An open letter to The Last Leg

September 7, 2016 by  
Filed under - Home, Features

The Last Leg 1

Dear Messrs Hills, Widdicombe and Brooker (I bet that’s the first time anyone has referred to Alex as “Messrs”),

I know that you normally use the Twitter hashtag #isitok for discussions, but my question is as such that I don’t think a single tweet can encompass my whole view, so I’m writing this open letter in the hope it will interest you and viewers of the show. My question is this:

#isitok that as someone with a mental and learning disability, I don’t feel as superhuman as people with physical disabilities, such as most of the Paralympians, not to mention two-thirds of yourselves?

I have Asperger’s syndrome, and I’ve come to suspect that people do not give nearly as much attention to people with disabilities such as mine in comparison to physical disabilities. I know this from personal experience through services I was entitled to due to my disability being revoked. I also learnt that people were other learning disabilities, such as ADHD and dyslexia, were also no longer entitled to services. . .

This still doesn’t resolve however the fact that people with mental and learning disabilities are still hugely underrepresented in media coverage, including coverage of the Paralympics. The biggest sign of this is that because Autistic Spectrum Disorders so wide ranging, only a small number of autistic people get to take part in the Paralympics. People like me, who only have mild forms of these conditions, would never get the chance to take part in the Paralympics.

It is all too easy for people, including Channel 4, to show visually that they are supporting disabled people, but it should be remembered that not all disabilities are skin deep. If the BBC can do it with shows such as The A Word, then surely you can too. You could start by showing the Special Olympics on Channel 4 alongside the Paralympics, or even just having more people with mental and learning disabilities on The Last Leg.

If all disabled people are superhumans, then we with the mental and learning disabilities are the mind controllers, the psychics and the espers. Brains and brawn work best together.

I think however that my views are not best summed up in Rio, but in Tokyo where the next Paralympics are held, where I have particular knowledge of certain areas due my expertise as a critic of Japanese anime and manga (cartoons and comics). One series that may interest you is a series called My Hero Academia, streamed online via the website Funimation and released in print by Viz Media. My Hero Academia is set in a world where 80% of humanity has a superpower or “Quirk”, so most people are superheroes. The main character however, Izuku Midoriya, has no powers – i.e. he’s “Quirkless”. In this world, being perfectly normal is a disability. However, Izuku’s favourite hero gives Izuku his Quirk, and so he starts training to be a superhero himself.

My point is this: to all the able bodied people out there – imagine what it would be like with the minority was the majority. Imagine if we the quirky disabled superhumans were the norm. Would you fear us? Would you like us? Only you can answer that.

What I can say is this: if the more bigoted out there are still prepared to describe the disabled as spastics, mongoloids or mentalists, then I for one am more than happy to take part in this war of words and reply that these wrong-headed, able-bodied people are just quirkless, and the best way to do this is this: to stop describing disabled people as “disabled” and instead we should be “quirky”. If that fails, then we will have to resort to fighting back by using “quirkless” as an insult.

Yours sincerely,

Ian Wolf

Editor, On the Box

The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 173 – Panda! Go, Panda!

August 22, 2016 by  
Filed under Features

Panda Go Panda 1

This week’s piece goes back the 1970s and looks at one of the earliest works by two of the most influential people in anime: Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, before the foundation of Studio Ghibli a decade later.

Panda! Go, Panda! is a short children’s film, 33 minutes long, released in 1972. Takahata directed the film while Miyazaki wrote it. It became so popular that a sequel, Panda! Go, Panda!The Rainy-Day Circus was released in 1973. The successes of both these films help to establish both Takahata and Miyazaki, leading to their successful film directing careers in the years to come.

The first film sees a little girl named Mimiko seeing her grandmother off at a train station, meaning she is now living on her own, with no parents. However, she is a bright, confident girl who knows that she can cope just fine. Back in her house, which is in the middle of a bamboo grove, she finds a baby panda on the back doorstep, named Panny. Mimiko and Panny becomes friends, but then Mimiko receives another visitor: Panny’s father, PapaPanda. Mimiko becomes friends with him too, and the two pandas decide to live with Mimiko. Now Mimiko has a father figure, and is also mother figure to Panny. The story follows their friendship, as well as dealing with the locals who are shocked to find a panda living in the town.

In The Rainy-Day Circus, Mimiko and the pandas find a tiger cub named Tiny, who comes from a nearby circus, has snuck into the house. They then try to return Tiny to his mother, but things go bad when a big rain storm causes a massive flood and the circus ringmaster is forced to leave the animals on a flooded train. It is up to Mimiko, PapaPanda and Panny to save the day.

While the most notable aspect of these two films is the people who made it and their future careers, it is also interesting to note why it became so successful. In 1971, Miyazaki and Takahata were in a bit of trouble, when a plan to make an anime adaptation of Pippi Longstocking was rejected. Luckily, a story about pandas was a good move to make. Japan was in the middle of a panda craze, due to the Chinese practice of “panda diplomacy”. The Chinese government had given a pair of giant pandas on loan to Tokyo’s Ueno Zoo, the oldest zoo in Japan. As a result, pandas were all the rage, so a film about panda was always going to appeal to the public at the time.

Panda! Go, Panda! was later referenced in later works by Miyazaki and Takahata. Many people consider the pandas depicted to be a later influence on Totoro, the friendly beast in Studio Ghibli’s My Neighbour Totoro (No. 39), which became the mascot of the company.

There are other recurring elements too, namely the fact that although these are children’s films, at times there are moments which you feel would not appear in a western kids movie. The most notable of these is that Mimiko is very keen on doing handstands – but because Mimiko is always depicted in a skirt, her dress always falls down and you see her underpants.

Panda! Go, Panda! is an enjoyable, happy, quick burst of fun, which also help to establish greater things to come.

Panda! Go, Panda! is released on DVD by Manga Entertainment.

The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 172 – Cheer Boys!!

August 15, 2016 by  
Filed under Features

Cheer Boys!! 1

I would like to conclude this recent look at sports anime by first making an observation. Comedian Ross Noble once said that a man could have sex with another man, and that would be less gay than a man who enjoys roller-blading. However, there is an anime currently being broadcast which I think tops even this. This column will try to prove that a man can enjoy roller-blading and that is less gay than a man who is part of an all-male cheerleading squad. It shouldn’t be difficult.

Cheer Boys!! was originally a novel by Ryo Asai, which was turned into an manga in April 2016 and an anime in July 2016. It is a series that has its ups and downs, but main feeling you get from watching it is unintentional laughter. This series comes across as so unintentionally camp that when these guys do their thing, you cannot help burst out laughing.

The series begins with Haruki Bando, a sociology student at Meishiin University. He used to play judo, but he decides to drop out after he gets an injury. His best friend Kazuma Hashimoto has decided to form a new sports club and wants Haruki to become a member of it – namely an all-male cheerleading club, as he wants to follow in the footsteps of his late parents (his mother was a cheerleader, and his father her coach).

Haruki reluctantly joins, but soon the club starts to gather members: Wataru Mizoguchi, a business student who makes bizarre quotations and cannot handle his drink; Koji Tono, a rather chubby guy who is still capable of pulling off some good moves; Soichiro Suzuki and Gen Hasegawa, who are very athletic and are mainly in the club to try and attract women; and Sho Tokugawa, the team’s strict mentor – who has terrible fashion sense. After a lot of hard work they eventually get together the basic team structure, and name themselves “Breakers”, claiming they are breaking misconceptions and barriers.

There are positives about Cheer Boys!!, one of which is the setting. Nearly all of the sports anime I have covered in past columns are set in high schools and follow guys in their aged around 15-18. Cheer Boys!! is set in a university and thus all of the characters are adults. This leads to one definite positive. As mentioned time and time again, the main audience these sports anime get are women who tend to find the guys sexy, and who often fantasise about the guys in the shows being gay. Unlike all the other sports anime, Cheer Boys!! features characters who are all over 18, and thus there is no trouble when it comes anything underage.

However, because you get so used to people thinking that all these sports series have secretly homoerotic undertones, you cannot help but watch this series in particular and think that everything in it is gay. You are combining this already established phenomenon with a sport that usually seen as being only performed by women. Before this series began the only male cheerleader I knew was George W. Bush, who when he was at college cheered for a team called the Nads, and who had shirts printed reading: “Go Nads!”

Because you have the mix of gayness and the very feminine sport, almost everything in the show comes across as camp, especially when the team actually practice and perform. You can’t help but snigger when the team shouts out phrases like: “We are B-O-Y!” At the same time though, you do feel a bit guilty when doing it.

The team may think they are trying to break misconceptions, but it doesn’t seem like it. The message that actually seems to come across is: “Yes, it is good for men to take part in cheerleading, but you are still going to look gay doing it.” It is going to take a long time before those prejudices to break, but if a show like this helps, then we should be glad that it exists and is helping to do something about it.

Cheer Boys!! is streamed online at Funimation.

Links to all the previous columns in “The Beginner’s Guide to Anime” can be found on Ian Wolf’s personal blog.

The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 171 – DAYS

August 8, 2016 by  
Filed under Features

DAYS 1

The Olympics are now underway, and with the Premier League kicking off next weekend, our current look at sports anime this week moves onto football, and a series that is currently airing.

DAYS began as a manga by Tsuyoshi Yasuda in 2013, and the anime adaptation of the series began this July. Readers of the past sporting anime columns will recognise the recurring elements common with these shows, such as the lead character being someone who is perhaps not that sporting on the surface taking centre stage, and you still can’t forget that suspiciously homoerotic fan base all these sports shows seem to have, particularly when the lead’s best friend has a slightly feminine appearance.

The story is set in Seiseki High School and follows rosy-cheeked Tsukushi Tsukamoto, a boy raised by his wheelchair-bound mother. He is introverted and often bullied, but he is helped by a long-haired blonde from his school year named Jin Kazama. Jin invites Tsukushi to play in a futsal match as they are a player short, and he agrees to take part. While Tsukushi seems rubbish at playing, he makes up for it by running a huge amount, even when he is missing a shoe – and even loses a toenail in the match. Despite his injury and lack of skill, he still manages to header the ball into the goal – and heads the goalpost in the process.

Following this, Tsukushi decides to join up with Jin and become a member of Seiseki’s football team. What he doesn’t know is that Seiseki’s team is one of the best school football teams in Japan, so he has to work extra hard to become a member of the squad, which is not easy for someone lacking in so much talent, in comparison to Jin and his natural ability. The main way Tsukushi trains is simply running constantly, in all weathers, and thus he is able to make it because of his stamina and motivation. Whether he is able to become a much more rounded player remains to be seen, but the team captain, Hisahito Mizuki, believes that in the future Tsukushi could become the team captain.

There are plenty of things to highlight in this series. For one thing, so far in this series there has been very little in the way of actual football. In fact, in the six episodes broadcast so far Tsukushi has played more futsal than football. He has only been in one proper football match. However, that doesn’t stop you from enjoying the show.

The main appeal is watching Tsukushi, whether it is when he is trying to put in extra training to become a better player, or he is just getting to nervous letting other people dominate him. He is an enjoyable character that you can get behind. While the team itself is not an underdog, Tsukushi on his own is.

Of course, while there is little football in it, this doesn’t stop the people watching it still making up their own ideas about the show. There are plenty of moments when the boys are not in their kit (e.g. there is a large bath scene). Mind you, it does swing the other way sometimes too. In the opening episode, when Tsukushi and Jin arrive at the place where their futsal match takes place, the first thing they see is some women who have just finished their match and are thus hot and sweaty – by which I mean it looks less like they just finished playing futsal, and more taking part in a wet T-shirt competition.

I recently just learned that there is a term to describe shows such as DAYS and other sports series, in which there is a large audience of women viewers who watch it because of the attractive guys in it: the Odagiri Effect. The name comes from actor Joe Odagiri, who starred in a live-action TV kids show, but it gained a large, secondary audience of women who watched because Odagiri was a very attractive man. This effect also occurs in shows like this, because of both the artwork and the relationships between the characters: something that is bound to happen when you are on a sports team, where you need to trust your fellow teammates.

DAYS has certainly all the elements to become a popular series, and will in my will certainly be one.

DAYS is streamed on Crunchyroll, with new episodes released on Saturdays at 20.30.

The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 170 – Yowamushi Pedal

August 1, 2016 by  
Filed under Features

Yowamushi Pedal 1

Once again we continue to look at sports anime, and given the repeated highlighting of the fan-base for such shows also tend to be fans of yaoi (male homoerotic manga aimed at women), how appropriate it is for this article to go out on August 1st, commonly known by anime fans as “Yaoi Day”.

Yowamushi Pedal, based on a manga by Wataru Watanabe created in 2008 and still going today, is set in the world of road cycling. It was first adapted into an anime as a 38-part series in 2013-14, with a second series of 24 episodes between 2014-15, a third series due to start next year. There have also been four anime films and one live-action film. The series literally translates into English as “Weakling Pedal”, which gives you an idea of the theme of the show. This is because while most sports anime tend to focus on someone with a passion for the sport right from the off, the main character here is not interested in cycling as a sport. In fact, he’s not interested in sport at all. He’s a total geek.

This geek is Sakamichi Onoda, who is an otaku, a passionate anime fan from Chiba. He loves anime so much that he regularly visits the “otaku capital” of Akihabara, Tokyo, which is a 90km round-trip. His devotion is in fact so great, that he makes the journey on an old “mommy bike”, complete with shopping basket on the front, rather than take the train to save money which he can use to buy things when he arrives. When he starts his first term at Sohoku High School he hopes to join the anime club, but it has shut down due to lack of members. He tries to get new members but fails, but Onoda meets one person who he might be able to win over.

This guy is Shunsuke Imaizumi, a boy who takes road cycling seriously, and who has noticed Onoda is actually a very good cyclist, being able to tackle the local steep hills on his rubbish bike. Imaizumi has a bet with Onoda, saying if Onoda beats him in a race he will join the anime club. Onoda loses, but Imaizumi still acknowledges just how good Onoda is. Onoda then later meets another cyclist at his school, Shoukichi Naruko, a brilliant sprinter and the two become friends. Onoda also becomes friendly with Imaizumi and eventually, though slightly reluctantly, Onoda joins the school’s bicycle racing club.

As Onoda practices it is discovered that he has natural talent at racing bikes and is especially good at mountain climbing. Eventually he, Imaizumi and Naruko attempt to qualify for the Inter-High Race Tournament which sees several schools take part. Alongside their senior riders, shade-wearing team captain Shingo Kinjou, bulky sprinter Jin Tadokoro, and long-haired spidery climber Yuusuke Makishima, they hope to take on their biggest rivals. These include Juichi Fukutomi, captain of the strongest school team Hakone Academy; and Imaizumi’s horridly ruthless rival Akira Midousuji – who once beat Imaizumi by lying about Imaizumi’s mother being run-over.

They are several reasons to enjoy Yowamushi Pedal – aside from anything possibly homoerotic, made even more so by the fact these guys are all in skin-tight Lycia when they are racing. The main appeal is the characters, especially Onoda. With his otaku ways, he is the least sporty anime character in a sports anime. He is the lone nerd in a sea of jocks. This leads to plenty of comedy. For example, when he is riding he often motivates himself by singing his favourite anime theme song, which comes from a rather girly show. Even more brilliantly is that in a race, he manages to get Tadokoro, the biggest jock of all, to sing with him to motivate him even more, so we are treated to the sight of a thin geek and brawny jock singing: “Princess! Princess! Princess! I love, love, love you!”

It is not just the lead characters who are of interest. Midousuji is one of the best villains I’ve come across in an anime. He is not your stereotypically evil character, but someone much more believable. He is someone who is willing to win at any cost, and will adopt any strategy to win, no matter how ruthless or tasteless it is. He scares his foes by reminding them of tragic events of their past, and he will leave fellow team members behind in order to reach first place, often physically harming them if they don’t obey his every whim. Not only is his behaviour disturbing, but so is his appearance: his wide toothy grin; his long protruding tongue; his eyes with black irises which make his pupils look gigantic; and his lanky body which he exploits to his advantage. Midousuji is one of the most unappealing anime characters around, which is what makes him so great a creation.

If there is one problem with it, it would be the pacing of the series. For some reason I cannot fathom, the first series ends mid-race. It actually ends, just as they are about to make the final dash to the finish. I have heard of cliff-hanger endings, but this is just infuriating.

Yowamushi Pedal is released on Region 1 DVD by Discotek Media.

The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 169 – Kuroko’s Basketball

July 25, 2016 by  
Filed under Features

Kuroko's Basketball 1

Continuing to look at sports anime, this week’s series is arguably the first that started the trend in which fans of yaoi – male homoerotica aimed at women – embraced such shows and turned them into something else. However, there is more to it than this. There is both the actual sport itself, but also the much more disturbing story about how the series author and fans where the victims of crime.

Kuroko’s Basketball, also known as The Basketball Which Kuroko Plays, began as a manga that was released in the biggest manga comic book, Weekly Shonen Jump. It was created by Tadatoshi Fujimaki and ran between 2008 and 2014. The series was adapted into three anime series between 2012 and 2015, running across 75 episodes, which itself has been adapted into a series of compilation films. The series features exciting sporting thrills – plus what is supposedly the most unnoticeable person in the world.

Prior to the story, there was the Teiko Middle School basketball team. They were so good they were dubbed the “Generation of Miracles” because no-one could stop them. These players were the captain Seijuro Akashi, who is seemingly capable of making opposing players crumble before him just by looking at them; the team ace Daiki Aomine, known for his fluid “streetball” style of playing; junk food-eating giant Atsushi Murasakibara, who is so big he makes the perfect defensive player without needing to put in the effort; superstitious Shintaro Midorima, who can score threes from just about anywhere with incredible accuracy; and handsome Ryota Kise, who can copy the moves of just about any player. They then all split up and are now playing for different high schools. However, there was also rumours of a supposed sixth member of the generation who never scored once, but was still a great player. This was Tetsuya Kuroko, and this is his story.

Kuroko joins Seirin High School and their basketball team, where he meets another new member of the team, Taiga Kagami. Taiga had previously being living in the USA and was disappointed by the level of Japanese basketball compared to that in America, but now he wants to take on and beat the Generation of Miracles. However, Kuroko does have some problems when it comes to interacting with people, the main one being that somehow no-one notices him. To everyone around him, it is as if Kuroko doesn’t exist, so he has to try hard to make himself known to his teammates. He seems to be completely deadpan in all situations. Also, Kuroko is short, slow, and hopeless at shooting the ball into the hoop.

However, Kuroko does have one big advantage. Because no-one notices him on the court, Kuroko is able to intercept the ball and make astonishing passes that baffle the other teams. He is  master of misdirection, tricking the opposition into looking the wrong way at the critical moment. He decides to use his skills to help Kagami: to be the shadow to Kagami’s light. Thus the duo work together with the rest of the team in order to take on the Generation of Miracles and prove they can beat even the strongest players by working as a team rather than apart.

Kuroko’s Basketball works as a sports anime because it does what all the great sports series do, which is it makes you get behind the team at the heart of the story. You might not even be a fan of the sport, but you want to cheer them on. It is safe to say that it is a series that fits into the “plucky underdog” mould. There are several times in which Kuroko and his friends have to battle stronger teams, including all five other members of the Generation of Miracles, and you can probably figure out how it will end most of the time. However, despite knowing this, when you watch it you still want to back them and you are worried about how the characters will get on.

If the plot of the show has one obvious flaw it would be this: how come a player like Kuroko is totally unnoticeable to everyone, despite the fact he has blue hair? You can’t help but feel that this would make him stick out the most on court. Another problem is the use of some of the language. Aomine, who has dark skin, at one point called “ganguro” by another of the main characters, Satsuki Momoi, a girl who was manager of the Generation of Miracles team and of Aomine’s team now, as well as being in love with Kuroko. “Ganguro” means “black face”, so this could be seen as racist. It should also be mentioned that in Japan, “ganguro” is also the name of a form of fashion which involves girls getting big fake tans and white make-up around the eyes and mouth (think of an Oompa Loompa minstrel).

When the series was on, one of things that came out of it was a large amount of fan-works, or “dojinshi” in Japan, much of it being gay yaoi fiction. While many anime are turned into such works, Kuroko’s Basketball was one of the first sports anime to be subject to this in a big way, and thus came from it all the other similar works and the fans that followed them.

However, the series was also the victim of bizarre attacks. After the anime version of the series began airing, several events where Kuroko’s Basketball dojinshi were being sold, or were in some way connected to author Tadatoshi Fujimaki, were targeted by a poisoner. Fujimaki received death threats, including some containing powdered and liquid substances. The university where Fujimaki studied was targeted. Several dojinshi events, including the largest of them all, Comiket, barred Kuroko’s Basketball dojinshi for fear of being targeted. Several shops stopped stocking Kuroko’s Basketball merchandise, worrying the too would be attacked. In December 2013 the perpetrator, 36-year-old man Hirofumi Watanabe, was arrested. He admitted to the crime, saying he did it out of jealously, and was given four-and-a-half years in prison. Now series stock is being sold again, and even a special Kuroko’s Basketball dojinshi event was organised.

Kuroko’s Basketball might be remembered for harassment surrounded it, but it should be remembered for being a fun entertaining series whose fan base withstood all kinds of pressure.

Kuroko’s Basketball is streamed on Crunchyroll.

The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 168 – Ping Pong

July 18, 2016 by  
Filed under Features

Ping Pong 1

In 2020 Tokyo will be hosting the Olympics. As we are coming up close to the 2016 Rio Olympics and sport has been pretty much something that has been causing excitement over the course of summer, for the next few columns I’m look at some sports anime.

Now, I’ve already covered some sports anime in past, such as the swimming series Free! (No. 17) and the volleyball series Haikyu!! (No. 116), and every time I’ve covered these shows, which are usually always follow some high school team, there has always been one thing of peculiar interest, which is the fan base. The people who watch sports anime are not really interested in sport. They are people, mostly women, who are into gay fiction and think all the characters are gay.

This is becoming such a phenomenon now that anime studios seem to be deliberately targeting this audience. For example, some of the sports being covered are not the manliest of activities, such as figure skating and cheerleading. A series does not even have to air before people start thinking of homoerotic undertones. For example, a series about rugby called All Out!! is due to start in the autumn, and when they released this promotional poster people were getting excited, mainly by the arse of the No. 8 player – and given that the player in that position is the guy at the back of the scrum, you are going to be seeing a lot of that backside.

However, this phenomenon is fairly recent, so what about older sports series? Are there any other series that break from this norm? One series worth examining concerning this is the table tennis anime Ping Pong. While the anime was made in 2014, the original manga comic by Taiyo Matsumoto was created in 1996, way before any of this homoerotic fan stuff took place, and whereas shows like Free! and Haikyu!! feature delicate art and attractive characters, the art in Ping Pong is a lot harsher, rougher, and likely to put a lot of people off.

Ping Pong follows two students who are members of the same school table tennis club. One boy is Makoto Tsukimoto, ironically nicknamed “Smile” because he is so expressionless. He used to be bullied when he was younger but started to make friends when he was introduced to the table tennis by Yutaka Hoshino, nicknamed “Peco”, who is a lot brighter and open that he is.

While practicing they learn that a rival school has brought in a Chinese exchange student named Kong Wenge into their team. Kong is currently in Japan because he was kicked out of the Chinese national team and now he really wants to get back home. Smile and Peco go to meet and play him. Kong plays Peco, and thrashes Peco to love, knocking his confidence. Later on, the man in charge of the club Smile and Peco are in, Jo Koizumi, spots that Smile has the talent to become a great player, but lacks the drive to do so. He thus makes it his mission to train Smile up personally.

The duo then takes part in a big tournament. Smile loses to Wong, but Koizumi sees that behind Smile expressionless face lays the drive and force of an unstoppable, ping pong winning machine, and thus Smile’s personal training continues. Peco however loses to a childhood rival and goes into such a decline that he stops playing for a while. It is only after he decline takes him close to death that he starts training. We then follow both Peco and Smile’s progress to the final major tournament of the year.

The stand-out feature of Ping Pong is the artwork. The very rough work will put off many viewers, but I would argue that it highlights the passion that made this series. It is a show that doesn’t look pretty, but the story and the drive to make it work are all there. It is a harsher, rougher, manlier depiction of sport in comparison to others sports anime covered before in this column. They are no pretty, sexy guys here. The balls are not even drawn as normal circles: either that are drawn bit-by-bit, or are perfectly spherical using computer animation.

However, while the series was never made with gay fantasies in mind, there are still one or two details that give a bit hope to such fans. For starters, there are hardly any women in the show. The main female character is an old woman who runs a ping pong dojo who later trains up Peco. There is only one of the young players who has a girlfriend, and that relationship is on the rocks. There is also the slightly dodgy scene set on Valentine’s Day where, as a joke, Koizumi suggests that he should be Smile’s date for the day.

In terms of sports anime, Ping Pong is the one anime adaptation made in recent years that stands out from the crowd in terms of style. It is that rarest of things, a sports anime that mainly appeals to people interested in sport.

Ping Pong is released on DVD and Blu-Ray by All the Anime. On another note, this weekend at I was at Hyper Japan (see Extra II for my piece on last year’s Hyper Japan summer) and came into contact with an organisation called the International Otaku Expo Association, dedicated to helping spread the joy of anime around the world, and seem interesting people to follow. You can find out more about them at ioea.info

My Mastermind Experience

July 13, 2016 by  
Filed under - Home, Features

Mastermind 2

Picture Credit: BBC

The first episode of the latest series of Mastermind featured a very foolish person taking part on it: me.

Taking part under my real name of Ian Dunn, I was answering questions on the specialist subject of the BBC Radio 4 Dickensian sitcom Bleak Expectations. If you haven’t seen it yet, watch it on the iPlayer first. If you have already seen it, you will know that while I was leading after my specialist subject, but I somewhat fell in the general knowledge round and came joint third. There are various reasons I could give for not winning: I might have revised the wrong things, or I could blame the pressure of sitting in the Black Chair, but personally I prefer to blame the fact that among my fellow contenders two of them had appeared on Mastermind before. Fortunately, the other contender did not appear on Mastermind – unfortunately, he had won the last series of Only Connect.

The experience of applying and taking part on Mastermind has been a fun one. There was one strange thing that came up during the application process. As you may know, much of the Mastermind was inspired by the inventor Bill Wright’s experiences of being interrogated by the Gestapo, who always asked POWs their name, rank and number – hence why contenders are asked their name, occupation and specialist subject. This Nazi legacy seems to have accidentally continued, because when you are accepted as a contender you have to fill in a form detailing the sources of your specialist subjects. However, in the computer file name they abbreviated the form’s name, so unfortunately the file name reads: “Mastermind SS Form”. You really think someone would have spotted that.

The recording itself took place in MediaCityUK in Salford, which as places go, is perhaps a bit too big. There were countless studios dotted around the place, and various networks share the studios. For example, the studios where BBC Two’s Mastermind are recorded are also used by CBBC and ITV. As a result the same building also records Newsround, Blue Peter and, oddly, The Jeremy Kyle Show. One other pleasant thing about the recording that I didn’t know before hand is that Mastermind has its own warm-up man: the comedian Ted Robbins (Phoenix Nights), who was great at entertaining the audience.

While sitting in the Black Chair, I had a very clear strategy for what I was going to do: not to look at anything. That is why I had my eyes shut while I was being quizzed: to help concentrate purely on the questions that were being asked. The other aspect I am particularly fond of is that what with Bleak Expectations being a rather surreal comedy, about 19th century industrialist Sir Philip Bin, the inventor of the bin, foiling the schemes of his ironically named twice undead evil ex-guardian Mr. Gently Benevolent, there was that pleasing satisfaction of hearing host John Humphrys reading out some strange questions. It is safe to say that no-one else will be tackling questions on dogs called Countdown that can only understand anagrams, or civil wars in Russia about the spelling of the word Tsar/Czar.

The one other thought I have been able to take away is this: I didn’t know it at the time, but having talking to the producers of the shows I’ve since discovered that the term “highest scoring runners-up” is slightly euphemistic. It doesn’t just go to people who came second. People who came third have also gone through to the semi-finals, and indeed this happened to someone last year. Thus, I could still go through to the next round, as I happen to know that they are recording the final heats this week. I know at least two people who failed to win scored 26 points or more, because they were on the same show as me. If only three people or fewer score more than this I could get through, as could the other person I tied with. In fact, my heat could be the first time that all four contenders from one episode manage to qualify. That heat has a small chance of becoming TV history, depending on the other results.

One last thing – I have no idea who decided to put that slight music sting at the end of player’s turn. We didn’t have this sound on during the recording and I have no idea whose bright idea it was to add it.

Mastermind is on the BBC iPlayer. New episodes currently go out on Wednesdays at 20.00, until going back to their normal Friday transmissions as of 5th August.

The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 167 – Tsukihime

July 11, 2016 by  
Filed under Features

Tsukihime 1

Last week’s column covered the film series The Garden of Sinners (No. 166), a supernatural story whose central character is able to see the lines that indicate death in all things. However, this series actually has an earlier incarnation, which The Garden of Sinners was later set into. This week we look at the original work.

Tsukihime originally began as a video game only released in Japan back in 2000 by a company called Type-Moon on 3½ floppy disks, which is a sentence that is guaranteed to make anyone feel old. The game became very popular, and in 2003 it was adapted as a 12-part anime series, under the full name of Lunar Legend Tsukihime.

The story follows a boy named Shiki Tohno, who when he was younger suffered a trauma which resulted in him gaining the ability known as the “Mystic Eyes of Death Perception”, the ability to see the normally invisible lines of mortality in all objects, living and non-living, and the same ability also used by the similarly named Shiki Ryogi in The Garden of Sinners. The only way he is able to stop seeing these lines is by using a special pair of glasses.

Eight years later, Shiki is now living with his sister Akiha following the death of their father, living a relatively normal life with his new school friends. However, one day walking back from school he meets a woman, and upon doing so Shiki enters a strange dreamlike sequence. When he comes to, he discovers that he has in fact killed the woman. The next day though, on his way to school, he finds the same woman alive and well. Shiki tries to flee the woman but fails and the two are then attacked by a group of demonic hounds that the woman is able to kill herself.

The woman then reveals her secret: her name is Arcueid Brunestud, and she is a vampire, although she herself does not consume blood. She is one of the True Ancestors, whose job is it to kill “Dead Apostles”, who are humans that have had their blood sucked by True Ancestors and are thus rogue vampires. As Arcueid is still recovering after her attack from Shiki, Shiki ends up helping her. Arcueid reveals that her main mission is to kill a vampire named Boa, whose soul takes over other people and acts as a host for him.

However, as the story progresses, Shiki begins to learn more about himself and those around him. Some of his close friends seem to have vested interests, Akiha is not all she seems to be, and even he comes to realise there are bits of his own past he has previously forgotten that he might want to forget again. It all eventually comes down to the final conflict with Boa, and whether he and Arcueid can defeat him.

If you watch both Tsukihime and The Garden of Sinners you can clearly see the similarities. For exampke, Shiki Tohno’s appearance is used as the basis for that of Mikiya Kokuto. Also, the person who gives Shiki his special glasses is the sister of Toko Aozaki. There are plenty of differences of course, chief among which is that there are no vampires in The Garden of Sinners.

The character of Arcueid is one of interest though, mainly because in terms of appearance she looks like the least vampire-like of any vampire I can think of. The look of vampires in fiction tends to fall into two groups: you have your traditional, period costume, gothic look; and then you have this trendier appearance. It is normally either the Dracula look or the Twilight look. Arcueid though appears to have no look. The only outfit you see her wearing is a white jumper, a long red skirt and black shoes. Whereas most vampires seem to get their outfits from the 18th century or Topshop, Arcueid seems to be the only vampire to get her clothes from Marks & Spencer.

There are some issues with Tsukihime, the main one being the length of the adaptation. While 12 episodes might seem fine on the surface, the original video game takes a long time to play. It contains over 5,000 pages of text, and thus the anime does not cover the whole story.

Tsukihime is released on DVD by MVM Films.

The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 166 – The Garden of Sinners

July 4, 2016 by  
Filed under Features

The Garden of Sinners 1

This week we look at an anime film series, and a series which deals with many disturbing themes. Beware: you may want to avoid these films if you don’t wish to see murder, violence, blood, vomiting, rape, drug abuse, or people’s legs being twisted like a corkscrew.

The Garden of Sinners, a supernatural thriller, began as a series of novels by Kinoko Nasu written between 1998 and 1999. The series has been adapted eight separate films, ranging from less than an hour to nearly two hours in length, most of which were released between 2007 and 2009, with the final film coming out in 2013. Other shorter works have also been released as part of the series. The story is not written chronological order, although you can easily watch the films to be in this order if you prefer to see it over the commercial release order.

The films take place between 1995 and 1999. The story follows Shiki Ryogi, who is a peculiar girl for several reasons, and not just for the fact that she normally dresses up in a red leather jacket over a kimono. Shiki was trained as a demon hunter, and like all the demon hunters in her family, she was brought up to have two distinctive personalities: her normal, unsociable female one named “Shiki” and a friendlier male one named “SHIKI”.

A fellow student at her school, Mikiya Kokuto, becomes friends with both sides of Shiki. However, this leads to conflict between Shiki’s split personalities. This is partly responsible for resulting in Shiki getting involved in an accident that results in her being put into a coma for two years. When Shiki awakes she discovers she has undergone several changes. These include the SHIKI part of her personality disappearing, and gaining an ability called the “Mystic Eyes of Death Perception”, that allows her to see the normally invisible lines of mortality in all things, both living and non-living.

Mikiya had hoped to attend college with Shiki, but the coma put a stop to his plan so instead he took up a job with a firm of paranormal investigators lead by a woman named Toko Aozaki, a sorceress who also makes dolls. Also working for the investigators is Mikiya’s over-protective sister Azaka, who is annoyed that Mikiya is so close to Shiki. Shiki meanwhile also joins Toko’s firm after awaking from her coma to investigate paranormal activities, use her hunting skills to take down demons which are responsible for death and destruction, and also trying to come to terms with her new identity.

At times it does feel that watching The Garden of Sinners is a bit of slog – not surprising when this is an eight-part film series. Also, the adult nature of the content of these films will be off-putting to many viewers. A lot of blood is spilt, and the supernatural nature of some of the attacks is quite literally twisted. No, it really is literally twisted: one of the characters in the film is a rape victim who then tracks down her attackers and kills them by using an ability to twist their bodies around like human screws. Some of the attacks are less bloody but are a lot more creepy. One antagonist holds Shiki captive and tortures her by among other things drooling all over her body. However, there is also plenty to like, chief among which is the artwork, in particular the backgrounds and sceneries, as well as the soundtrack.

For many people though the most shocking thing about The Garden of Sinners was not the violence, but the cost. When the film box set was released in the USA it retailed at nearly $600. Fortunately for us in the UK, the box set is lot cheaper, but annoyingly does not contain the final film in the series.

The Garden of Sinners box set, containing the first seven films, is released on DVD by MVM Films.

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