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

April 23, 2016 by  
Filed under Features

Yo-Kai Watch 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 18, 2016 by  
Filed under Features

Assassination Classroom 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 11, 2016 by  
Filed under Features

Prince of Stride 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 4, 2016 by  
Filed under Features

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 1, 2016 by  
Filed under Features

Censored

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

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

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

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

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

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

The main rules are:

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

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

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

Below are some of the winners from previous years:

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

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

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

In case you failed to spot it – April Fool!

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

March 28, 2016 by  
Filed under Features

Ichi the Killer 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 151 – Black Jack

March 21, 2016 by  
Filed under Features

Black Jack 1

As is my custom, for every 50th article I cover in this column, I talk about the work by the “Godfather of Manga” Osamu Tezuka, the man who probably did more than anyone else to make anime and manga the artistic icons they are today. Having started this column with his most iconic series Astro Boy (No. 1), then moving onto Princess Knight (No. 51) and Kimba the White Lion (No. 101), we now turn to another of his most famous creations.

Black Jack was originally a manga which Tezuka wrote between 1973 and 1983. However, despite the popularity of the series and its title character, the series was not animated during his lifetime. It was first adapted as a straight-to-video Original Video Animation (OVA) in 1993 (Tezuka having died in 1989), and since then has gone on to have several other adaptations, including a TV series in 2004, films, spin-offs, and most recently a prequel entitled Young Black Jack that was broadcast on TV in 2015. Before he became a manga artist Tezuka was a medical student, so perhaps not surprisingly the central figure in Black Jack is also a medical man, albeit one unlike any other.

The title character of the series, Black Jack, formerly Kuro Hazama, works as an unlicensed surgeon. When he was eight he was badly injured in an explosion which also killed his mother. Fortunately his life was saved by the brilliant Dr. Jotaro Honma. Because of him, Black Jack was able to regain the use of his arms and legs, thus virtually living a normal life. However, he is still to this day horribly disfigured. His body is covered in scars, the shock of his injuries turned part of his hair completely white, and his face is two different colours after his half-African friend helped him with a skin graft. He kept his friend’s original skin colour as a mark of respect to him.

Over the years Black Jack trained himself to be a skilled surgeon, but never became licensed as he did not want to be part of the corrupt establishment. Instead, he lives in a remote area and works privately, but hardly gets any work. This is partly due to his appearance and partly because of what he admits as his extremely extortionate fees. A cheap operation costs ¥10,000,000 (over £60,000), although sometimes he does lower the cost in special cases.

The series follows Black Jack, case-by-case, as he takes care of any sick patient who is capable of paying his extraordinary costs, and also righting various wrongs that he sees around. He is also normally assisted by his surrogate daughter Pinoko, who was a rare form of parasitic twin living in one of his patients for 18 years. Black Jack extracted her and gave Pinoko a body with a plastic exoskeleton. This body though does have its limits: Pinoko cannot grow so she looks like a young girl although she is actually an adult, she has a lisp, and she cannot swim. Despite this, Pinoko loves Black Jack and constantly tells people that she is actually his wife.

To this day Black Jack is one of anime’s most famous characters: the mysterious doctor who gets little recognition for his good deeds, which is seemingly the way that he likes it. With his scarred body and unusual clothes (he is often seen walking around in a black cape), and the fact he charges rich and poor so much, he seems to want to put people off him. However, he is still a good, moral man, treating the injured come what may and stopping what he sees as wrong.

Another entertaining aspect of the series is the use of what is known as Osamu Tezuka’s “star system”. Tezuka, a great lover of films, treated his own characters like actors and thus they would constantly appear in lots of different series. Thus characters from Astro Boy, Princess Knight, Kimba the White Lion and other works by him all appear in Black Jack as well. Even the medically-educated Tezuka appears as himself, playing a doctor (although for obvious reasons he never voiced his part). It is a bonus treat for fans of his work, but don’t worry if you have not seen everything he has done, as the characters rarely relate to their original titles.

Black Jack features gripping stories, one of anime’s most famous leading roles, and an entertaining cast of characters. It is a fun, exciting and engrossing series.

A 1996 anime film reworking of the 1993 OVA was released by Manga Entertainment on DVD, but only second-hand copies are now available. Two collections of the 2004 TV series of Black Jack are released by Anime Sols on Region 1 DVD. Young Black Jack is streamed on Crunchyroll.

The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 1-150 – Updates and Corrections

March 14, 2016 by  
Filed under Features

Icons No. 101-150

Since starting this column three years ago, there have been many changes. Series have been re-commissioned, some have ended and others have been made viewable elsewhere. This column is a quick list of updated information.

Re-commissioned and ending series

Here is a full list of series re-commissions either yet to be aired or new to the column. This section ignores serial series that always have new episodes made, normally every week.

  • Junjo Romantica (No. 5) – A third series was be aired in July 2014.
  • Black Butler (No. 10) – In July 2014 a new series entitled Book of Circus was broadcast, followed by a two-part OVA (Original Video Anime) called Book of Murder in October 2014. A new anime film, Book of the Atlantic, is scheduled for 2017.
  • Attack on Titan (No. 11) – Two compilation films have been made. The first, Crimson Bow and Arrow was released in Japan in November 2014. The second, Wings of Freedom, was released in June 2015. A two-part prequel OVA called No Regrets began in December 2014, with the second part to be released later in April 2015. These OVA are being released on Region 1 DVD with limited edition volumes of the print manga. A live-action Japanese film is also in production, scheduled to be released in two parts, in August and September 2015.
  • The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya (No. 14) – A new spin-off anime called The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan began in April 2015.
  • Free! – Iwatobi Swim Club (No. 17) – Following a successful second series last year, a new prequel film entitled High Speed! – Free! – Starting Days was released in Japan in December 2015.
  • Hetalia: Axis Powers (No. 26) – A sixth online season has been broadcast.
  • Sword Art Online (No. 34) – A new movie, Ordinal Scale, will be released in 2017.
  • Strike Witches (No. 72) – A three part OVA is in production, which started in September 2014 and will finish in May 2015. A third season has been commissioned.
  • Girls und Panzer (No. 81) – A new movie was released in November 2015.
  • Lupin III (No. 90) – A new TV series starts in April 2015.
  • World Trigger (No. 114) – The anime series has been cancelled and will finished at the end of this month.
  • Food Wars! (No. 115) – A second series is scheduled for July 2016.
  • Haikyu!! (No. 116) – An announcement concerning the series is to be made on 19th March. EDIT: a third series has been commissioned, to be broadcast in Autumn 2016.

DVD and Blu-Ray releases

Some series previously unreleased on DVD and Blu-Ray in the UK and USA have now become available. Here is a list.

  • Mobile Suit Gundam (No. 2) – Available in two parts on Blu-Ray and DVD from All the Anime.
  • Attack on Titan (No. 10) – New collections of the entire first series to be released on DVD and Blu-Ray by Manga Entertainment on 27th June 2016.
  • Free! – Iwatobi Swim Club (No. 17) – The second series, Eternal Summer, will be released later in the year by All the Anime. Currently no word on if there will be a British release of the first series of the prequel film.
  • IGPX: Immortal Grand Prix (No. 20) – Has been re-released in the USA by Discotek Media, on Region 1 DVD.
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion (No. 21) – The third film in the “Rebuild” series, Evangelion 3.0: You Can (Not), is now available in the UK on DVD and Blu-Ray.
  • Code Geass (No. 22) – The film Akito the Exiled will be released by Kaze, but the date is currently unknown.
  • Sword Art Online (No. 34) – The second series, Sword Art Online II, is currently being released on DVD and Blu-Ray in the UK by All the Anime.
  • Danganronpa (No. 44) – Series now released on DVD and Blu-Ray in UK by Manga Entertainment.
  • Baccano! (No. 45) – Series now released in the UK on Blu-Ray by All the Anime.
  • Durarara!! (No. 48) – The second series is being released by All the Anime, with the first story arc being available on DVD and Blu-Ray on 25th April 2016.
  • DRAMAtical Murder (No. 66) – Series released on DVD and Blu-Ray in the USA by Sentai Filmworks.
  • Humanity Has Declined (No. 71) – Series to be released in UK on DVD and Blu-Ray by Animatsu.
  • Blue Exorcist (No. 77) – New collections of the entire series to be available on DVD and Blu-Ray from Manga Entertainment on 6th June 2016.
  • Ghost in the Shell (No. 83) – Rest of Arise series now available on DVD and Blu-Ray in the UK from Manga Entertainment. Film The New Movie to be released by Manga later in the year.
  • Wicked City (No. 96) – Film to be re-released on DVD in the USA by Discotek.
  • Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? (No. 110) – Series to be released on DVD and Blu-Ray by Animatsu later in the year.
  • Haikyu!! (No. 116) – Series being released in the UK on DVD and Blu-Ray by Animatsu. First part of the first series available now.
  • Love Live! (No. 123) – Second series to be released by MVM Films on DVD and Blu-Ray in June 2016.

Online Streaming

There are plenty of anime currently available via online streaming in the UK. Here are the main websites. Please note that these website might not stream all the episodes and some series are split over more than one website.

  • Crunchyroll: currently streaming at least some episodes of Black Butler (No. 10), Attack on Titan (No. 11), Bleach (No. 15), Free! – Iwatobi Swim Club (No. 17), Sword Art Online (No. 34), Durarara!! (No. 48), Fairy Tail (No. 52), BTOOOM! (No. 54), Cuticle Detective Inaba (No. 65), DRAMAtical Murder (No. 66), Humanity Has Declined (No. 71), No Matter How I Look At It, It’s You Guys Fault I’m Not Popular! (No. 85), Love Stage!! (No. 87), Yu-Gi-Oh! (No. 88), Cardfight!! Vanguard (No. 89), Cute High Earth Defense Club LOVE! (No. 94), Naruto (No. 95) and Moyashimon (No. 98), Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? (No. 110), Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches (No. 111), Gintama (No. 113), World Trigger (No. 114), Food Wars! (No. 115), Haikyu!! (No. 116), Sekai-Ichi Hatsukoi: The World’s Greatest First Love (No. 118), ERASED (No. 145) and Noblesse (No. 150).
  • Animax: currently streaming at least some episodes of Death Note (No. 8), Bakuman (No. 9), Attack on Titan (No. 11) Bleach (No. 15), Code Geass (No. 22), Black Lagoon (No. 32), Durarara!! (No. 48), Fairy Tail (No. 52), Magi (No. 67), Vampire Knight (No. 75), Soul Eater (No. 76), Nisekoi (No. 117), Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions (No. 120), One-Punch Man (No. 129), Beyond the Boundary (No. 141), Hidamari Sketch (No. 143) and World Conquest Zvezda Plot (No. 144).
  • Netflix: currently streaming at least some episodes of Death Note (No. 8), Black Butler (No. 10), Attack on Titan (No. 11), Fullmetal Alchemist (No. 13), Pokemon (No. 25), Black Lagoon (No. 32), Sword Art Online (No. 34), Fairy Tail (No. 52), Magi (No. 67), Vampire Knight (No. 75), Blue Exorcist (No. 77), Ghost in the Shell (No. 83), Yu-Gi-Oh! (No. 88), Blood Lad (No. 92), Space Pirate Captain Harlock (No. 107), Tokyo Ghoul (No. 108) and The Seven Deadly Sins (No. 142).
  • Funimation: The Funimation streaming service, previously only available in the USA, is now going to become available in the UK some time later this month. Some series that they have confirmed they will stream include Ouran High School Host Club (No. 3), Attack on Titan (No. 11), Hetalia: Axis Powers (No. 26), Fairy Tail (No. 52) and Ghost in the Shell (No. 83).
  • YouTube: You can find legal streaming channels for Manga Entertainment and Funimation. There you can find UK legal streaming for at least some episodes of Astro Boy (No. 1), Ouran High School Host Club (No. 3), Junjo Romantica (No. 5), Fullmetal Alchemist (No. 13), Free! – Iwatobi Swim Club (No. 17), Martian Successor Nadesico (No. 23), Hetalia: Axis Powers (No. 26), The Irresponsible Captain Tylor (No. 30), Aria (No. 35), Strike Witches (No. 72), Baka and Test (No. 78) and Ghost in the Shell (No. 83).

The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 150 – Noblesse

March 14, 2016 by  
Filed under Features

Noblesse 1

Having approached another landmark figure, I tend to do something a bit special on these occasions. For article No. 50 I wrote about my favourite anime, Gurren Lagann. When I got to No. 100 I wrote about the tragic story of the never made series Feline & Lupine (an article that went out on 1st April). For No. 150 the special feature for this series is its origins, because this did not come from a Japanese comic. This is Korean.

Although not as well-known as Japan’s manga industry, South Korea too also has a growing reputation for making comics, known as “manhwa”. Noblesse began near the end of December 2007, and is released as an online comic or “webtoon”, written by Son Jae Ho and drawn by Lee Gwang Su. In February 2016 the Japanese anime studio Production I.G. turned the first story arc of the manhwa into a single, half-hour long Original Video Anime (OVA) episode called Noblesse: Awakening, which was released with English subtitled on the streaming service Crunchyroll. As it is made by a Japanese studio and the anime is released with Japanese dialogue, this does make it an anime.

Noblesse begins with a coffin that was buried at sea, which is opened when the Moon shines upon in. Out of the coffin emerges Cadis Etrama Di Raizel, who has been asleep in the coffin for 820 years. Raizel manages to track down is old servant, named Frankenstein, who now works as the principle of a Korean High School. As Raizel has no knowledge of what has happened during the centuries he has been away, he decides that being educated will do him some good, so he becomes a student at the school. He quickly becomes popular with the students, who nickname him Rai, and becomes good friends with three classmates: sporty Shinwu, computer game lover Ikhan, and Yuna, a girl that Shinwu is in love with.

While walking back home from school they are attacked by a strange monster, some form of modified human, which is part of a group called “The Organisation”. Other members of The Organisation appear to have vampire-like qualities, or can grow their fingernails into razor-sharp claws. While they survive the initial encounter, the next day Shinwu, Ikhan and Yuna are all kidnapped, and thus Rai and Frankenstein have to free their friends from the hands of these creatures who are willing to kill them.

As there is just the one episode at the time of writing, the first episode feels a tad rushed. However, this stand-alone anime has plenty to keep the viewer interested: the quality of the animation is good; and it has a pleasant soundtrack, especially the theme tune which has a cool, jazz quality to it.

Most of this episode contains plenty of fight sequences. There is a lot of blood being shed, by which I mean it literally rains blood at one point. It is therefore not an anime for the squeamish, but it is not something you liked to get bored of when you watch it.

However, perhaps the most notable aspect of Noblesse is the fact that this is a series that started as an online comic from South Korea. It is nice to see a Japanese anime studio adapted a Korean manhwa, especially given the fact that this involves a working relationship between two countries that often do not get on. See for example, the controversy of trying to depict a stereotypical personification of South Korea in the WWII-based anime Hetalia: Axis Powers (No. 26). It is always interesting to see how anime adapts stories from outside of Japan, as the Shakespearean anime Romeo x Juliet (No. 33) or the Arabian Nights-inspired Magi (No. 67).

The ending of Noblesse is clearly open-ended, so hopefully we will see more of this series being adapted as well.

Noblesse is available to stream from the website Crunchyroll.

The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 149 – No Game No Life

March 7, 2016 by  
Filed under Features

No Game No Life 1

Many fantasy series follow a similar plot, such as a character from the real world suddenly being dragged into a fantasy world full of strange monsters, magic and so on, and trying to figure out a way back home. This series has a different take on this idea: real-world characters dragged into a fantasy world, and really liking their new home.

No Game No Life started off as a series of novels written by Yu Kamiya, starting in 2012, the first three of eight were adapted as an anime between April and June 2014. The series combines fantasy, comedy, and the “harem” genre of one character being surrounded by lots of characters of the opposite gender, but is also noted for its unusual artwork.

The story follows two siblings, 18-year-old Sora and his 11-year-old stepsister Shiro. The duo have one passion in life which is games of all kinds. In the world of online gaming they are completely unstoppable, never losing at all, but go under no name and are thus referred to by other players as “Blank”. In reality, Sora and Shiro spend all their time in their bedroom, never venturing outdoors, finding the outside world both boring and scary.

One day they get an interesting email from someone who challenges them to a game of chess, with Sora and Shiro win. The loser offers them the chance to escape their dull lives for something more exciting, and soon they find themselves transported to a completely different world – to be precise, Disboard, a world controlled by games.

A long time ago, a war between the gods and 16 sentient races on Disboard ended with a stalemate between those fighting, so the one god who did not take part decided to take control of the world. This was Tet, the god of games and play. Tet set out the “Ten Pledges” which resulted in not just all war, murder and robbery being forbidden, but making everything on Disboard decided by people playing games with each other, from trivial matters  right up to the control of countries and species.

With their skill at games, Sora and Shiro find themselves at home in Disboard, with soon are able to win their way to positions of importance and power. For example, Sora wins a game against a girl named Stephanie Dola, the granddaughter of the late king of the human nation of Elkia, and thus Sora makes Stephanie love him. Later Sora and Shiro use their skills to win the throne of Elkia itself, and become leaders of Disboard’s human race, known as “Imanity”, the weakest race in the world. After this, they decide to make it their mission to conquer the other fifteen races on Disboard and ultimate to play and defeat Tet again in order to become the new gods of Disboard.

The most striking aspect of No Game No Life is the artwork. It combines grand fantasy landscapes with a bright and colourful character design. It is hard to compare the style of the series with any other anime around. Also there is the clever idea of having the two lead characters moved to a world which they like. The joy in the series is not about whether or not Sora and Shiro will win or not, because as they say themselves, they ALWAYS win, it is how they cunningly go about winning, how they formulate their strategies, and how they interpret the rules in their favour.

However, there is plenty of controversy with this series, mainly with the romantic, harem aspect. Sora is always looking for cute girls to chase up, spy on, etc., and there are plenty of female characters that fill these roles, including Shiro. However, there are two issues that come out of this: one is the fact they are already related, and two is the fact that Shiro is only 11. There are several scenes in which Shiro and other female characters are naked, although the rude bits are always censored in some way, like steam in a bath covering up her nipples for example.

However, personally the problem with No Game No Life in my view is that the series is too short. Less than half the original novels have been adapted, so it would be nice to see another series being commissioned.

No Game No Life is released currently as a collector’s edition, complete with, Blu-Ray, DVD and soundtrack by MVM Films. Separate Blu-Ray and DVD editions are released at the end of March.

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