The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 114 – World Trigger

July 6, 2015 by  
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World Trigger 1

Continuing to look at anime adaptations of the most popular manga magazine, Weekly Shonen Jump, this week we look at one of their more recent efforts.

World Trigger is a sci-fi series, the manga having begun in 2013 by Daisuke Ashihara. The anime began a 50-episode-long adaptation that started in October 2014 and is therefore thus still going, made by Toei Animation. It is a series that takes a lot of action and battles, and mixes it with complex issues such as xenophobia. However, the anime has had some issues in terms of quality.

The story is set in the fictional Mikado City, where four years prior it was attacked by otherworldly beings known as “Neighbours” – or “Neighbors” as it is spelt in all the translations because that is all done in America (we’ll stick to the UK spelling). Normal weapons do not harm them, but a group of people is able to fight them off using special weapons called “Triggers” which are made out of a form of energy called “Trion”. This group forms an organisation called “Border” to protect Mikado City from Neighbours.

Bespectacled student Osamu Mikumo secretly works for Border as a lowly C-rank agent, but has no natural talent for the job. Things begin to change when a strange, short, white-haired, black-ring-wearing boy transfers to his class named Yuma Kuga. The two soon form a friendship, but then a Neighbour attacks and Osamu tries to fight it. He fails, but then is shocked to see that Yuma is able to defeat it. Yuma then reveals the truth: the monsters are not Neighbours but are drone “Trion Soldiers” sent by Neighbours. Yuma knows this for he himself really is a Neighbour, and even has a mini Trion Soldier of his own; his chaperone Replica.

Yuma comes from one of the world’s in the “Neighbourhood” that are at seemingly constant war with each other, and his ring a powerful “Black Trigger”, which can also give the user a powerful “Side Effect” – in Yuma’s case he can tell when people are lying. For having saved his life, Osamu tries to keep Yuma’s identity secret, but it is not long before they are rumbled and Yuma is the subject of internal politics at Border between those who want to simply eliminate all Neighbours, those who think it might be better to establish relations with them, and those who just want to protect Mikado City.

Eventually Osamu and Yuma join a branch of Border which believes it is best to work with the Neighbours rather than just kill them. Together they work under the brilliant Black Trigger user Jin Yuichi, whose Side Effect allows him to see into the future. They also recruit a friend of Osamu’s into their group, a young girl named Chika Amatori who happens to possess huge amounts of Trion. Thus they unite and train up in order to prepare themselves for future battles against Neighbours planning full scale attacks.

As mentioned in last week’s column on Gintama (No. 113), part of the reason for looking into these series is to see if any are likely to become as massively popular as other Shonen Jump series that are soon to end. The answer to whether or not World Trigger will do this is in my opinion: “It should do, but it probably won’t.”

The reason why it should do is because it contains many of the same elements you find in Shonen Jump’s current “Big Three” manga titles of One Piece (No. 6), Bleach (No. 15) and Naruto (No. 95). For example, it features big battles, you have the ever expanding range of characters, the slowly developing plot leading to bigger situations in the future, and the leads are enjoyable – you have Osamu as the kid with no natural talent but willing to give it his all to prove he can just as useful as anyone else, and then you have Yuma who looks weak at first but is actually much stronger and smarter than just about everyone else in the series. Not only that, but the basic situation seems to fit the mould set by the original Big Three. One Piece covers pirates; Bleach covers the supernatural and grim reapers; and Naruto covers ninjas. World Trigger’s sci-fi setting and attacks from other worlds would seem to be the ideal.

However, while the manga contains all of this, and is both drawn and written very competently by Ashihara, the anime version by Toei Animation has been made unbelievably shoddily and cheaply. I have known anime reviewers that have simply given up on it because they thought the animation was too awful for them: either a character’s eyes are too far apart or close together, their smile looks a bit weird, or their chin is drawn on in such an appalling way.

It is not just that the animation is sometimes bad, but you can tell that Toei is doing anything to cut costs. For example, nearly every episode begins with about two or three minutes explaining first the overall setting, and then the current plot, thus eating time into the show. Also, while most anime series often have 90-second-long opening and another 90-second-long ending, World Trigger has just one title sequence, right in the middle of the episode, meaning that they cut costs by merging the two together. World Trigger is also not an isolated incident. They recently made the new anime adaptation of Sailor Moon (No. 63), and there have been complaints that this series has also been poorly made.

I am a big fan of the original manga, and I think that the quality of the animation has picked up a bit recently, but much of the damage has already been done. I fear that World Trigger is a brilliant series that has been badly let down.

World Trigger is available to stream via Crunchyroll.

The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 113 – Gintama

June 29, 2015 by  
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For the next few weeks The Beginner’s Guide will be looking at the anime adaptations of Japan’s most popular manga magazine Weekly Shonen Jump.

This magazine of boys’ comics is famous for producing some of manga’s biggest and longest-running hits. These series sometimes produce a new episode every week. These are anime’s serial dramas – soap operas for the guys – “Swarfega operas” if you like.

We have covered many of their titles before, some are decades old like Dragon Ball (No. 99) and some have become successful in other areas such as Yu-Gi-Oh! (No. 88), but the most famous titles are the “Big Three” of One Piece (No. 6), Bleach (No. 15) and Naruto (No. 95). However, while One Piece has recently entered the Guinness Book of Records for: “The most copies published for the same comic book series by a single author”, the manga of Naruto ended a little while ago, and Bleach is soon to end. Which results in the following question: can any manga currently around become part of a new “Big Three”.

Concerning Shonen Jump it is a hard one. The only other long-running shonen (boys) manga to make it big in recent years is Fairy Tail (No. 52), but it is published by a rival company so some people would say it would not count.

In terms of Shonen Jump’s current crop, probably the manga most likely to become part of the “Big Three” would be Gintama (sometimes written as Gin Tama); a mixture of alternative history, comedy, and samurai stories which is often totally bonkers. It has been running as a manga since 2003, and has had three different anime series, the first of which began in 2006 and the most recent starting in April 2015.

The series takes place in alternative version of Japan’s “Edo Period” of the 19th century, when it was still isolated from rest of the world – until it was attacked by aliens known as the “Amanto”. Edo loses, and is forced to live with the Amanto as rulers and the Shogunate now just a puppet government. The Amanto open up Edo’s borders to space, and ban the use of swords in public. This wipes out the samurai class, but some struggle on with life. One such man is Gintoki Sakata, possessor of a wooden sword, naturally wavy hair, a scooter and a love of sugar so great that it make a wasp gasp in horror.

Gintoki runs “Odd Jobs Gin”, taking any job for money. His staff includes the show’s straight-man Shinpachi Shimura, who decided to work for Gin partly because he saved his sister Tae from working in a brothel, and partly to earn money to save the dojo that both he and Tae own. Also working for Gin is Kagura, an Amanto from the Yato Clan – one of the strongest and most violent of alien races, a heritage she rejects. She is usually seen carrying a gigantic umbrella which is both a weapon and also protects her sensitive translucent skin from the sun, and is often followed by a gigantic dog she adopts named Sadaharu.

Most of the stories are stand-alone episodes, in which Gintoki, Shinpachi and Kagura are either given a job, have trouble with the law or the Amanto, or some other more bizarre situation. There is a wide supporting cast, such as Gintoki’s landlady Otose who is always demanding that Gintoki pays his rent; Kotaro Katsura, a former comrade of Gintoki who is part of the Amanto resistance movement; Elizabeth, seemingly a man dressed all the time as a big white duck that Katsura strangely adopts and adores; and short-sighted female ninja Ayame Sarutobi, who falls in love with Ginoki and is extremely masochistic.

There is also the Shinsengumi, the police force who are one of the few people still allowed to use metal swords. They are led by Isao Kondo, who is respected by his troops but not by the woman he falls in love with, who happens to be Tae; Toshiro Hijikata, the fearsome, chain-smoking vice-commander who also has an obsession with mayonnaise; and skilled sadistic swordsman Sougo Okita who always seems to want to kill Toshiro without remorse.

Gintama has become a very popular anime comedies. People love both the characters that appear in the show, the bizarre situations, and the gags themselves – although some might get lost in translation or reference to particular aspects of Japanese culture most westerners would fail to grasp. There is a lot of breaking of the fourth wall, and due to the use of alien technology, the show can get samurai to reference modern day aspects of life. It is set in the 19th century, but they do have televisions, cars, aircraft, and Gintoki regularly reads this world’s version of Shonen Jump himself.

One problem the series does have is the lack of availability. While there are over 250 episodes, only 49 were released on DVD in America, and the only commercial release in the UK was of a film version of the anime. You can however stream the series online. It is not just the anime that has been affected by this. There are 59 volumes of manga, but the company the released the manga in English, Viz Media, stopped after Vol. 23 and never said why.

Some of Gintama’s gags might be a bit hard to get your head around, but the characters and stories do make it entertaining enough to make for enjoyable viewing. Out of the Shonen Jump series currently available, it has certainly established itself to be considered to take any possible “Big Three” slot.

Gintama is available to stream via Crunchyroll. The film version is released on DVD by Manga Entertainment.

Ruby Rose: Sexuality and gender in ‘Orange is the New Black’

June 28, 2015 by  
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Human sexuality is an enormous field and one which we are only tentatively coming to understand. In terms of homosexuality, there has never been a definitive scientific study that identifies any concrete biological determinants. Scientists think that homosexuality is more likely to be defined by a complex interplay of biological and environmental stimuli, although the most important factors have yet to be identified.

Currently, it’s popular to say that homosexuality is a purely biological condition. Pointing out that it may very well not be is routinely denounced as homophobia. This is dogma, it is not fact. There are parallels with radical feminists in the 1970s refusing to acknowledge that there are hormonal differences between the sexes. Increasingly, gay activists such as Julie Bindel are recognising the emancipatory potential in affirming sexuality as a choice. This doesn’t tally up to many people’s experience, although deliberately choosing lesbianism as a political identity as well as a personal one has historical precedent, such as the revolutionary feminist Wild communes. All of this is interesting in an academic sense, but for most queer people, it doesn’t really seem to matter why they are the way they are rather than the impact their identity has on their lives.

The nineteenth century saw a thoroughly unscientific revolution in the categorisation of human beings. The effects of this legacy in terms of race are well known. Less discussed, is that the binary distinction between homosexuality and heterosexuality was not set until the 1800s. The rollback from this began in the early 20th century. Now there are approximately two hundred different scales of human sexuality. The most famous of these is the Kinsey scale, which locates sexuality on a spectrum running from 0 (exclusively heterosexual) to 6 (exclusively homosexual).

A 1 on the Kinsey scale means that you predominantly heterosexual but that you may develop homosexual inclinations towards particular person, or perhaps a couple of particular people, but not on the regular. The past couple of weeks have seen a number of Kinsey 1s popping their heads above the parapet, all vying with their feelings for one particular person – Orange is the New Black Star, Ruby Rose.

Ruby Rose identifies as gender-fluid, meaning that she doesn’t strongly categorise herself with either gender. In her adolescence, she considered transitioning but decided against it. Now, she is comfortable in a female body but not with being exclusively identified as a woman. She’s also smoking hot, with strikingly unusual amalgamation of masculine and feminine facial features. Her sex appeal appears to be astonishingly universal. Men who have previously identified as purely homosexual have all kinds of feelings. Women who have previously identified as purely heterosexual also have all kinds of feelings. It is the latter group rather than the former who have attracted waves of fury.

Part of the annoyance stems from a genuinely irritating trend involving straight girls ‘experimenting’ with lesbianism without intending to see it through to climax. This could involve kissing your best friend to turn on the boys or giving it ‘a go’ with an actual lesbian to see if you like it. It’s the latter that lesbians particularly resent. You can’t try eating pussy like you can try eating caviar. I can see the confusion, they both taste like fish, but also…kind of not. The difference is that one of the things is attached to a person with feelings who probably doesn’t want to be your sexual smorgasbord.

Another factor is the ‘girl crush’. In an article for the New Statesman, Eleanor Margolis defines a girl crush perfectly as; “Girl crushes are 75 per cent respect, 24.999 per cent idolatry and 0.001 per cent something nebulously sexual. It’s more about wanting to be someone than wanting to do them.” She goes on to say that ‘girl crushes’ are a way of doing the lesbian thing ironically.

Some women find this overly flippant and demeaning to their sexuality. This is the pessimist’s view. The optimist’s view is homosexuality as a label that is not shameful to apply to yourself anymore. With Ruby Rose, it appears to have gone beyond a girl crush and into the arena of genuine sexual desire for a number of women who previously identified as exclusively straight. The fact that these women are comfortable enough expressing this desire publicly should be a cause for celebration, not condemnation.

Another indication of society’s recognition of sexual fluidity (at least for women) can be seen in the show Ruby Rose features in, Orange is the New Black. In this show, female sexuality is dealt with in a dynamic and nuanced way that has no parallel anywhere else on television. Many of the female characters identify exclusively as gay. Others have relationships with both women and men. The show also tackles gender identity with the trans character, Sophia. Ruby Rose’s character, Stella, is gender-fluid saying that she only categorises herself as a woman because her options are limited. Queerness in Orange is the New Black is never hysterical, never moralising and never tokenistic.

Sexual fluidity and the refusal of labels is a running theme in Orange is the New Black, particularly in terms of the main character, Piper who never refers to herself by any labels at all a subtly rejects those imposed on her. As her brother says to her enraged fiancé, Larry questioning whether she’s a lesbian again; “I’m going to go ahead and guess that one of the issues here is your need to say that a person is exactly anything.” That line says a lot.  

Labels are fine up until the point that they stop being empowering and start being exclusionary. Benjamin Butterworth, writing in The Independent last week, identified a growing trend in the LGBT community; “The modern gay community – equal in law and thereabouts in culture – has turned in on itself. It brandishes the attitudes and outlooks that once-upon-a-time it would define itself against. Looking like an inward, aggressive group of judgemental trolls.” There’s truth to this and it’s sad. Personally, I didn’t sign up to learn the party line or self-righteously police the parameters of anyone else’s sexuality. When you refuse to allow a heterosexual woman to honestly articulate her sexuality, because fancying girls is something you did before it was cool, it’s all so;

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Ruby Rose herself put it best when she said; “I, personally, think that the moments we try to nit-pick who can and can’t say that they are genderqueer or gender-neutral or trans, or who’s gay or who’s bi — who are we to tell other people how they can live their lives and what they can tweet and what they can say? It’s really none of our business. I think we should let people go and say what they want to.”

The Crystal Maze returns as interactive experience. Now all we have to do is put it back on TV

June 22, 2015 by  
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A few days ago a crowdfunding campaign was launched to re-create the classic 1990s game show The Crystal Maze as an interactive experience that people could take part in once again. Today the campaign reached its £500,000 target.

This for me is joyous, because when I was a kid The Crystal Maze was my favourite TV show. This is not surprising because kids loved the show, and several Christmas specials were made with children contestants.

Also, when you are about five, as I was when I can remember first watching it, you do think that what you see on the screen is not a fictional setting. You think: “Wow! They were in space, but then got in a lift and are now in Aztec village! I don’t know who Aztecs are but they sound cool”, or, “Oh no! He’s locked in, and if they don’t give Richard a crystal he will stay forever!” until you realise that they do turn up at the very end anyway.

Of course there is the other bit, that must have occurred to adults watching it and now happens to me when I watch episodes posted on YouTube (all the episodes appear to have been posted up), which is being outraged by idiots who as soon as they enter a room suddenly completely go to pieces and are unable to complete any task, so you end up shouting at the screen things like: “How can you not know there is a connection between the words ‘Hand’ and ‘Writing’ you fucking idiot?”

I still however love The Crystal Maze for being a big part of my TV childhood: I loved it under Richard O’Brien I loved it under Ed Tudor-Pole, I loved the zones, I loved the theme tune, I loved the games, I loved everything about it. So for it come back is like a dream come true. The only problem with this revival is that it is currently just an interactive experience. Yes, you can take part in it, but it I still not quite the same as seeing it being brought back on the box.

However, it would not be surprising if it did return to TV eventually. Recently all sorts of TV shows have returned in some format. Most recently has been the Clangers on Cbeebies, narrated by Michael Palin, but you also have a new Absolutely Fabulous movie in the works, and BBC sitcoms such as Red Dwarf and Birds of a Feather have been revived on rival channels (Dave and ITV respectively) with great success in terms of ratings.

Some shows however are undoubtedly best left untouched when they have end. I for one am dreading the new Dad’s Army movie due out in 2016. Given the fact that most of the cast and one of the original writers are now dead, you can’t help but feel that it is a bit too late to bring it back. Even then everyone will be comparing to the old version and you know that the film will be seen as inferior to the original.

The Crystal Maze doesn’t really have these problems because it has no plot to speak of. It is just a game show: all you need are games and a host. It would make sense for Channel 4 to bring The Crystal Maze back, just on the grounds of popularity alone. At the time it aired it was frequently the most watched show on the channel. The website UKGameshows.com twice voted it the greatest game show ever.

Quite frankly, if Channel 4 don’t bring back such a successful show, even as a one-off, they are idiots.

The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 112 – Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water

June 22, 2015 by  
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Before you even think about, if you think that “The Secret of Blue Water” is that you can wear a hoodie in a shopping centre, you are sadly mistaken.

There is a lot worth mentioning about the anime under investigation this week: how it relates to the west, its role in anime history, and how it is release this week may well help to establish a new name in the British anime business.

Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water was a TV series that ran between 1990 and 1991, with a sequel film released shortly after this. It is a loose adaptation of the classic Jules Verne novel Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea and features Captain Nemo as one of the main characters. It however is mainly notable for being one of the early anime of Gainax. While their first project was the feature film Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honnêamise (No. 105), Nadia was the company’s first commercial success.

It begins at the 1889 Paris Exhibition, where boy genius Jean Rocque Raltique of Le Havre has travelled to the city to take part in contest to create a heavier-than-air flying machine with his uncle – his father however is lost at sea, reportedly his ship sunk by “sea monsters”.

While in Paris, Jean encounters a beautiful African girl named Nadia and her pet lion cub King. He follows them both, and learns that she is being chased by comic Italian villain Grandis Granva and her two henchmen Hanson and Sanson. Grandis wants to take Nadia’s necklace, which contains a large gem known as the “Blue Water”, which flashes when she in danger. While at first Nadia can escape due to her skill as a circus acrobat, Grandis does eventually capture her, but Jean uses his inventions and great scientific know-how to rescue her.

Jean takes Nadia and King to Le Havre, but Grandis still follows them. Jean then uses an experimental aeroplane, which works, to escape to the sea. The plane crashes but they are rescued by an American ship. Then this ship is attacked by the sea monsters, which Jean eventually comes to learn are submarines, including one called the “Nautilus”, led by Captain Nemo. Jean, Nadia and King board the Nautilus for a brief period, but then fly off again. This time however their plane is shot down. The crash land on a remote island which has been taken over by a sinister organisation called “Neo Atlantis”. This group, head by the evil Lord Gargoyle, has enslaved most of population and killed the rest. Jean and his friend do find one young girl named Marie and try to help her, but she is kidnapped and eventually they have to delve deeper into the island.

Jean discovers not only are the natives forced to work, but Grandis and her cronies are also trapped here. Jean and Nadia try their best to stop Gargoyle and it nearly looks as if they will fail, until Captain Nemo returns to save the day. Following this Jean, Nadia, King, Marie, Grandis, Hanson and Sanson all unite with Nemo in order to take down the real enemy.

Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water as a project actually dates back to the 1970s, were future Oscar-winning anime director Hayao Miyazaki came up with some idea for a different company, but it never got off the ground and he re-used some of his ideas in other projects. Eventually the project was taken up by Gainax, where the director of the project was Hideaki Anno, who previous worked on Wings of Honnêamise and would direct the next Gainax TV series, the hugely influential Neon Genesis Evangelion (No. 21). Thus Nadia helped to truly establish one of the great anime production companies.

However, the series should not just be remembered for this. The characters are truly a delight, and you can sort of see how they influence characters in later Gainax titles like Evangelion and Gurren Lagann (No. 50). Nadia especially is of interest. Firstly she is one of the few black anime characters in a title role. There is also her relationship with Jean, which is a mixture of frustration but also slowly blossoming love. On top of this, Nadia is also an animated lover of animal rights. She hates people who kill, whether it is plain and simple humans murdering other humans, or simply people eating meat and fish. Her militant vegetarianism must make Nadia the Morrissey of anime characters. At times her hatred of meat-eaters is so strong (and a tad annoying personally) that part of you wants to throw a sausage at the TV to see if she would storm of in a fit of anger.

More recently however, this series is a big test of a new company that has stepped onto the anime scene in the UK. Earlier this year a new distribution company was formed named Animatsu, which sprouted-off the more established Manga Entertainment. This is their biggest release to date, both in terms of expectation and series length (Nadia is 39 episodes long). They have had to spend time getting this release right. It has already been delayed in the past due to production issues, which hopefully have now been sorted out. This release is therefore a test to see if anime fans will trust this new company.

Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water thought is a classic series: at times a tearjerker, at others cartoonishly funny, with wonderful characters and relationships, it is a series deserving of your time. If it has one major problem, it is that it might have shown in the UK when it first went out in the 1990s, but it was considered too violent to show to children.

Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water is released on DVD and Blu-Ray by Animatsu.

The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 111 – Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches

June 15, 2015 by  
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Another anime series which is currently being broadcast at the moment, this series fits into the ever-expanding category of anime series set in schools that would never exist in real-life. These “non-schools” as I’ve decided to call them are still being created, and this one has attracted some attention.

Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches started as a manga in 2012 by Miki Yoshikawa, and first aired in April this year. Like last week’s anime, Is It Wrong to Try to Pick up Girls in a Dungeon? (No. 110), this too arguably fits into the “harem” genre, featuring as it does a male title character being surrounded by an increasing mix of female characters, but it has attracted positive comments not just for the plot or art, but also for music.

The central character, Ryu Yamada, is a troublesome student at Suzaku High School who is always not getting good grades or getting into fights with people. Things change dramatically when he accidentally falls down some stairs, colliding into the school’s star pupil Urara Shiraishi and knocking himself out. When he recovers, Yamada is horrified to discover that he has ended up in Shiraishi’s body.

After a little while, they discover that reason for the body swap was that when they both fell down the stairs they accidentally kissed each other. Kissing each other again returns them to normal. They try to hide this, but are eventually discovered by the vice-president of the school’s student council, Toranosuke Miyamura, who tells them that they should reform the school’s defunct “Supernatural Studies Club” to protect themselves. Eventually the club gains to more members: supernatural obsessive Miyabi Ito, and transfer student Kentaro Tsubaki who is in love with Shiraishi and has the bizarre habit of making tempura when depressed.

The club discovers that it’s previous incarnation had learned that at the school there were seven female students dubbed the “witches”, each of whom has a supernatural power triggered by kissing. Thus Shiraishi is a witch because of her body-swapping powers, but Yamada as a male student does not count. However, he does have his own supernatural power: a “copy kiss” which allows him to directly copy the ability of the last witch he kissed.

The club therefore make it their mission to find the identities of all seven witches in the school, whose powers range from telepathy, seeing into the future, seeing traumatic pasts, and making people fall in love. While this is going on Miyamura is also fighting his own personal battle to become the next president of the student council, which in turn is connected to the power of the witches.

Having covered this series on other websites, the thing that has seemingly impressed people the most has been the soundtrack. If you have been following this column regularly and have thus watched any of the series (and if you have been inspired to do so by this column, thanks very much) you will know that most anime series tend to have separate opening and closing music and title sequences, lasting around 90 seconds. The songs that are used for these sequences: “Kuniduke Diamond” by a male band called “WEAVER”, and “CANDY MAGIC” by female band “mimimemeMIMI” have both attracted a lot of positive feedback.

Other than this, you have the comedy between the relationships of the characters. Much of it comes from the fact that all the powers in the show are triggered by kissing, so not only is there the problem of trying to get the kiss in the first place, but then there is the issue of people not wanting to kiss for various reasons: for example, boy-on-boy kissing.

At times however, it has to be said the plot seems a bit slow, and at times it does not follow the same chronology as the original manga. Also, the manga is 17 volumes long, but this anime is currently only scheduled for 12 episodes so it is seemingly going to end up short. Hopefully another series will be commissioned otherwise many people will feel somewhat disappointed.

However, judging by what has gone out, it is still a fun show to watch.

Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches is streamed on Crunchyroll.

The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 110 – Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?

June 8, 2015 by  
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For anyone who is slightly worried that this title sounds like some sort of BDSM-themed erotica, don’t worry, it isn’t. However, it does fall into the category of the anime genre known as “harem”, in which one character is surrounded by lots of other characters of the opposite gender. The “dungeon” itself refers to the sort of thing you would expect to find in a fantasy role-playing game.

Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?, also known as DanMachi, an acronym of the title in Japanese (Danjon ni Deai o Motomeru no wa Machigatteiru Daro ka), began as a series of light novels in 2013 by writer Fujino Omori. It has since resulted in several manga adaptations, spin-off novels, and an anime series which began in April 2015 that is still currently being broadcast and streamed online. It plays on the notions of romance and fantasy novels, but also has resulted in a peculiar fashion trend.

The series is set in fantasy world of Orario, in the middle of which is a huge dungeon tower. Adventurers travel to it to slay monsters and collect magical shards of stone that are used in magic. All the adventurers also worship a particular god or goddess, all of whom came down to Orario because humans were so interesting, although they do not practice their powers in their world. The gods come from various different ancient religions and myths from our world, such as Greek, Norse and Hinduism. The groups that worship a particular god are known as “Familia”.

14-year-old white-haired boy Bell Carnel is an inexperienced adventurer and the sole worshipper of the small-yet-buxom goddess Hestia. Bell devotes himself to worshipping Hestia and trying to become a stronger adventurer, but he is also interested in some of the women of the land, and they too become interested in him. There is Bell’s adventurer heroine Aiz Wallenstein of the Loki Familia who previously saved his life; Eina Tulle, a half-elf woman who acts as Bell’s personal advisor for particular missions; and Syr Flover, a waitress at the Benevolent Mistress tavern which Bell frequently visits. Hestia however is incredibly jealous and wants Bell entirely for herself. There is also another goddess, Freya, who secretly schemes to gain Bell for her Familia.

Although he appears weak, Hestia discovers that Bell has a special skill that allows him to become stronger at a much faster rate than normal. Thus he becomes suspiciously good at a rate surprisingly quick to many onlookers. Bell eventually takes on bigger challenges, gaining fellow companions on the way. These include “Supporter” Liliruca Arde, a little girl carrying a gigantic bag who at first hates adventurers for what they did to her in the past but Bell gains her trust; and Welf Crozzo, a smith who becomes Bell’s personal armourer.

Like many “harem” anime, it is the relationships between the characters which are key to enjoying this show. Bell builds up his relationships with Hestia, Aiz, Eina, Syr and others to create comic conflict and minor romantic tension. There is also the recurring plot of Bell’s rapidly growing strength and whether this will ultimately help or hinder him.

However, one of the more bizarre things that sprung off from this anime has been in terms of fashion. The character of Hestia is usually seen wearing a loose blue ribbon that goes around her entire body, including her arms, and under her large breasts. This “Boob Ribbon” has become rather popular and now several women (and men) have tried making their own ribbons. This resulted in something which is never a good thing: British tabloid newspapers commenting on how weird this supposedly looks. Nobody wants the likes of the Daily Mail or the Daily Mirror expressing an opinion on this (or indeed an opinion on anything for that matter), and if people want wear such ribbons then good luck to them.

Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? is currently being streamed on Crunchyroll.

The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 109 – Log Horizon

June 1, 2015 by  
Filed under Features

Log Horizon 1

When people think of spectacles they may think of intelligence, they may think of fashion, but in the case of this anime they may think of villainy.

Log Horizon began as a series of light novels by Mamare Touno in 2011, and has since then gone on to spawn several manga adaptations and two anime TV series, each 25 episodes long. In comparison to other anime covered in this column it is most similar to is the more popular series Sword Art Online (No. 34), in that both series feature a similar plot involving characters trapped in a fantasy video game. However, the series do differ in many ways, especially in the lead characters. Whereas Kirito, the lead character in SAO is a straight forward hero, the lead character in this series is more complex.

The series revolves around the fantasy MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game) “Elder Tales”, set in a version of the world several centuries into the future following an apocalyptic event, and in which the players fight monsters and take on quests. By the time of the 11th expansion pack it has become hugely popular, but when the 12th expansion pack is released a horrible error occurs, resulting in 30,000 players in Japan forcefully logged into their game, taking up the guise of their gaming avatars. The players soon discover that they cannot log out, the in-game food has no taste to it at all, and even dying is no form of escape as the players just reincarnate.

The central character of the story is a bespectacled-player named Shiroe, who plays one of the weaker “supporter-type” character types in the game, but is still hugely respected and feared by everyone else in “Elder Tales” due to his brilliance as a strategist and his often Machiavellian ways of getting what he wants. Hence his nickname: “Villain-in-glasses”. Shiroe later meets up with two friends of his: defensive (and slightly perverted) player Naotsugu, and assassin Akatsuki, who Shiroe help by eliminating her male avatar and returning her to her normal female body. Because of this Akatsuki not only swears total loyalty to Shiroe, but even seems to love him. She also has the habit of beating up Naotsugu whenever he mentions panties, and than asking Shiroe for permission to beat him up after the attack.

The trio start off by getting in touch with old friends in their section of the game in Akihabara (an area of Tokyo and real-life geek capital of the world) and helping to rescue people, but later Shiroe takes on even bigger challenges. Stopping people who are getting thrills of beating up weaker players, especially children; helping the artificially created characters in the game known as the “People of the Land” live in peace with the players, trying to establish peaceful relations in Akihabara and beyond, and stabilising the economy. However, with Shiroe being the way he is, the arrangements always seem to benefit him in some strange way, as well as everyone else.

During the course of the series Shiroe and his allies eventually set up their own “guild” of players. In one of their earlier missions Shiroe, Naotsugu and Akatsuki successfully cross a dungeon and as a prize get to see a spectacular sunset. Recording this in their memory logs, it was this sight which inspired the guild’s name: “Log Horizon”.

As stated it is easy to compare Log Horizon to SAO: they are both stories about being trapped in video games, they are both originally based on novels, and all their novels and manga are released in English by the same publisher (Yen Press). However, it is the differences that are really interesting.

Firstly is the characters themselves. Most of the characters in SAO are very black-and-white, with Kirito very clearly the hero, righting wrongs and saving people. Shiroe in Log Horizon also rights wrongs and saves people, but he is always seemingly doing something which leads to some other benefit for him personally. For example, one of Shiroe’s other friends in the game, a duel-sword wielding anthropomorphic cat called Nyanta, knows how to prepare food in the game to make it actually taste of something rather than nothing. Using this knowledge he starts to make and sell testable food, and helps use this money to both help some child players who are being exploited, but also to virtually take over the entire economy of Akihabara.

It therefore may be more accurate to describe Shiroe as being an antihero. Certainly his reputation spreads throughout the game for his more villainous side. Even other characters in the series that also wear glasses are compared to him; with non-glasses wearing characters expressing fear at those who do.

The other major difference is the role of death. In SAO characters who are killed in the game are also killed in real-life. In Log Horizon they are reincarnated, so even death is not an escape. SAO seemingly has the more dramatic plot, but Log Horizon’s idea of being constantly trapped also has an appeal, with some possibly arguing it is the more intellectual of the two.

It must also be said that one other reason people like Log Horizon is that there is in some circles a level of snobbery against SAO, with people claiming some anime fans like it just because it is popular. The general insulting term bandied about is “weeaboo”, a term normally meaning any person who adores Japanese culture more than any other including their own, but also came to mean any annoying anime fan in general, and more recently one who just likes really popular anime to look cool. However, what people fail to realise is that those who tend to call someone a weeaboo are very often weeaboos themselves. I myself hate the term.

Log Horizon is an entertaining story with great characters that keep it together. Well worth a watch.

The first series of Log Horizon is out on Blu-Ray and DVD from MVM Films. Both series can be streamed on Crunchyroll.

Game of Thrones, the Sansa rape scene – another point of view

May 29, 2015 by  
Filed under Features

Game of Thrones 1

More so than any other female character, Sansa Stark exemplifies the vulnerability of women in her society. Her narrative drive has always been dominated by marriage alliances of political convenience. First, King Robert and her father decided to marry her off to Westeros’s top Caligula tribute act, Joffrey. Then she was married against her wishes to Tyrion to prevent further dissent from the North. Her point of view has always been surplus to requirements, and this is something that she has accepted with timid compliance. She was prepared to have sex with Tyrion despite her fear and physical revulsion. His father had told him explicitly to do so for the purpose of getting her pregnant but he refused out of sympathy for his teenage bride.

That Sansa not only knows her place but is willing to accept it as part of the natural order of things has made her an anathema to a modern feminist audience. She exists within the patriarchal system, and she is compliant and complicit with it. She suffers because of it, but that does not drive her to work outside of it.

Therefore it was completely natural that this character would marry Ramsey Bolton at the behest of her ward, Petyr Baelish. What makes this different from her betrothal to Joffrey is that she goes in this time with her eyes wide open. She knows that the Boltons were responsible for her family’s death, and thanks to Myranda, she is aware of Ramsey’s break-up exit strategy involving crossbows and a pack of dogs. Presumably Sansa assumes that she will be immune from this harsh treatment, rightly or wrongly. Her status is different from his former fuck puppets, she is not primarily a pair of tits, she is primarily a pair of ovaries.

It seems that Ramsey has the same idea. His sex scenes with Myranda are a bitey, rough and tumble parade with an enthusiastic partner. With Sansa, he favours the jackhammer, wham-bam, thank you, ma’am technique. Sex with Sansa is a tedious chore he has to do to consummate the marriage and secure the family lineage. His silence during the act implies that the only fun he can derive from it is his favourite torture toy, Theon, watching helplessly on. It’s not that he wants to hurt Sansa, he just doesn’t care if he does. It’s not that he wants to take her against her will, it’s just that her consent is beside the point.

Lots of experts on medieval sexual ethics have come crawling out of the woodwork to highlight how this would have been considered perfectly acceptable behaviour ‘at the time’ which is ridiculous on at least two levels mainly because it’s entirely irrelevant. Prevalent orthodox medical and legal opinion in the late medieval period emphasised that consent must be granted in order for procreation to occur and it was believed that a woman would not be able to conceive without an orgasm.  Ramsey Bolton, himself the product of rape, presumably has more up-to-date medical knowledge this lot (and indeed, 21st law maker Todd Aitken) and is working on the assumption of; put sperm in woman, make baby, baby come out of woman.

Most of the commentary around this particular scene has come from all of the usual suspects, and has ended in the consensus of; “A rape was on TV. Rape is wrong. TV is wrong. Not watching TV.” This is entirely unsurprising coming from the fourth wave feminism which has collapsed into an echo chamber of simplistic ideological diktat. Acceptance of received wisdom, furious and hysterical quashing of dissent and an inability to examine concepts clearly and thoroughly make this particular group of feminists incapable of commenting with credibility on any serious issue, so thank God that they have never shown any intention of doing so.

The wave of hysteria prompted by these neurotics has meant that this scene’s truly dark message has been completely missed. Sansa consented to pain and humiliation willingly and of her own volition and this is the logical conclusion of being engrained in a society which denies women any control whatsoever over their reproductive rights.

Women’s control over their reproductive abilities has not been given a great deal of attention when it comes to Game of Thrones but it is an interesting running thread. After all, Cersei aborting her babies with Robert and only choosing to give birth to her brother Jamie’s is the season’s greatest coup. She has installed her chosen heir on the throne through control over her own body. Cersei, like Sansa exists and conforms within the unjust apparatus of her society, unlike Sansa she is prepared to twist the rules to suit her ends.

Sansa does not see it as her place to challenge her subjugation because she lives in a culture where the concept of meaningful consent for a woman is automatically void and she accepts the terms of this arrangement. She consents because her subjugation is so internalised that it does not occur to her that she can resist. This is what makes this scene so disturbing – not that it was rape, but that it was consensual.

If you haven’t already, please read our other article expressing a different point of view on this controversial scene.

Game of Thrones, the Sansa rape scene – one point of view

May 29, 2015 by  
Filed under Features

sansa588

Violence is rife in Westeros, violence against men, women and children. Violence that, as you would expect from a medieval society where might is right, is cruel, bloody and shockingly brutal.

With deplorable acts including regicide and infanticide; characters have been poisoned, stabbed, burnt and bludgeoned. It makes for visceral and disturbing viewing and is currently the planet’s preeminent drama. Which just goes to show – as if there were any doubt – that human beings love death and bloodshed, we no longer have amphitheatres to observe the bodily destruction of others, we have HBO and Netflix.

Despite this morbid adoration of murder, death and suffering, there is one form of terror that ‘Game Of Thrones’ seems to delight in, that a large proportion of the viewing public do not. Rape.

The sexual assault or attempted sexual assault on women is growing, according to one tumblr user in their statistical investigation been 16 in the series so far (including the rape of Sansa Stark and the attempted assault on Gilly, in just the last two episodes).

The recent attacks on Sansa and Queen Cersi by her brother no less, have created uproar across the internet. Commentators saying the will no longer watch the show, while others defend the repeated assaults as being necessary to story.

Being necessary to the story and advancement of plot is an interesting argument.  It is necessary to put characters through difficult experiences in order for conflict arise and without conflict there is no drama.

For sure we have seen Theon/Reek experience go through some horrendous ordeals, up to and including the aforementioned castration, though we hate the cowardly wretch we also sympathise with him, such is the level of his torment.

In comparison Sansa, Theon’s sister, has escaped physical duress but has lived through exquisite mental tests, until what has become the nightly rape at the hand of her psychotic new husband, Ramsay Bolton.

So what is the difference here?

Some commentators fear that Sansa’s rape is just another misogynistic instance of the ‘women in refrigerators’ theory, whereby the violations/murders of female characters is merely a plot device to move on the character arc of a male protagonist.  Which by the way the rape scene was filmed, with its focus on Theon/Reek’s face as he viewed the molestation of his sister, is certainly possible. I don’t think that was the intention of the scene, probably more an attempt by the show to avoid accusations of titillation and use Theon/Reek as a proxy for the audience. Yes I think the acts against his sister will affect his characterisation but I think it’s far more about Sansa.

Sansa, has long been a pawn in the ‘Game of Thrones’, her youth, naivety and innocence have made her a pliable commodity in the schemes of the big players, she has been passed as a prize or gift more times than a present in a round of pass the parcel, but every infraction against her, every disappointment and betrayal makes her stronger and harder. I believe Sansa will soon arise as a powerful mover in her own right, finding the ability to express the strength she so clearly has.

However this does lead me to another question, why rape? Why is rape used so much, not just in ‘Game of Thrones’ but in so many films and TV shows?

I think the simple reason is that rape is seen as the most terrible thing a woman can experience. An act leaves the woman terrified not just during but after the act, but leaves permanent emotional and mental scars along with the physical injury.

But, in drama must it be used so frequently? Is there no other way we can show a female character “going through hell”, no other horror that can befall our heroines and why have we not seen a male character raped.

Maybe it is a fair depiction of the truth of the world, men do rape women. Not all men obviously, but it happens a lot and not just rape. A certain type of man will display his erect penis at any given moment if the mood takes him. This is a threat, a reminder of the shear physical force a man has over a woman.

‘Game of Thrones’ is a show about nasty people doing nasty things for power, it is full of thugs and bullies, taking what they want without a care but also it is a lazy show, it uses rape as short hand to “put women through hell” and also to show how evil a male character is. Though it is just as likely in such a world, a ‘good man’ might rape too.

It might be argued that the television version is remaining faithful to the books, but it departs from the text whenever it feels it necessary, and there is no reason why an adaptation cannot become more sophisticated that its source. Have you read Mario Puzzo’s ‘Godfather’? It’s just a pulp crime novel, yet Coppola turned it into something majestic.

I love ‘Game of Thrones’ but maybe it is time for it to step up a gear, be more imaginative in its horrors and more creative in its brutality and more sensitive to it’s audience.

Please read our other article to see another point of view on this controversial scene.

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