seen the show.

Also, at the end of each episode in the credits thanks the actual 34th precinct of the NYPD. I wonder how many members of the force have seen it? If they have, I wonder how they feel about their most famous fictional incarnation is of a cop who is a murderer, a thief and an adulterer? I’m guessing they’re not fans.

Mad Bull 34 is released on Region 1 DVD from Eastern Star.

Goodbye Jon Stewart

August 7, 2015 by  
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DailyShow

It’s easy to forget the bizarre political landscape in the early post-9/11 period. Islamist terrorists were the new kids on the block and they looked like very bad boys indeed. Our bulwark against the onslaught was our Prime Minister (a lab creation of orange fiberglass and distilled smarm), playing Jeeves the butler to a whooping hill billy with a potato for a head and his butter fingers all over a dangerously complicated military theatre.

When maximum absurdity meets unprecedented tragedy the result is a satirical dream. Jon Stewart was the satirist. On The Daily Show, Stewart wedded intelligent, cogent and sensitive political analysis with unparalleled wit. He gave voice to the insanity of the age, and he made it hilarious. In doing so, he made it bearable and he gave people hope. He was so intelligent, so funny, and so uncannily right that it seemed impossible that a world where Jon Stewart existed was a world where the idiots could win.

But of course, the idiots did win, they won big and they’ve only got worse. Cable news was Stewart’s primary target, with particular opprobrium singled out for Fox. In 2015, Fox News has not adapted to the Stewart onslaught and nor has its beloved Republican Party. No matter how many blows he landed, time and time again, over a period of 16 years no less, it’s more of a clown show now than it ever was. The only difference in the American cable news scene now, is that MBNBC have created for liberals their own echo-chamber ringing with similarly pompous, partisan yelps.

Through all that, Stewart remained the solitary voice of sanity in the political wilderness. But he too was only preaching to the already converted. His audience craved his ironic mockery, but irony can leave a bitter taste after a while. That’s where the seeds of destruction for Jon Stewart’s stint on the Daily Show lay. In his essay; “E Unibus Pluram; Television and U.S. Fiction” David Foster Wallace summarised this malaise perfectly; “Irony has only emergency use. Carried over time it is the voice of the trapped who have come to enjoy their cage. This is because irony, entertaining as it is, serves an almost exclusively negative function. It’s critical and destructive, a ground-clearing. But irony is singularly unuseful when it comes to constructing anything to replace the hypocrisies it debunks.”

The strain of the constant negative power of irony has been showing in Stewart. More and more in recent years, he resisted the temptation to reach for the joke. There isn’t a great that’s amusing about a society that engenders the Charleston massacre and if it’s there at all, Stewart was too tired to look for it. Sooner or later, laughter becomes an insufficient anaesthetic against the perpetuity of human suffering. After sixteen years, it’s no surprise that Stewart hit that breaking point. He was clearly too sensitive not to. He will be greatly missed but it’s probably good that he’s gone.

The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 118 – Sekai-Ichi Hatsukoi: The World’s Greatest First Love

August 1, 2015 by  
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It’s 1st August, which for the anime community means it is Yaoi Day, the day devoted to the genre of male homoerotic and romantic series aimed at women. For this special column, we cover a series which involves going back a bit to one of my first “Beginner’s Guides”.

Sekai-Ichi Hatsukoi: Onodera Ritsu no Baai, which translates as The World’s Greatest First Love: Onodera Ristu’s Affair, began as a manga by Shungiku Nakamura in 2006 and is still going. It was adapted into two anime series, which both went out in 2011, and an anime feature film in 2014. However, the series really dates back much further than that, because it’s arguably a spin-off to Nakamura’s most famous title, Junjo Romantica (No. 5), one of the most popular yaoi around. Some of the characters from Junjo Romantica make cameos in The World’s Greatest First Love, such as Akihiko Usami, one of Junjo Romantica’s main characters.

The World’s Greatest First Love begins with 25-year-old Ritsu Onodera taking up a new job at Marukawa Publishing. He left his previous publishing job because people kept complaining that Ritsu only did so well because his father owned the company, so he moved to try and prove his own merit. However, instead of getting a job in the literature department, he finds himself in the shojo (girls) manga department, an area of the company which looks feminine but is staff entirely by overworked guys.

Ritsu’s boss, editor-in-chief Masamune Takano, is brilliant at his job, having turned the department into one of the most successful shojo publishers around. He does make Ritsu very uncomfortable however, for reasons Ritsu cannot fathom. To make things worse for Ritsu, he discovers that Masamune is his new next-door neighbour. Eventually Masamune reveals the reason for his behaviour: 10 years earlier Masamune and Ritsu were lovers. Ritsu failed to realise because Masamune changed his name after his parents divorced.

Due to a series of misunderstandings they split up all those years ago, blaming each other for the relationship breaking. Because the relationship failed Ritsu became jaded and promised to himself not to fall in love again, while Masamune had a breakdown. Takano now vows to make Ritsu fall in love with him again, something with Ritsu completely resists. To make things worse another member of staff, Takafumi Yokosawa from the sales department, is an old friend of Masamune’s who helped him through his breakdown and orders Ritsu not to have anything to do with Masamune in case he hurts Masamune again. Ritsu tries to explain that he does want to have anything to do with Masamune romantically, but Yokosawa does not trust him. As the series progresses, Ritsu seems to slowly realise that he could still have some feelings for Masamune.

As with Junjo Romantica, the series not only focuses on the relationship between the two main characters, but there are also other side characters in their own gay relationships, mainly the other editors who work alongside Ritsu. One, Hatori “Tori” Yoshiyuki, is in a relationship with one of his manga authors, Chiaki Yoshino, who actually writes under a man writing under female pseudonym. However, one of Chiaki’s male manga assistant’s, Yuu Yanase, also loves him and thus Chiaki find himself in the middle of a love triangle. Another editor, Shouta Kisa, finds himself falling for a handsome bookshop assistant called Kou Yukina.

The romance between the characters is obviously the main draw, especially the slow-burning rival of the central relationship between Ritsu and Masamune, as Ritsu slowly comes to admit to himself that he probably still loves Masamune. However, there are other elements to this series that are of interest. The main one being that this series is probably unlike any other covered in this column.

For starters, I personally think that you could describe this series as being a melodrama. While you do delve into the character’s past a bit, it is a rather an emotional series. You will feel happy, sad, and as this is a yaoi, possibly aroused. The other notable feature is that this is set in the world of work. This is mainly set in an office, which makes the series much more relatable than most anime covered here. Also, as it is set in a manga publishing company, you do get to learn a bit about the inside-world of the manga industry, albeit one that is comically exaggerated.

The World’s Greatest First Love is fun and dramatic, with plenty of love thrown in.

Sekai-Ichi Hatsukoi: The World’s Greatest First Love is available to stream on Crunchyroll.

The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 117 – Nisekoi

July 27, 2015 by  
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Nisekoi

In the last of our look at anime adaptations of manga published by popular boys’ comic Weekly Shonen Jump, we move to “harem” genre of anime, where one character tends to be surrounded by lots of other characters of the opposite gender.

Nisekoi, which literally translates as “Fake Love”, began in manga form in 2012, and has since had two anime series adapted from it, the first going out in January 2014 and the second in April this year. It mixes romantic comedy with an element of crime, and manages to keep the relationships in the series nicely even.

The main protagonist is 15-year-old Raku Ichijo, the heir apparent to the Shuei-Gumi yakuza clan, although he himself wants nothing to do with the criminal life, wishing to become a respectful civil servant when he gets older. Ten years earlier, he met a girl who gave him a locket to which the girl has the key. They shared a promise that they would marry each other once they met again and opened the locket. However, Raku no longer remembers the girl’s identity.

On the way to school one day he is accidentally kicked in the face by a new transfer student, Chitoge Kirisaki. After she runs off Raku discovers he has lost his locket, and is unable to find it for several days, even with Chitoge’s reluctant help. The two end up despising each other, but after finding his locket Raku returns home to learn that Shuei-Gumi has been getting into fights with a group of gangsters called Beehive. Raku’s father has decided that to stop the violence from escalating Raku must pretend to be in love with the daughter of Beehive’s boss – who turns out to be Chitoge.

Thus Raku and Chitoge have to pretend to adore each other when in fact they cannot stand to be in each other’s presence, something made even worse by the fact that Raku is already in love with another classmate, sweet and shy Kosaki Onodera, who in turn loves him but is too timid to admit it, and by strange coincidence also happens to possess a key that might just be the one for Raku’s locket.

Not surprisingly some people doubt the authenticity of Raku and Chitoge’s relationship straight away, especially Claude of the Beehive gang who has been constantly overprotecting Chitoge for years. Thus Claude is determined to do anything to disprove the relationship; a relationship which becomes increasingly complex with the arrival of more characters and the discovery of more keys, all of which could be the one to Raku’s locket.

Amongst the other characters to arrive they include the androgynous Seishiro Tsugumi, a hitman trained under Claude who is hired to disprove the relationship and is constantly being mistake for a boy when in fact she is a girl; and Marika Tachibana, the daughter of the city’s police chief who claims to be Raku’s fiancé. Other supporting characters include Raku’s somewhat pervy best friend Shu Maiko, and Onodera’s pushy best friend Ruri Miyamoto.

While the cast of characters and their relationships are the key to any harem anime, for me personally it is the art which is a big selling point for Nisekoi. Out of all the Shonen Jump series that have been covered so far in this column, Nisekoi is the one that stand out in terms of animating in a different style, rivalling Food Wars! (No. 115) in terms of art quality. The use of colour, scenes in which the dialogue is conducted using just on-screen subtitles, and the differing styles of architecture that range from Raku’s traditional yakuza hideout to the modernist school he attends, all combine to make this series perhaps the most visually appealing of the Shonen Jump anime.

As said the relationships are also good, especially the central one of Raku and Chitoge. While the hate each other intensely at the start of the series, by the end of series one they become slightly more friendly, and even Chitoge admits that she is starting to actually fall in love with Raku. Meanwhile Raku is still besotted with Onodera, Tsugumi is too stubborn to admit that Raku is actually a nice guy; and Tachibana will go to any lengths to try and marry Raku.

If there is one major downside, for us in Britain at least, it is that this series is released by Kaze in the UK, both in terms of DVD/Blu-Ray sales, and in streaming via their website Animax. As Kaze is considered the least popular of all the anime distributors, many UK anime fans refuse to buy Nisekoi for this reason and instead have decided to purchase the Region A Blu-Ray instead.

In conclusion, we return to point of examining these series, which was to see if any of them could fill-up the missing gaps to be left by Bleach (No. 15) and Naruto (No. 95), two of the “Big Three” anime alongside One Piece (No. 6) which are ending soon. Out of the five anime covered in the past few weeks; Gintama (No. 113), World Trigger (No. 114), Food Wars!, Haikyu!! (No. 116) and Nisekoi; it would probably be fair to say that Gintama is the most likely to take up a slot as it is already the longest-running of the five. While Food Wars! and Nisekoi have the artistic quality and Haikyu!! a highly dedicated fan-base, World Trigger has the plot structure to make it a long-running series, although it has the worst art of the five.

However, there has recently been a development. A few days ago World Trigger was recommissioned, so it will be continuing even longer, and hopefully its earlier mistakes in terms of production will have been learnt. If so, then it will most likely be this series that could possibly take over from any of the “Big Three”.

The first ten episodes of Nisekoi are out on Blu-Ray and DVD from Kaze. Both series can be streamed on Animax. The series is also released on Region A Blu-Ray from Aniplex.

The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 116 – Haikyu!!

July 20, 2015 by  
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We continue our examination of anime adaptations of currently running manga in boys’ comic Weekly Shonen Jump by looking at a genre that is normally (and perhaps stereotypically) seen as a solid place to create a comic aimed at boys: sport.

We have not looked much into sports anime in this column. The only anime so far in The Beginner’s Guide to cover a real-life sport is the swimming-based anime Free! (No. 17). However, Shonen Jump has an impressive track record of sport-based series, many of which have been turned into anime. Titles include The Prince of Tennis, Kuroko’s Basketball, boxing-based Ring ni Kakero, baseball-themed Play Ball, soccer anime Captain Tsubasa, and American football series Eyeshield 21.

There are currently two sports manga in Shonen Jump. One is sumo-themed Hinomaru Zumo, which began last year but has not been made into an anime yet. The other, the subject of today’s column, covers a sport that might surprise you. It is not the most popular sport, nor the manliest. For many, the sport only appeals when it is played by sexy ladies on the beach. However, this series has become surprisingly popular. Today, we slide into the world of volleyball.

Haikyu!! began in Shonen Jump in 2012, created by Haruichi Furudate, and has to date had 16 volumes published. The anime version of it began in 2014, and ran for a series of 25 episodes, with another series now in production for transmission later this year.

The series begins with schoolboy Shoyo Hinata, a rather short kid who falls in love with volleyball after seeing a similarly vertically-challenged player on TV. Over the years he tries to develop his own team at middle school, but he is the only person in the team who has any skill. Hinata’s skill however is great – he is able to jump great heights to rival even the tallest of players and is quick on his feet too. His team enters a school competition but loses in the first round to a rival team which features the arrogant Tobio Kageyama, nicknamed the “King of the Court”. Hinata thus vows that one day he will beat Kageyama.

Hinata then graduates to high school, and joins the same school his favourite player went to, Karasuno High School. The school volleyball team, nicknamed the “crows” due to the name of the school (“karasu” is “crow” in Japanese), did have a good team, but it has fallen from grace in past years. Hinata is extremely keen to join, but is horrified to learn that one of the other people also to have joined is Kageyama, who failed to make a better team because of his egotistical behaviour. The two at first refuse to play with each other, but the rest of the school team refuse to let them join the team unless they do.

Eventually the two start to get along, with Hinata taking up the position of middle blocker, and Kageyama the key role of setter. The story then follows their efforts to improve and make it through regional competitions. Hinata tries to find more ways of overcoming his own physical shortcomings and lack of experience, while Kageyama tries to be more co-operative with everyone.

It also follows the other members of the team, which include the captain and wing spiker Daichi Sawamura who gets very fearsome when angered; Koshi Sugawara, who was the chief setter before Kageyama came along; there also fellow wing spikers, the brash Ryunosuke Tanaka and the timid Asahi Azumane; then there is Asahi’s best friend Yu Nishinoya, the team’s defensive libero player who is even shorter than Hinata; and bespectacled middle blocker Kei Tsukishima, who spends most of his time criticising everyone else.

It is hard to imagine a series like Haikyu!! becoming as big as many of Shonen Jump’s major successes like the “Big Three” of One Piece (No. 6), Bleach (No. 15) and Naruto (No. 95), but it has many strengths to it. The main one is the characters. At the start you feel for both Hinata and Kageyama, but as it moves on you support the whole team. Each member has their own strengths and weaknesses to overcome. For example, Sugawara finds himself replaced and not getting as many chances to play following Kageyama’s inclusion in the team. Early on in the story Azumane refuses to play volleyball again after a bad match prior to the story, which results in Nishinoya refusing to play until he returns. You feel for all them and you end up supporting Karasuno.

The second reason to praise Haikyu!! is that it has taken a sport that most people probably don’t know much about, and made it interesting. You learn a lot from it. Most people reading this article would be baffled by the term “libero” to describe a player, but the all the terms are explained, and you can make your own judgments too. For example, the libero’s strip is different to the rest of the team, so you could claim he is a bit like a soccer goalkeeper.

Another thing worth mentioning is that the series has established a big fan-base, especially a female fan-base, much like that of the fore-mentioned Free! By which I mean most of the fans that like these sporting anime are not in it for the sport. They are more in it for watching these rather attractive guys, and they have their own ideas about which way many of these boys are inclined. They want to know what they really get up to in the showers, and to hell with the fact they are still at school. It has to be said that Haikyu!! is not as full-on as Free! in that respect, but there is still that aura about it.

Outside of this however, this series is still a lot of fun to watch. Exciting, entertaining characters and able to take a little-known subject and make it fun.

The first series of Haikyu!! can be streamed online at Crunchyroll, and is currently being released in two parts on Region 1 DVD by Sentai Filmworks. The second series is due for release in October 2015.

The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, Extra V – Going to Japanese Cultural Events

July 16, 2015 by  
Filed under Features

Sometimes in this column I cover aspect of anime outside of the shows. For example I’ve written about conventions (Extra I) and the larger expos (Extra II). However, there is a third kind of event: those designed specifically for Japanese culture – J-culture for short – which includes anime but also other related aspects of the country. Not just J-culture, but J-fashion, J-music, J-everything.

The biggest of these events is Hyper Japan, which just held its latest event a few days ago. For the first time it was held at the O2 Arena, when in previously years it had been held at Earl’s Court. This was my first such event, but a very enjoyable one for many reasons. Admittedly one of those was the fact it happened to be my birthday over the weekend, but there are many more reasons too.

These cultural events feature many of the things that occur in the western expos and conventions. As it is a large event, many large companies turn up. Nintendo for example had a huge area almost to itself, but it was shared by other firms such as Kodansha, a company which publishes manga include the very popular Attack on Titan (No. 11). So popular this series is that there was a gigantic “Colossal Titan” bust that you could have your photo taken nearby. However, you also have lots of smaller companies too, from Japan, Britain and elsewhere. These companies range from artists, to travel companies, to people selling language courses. There was even a company selling kimonos made in France.

Speaking of which, one of the cultural aspects concerning this event was fashion. Traditional clothing such as kimonos is one aspect, and cosplaying that you find at all such conventions is also something that appears. Another J-fashion popular at this event is the Victorian-inspired Lolita fashion. It is one of the few events where you could find and buy such clothes and accessories. Even I commissioned an outfit, based on the more mature “Aristocrat” style.

From clothes, we move onto food and drink. There was a “Maid Café” and stalls selling all kinds of Japanese food including onigiri rice balls, veg-fried noodles, and tempura-fried prawns. They also served tempura-fried chicken, served on skewers, which was the best chicken I have ever tasted. On the drinks front, there was the a “sake experience”, which you had to pay extra for, but you got to sample and buy around 30 different sakes to choose from.

There was also a beer on offer called Kirin, but I must confess this was one of the less enjoyable experiences for two reasons: a), a 330ml bottle cost £5 which was way too expensive, and b), some of the bar staff were so annoying I just walked away from them in anger. Way too laddish for my liking. It felt like being served by the lovechild of Dapper Laughs and Quagmire from Family Guy. Indeed, looking at some of the comments attendees have posted on Facebook, there were several complaints about many of the O2 staff and poor customer service. Some have even accused Hyper Japan of possibly selling out.

The best thing for me however during the event was J-music. This relates to one of the most impressive things about Hyper Japan, which is that this is one of few times that big name singers and performers come over to Britain. For example there was a singer there named Eir Aoi who performed twice over the three days. Aoi has over the years become a very popular singer, whose songs have been used in several popular anime. One song, “Sirius”, was used as a theme for Kill la Kill (No. 80), and two songs, “Innocence” and “Ignite” were used as themes for Sword Art Online (No. 34).

But she was just one of the many stars there. There were even bigger names at Hyper Japan. Because of this, I can say that on my birthday the best experience I had was high- two members from arguably the biggest rock band in all of Japan, X (aka X Japan). The members, Yoshiki (the bandleader, drummer and pianist) and Toshi (the lead singer), where there mainly to promote their forthcoming gig at Wembley in March 2016, which will also mark the release of their first album in 20 years. X are probably most notable for being one of the earliest bands to pioneer the “visual kei”, a look that in the west is comparable to glam rock. However, X are more of a heavy metal band.

If you like anime, events such as this are good places to learn more about Japan itself, and therefore give you a greater context of understanding more of the background of many series. It is just a shame that there are not more such events like Hyper Japan around.

The next Hyper Japan event will be held between 27th-29th November at Tobacco Dock, London.

The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 115 – Food Wars!

July 13, 2015 by  
Filed under Features

Food Wars 1

Continuing to look at anime adaptations of series from the highly popular Weekly Shonen Jump manga magazine, we delve into the world of food – something which any Japanese readers to this column might find comical, given that their stereotypical view of us Brits is that we are the worst cooks in the world, a stereotype that I also happen to fall into. Put it this way, I once shocked an entire crowd at a comedy gig for admitting I had never eaten a poppadum.

Food Wars! Shokugeki no Soma, or just Food Wars! for short, began as a manga in 2012, written by Yuto Tsukuda and illustrated by Shun Saeki. The anime adaptation began in March this year. As well as food, this series also fits into that vast category of “anime set in schools that would never exist in real life”, which from now on I have decided to condense into a simpler term of my own invention: “non-schools”.

Non-schools are not new to Shonen Jump. The magazine currently has at least two, both of which have been turned into anime. One is Assassination Classroom, in which the students have a destructive alien as their teacher and they have to try and kill them. However, as this series is region blocked (Boo!) I cannot write about the anime

Cuisine is also something Shonen Jump has covered before. There is another currently running title called Toriko which also covers food, and this has also been turned into an anime, but Toriko is set in an alternative world whereas Food Wars! has a more real world setting.

Food Wars! is about a boy named Soma Yukihira, who wants to become a full-time chef at his father Joichiro’s working class diner and ultimately to surpass his father’s skills. While he is a capable cook, Soma is still not as good as his dad, and he has the habit of experimenting with odd ingredients (e.g. squid and peanut butter). Joichiro then decides to temporarily close the dinner and move to America, while sending Soma to Totsuki Culinary Academy.

Upon arrival, Soma discovers that this gigantic school is for the elite. Only 10% of all the students successfully pass, disputes are settled by cookery battles called “shokugeki”, and nearly all the students are from wealthy backgrounds. Soma is just about the only working class person at Totsuki, and upsets just about everyone on the first day when he attacks his snobbish colleagues. The one who hates Soma the most is Erina Nakiri, daughter of the headmaster and one of the school’s “Elite Ten” students. She is not only the virtual ruler of the school, but she has a palate so refined it is claimed she has the “God Tongue”, with the ability to ruin anyone’s reputation with a single taste. Erina writes Soma’s common tastes off, but Soma impresses everyone else with his ability to make even the cheapest food taste great.

The series follows Soma’s attempts to be the best at the school, including defeating all of the Elite Ten. Also it follows the fellows students of Soma’s dorm who become his friends. These include nervous girl Megumi Tadokoro, and one of the Elite Ten, the friendly and often nearly naked Satoshi Isshiki.

In comparison to last week’s title World Trigger (No. 114), the quality of the animation in Food Wars! is much better, and one of the big selling points. This is especially true in the brilliantly animated and often highly comic “foodgasm” scenes. Nearly every episode features someone eating a dish, which they not only describe in flowing terms, but is mentally depicted by the diner in an over-the-top manner.

For example, if a scene depicts someone talking about a meat dish being glazed in honey, it will feature the people eating the dish themselves being drenched in honey. Sometimes Erina will eat a dish which starts off pleasantly, comparing it to say bathing in a hot spring, but something will be wrong with it, comparing it to say bathing in a hot spring with a gorilla.

Another factor worth mentioning is the amount of “fan service” – the often sexy bonus items – that are included in the show. It is not too overwhelming, and more positively it seems to be equally divided between the male and female characters. For example, one of Soma’s rivals is a buxom tanned girl named Ikumi Mito (the “Meat Queen”), who is often seen wearing a bikini and very short skirts or shorts. Characters like her are levelled out by Satoshi, who often wears nothing except either an apron or a loincloth.

In terms of whether it will become a big future title, it is hard to say. One problem is that the current anime series is rather short at 24 episodes in comparison to other Shonen Jump adaptations. Whether more series will be made after this is yet to be seen, but it certainly has a decent, deserving chance.

Food Wars! is currently streamed on Crunchyroll.

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