The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 165 – Bubblegum Crisis

June 27, 2016 by  
Filed under Features

Bubblegum Crisis 1

Back in the 1980s with the rise of home entertainment, demand for anime increased. This lead to “Original Video Anime”, or OVA, series that was made specifically for the consumption in the home, and not to be shown on TV or cinemas.

While the unusually named Bubblegum Crisis was not the first OVA, it is one of the most fondly remembered from the early days of the format. Beginning in 1987, the series was intended to be a 13-part but sadly it ended up with just eight after the companies that made the series fell out. There have been several attempts to continue it. In 1990 there was three-part prequel A.D. Police Files; in 1991 there was a three-part sequel called Bubblegum Crash; in 1998 there was a 26-part TV retelling entitled Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040 (a second series was put into production, but never made); and in 2003 there was another three-art OVA spin-off called Parasite Dolls. Bubblegum Crisis was a cyberpunk series and arguably part of the mecha genre as it seem the lead characters fighting in heavily armoured suits. It was popular when it originally debuted, but seems to have fallen out of favour with some.

The original anime is set in the year 2032. Seven years earlier an earthquake destroyed much of Tokyo. It is now replaced with the city of Megatokyo, and there is a clear split between the rich and the poor. Much of the menial labour has been taken over by Boomers; a form of robot designed by the shadowy Genom corporation, which is often exploited by criminals. While there is a separate branch of the police force called the A.D. Police devoted to tackling Boomer-related crimes, for most of the time the problems caused by Boomers are dealt with by a mysterious group of four heavily-armoured women called the “Knight Sabers” (that is the correct spelling).

The Knight Sabers are led by Sylia Stingray, who on the surface is a successful businesswoman primarily running a lingerie business, but who also the daughter of the man who invented the Boomers, who was killed by Genom executives. Sylia’s penthouse is the base of the group operations, which she helps run with her brother Mackie. Aside from Sylia the other Knight Sabers are Priss Asagiri, a biker and wannabe rock singer in a love/hate relationship with A.D. Police officer Leon McNichol; Linna Yamazaki, an aerobics instructor with a love of money which results in her taking a job as a stockbroker in Bubblegum Crash; and Nene Romanova, who also works for the A.D. Police, plus is the team’s technical expert and hacker. Together the four women wear specially designed armoured suits to combat enemy Boomers and those humans who use them for illegal means.

In terms of looking back at this series, we need to look back to when it came out. In the 1980s Japan’s economy was booming and there was a demand for more anime titles, which they got. Meanwhile in the West, there was demand from anime fans for more shows, especially if that anime was something different from the animation they normally got. This sci-fi story stood out among all the kids shows at the time. As a result, it was snapped up by the fans, and thus the fan base for the show has remained loyal to this day. The most clear sign of was in 2013 when an American company launched a Kickstarter campaign to bring out the original show on Blu-Ray. The target was $75,000 – in the end they got more than double that, with over $154,000 being paid.

There are other positives concerning the series too. It is arguably rather forward looking, and not just because it is set in the future, or because you happen to have four women as the lead characters, but also in terms of attitudes to minorities. For example, Leon’s assistant in the A.D. Police, Daley Wong, is openly gay; and their boss Chief Todo, is an African-American from Chicago. It was rare at the time for such minorities to be covered in anime.

Bubblegum Crisis was clearly a product of its time, and was heavily influenced by the American sci-fi movies of the day. For example, Priss’s band is named Priss and the Replicants, a clear reference to Blade Runner, and there is a clear relationship between humanity and robots played through both works; meanwhile many of the Boomers also look like the robots in The Terminator. However, many see the fact that Bubblegum Crisis as a product of the 1980s as being its downside. It is a 1980s idea of what the 2030s would look like. In much the same way that the crew of Red Dwarf use analogue video tapes three million years from now, in Bubblegum Crisis people talk on large mobile phones and use rather bulky computers to work on.

Then you have the soundtrack, which was one of the big appeals of the series. At the time the music was considered to be great, but by the time the 1990s came by it had fallen out of fashion. But now, perhaps it is time to look at it again. Maybe people judged it too harshly.

OK, Bubblegum Crisis is not perfect: it ended too early, its idea of the future was wrong in certain ways, and some technical aspects of the show are an acquired taste. However, you can’t help but watch it again with rose tinted spectacles. It is a bit of a nostalgia fest, not just for anime fans, but for people who into the sci-fi scene at the time. If you grew up like films like Blade Runner, RoboCop, The Terminator and so on, this is a series that fits into that mould.

By the way, in case you are wondering, according to the show’s writer Toshimichi Suzuki, the title of Bubblegum Crisis comes the idea that it seems like everything is about to blow up, like a chewing gum bubble.

Bubblegum Crisis is available on a region free Blu-Ray from US company AnimEigo. In the UK, Bubblegum Crisis was released on DVD by MVM Films; Bubblegum Crash and A.D. Police Files was released by Manga Entertainment; and Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040 and Parasyte Dolls by the now shut down ADV Films label.

The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 164 – Momotaro’s Sea Eagles

June 20, 2016 by  
Filed under Features

Momotaro's Sea Eagles 1

Over the weekend I was at Sunnycon, the Sunderland based anime convention that became so popular it had to move to Newcastle (something that as a Teessider I find very amusing). Among the many things there was a screening of one of the earliest anime ever made. Indeed, this is the earliest anime I have ever covered since this column started, and it is one of the most controversial, given that it was premiered in 1943. Yes, we are looking at some wartime propaganda.

Momotaro’s Sea Eagles was written and directed by Mitsuyo Seo, although what is more interesting is the organisation that funded the anime’s production: the Japanese Imperial Navy. Running at 37 minutes long, it is not quite feature length. The first feature length anime is the sequel to Sea Eagles, Momotaro’s Divine Sea Warriors, released in 1945 and soon to be released in the UK. However, what people will probably find most disturbing is the fact that both of these works were aimed at children, with Sea Eagles based on the real-life attack on Pearl Harbor.

The anime also uses a much older children’s story as a backdrop. The original story of Momotaro is about a boy who is born from inside a peach, who then travels to fight the demons on Demon Island, taking with him some millet dumplings (kibi dango). Along the way he meets some talking animals: a dog, a monkey and a pheasant, who agree to help fight the demons in exchange for some of the dumplings, and together they defeat the demons.

In Momotaro’s Sea Eagles, Momotaro and his animal friends are all navy sailors, with Momotaro the commander, and he orders the soldiers on his ship to attack Demon Island, which is actually Oahu, where the US Navy was based at Pearl Harbor. We follow the crew, in particular the pilots of bomber plane three, flown by a pheasant, a dog and a monkey. On their journey they help a sea eagle chick who is crying by playing with him, and they successfully bomb Demon Island and vanquish all the evil demons (i.e. the Americans), but their plane is badly damaged. Whether they can reach the ship in time is something that is up in the air (quite literally as they are on a plane).

It is hard to know where to start when examining this anime. This is a piece of propaganda, which features among other things propaganda songs popular at the time, codes sent in semaphore and on Morse code signal lamps, and the rising of a Z semaphore flag as the Pearl Harbor attack was known in planning as “Operation Z”; when the operation is a success the animals send the message “Tora! Tora! Tora!” back to the ship. As a piece of propaganda, it was arguably more successful than the more well-known Divine Sea Warriors because children were forced to watch it during school trips. By the time the Divine Sea Warriors came out, the Japanese were losing the war and thus such mass screenings were harder to arrange. Concerning the technical aspects of the film, The Anime Encyclopedia writes that much of the anime’s budget was blown on get the plane landings and take-offs animated correctly, not leaving much the way of plotting the actual plot.

However, equally as interesting as the propaganda and the imperialist war message is that fact that this anime was specifically aimed at children. Yes, it is a disturbing animation looking back, but it also features all kinds of comic antics to keep children entertained. For example, the semaphore signals are sent by rabbits moving their ears around; not only do the animals bomb the island, but they manage to land on it by monkeys climbing out of the planes one at a time, and then climbing down each other’s tails like the runs on a ladder; they plant bombs in plane (something which the Japanese navy didn’t actually do), and when one monkey gets his tail trapped the solution is to shoot the monkeys tail off.

Perhaps the strangest thing about the movie is the depictions of the Americans as demons. In common with Japanese folklore, the demons are depicted with a single horn coming out of the head, but the rest of their bodies look like anything else you would see in an American cartoon at the time. Some of the demons however, are more familiar than others. You might be familiar with the fact that in the USA, many cartoon characters during the war appeared in shorts that attacked the Japanese and the Germans, even attacking Hitler. In Momotaro’s Sea Eagles one of the demons attacked is Bluto from the Popeye cartoons, who is depicted as a drunk.

It safe to say that Momotaro’s Sea Eagles is not for everyone. The people who are mostly interested are people those wanting to know more about the history of animation, propaganda, and World War II in general. However, with the future release of Momotaro’s Divine Sea Warriors later in the year, it might be worth looking at it to get an idea of its context.

Momotaro’s Sea Eagles is released as part of the Region 1 anime collection “The Roots of Japanese Anime until the End of WWII” from Zakka Films.

The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 163 – Ocean Waves

June 13, 2016 by  
Filed under Features

Ocean Waves 1

While Studio Ghibli is most famous for their feature films, even winning an Oscar in the process, not everything they made went to the cinema. This week we look at a film they made that went to television.

Ocean Waves was released in 1993, directed by Tomomi Mochizuki and an adaptation of a novel by Saeko Himuro. The project was never intended to be released in the cinema. The purpose of the project was to allow the younger staff at Studio Ghibli to make a film relatively cheaply – something which it completely failed to do. It was over budget, it was over schedule, and Mochizuki was so over stressed making it and other projects at the time that he had to go to hospital.

The film is mostly told in flashback, like the subject of last week’s column Only Yesterday (No. 162) which was made two years earlier. The story is narrated by Taki Morisaki, who is on his way to a school reunion, and who tells the story about his relationship with his best friend and a girl they both had feelings for. Two years earlier, when Taki was still in school, his best friend Yukata Matsuno acted as a guide to a new transfer student, a girl named Rikako Muto who comes from Tokoyo. Yukata has feelings for Rikako, a talented but arrogant girl.

Taki learns that Rikako’s parents are divorced and that she is living away from her parents. At the end of the school year, with the students on a school trip to Hawaii, Rikako tells Taki that she has lost all of her money and asks Taki for a loan, which he gives her. Then Taki learns that Yukata has also given her a loan. The reason for taking this money is to spend money on returning to Tokyo to see her parents. Taki decides to go with her, and thus the relationship between the three ends up becoming more complex as the characters begin to express their true feelings for each other.

The interesting thing about Ocean Waves is the reason why it was made: to encourage new talent. In the case of Mochizuki, who has already been working on TV projects such as directing Ranma ½ (No. 93), he went onto work in many other projects, including working on the storyboards on programmes like Code Geass (No. 22). However, these days he works under the pseudonym of Go Sakamoto.

It is not the greatest Studio Ghibli film, but it was never meant to be. It is a made-for-TV project to be aired during the holidays, not a cinematic masterpiece. However, despite this there are some aspects of Ocean Waves that make it stand out, the most notable of which is the use of aspect ratios. Throughout the film the story will cut to a narrower ration, boxing the footage in. Aside from the full screen version there are two different ratios used: a medium-sized one, and an even smaller one boxing the footage so it takes up about one-ninth of the screen. It automatically grabs the viewer, dragging you deeper into the story and into the past where the story is set.

While it is not the greatest piece of work, it still has its moments, and it is also the shortest Ghibli film at 72 minutes long, so it is not as if you are going to waste a lot of time watching it.

Ocean Waves is released on DVD by Studio Canal.

The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 162 – Only Yesterday

June 6, 2016 by  
Filed under Features

Only Yesterday 1

A season of films by Studio Ghibli is being screened across the country in certain cinemas, known as “Studio Ghibli Forever”. Among the events that have been taken place is the screening of one of the studio’s greatest films, but with an English dub for the first time.

The film in question is the drama Only Yesterday, and the new dub features in the lead roles Daisy Ridley (Star Wars: Episode VII) and Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire). Originally released in 1991, directed by Isao Takahata, and based on a 1987 manga by Hotaru Okamoto and Yuko Tone, this movie is notable for many other things: it is famous for the way it was animated; for the plot of the film; and is one of two Studio Ghibli films to have a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Beginning in 1982, the story concerns a woman named Taeko Okajima, who is in her mid-20s and works in an office in Tokyo. For her ten-day long holiday she decides to visit some of her family who live in the countryside, where she plans to help in the local safflower harvest, where the flowers are organically grown and mainly used for dying clothes. As she takes a sleeper train from Tokyo to Yamagata, she begins to recall her own countryside childhood experiences dating back to 1966. Taeko recalls her family, consisting of her parents, her grandmother, and her two older sisters; as well as her time at school, making friends with the other girls and later finding out that one boy in the school secretly likes her.

When she finally arrives at her stop, Taeko finds out that the person picking her up from the station is a man named Toshio, someone she hardly knows. As she gets to work at the harvest and enjoys her holiday, she tells Toshio more about her childhood – both the good times, and the bad times. We come across Taeko troubles at school, learning about periods which results in schoolboys causing mischief, crying as she is slapped across the face by her father when the she leaves the hours without wearing shoes, and her failed desire to move into acting. As the story cuts between Taeko’s childhood and adulthood, she begins to contemplate staying in the country, a proposition made more complicated when it is suggested that she should marry Toshio. She therefore has to decide whether to keep her old job, or marry and have a new life.

As stated in the central anime reference book, The Anime Encyclopedia by Jonathan Clements and Helen McCarthy, some people might be put off by the ending premise. In Japan at the time, the idea of a woman might want to have both a career and a family life was not really considered. It was either one or the other. Despite this, this hasn’t stopped people from liking the film. Along with The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (No. 153) it has a 100% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The film is also famous for the way it was animated. The voice actors were recorded first, and thus the animators were able to animate the facial movements of the characters more accurately. It was one of the first anime films to use this technique.

But perhaps the most notable feature of Only Yesterday is the plot. When you think about of most anime, the plots are very flashy. Many of the plots deal with fantastical situations that would never happen in real life. Only Yesterday’s story is very much set in the real world. You can believe that the events that have happened over the course of Taeko’s life would happen to any woman, and why she would come to the decisions she has made. Only Yesterday is an adult film, aimed at women, but the film appeals to just about everyone.

Only Yesterday is not showy. It does not try to be spectacular. It tells a story that anyone can relate to, and that is what gives it its appeal.

Only Yesterday is available on DVD from Studio Canal. The new dub version will be released on Blu-Ray on 15th August.

The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 161 – Kiznaiver

May 30, 2016 by  
Filed under Features

Kiznaiver 1

The weekend just gone held the MCM Comic Con, a time when the main anime distributors in the UK announced what anime they are going to release over the next few months.

Some old titles are being re-released, such as a new collector’s edition of Fullmetal Alchemist (No. 13); others are having new series brought out, such as the latest series of Black Butler (No. 10) and Lupin III (No. 90); and some previously released DVD titles are now being put on Blu-Ray like Death Note (No. 8). There is also going to be a release of the very first anime feature film, Momotaro’s Divine Sea Warriors, a film that admittedly has its problems – such as being a war propaganda film made in 1945.

However, some anime that is currently being streamed at the moment and has only begun broadcasting this season have also been given surprisingly early UK releases. One of these is Kiznaiver, a sci-fi drama that began in April 2016, looks at the emotional connections between people. It has had a bit of a mixed reception so far, but as it is currently being streamed, you can judge for yourself right now if it is a good series before planning to invest any money into it.

The series is set in the futuristic-looking Sugomori City, a city which is devoted to conducting an experiment into something called the “Kizuna System”. The central character, a boy named Katsuhira Agata, witnessed a tragedy when he was younger when a girl jumped of a crane, presumably to her death. Since then, Katsuhira has become almost totally emotionless and unable to feel pain.

Despite all this, Katsuhira has friends, such as Chidori Takashiro, a girl who seems to love him, and when Katsuhira is bullied, he is saved by a delinquent named Hajime “Mad Dog” Tenga. Katushira then meets a mysterious, completely emotionless girl named Noriko Sonozaki. She claims that rather than the seven deadly sins we normally think of, modern Japan has a new set of sins, which are represented by seven students in Katsuhira’s school. In the case of Katushira, he is “the imbecile”. She then takes him to an abandoned hospital, where five other students, part of Sonozaki’s deadly sins are also waiting. They include Chidori whose sin is being “annoyingly self-righteous”, and Hajime who is “the musclehead thug”. Also there are “the cunning normal” Tsuguhito Yuta, who likes to flirt with all the girls in the school; “high-and-mighty” Honoka Maki, an aloof girl who also works as a manga artist; and “the eccentric headcase” Niko Niiyama, a cute girl craving attention who claims she can see fairies.

Sonozaki reveals to the six people gathered that the “Kizuna System” is devoted to creating world peace. The way it does this is by making everyone in the system feel the pain of everyone else in the system. If one experiences physical pain, that same pain is felt by everyone, encouraging everyone not to get hurt or get into conflict. All six of them have been experimented on and are now “Kiznaivers”, each of them connected by their pain, although Katushira only feels it a little bit. Sonozaki then conducts an experiment on them: each one of them needs to reveal their greatest secret before the hospital collapses. They manage to survive the embarrassment and shock as they confess. For example, Niko doesn’t actually believe in fairies, “Mad Dog” Tenga is terrified of dogs, and Chidori confesses her love to Katsuhira.

Following this, the experiments and challenges continue. They find the seventh deadly sin in their group, the “immoral” Yoshiharu Hisomu, someone who happens to be a masochist and therefore the only member of the group who enjoys the physical pain that is shared among everyone else. After the full group of seven is united, the experiments continue and their emotions become stronger. Katsuhira even begins to express his emotions more, but the there is still the mystery as to who is controlling the Kizuna System, and what has been done to people who have been experimented on in the past.

The series is currently two-thirds of the way through, and so far there have been positives and negatives: on the positive side, the quality of the animation is wonderful. The character designs are a diverse mix, from Yoshiharu in his tattered clothes and bandages, to petite and multi-coloured Niko’s fairy look. The futuristic cityscape is good, especially the city’s distinctive drawbridge, which has the two sides of the road pulled up in opposite directions so when the bridge is up it is X-shaped. Relationships are key to this series and the connections between the central seven characters have been great, especially as we delve deeper into the backgrounds of the Kiznaivers.

On the downside I have been rather put off by some of the dialogue. For example, at one point Sonozaki annoys Hajime so much that he says he would “violate her”. This infuriates me in two ways: firstly, the offensive and arguably sexist nature of the comment; and secondly, the fact that Sonozaki has the perfect way to fight back against this sort of thing but doesn’t use it. Surely if you were in this scenario you would hurt at least one of the group, causing everyone including the offender to feel the pain, therefore motivating everyone into making sure such stupid comments are not uttered again.

Overall though, it feels as if the positives outweigh the negatives. While some of the content will make people uncomfortable, and the plot might be a little laboured, this series does have its merits.

Kiznaiver is streamed on Crunchyroll and will be released by All the Anime some time in 2017.

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.

Next Page »