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Only Yesterday

Reviews - by - February 2, 2014 - 17:49 Europe/London - 1 Comment

Growing up can be a challenge, but sometimes the bigger challenge is actually being a grown up. When you’re a child, your future is tomorrow, the day after and maybe at a push, the next month. Yet, as you grow older time seems to pass faster and faster and before you know it you’re a grown person, with a home, a job and it becomes increasingly easy to spend more and more time reminiscing about your childhood and what events in your life truly made you, you.

In times gone by the past didn’t seem quite so far away, but things have started to change and in the early 1980s fuelled by an economic boom, the past in Japan seemed like an entirely different way of life. This is especially true for Taeko, the lead protagonist in Only Yesterday. As a grown adult, doing the usual things, working too hard, not having time for a love life and sadly being a disappointment to her mother, Taeko’s 1960’s childhood feels like a long time ago.

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Takeo decides to visit her elder sister’s husband’s elder brother’s farm and not for the first time. While on the night train to her two week holiday, she remembers her 10 year old self and the intense desire to go to the country. This sets the wheels in motion for a feature length film around bittersweet memories.

After arriving in Yamagata she’s picked up by her brother in law’s second cousin, Toshio, someone she’s only met briefly before. During Taeko’s stay in Yagata, many childhood stories are told and not all of the memories that she’s retelling are happy. The film switches between the present and the past with such regular ease that sometimes you feel like you’re watching two tales – the one of a child who’s having the same struggles as all of us – the opposite gender, school, parents and siblings and a tale of a woman who’s just not happy but isn’t prepared to recognise it.

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The contrast between Tokyo in Takeo’s childhood and Yagata in her adult life is so profound that it’s like she’s stepped back in time. The manual labour exhibited on the organic farm hails back to the 1960s of her childhood and a simpler time, with less stress and more time spent on family and fun. As Taeko starts to recognise that she loves the place she’s found herself in, her childhood self appears more frequently.

Unlike many classic tales from Miyazaki, which tells of the mystery of Japanese folklore and increasingly worldwide folklore, Isao Takahata directs and writes increasingly Japanese tales and ones that are set very firmly in the “real world”. Only Yesterday is not a magical, fantastical tale telling of how a child can overcome anything, it’s a work of reminiscence and it pulls at the heartstrings of your youth with such a firm tug that you’re left feeling warm and yet, wanting to escape.

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It’s a tale of whimsy, yet hard truth. A truth that many watchers, both man and woman will find hard to come to terms with. Evaluating your life and trying to change direction is something many of us would love to do, but we just can’t – which is why you’re left feeling warm and yet wanting to run. It’s certainly not a film for children, in the main, I think children would find this film at best mildly interesting. As an adult with the weight of the world on your shoulders, Only Yesterday is a delight.

Unlike a lot of Ghibli film, Only Yesterday’s animation takes a different approach. It splits the anime style many of us are used to – big eyes and bright colours and a more realistic approach. The split is used to highlight childhood innocence and colour, with the larger eye approach in the 1960s and the older, more refined style for the present day. Both suit the film very well and both retain the unique Japanese feel that well crafted anime has.

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Aside from the fact that it has a split approach, the animation quality of the rain, the fields, Taeko exercising as a child, it’s all great and would look even better in high definition – when and if it eventually reaches our shores.

There is no dub available for Only Yesterday, it’s a subtitle only feature in the United Kingdom and musically it’s a treat. There are plenty of references to Japanese songs that naturally, only those with detailed knowledge of Japan in the ‘60s will understand, but the feel of the songs lends itself tremendously to the film’s reminiscing and the folk songs sung make the Yagata present feel so much better than the Tokyo present.

From Up on Poppy Hill

Reviews - by - January 26, 2014 - 16:14 Europe/London - 1 Comment

In all forms of media, from anime through to music there are very few artists who you can confidently unwrap the box and know that you’re going to be in for a treat. Even some of the very best artists in the world have released the odd turkey, from Disney through to the Beatles, there’s the odd duffer that could put you off entirely. Fortunately the only turkey from Studio Ghibli has mostly been forgotten and even then, was better than average.

It was great anticipation when I first saw From Up on Poppy Hill at the Brighton Japan Festival a few years ago, in the pre-dubbed, subbed only form. So when the Blu Ray version was released just a few short months ago, I was very interested to see how it managed to compare not only to my memory of seeing a Ghibli film in the cinema – which is always a novelty, but also against the subtitled only version of the film that I had previously seen.

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Luckily I was blown away by the quality of the Blu Ray edition of the film and moreso by how much of the film that had been lost to the sands of time. This is not to say that Form Up on Poppy Hill is forgettable, far from it! But that there’s so many twists and turns within the film that I had literally forgotten what the ending was and sat down to watch a film about Japanese highschool children fall in love. Yet, it managed to twist and turn from a highschool romance, into something somewhat political and back again.

Set a year before the Tokyo 1964 Olympic Games, it’s around a Japan that’s modernising, that’s moving forward into what it deems as the Twentieth Century and leaving the past behind. It’s important to remember that in 1963 there were still a lot of teenage children who were impacted by the war with Korea. Coupled with the entire mantra of modernisation and forgetting about the war crimes of the past, Japan was a country on the up and this is something that’s shown very clearly throughout the entire film. The march for progress, the goal of showing the rest of the world that Japan was a civilised country meant sacrifices – history.

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The plot is primarily about a group of school children who are desperately trying to save the “Latin Quarter” where a lot of the school’s club activities take place; the building is in a state and an old wreck. In the ever moving move of progress, the school governor’s had made the decision that the Latin Quarter had to be knocked down and a new building put up in its place. Sounds like a shaky plotline for a movie, but it’s oh so much more than this. The film is really more of a social commentary on the nature of war, humans and relationship on the whole.

We follow Umi Matsuzaki, a studious and attentive young woman, who lost her father too young in the war. Each day she raises a flag to communicate with her father as she has done for many years. This gives her a unique ability as communicating by flag is not something everyone can do. Umi meets Shun Kamaza, who’s a member of the school’s newspaper club and through his antics to desperately save the Latin Quarter, develop a close friendship. Shun, an orphan is able to develop a close bond with Umi and together they try to get as much community support to try and save the clubhouse and through doing this realise that there’s a lot more to their shared past than meets the eye.

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It’s very challenging to try and describe this film without giving away the story and it’s something that you should experience first hand. It’s not simply a tale about boy meets girl or the standard anime fare of the after school clubs being the centre of the world, it’s far more than that. It’s a tale of the human spirit and the depths of emotions that we can all feel living in this shared world. It’s the tenacity and unpredictability of humanity that can cause such pain, without ever intending to. This film hasn’t got the supernatural elements that many people associate with Ghibli due to the runaway successes of Howl’s Moving Castle, Spirited Away and the ever loved, My Neighbour Totoro, but as with many of the earlier and equally brilliant Ghibli films, it’s a human tale.

I’ve seen this film in Japanese and in English, on the big screen and in Blu-Ray on the little screen and the dubbing and the subtitles are both top notch. Although some anime fans resent “celebrities” voicing characters on anime tracks, I feel that a good voice actor is a good voice actor. From Up on Poppy Hill is as enjoyable in its native Japanese as it is in English.

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It’s not only a sentimental film, it’s also a beautiful one. The animation quality is top notch and it’s something that only imagine would enhance some of the earlier Ghibli films, such as Only Yesterday to new heights. The picture quality and scenery on each background and in particular the detail of the final shot is stunning.

The trailer:

Laputa Castle in the Sky

Reviews - by - May 25, 2011 - 19:54 Europe/London - 1 Comment

Studio Ghibli is known world wide for producing some of the best animated films in recent times, even western animation studios Disney and DreamWorks have pull inspiration from this film studio. Let’s also not forget that it tends to be Disney who releases all of the dubbed versions of Ghibli films – which his probably why the dubs are actually of a good quality. Even 25 years ago this studio was producing classic films and one that is often forgotten about is Laputa: Castle in the Sky. That is, until now as the team at Optimum Releasing have decided that this classic film is to be re-released in Blu-Ray and the re-release really goes to show how amazing the film is, considering it was made a quarter of a century ago.

Laputa is set in a parallel world, where huge sky ships, sky pirates and sky crime is something that occurs on a daily basis. Humans have dreamed of being in the air since the dawn of time, the ability to fly is a wish that many have and in this world whilst the ability for a human to fly does not exist, flying cities are believed to have existed in the past. Yet, it’s been such a long time since people lived in the sky, in large floating cities, that people have chalked the idea to legend and are now content with living on the ground. Yet, airships are still used by a large number of people and it’s in an airship where we find our heroine, Sheeta.

Sheeta is being held against her will in a huge airship by what looks like pirates and manages to free herself from her captors. Unfortunately, by freeing herself she ends up falling through the sky and tragically looks like she’s going to die in the first few minutes of the film. However, something bizarre happens and a small stone she wears around her neck prevents her from dying by slowing down her speedy descent to terrafirma. She luckily manages to find herself in the arms of Pazu, a young boy who works in the mining town that she finds herself in. As he’s young, naive and somewhat nice he looks after her and takes her back to his to rest after her ordeal.

It doesn’t take long for Pazu to find out what’s going on with his new young friend, Sheeta and in mere moments the pair are good friends and he’s protecting her from the people who are after her. He manages to confuse the group of professionals and takes Sheeta to a fatherly figure in the town. He manages to escape from the town and go to ground. In the mines of his town, the pair learn the truth about the stone and the mystery behind Sheeta’s magical stone.

It’s very easy to enjoy Laputa, it’s not a tale with any overarching storylines, there’s very little talk of the environment or trying to make the viewer think about the real world. It’s a nice and gentle tale that many adults could easily tell their children, it’s got the familiarity that most European fairy tales have and this could be possibly be because Miyazaki was arguably influenced by Gulliver’s Tales and many other staple European tales. This coupled along with the obvious influences of Northern England and Welsh mining towns of the late 20th Century make the film aesthetically very pleasing and comforting on the eye. Watching some of the cobbled streets in the main town in Laputa makes you feel like there should be Corrie’s music playing in the background.

Of course, it’s impossible to talk about Laputa without mentioning the inevitable, the Castle in the Sky. Many who saw Miyazaki’s Howl’s Moving Castle before Laputa will see two very distinct similarities. However, what needs to be noted is that neither film has anything to do with one another and in the original novel for Howl’s, the ending is nothing like the way that Miyazaki portrayed it. Yet, it’s the continued feeling of man to want to escape from the shackles of gravity and fly away from everything that makes the ending of Laputa as poignant as it is.

The Blu-Ray release of Laputa Castle in the Sky is something that is pure, visual perfection. The transfer between DVD to Blu-Ray makes a significant difference to the way the film is presented and it looks as good today as any modern anime release. This is something to really shout about as it’s a 25 year old film!

Bamboo Blade Volume 1

Reviews - by - February 25, 2011 - 20:39 Europe/London - Be first to Comment!

School life is pretty rubbish for most people, with hindsight many say that they would return. I for one would never return to school, not unless it was like the Japanese schools that I watch on a seemingly endless basis. Lucky Star, Azumanga Daoih, Host Club and Haruhi Suzumiya all seem to enjoy a level of freedom, flexibility and happiness that was devoid in my early life. Was I just a lonely horrible kid? Possibly, although doubtful. It’s just what we watch in or anime is happy. Now, that said, being in school is still hard and it’s made even harder when you’re bullied into joining a club that you don’t really know about, or want to join. This is the basic premise for Bamboo Blade – joining the school’s Kendo Club.

Although at first it’s easy to assume that Bamboo Blade is simply a sports anime, that assumption would be deadly wrong. Bamboo Blade, although has many sporty over-tones, is in fact a “slice of life” anime, with many of the elements that are essential for this genre to be successful displayed to us in various form – just hidden away behind Kendo. There’s the jaded, unimpressed, tired and dysfunctional teacher, there’s the over confident girl, the happy girl, the girl with a hidden side and the two boys who really aren’t that good at anything. Yes, all of the elements that need to exist to make Bamboo Blade a success are there.

Yet, just ticking all of the boxes on a particular form doesn’t make a show a success. Fortunately in the case of Bamboo Blade, the other elements that make a good anime are available by the bucket load. Bamboo Blade is primarily about a Kendo Club in a private school where the teacher no longer has the enthusiasm to care about Kendo, although he’s an ex-champion, but he is in terrible debt. His old teacher or “sensei” phones him and places a bet that his team would destroy theirs. Of course, with no team, and a bet of a year’s supply of sushi on the line, he gets a team hastily together.

There are two members who already exist, the team captain and another member who is absent for a lot of the first volume. This is then increased by a fair few by the appearance of two boys who seem to have the ability to pull in girls like it’s the last days of the earth. With a growing team, it’s very easy for the show to fall down the “Dragonball Z training” route, where everything becomes dead serious, the fun disappears and the show takes a nose dive.

To some degree this does occur and there are a fair few scenes which is just training, talking about training, talking about going to training and just surrounded by Kendo. Luckily these scenes don’t take the lead and the main element of character interaction and the dysfunction teacher, odd students and the strange relationships between all of them stay prevalent and this makes the show that bit more enjoyable.

The cast is fairly wide and somewhat varied, although it does fall into the classic stereotypes of this genre of anime. That’s not to say that they are uninspired characters, just, not revolutionary. Yet they are performed very well by both the Japanese and the American voice actors who do the characters justice in both languages.

The character designs are good, with all of the characters being unique enough to be memorable, but none of them are really out of place with the exception of one character. Yet this character is “right” in his appearance, so it makes visual sense.

5 Centimetres Per Second

Reviews - by - February 22, 2011 - 13:34 Europe/London - 1 Comment

Life is hard, it’s full of challenges and obstructions that will always be there. It’s how you adjust to these obstacles and who you are that will allow life to either be a pleasurable experience, or one full of regret and woe. 5 Centimetres Per Second is a collection of short stories presented in a feature film that epitomises the challenges that we must all face when it comes to life, love and the pursuit of happiness.

From the outset of the feature, it’s clear what this anime is to become. It’s certainly not a light hearted, happy tale, if anything it’s the reverse. It’s a slow, long winded tale that takes pleasure in being obnoxious and fragmented. However, this method of story telling lends itself well to the subject matter at hand. The tale centres around Takaki Tono and his relationships with girls throughout his life.

We initially see a young Takaki Tono, who is in a close friendship with a young lady and this friendship is seemingly boundless. With correspondence across the country and frequently being split up due to their parents moving to different parts of the country, their passion and friendship looked like it would never end. However, as with everything in life it must come to and end and the reason for this was not made clear. It would appear that the pair fell in love, but neither were prepared to admit it; yet, as time went on the pair grew up and became ever more distant.

In the third part of this tale, it would appear that Takaki Tono’s young love is due to be wed to someone else. Someone who is the exact opposite of what himself. Takaki is neither happy, rich or successful in life and from what we are led to believe the “other man” is and the pair meet up to reminisce about their past.

The actual story itself is nothing new, spectacular or to be honest, all that interesting. Yet, the way the feature is presented is what makes this tale so endearing. There is a clear break between the three tales and this is shown in odd ways, such as an introduction song half way through the feature and credits in unusual places. But this break in the feature clearly shows the fact that there are three separate stories being shown and then that they are all interlinked.

What really sets 5 Centimetres Per Second apart from many anime is the presentation. It has some of the most gorgeous artwork that I’ve seen in any medium in a long time. The level of detail in the scenery is truly stunning; this is why it’s so clear that people are heralding Makoto Shinkai as the next Hayao Miyazaki. Although the storytelling is no where near the standard of a Ghibli production, the artwork is on par if not surpassing the masters of anime feature films.

It’s a real shame that this release is not on Blu-Ray, as it would look simply superb. However, it’s an understandable decision made by Manga Entertainment as it’s appeal is fairly limited. Owing to the unique style it’s presented, a hybrid between individual stories and a feature film and the subject matter at hand – love and distance.

The voice acting on the Japanese side is very good, there’s emotion and passion throughout the entire feature. The English dub isn’t quite as good as the Japanese version, the voice actors, although passable, are a bit flatter and have less depth. However, both are passable and if you’ve got the feature on in the background having it in English is far more convenient.

» Final Score


5 Centimetres Per Second is a story about love, distance and regret. It’s presented in a truly beautiful way visually and story-wise it’s unique and a little arty. The feature is certainly not for everyone, as a slow and methodical story can turn many viewers off. Yet, it’s stunning to watch and is certainly worthy of being on the vast majority of anime viewers shelves.

Astro Boy

Reviews - by - May 16, 2010 - 12:33 Europe/London - 1 Comment

Several hundred years into the future Metro City, a land filled with riches and intelligence, decided it was time to break free from the rest of the world. A world that had become so full of pollution that the dwellers of Metro City simply couldn’t cope with it anymore, so they affixed rockets to the belly of Mt Sufion and took to the skies. A number of years later the father of modern robotics, Dr Bill Tenma, is working on a new range of robots to help the prosperous, tidy and what appears to be somewhat green Metro City continue to be a great land when his equally brilliant son, Toby follows him into his laboratory.

What happens next is every parent’s worst nightmare; Toby is killed violently by a robot with an unstable core. Grief does strange things to people and Bill opted to recreate his son rather than cope with the passing of his only child. He does this by creating the most lifelike and advanced robot ever made. To make his son even more real, Bill takes a hair from the only item of Toby’s that wasn’t vaporised – his hat – and clones his memories and uploads them into his latest bit of kit.

Any fantasy and sci-fi fan can tell you that clones, even clones that are robots, aren’t the same as the original person and if only someone had told Bill this – as before long he realises that he can’t stand Toby. Toby overhears this and manages to fly away from his father after a slight row and then is found by the President of Metro City. The President is after Toby due to his power source, the rare blue core and he thinks it will help him secure re-election. Toby is blasted by the President’s goons and he falls out of the sky and lands on the Earth’s surface. Before long he is taken in by the locals under the new name of Astro and has to deal with the complex situation of everyone thinking he’s human when he isn’t. Of course, it doesn’t take long for his secret to become known and then as it becomes known he has to battle to save not just Metro City but the entire world.

Of course, Astro Boy isn’t a direct and faithful manga-to-film transition, more of a reimagining of some of the key points from Tezuka’s 1952 work. Yet, due to this, the film manages to charm and play with what was current nearly sixty years ago and make the storyline fit into the modern day with relative ease. As this is a child’s film, the storyline is somewhat simplistic; however, the character development throughout the film is easily viewable. From Bill learning how to cope with his child’s death, to his abandonment of his reborn child to accepting him again towards the end of the film, it’s clear that the producers of Astro Boy are intent on drawing as many emotions out of its audience as possible. All of the primary characters have depth, from Toby/Astro to Astrid and the majority of the other characters in between; there are backstories to be told for each of the characters which are merely hinted at in the most meagre of ways. To a child these subtleties are well hidden, but to the adult watcher it gives the film more depth and creates a much more enjoyable viewing experience.

Naturally there are characters that are good and those that are evil and due to the way the characters are portrayed it’s very easy to get behind the protagonists and enjoy hating characters that really do deserve it. The President it one such character and although it’s very tongue in cheek, it could easily be referenced to the recent elections in the UK, where politicians will do anything that they can to remain in power. Astro Boy also opens up questions about humanity itself – is a robot with a human mind a human or a robot? This sort of question isn’t something that a viewer would expect from a shallow, Japanese action, kids film. Fortunately at no point is Astro Boy a shallow film, it touches on many elements of daily life, from fitting in with your peers to discrimination and back again. These themes are masterfully dealt with and a child will see very little of this and what they do see will be considered normal to them. It’s from an adult’s eye where this film truly comes to life.

Astro Boy is also a joy to watch, it’s CGI animation suits it down to the ground, with smooth animation and crisp corners there’s none of the “cheap” animation that’s often seen in budget shows. As the film is entirely CGI, apart from a few opening credits, the film falls straight into the Finding Nemo and Wall-E bracket of animation style, except slightly more generic. This would be fine for a standard Nickelodeon film; however, Astro Boy has more of a storyline and much more potential, therefore the inoffensive style is trying too hard to remove itself from its Japanese routes and thus removing part of the soul of the film. Fortunately the great voice acting cast manages to add a lot of soul back to the film. From the likes of Nicholas Cage, Matt Lucas and Kristen Bell, the acting is first class with no overdone moments or poignant moments that fall flat. To put it very simply, Astro Boy is a perfect family film and executed brilliantly.

Witchblade Collection

Reviews - by - May 4, 2010 - 15:54 Europe/London - Be first to Comment!

It’s some time in the future, not too far out, but just far enough for subtle differences to exist; the world has suffered a huge trauma. It would appear that some form of new warfare or some hideous “act of god” has destroyed a large part of Japan. As a result there are a large number of people who are now refugees and naturally there are some new law enforcement agencies around to try and ensure that everyone is “safe”. Of course, these agencies don’t really know what they are doing and in the opening episode of Witchblade, this new agency tries to separate a loving mother from her doting daughter.

Yes, that’s right, the daughter has to dote on the mother as she has no memory of anything prior to the incident that shook the world and wiped her of her memory. She just appeared as a lone survivor in the rubble with a baby in her arms.  It doesn’t take long to find out why she was the lone survivor in a disaster that killed all else – she’s more than just a human. Masane Amaha is a Witchblade, which is a form of weapon that changes the very character and power of a human being and transforms them into the perfect weapon. With her daughter, Ryoko, she runs from the law in the first few episodes before she is discovered by Reiji Takayama of Douji Group Industries where she is employed to fight malfunctioned Witchblades.

During all of this a relationship starts to blossom between Masane and a photographer who helps save Ryoko in the earlier episodes of the seires. There’s a lot of death from the word go and some of the deaths in the middle episodes are very poignant as the characters are somewhat believable and it’s easy to connect with them. Then there’s the huge twist mid-way through which reveals something that is only hinted to a few times early on in the series. This clears the path for an emotional rollercoaster for the lead characters and creates just a small bit of tension.

None of this plotline is earth shattering, in fact, in many respects its little more than standard anime fare. With the end of the world just happened, or in this case, an end of a very localised world, law enforcement agencies that are either evil or just corrupt and a lone protagonist who has to save the world. Yes, Witchblade ticks all of the boxes that makes it nothing special. Then there’s the plentiful fanservice. Although tame in comparison to Daphne in the Brilliant Blue, where the lead characters wear next to nothing and then in battle wear even less, there’s still enough of it to keep any young male salivating. Fortunately Witchblade does not take itself too seriously and makes fun out of the lead characters impossibly large breasts when she’s in her “human” form. When she’s battling as the Witchblade, well, there’s jiggling a-plenty as the “enemy” Witchblades also have impossibly large boobs and tiny wastes.

Yet, what makes Witchblade stand out from the crowd are the characters. Yes, aside from the somewhat clichéd plot at times and the amount of fanservice that shouldn’t interest anyone over the age of 16, the characters are what really make this show worthwhile. There’s a fair amount of character development from the entire cast, not just the main three or four but the supporting cast members seem to evolve by the end of the series. The relationship between Mother and Daughter, between man and woman become apparent and watching relationships blossom and die, amongst copious amounts of death, destruction and sci-fi action puts Witchblade above a mere average anime.

The animation is very good on Witchblade, with characters moving at the same time, clear and distinct colours and with the odd nod to some cyberpunk and Bubblegum Crisis references here and there. The backgrounds are all distinct and at no point does the show feel like it’s recycling different backdrops to save money. The characters themselves are all very distinct and clear, even though a lot of the characters wear few clothes and have huge breasts; it’s easy to distinguish one from the other. The supporting cast for the most part look good and individual as well. The dubbing is a little off, with the Ryoko’s voice feeling off compared to the Japanese cast, but that’s by-the-by as the acting from each cast member is of a good quality and there’s only a few lines of dialogue that sound awkward.

Gunparade March Volume 2

Reviews - by - May 3, 2010 - 11:39 Europe/London - Be first to Comment!

“The opening of the first few episodes gives a brief but detailed description of what is happening in a fictional world, where alien life forms known as the Genjyu have taken over control of the world and people have been living in fear of these creatures since the late 1940s. Rather than being intelligent life forms, the Genjyu are no more than parasites, spreading across the world at an incredible rate and leaving nothing but destruction in its wake. To try and battle these creatures, all modern forms of warfare have been employed and it would appear that not even a nuclear bomb is able to disperse the creatures and prevent full invasion. As such the use of these powerful weapons has left the planet poisoned with radiation. Yet the aliens continue to live on whilst the human race struggles to live ordinary lives alongside them”.

Continuing from Gunparade March Volume 1.

By the end of the first volume the story seems pretty much explained and the characters are somewhat developed. The first episode of the second volumes opens with a very light hearted beginning with the main characters creating and organising a puppet show for some of the younger students at their school. Considering that these older students are meant to be training to destroy the Genjyu in super, high powered, monster fighting robot machines to put on a puppet show is a gentle touch to show some humour. This is also a nice twist away from the generic alight fighting animes in the market that don’t contain so much as a giggle; however, this first episode is not without its bloodshed.

Within the first episode a few more Genjyu are introduced, bigger and more dangerous than before.  This danger becomes even more apparent when one of the best student fighters is taken down by one of the Genjyu and has toxins enter their body through an open wound. This leads to some gruesome scenes and by this point the character’s relationships are developed and their concern is projected very well. By the end of the first episode, several students have died which truly impacts where this anime is prepared to go. Unlike a lot of anime, Gunparade March is not afraid to actually kill off some characters.

In the following episode, life tries to resume as normal, but student’s deaths are still on everyone mind which makes for a very depressing episode and rightly so.  In this second episode, another new Genjyu is introduced which emphasises that just because lives have already been lost, doesn’t mean to say that these foul beasts rest. It reminds viewers that the war is still on going and it is seemingly never ending. This new Genjyu is also referred to as ‘The Brain’ and it soon becomes clear that other Genjyu are it’s spawn and  if The Brain is destroyed it can no longer produce new Genjyu.

As to be expected with any new breed of anything, the new breed is tougher and not as easy to destroy especially as this one can multiply. The students find themselves having to withdraw temporarily thus making things a little more interesting, leaving the viewer eager to know what the next move is going to be and just how will it pan out.

The animation quality hasn’t improved at all since the first volume and although it’s not bad, it’s just standard. The same can be said for the voice acting for the English cast, just a little bland and forgettable. However, credit must go to the storyline which is fast moving and glides swiftly between more relaxed, humorous scenes to serious fighting scenes. Most viewers are likely to have worked out by the end of the first volume whether this anime is something that they would want to continue with and the second volume really does just carry on from where it left off.

Tamagotchi the Movie

Reviews - by - April 4, 2010 - 22:27 Europe/London - 1 Comment

Tamagotchi the Movie, published in 2007 was produced by Susan Deming, directed by Dan Kuenster and written by Kuenster, Deming and David Lewman and inspired by the much loved digital pet in an egg shaped key-ring, the Tamagotchi. The adorable little pet was first released to the world in 1996 and people of all ages, from children to parents and everyone in between seemed to own one. This addictive, pixelated pet enabled the owner to nurture, play and even clean up after their digital pet, with the upside of less bad smells and the only exercise the user would get would be with their thumbs.

Owing to the gadget’s success, in 2007 Tamagotchi the Movie was released in Japan and was every bit as adorable as the virtual pet was itself. The storyline begins with a young girl, Tanpopo who is confused and indecisive about becoming a big sister for the first time. She sports her very own Tamagotchi key-ring and is seen playing with it before she gets a phone call from her mother asking her to take a bag to her. Unbeknown to Tanpopo and the rest of the population of Earth, thousands of miles away, across the sea stars, another planet exists known as Tamagotchi World. Housing hundreds of little Tamagotchi’s who are all living their own little lives and it’s at this point the remaining characters are introduced. The key character, Mametchi who is a sprightly, young Tamagotchi keen to become an inventor like his father, but who also shares Tampopo’s confusing emotions of becoming an older sibling.

In what appears to be a freak accident, Mametchi transports Tanpopo from Earth to Tamagotchi World whilst conducting a new experiment. Unrealistically, Tanpopo rather than being distraught at being caught up in a whole new world, is more than happy to find herself on a strange planet; where every item, bush and building has a face and even Black Holes, one of the universe’s most feared entities, is made to look adorable. This becomes even clearer when she finds she can spend each day playing with the digital creatures she has come to love back on Earth and not suffer any implications as she will be able to travel back in time. So the work and adventures begin to try and help her return home and for her and Mametchi to realise that being an older sibling is nothing to be scared of.

The characters are all well thought out and with enough emotion and problems for young children to relate to. Tanpopo is faced with the realisation that a lot of children her age are forced to come to terms with, not just sharing their parents attention but also that they now have to be the grown-up one with someone who will be looking up to them. This beautiful message is conveyed brilliantly and reassures a lot of viewers with some very conflicting emotions, which by extension will make a viewer enjoy the movie that bit more. Pretty deep for a film inspired by a digital pet, right? Not to worry, the rest of it is complete fun and nonsense! The characters are adorable, colourful and funny.

Something the viewer may find surprising is the fantastic quality in the animation! It’s smooth, clean and crisp, with multiple characters moving at the same time. Not what one would expect from Tamagotachi the Movie. There are plenty of big named animes out there that aren’t as privileged to have this same standard of animation. A little over the top for what is a pretty standard storyline? Not at all. If such an incident was to occur such as being transported to a world run by cute little pets, living in cute little homes where even the sun lives its life exploring different hot springs, then this is what you’d want to see! Everything in this movie is overflowing with colour, sparkles and glowing rays of light. Tamagotchi the Movie looks so good it actually looks edible!

The voice actors are perfectly synchronised with the Movie. Not that this would be difficult to achieve, anyone willing to accept a few gulps of helium could do the job.

Death Note – Complete Series Box Set

Reviews - by - April 4, 2010 - 22:15 Europe/London - Be first to Comment!

The world is a filthy, evil place. Harbouring people with no morals, love or sense of decency, it’s time for things to change. Unluckily for the criminals of the world, the Shinigami Ryuk has accidentally dropped his Notebook onto Earth from the Death World and a teenage Light has managed to pick it up and he is about to cleanse the world.

Death Note is already well known to almost all of the anime community, despite only making across to the UK in 2009; it’s been widely followed, admired and discussed about for many years. Something that not many anime can achieve, it’s so widespread that there have been a number of “copycat” incidents in the media where people have actually penned their own “Death Notes” books with people they hate – naturally this has led to the mass media trying to use Death Note as some sort of scapegoat for society’s wider problems.

Death Note focuses primarily on the lead character, Light who is a teenage prodigy with a strong sense of morality and what the world should be like. Due to this intelligence he easily believes that he could play at being God, a task that is given to him in the first episode as he finds a notebook with instructions. These instructions are very sinister, write someone’s name in the notebook and that person will die.  As with most decent people, he dismisses it as something that’s disgusting but is also tempted to use this tool. He decides that he’s going to test it on someone who deserves to die – a most wanted criminal.

To his surprise it works, and to further this level of shock he is met with a Shinigami (Death God in Japan) called Ryuk who explains how to use the Death Note, mostly because he wants to see what’s going on and as he’s got an affinity with apples.

It doesn’t take long for the police to realise that someone is killing off criminals around the world and brings in someone to try and help – L. L is a criminal’s worst nightmare, with a sickly look about him and an almost Sherlock Holmes power to deduct everything from the word go and play the game at the same time he’s easily the hero of the series.

The plot itself moves around at a very quick pace, with plenty of subplots running concurrently and with an expanded but brilliantly placed cast Death Note manages to capture the viewer’s interest in the first episode. Rather than the series peaking at the start and the end it manages to keep the suspense running throughout the entire series – not an easy feat. Especially as this is a 37 episode series that’s essentially a murder-mystery show. At no point do the cast seem mechanical, forced or unbelievable. Even the characters that are seemingly perfect, such as Light or L are fallible and these fallacies are shown in the most catastrophic ways – something that would often occur to people who are “better” than everyone else.

Of course, to keep the plot moving along there are a few twists and turns that are expected a little and towards the middle of the series it becomes hard to picture how the show will continue with its momentum. It’s at this point a coup de grâce is delivered to one of the key characters and the entire show’s dynamic changes and some of the other characters start to “slip” a little, it’s at this point the viewer is able  to start predicting the end of the show; however unsuccessful they may be at it.

Death Note manages to toy with the audience throughout the entire show, with promises of scenes that do not occur but make the viewer beg for more of what was delivered instead. At no point does the show let the viewer take a back seat and simply guide them through the world, it’s shock after shock with blows to the gut that leave the audience gasping.

The characters are well designed, with all of the “other-worldly” creatures designed in a way to show that it’s clear that they are the same specie, but each are unique as humans are. The humans in Death Note also all look different – another rarity from the anime world. The support cast are all designed well and the actual colouration of the scenes and the characters is done brilliantly. A keen eyed viewer will be able to spot that the colours change throughout the show, with the backgrounds darker and lighter at different points to accurately reflect the situation at hand.

The casting of the voice actors of the Japanese cast is perfect, there is emotion and depth in the acting, and the English voice cast attempt to match this but miss but a smidgen but the English dub is still a great dub and well worth watching.

Ghost in the Shell 2.0

Reviews - by - March 28, 2010 - 16:10 Europe/London - 3 Comments

Even three lustrums ago Production I.G was a forced to be reckoned with. It takes a long period of time to become recognised and at this point Production I.G were nearly a decade old. It was during the fateful year of 1995 that Production I.G released a new film, directed by Mamoru Oshii, based on the hit manga by Masamune Shirow – Ghost in the Shell.

Over the years Ghost in the Shell has managed to achieve the legendary status that is normally only granted to films from Studio Ghibli. The popularity of Ghost in the Shell in the past fifteen years is such that a sequel was released nearly a decade later, Ghost in the Shell Innocence, although not a direct and before that the anime series – Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. To further prove the popularity of this show, Ghost in the Shell 2.0 was released in 2008. GitS 2.0 is a re-release of the original GitS film, but it has been entirely reproduced, from the digital scenes right through to the voice acting and soundtrack.

It’s some years into the future, in a world that looks essentially the same as our own today. The major countries in the world still exist, political turmoil still exists and the corporate and public backstabbing that occurs through all companies and governments have intensified due to the revelation of new technologies. In these government agencies, there are an increasing number of people who used to be human and are now part cyborg with only parts of their humanity remaining – mainly their consciousness, which is referred to as the Ghost.

Two of Japan’s top agencies although to the public appear to be working together, are actually bitter enemies and only keep the façade up to ensure that the status quo is maintained and all out warfare doesn’t occur. However, they are equally as suspicious as secretive as each other and this is seen from the very first scene in the movie. Our heroine, or even anti-heroine as many would argue, is on a stakeout mission where she has to kill one of the contacts of Section 6, which she manages to do with ruthless efficiency.

It doesn’t take long for some of Section 6’s plans to go a bit astray and Section 9, the section where our heroine works, finds out and sends out the team to find out why Section 6 have access to robotic technology that they have no need for. Whilst they investigate Section 6, some truly incredible information falls into their possession around Ghosts and Ghosts evolving from nothing – something that was once thought of as impossible as part human part android people.

Unfortunately Ghost in the Shell 2.0 does not wrap everything up nicely, there’s a huge cliffhanger and this leaves a lot open to interpretation. Naturally this leaves the viewer desperate for more – a sign of a truly great film.

The characters are all clear and distinct, with plenty of questions raised on the morality of creating people and interfering in the human body and there’s loads of character development from the two main “androids”, something which a lot of anime manages to miss. The film itself is very grungy and has echoes of cyberpunk from the very start. However, this does not mean the film has been done on the cheap, or looks cheap, the backgrounds and characters are well drawn and the colours – although dark – are distinct and accurately reflect the mood of the film.

The voice acting of the English cast is brilliant, with all of the characters completely distinct and recognisable even when not looking at the screen, which is a very rare occurrence. The acting of the English voice cast is also top-notch with affection, sadness and melancholy being expressed with truth. The Japanese voice cast are also amazing, as is the actual soundtrack to the entire film.

Ghost in the Shell 2.0 is going to be contentious for many fans, those who saw the original or the Special Edition a few years ago will notice some significant differences in the films that they are watching. 2.0 has a lot more CGI, with some scenes entirely redone and unfortunately some of the CGI scenes jar painfully with the original drawn scenes that it sits next to, it’s more than just a juxtaposition, it’s a little off-putting. However, the rest of the upgrades are perfectly done, the majority of the scenes have been improved with more distinction in the characters and with more effective colours. Between the original and the remastered version the colour palettes have changed significantly as well, there’s a lot more orange and lighter hues than the original blue and greens, this update is done very well and doesn’t jar or look out of place with modern anime – although the original colours give the film a different feel.

Gravitation Boxset

Reviews - by - March 27, 2010 - 18:14 Europe/London - Be first to Comment!

Initially a very successful twelve volume manga, Gravitation has now been adapted into an anime series that’s thirteen episodes. It’s been released as four separate volumes and now available as a single boxset. Directed by Bob Shirohata and distributed by MVM Entertainment in the UK, this anime is primarily about one young man keen to become Japan’s next successful Pop Idol in a band called Bad Luck. However, this simple plan runs into a few problems when the lead character meets another young, sexy, cool and bad tempered man who gets in the way of his plans.

Shuichi, the lead character, is a cute, ambitious young man with dreams of becoming a world renowned Pop Idol with his band: Bad Luck. Yet, in the first episode he finds himself in a bit of a rut, uninspired, struggling with his lyrics and on top of this, he’s got studio deadlines to meet. Bad Luck or good luck, whilst taking a walk with these lyrics he stumbles into a far darker, cooler and sexy young man named Eiri Yuki, who just so happens to be a famous and grumpy novelist. He sees these lyrics and has got plenty of things to say about them, and not all of his feedback is positive or seen as constructive. Despite this unfriendly start, Shuichi becomes a victim of the nasty side of Eiri and the clearly infatuated Shuichi has his emotions ripped apart by Eiri. Whilst all of this is happening, his music career isn’t exactly moving forward either. The storyline isn’t the first of its kind, but it still gets a thumbs up for originality due to its unusual love story.

There is a fairly large cast of characters, all ranging from humours to serious. A lot of the auxiliary characters are very generic and it’s mostly the main characters that have any form of character development and even that is on that slim side. Shuichi is a typical lolli-shota character, young looking, happy-go-lucky and wears his heart on his sleeve; whereas Eiri Yuki is a darker, more distant character, full of maturity and great one-liners. Their relationship could be compared in many ways to that of Hunni-chan and Mori from Ouran High School Host Club; except for the “adult” relationship between Eiri Yuki and Shuichi. The two are opposite ends of personalities yet form a confusing and unbreakable bond. Even by the third volume, Eiri Yuki’s personality is confusing. He never lets on what he is truly thinking and to make him all the more mysterious he has a hidden past that’s not revealed until later episodes, a hidden past that holds some very deep, dark secrets. The rest of the characters are completely forgettable and for a band that’s attempting to be the next big thing, the rest of Bad Luck are dull and characterless.

The quality of the voice acting cast in English isn’t too bad, the key characters have got good, somewhat-unique voices and they are easily understandable. The Japanese cast are much better in this situation, with their voices matching the characters in a better way; however, both tracks are watchable. The subtitles are also well done, the positioning is good and the majority of the “extra” bits of information, such as signs, are translated for the most part as well – something that’s being dropped from a lot of releases at the moment.

The character designs are fairly good. Each character is clear, distinct and almost glows. With plenty of costume changes, close up shots and singing there’s many chances to cost-save, but for the most part they’ve avoided this. The actual quality of the animation is just about average, with a few extended “sweeping” shots where nothing’s actually moving and it’s rare to see more than one character moving at the same time.

In reality it’s all about music, it’s about sexy men, big hair, soap opera worthy relationships, bright colours and sparkles. It’s very obvious whose attention this anime is trying to grab just by its imagery. It’s funny, filled with heart throbbing moments and the occasional adult humour.

Gunparade March Volume 1

Reviews - by - March 22, 2010 - 20:50 Europe/London - Be first to Comment!

“Gunparade March” originally started out as ,a video game for Playstation. Due to its huge award winning success, it was later featured as a twelve episode anime series and also a three part manga. The anime version of Gunparade March was produced by J.C.Staff and broadcast on MBS in February 2003 and April 2003 in Japan and only recently made it’s way across to the UK. It is comparable with many other animes, such as: Gundamn Wing, Baldr Force EXE and bizarrely enough, Tenchi Muyo.

The opening of the first few episodes gives a brief but detailed description of what is happening in a fictional world, where alien life forms known as the Genjyu have taken over control of the world and people have been living in fear of these creatures since the late 1940s. Rather than being intelligent life forms, the Genjyu are no more than parasites, spreading across the world at an incredible rate and leaving nothing but destruction in its wake. To try and battle these creatures, all modern forms of warfare have been employed and it would appear that not even a Nuclear bomb is able to disperse the creatures and prevent full invasion. As such the use of these powerful weapons have left the planet poisoned with radiation. Yet the aliens continue to live on whilst the human race struggles to live ordinary lives alongside them.

On first impression this anime is nothing special, it could even be described as cookie-cutter. The storyline, though interesting, would only appeal to one type of audience – the sort that love guns, machines and robots thrown in for good measure. Not to forget the Genjyu, who are huge, vicious aliens that can only be destroyed by a monster fighting-weapon-laden-robot, the Humanoid Unit AMTT-500, who incidentally looks a little like Metriod. This is all discovered in the first episode and not to mention a bit of bloodshed to seal the deal for those out there that judge an entire anime within the first twenty minutes.

However, by the second episode the story widens out a little and it can entice a much larger audience. It becomes humorous, with typical characters with similarities that can be found from across the Sci-fi genre and a few others to boot, such as a cute girl like Sasami from Tenchi Muyo. The storyline has pulled on inspiration from Tenchi Muyo with a lot of action, but with a lot of comical every day life moments thrown in. There is plenty of time to get to know the history and the lives of the characters, which the first few episodes spends a lot of time doing.

The main characters are actually young adults still in a Training school where they are taught to use the Humanoid Unit AMTT-500. These students treat the Genjyu invasion like an everyday thing, laughing and discussing more ordinary concerns such as having a boyfriends and homework. The characters seem to vary from very serious, to flirtatious, Lolashota to playful. As could be expected from teenagers, some of the subject matter isn’t always family friendly and the humour can be a little crude now and again.

The artwork is nothing out of the ordinary, with a pleasing look but the characters are all a little generic however the backgrounds and the characters themselves have enough detail. The animation quality is fairly good, although there are an awful lot of still shots of space, robots and a lot of close-ups of people talking but with little movement. The voice acting is very standard, almost forgettable on the whole and the Japanese cast isn’t much different either.

U Don’t Know Me

Reviews - by - March 20, 2010 - 22:06 Europe/London - 1 Comment

“U Don’t Know Me” is a yaoi published by Net Comics and written by the author known as Rakun. Originally published as donginji (doujinshi) in Korea, “U Don’t Know Me” is a love story where two best friends, close to brotherhood, reveal their secret desires to each other that have stemmed from childhood in a world where this is still taboo. “U Don’t Know Me” is a romantic, sexy, humorous with a pinch of violence piece of work and has a story comparable with other popular manga such as “There’s Something About Sunyool” and “Merry Family Plan”.

The two main characters, Yoojin and Seyun’s relationship blossom, as they grow older, from best friends in their childhood and become passionate lovers in their teens. Yoojin is typically tall, dark and handsome, martial arts professional and all round cool guy. Whereas Seyun, who is not only handsome, but is seen by his lover as far weaker and less cool with a hint of lolli-shota. Life is seemingly sweet until Seyun moves away with his irrational father during his childhood; however, things do not work out and years later he returns. Yoojin is still living with his parents when Seyun moves to his own place nearby. It is from here the two realise they were always more than just friends. Yoojin often too forceful and Seyun tougher then he acts, it’s a complicated relationship from the beginning and this is before the parents find out!

The quality of the artwork is decent and the actual imagery is graphic throughout the entire manga, the front cover alone is somewhat suggestive and goes much further than this giving the viewer exactly what’s hoped for. Like any good quality manga, it is easy to read. There are many double pages pretty much dedicated to the less then subtle sex scenes, picturing more passionate moments and leaving absolutely nothing to the imagination. However, it’s not all seriousness as there are plenty of chibi sketches that express the storyline has taken a lighter turn and the reader is welcome to laugh. The more that one reads, the more the manga feels like an anime, which is a great sign. Darting from one box to the next ensures the entire yaoi can be enjoyed and finished well within the hour. Ideal for saucy lunch hours and bathtub reading!

“U Don’t Know Me” is a perfect read for anyone who enjoys a typical yaoi storyline. Two sexy young men sharing passionate moments that become more graphic and intense as the pages turn over. The storyline consists of a shock factor most of us born in the 80’s have long since gotten over but can’t wait to know more about. The romance coincides neatly with the heart throbbing sex scenes and the more heart breaking discussions as Yoojin and Seyun debate if what they’re doing is right.

Although very enjoyable there are some scenes that feel as though they are only put in to make up the pages. Seyun has this gangster like image around him that Yoojin does not see. In school Seyun is revered as one of the toughest school kids around and is known for loosing his temper and getting into fights. However, when with Yoojin, he is described as a ‘kitten’ and only looses his temper during heated debates of which anyone could be guilty. Thus parts of the storyline seem almost completely irrelevant which leads to impatient thoughts such as “Let’s have another sex scene or a strange twist!” However the storyline is not without it’s shocking moments that render the reader unable to put the manga down before knowing what happens next.

Panda, Go Panda!

Reviews - by - March 16, 2010 - 17:10 Europe/London - Be first to Comment!

Thirty-eight years ago a new fad was sweeping the nation of Japan, a somewhat surprising fad considering the origin. Pandas. Yes, China had generously donated a panda to a Japanese zoo in an attempt to increase their political and social ties and in the process the Japanese population went into a frenzy. Then Panda! Go, Panda! arrived and sent them all into overdrive.

Panda! Go Panda! is an early work of Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, which predates Studio Ghibli and the pairs more famous works by many years. However, the early signs of the pair’s creativity and artistic style is very dominant throughout the film itself.

Calling this production a film is a bit of a stretch though, it’s more like a collection of extended episodes from an anime sewn together with a common theme – pandas. Not that this is a bad thing though. In the original release there were a few follow up episodes; these have all been threaded into one extended DVD with three episodes.

From the off it’s clear to see that this is not only early anime, but is also early Miyazaki work. The character designs, while distinct, lack the finesse of more recent films; however, his style has clearly been developed from this early work. This is clear to see from the resemblance between Ponyo and Mimiko for example. The pair’s work has also become famous for paying an incredible amount of attention to the scenery and being surrounded by nature, this style and theme is apparent throughout all of Panda! Go, Panda! as one is able to tell simply from the name of the feature.

The basic premise of the story is that a little girl- Mimiko has been left on her own to tend to a home whilst her Grandma goes away in Tokyo. Mimiko is a very young girl, so immediately the thought of someone of that age being left alone does strike a chord of disbelief; however, Mimiko is a very capable young girl who manages to see her Grandma off and goes home to find she’s got intruders in the house. Before she can really comprehend what’s happened, there’s a baby Panda in her home who she decides to care for with the passion of a Mother.

Mimiko is still of school age and decides to take Panpan to school with her, which understandably causes a riot as they don’t believe Panpan to be a Panda but another creature that needs attacking. Mimiko manages to secure Panpan and takes him back home only to be met by a giant Panda, Papa Panda. Mimiko takes this all in her stride and decides that they will become a larger-than-life family with a human “mother” and two Panda’s for relatives. The rest of the stories continue in a similar vein, and it’s clear that this story is a precursor to the more internationally famous Pippi Longstockings and Totoro.

Panda, Go Panda! is available in both English and Japanese. The English dub is well done, considering it’s got no Disney backing unlike the majority of Ghibli works, although Papa Panda does have a very strange, almost Jamaican imitation style voice. The subtitles are well placed and the overall quality of Panda, Go Panda! is top-notch. Considering this title is older than the majority of the people who will be watching it and as it’s clearly a “cash-cow” to try and grab some cash from a passing fad the actual animation quality and transfer to DVD is brilliant.