Review of Beyond the Boundary

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Beyond the Boundary is a twelve episode series based on the light novels penned by Nagomu Torii (a talented author who received an honourable mention in the 2011 Kyoto Animation Awards.) The anime takes place in an alternate version of Japan where entities known as Youmu (basically demonic spirits birthed from people’s negative emotions) live amongst the human populace. Most human beings cannot detect the presence of Youmu, but the select few who can are employed as Spirit Warriors that use their supernatural gifts to eradicate any unruly Youmu who step out of line. These brave protectors of humanity make an income by selling Youmu remains to their town’s local photographer (a mysterious lady who has attracted a pervy clientele thanks to the kinky snaps she takes.)

OVERVIEW

The series begins with high schooler Akihito Kanbara foiling transfer student Mirai Kuriyama’s apparent suicide attempt. Being a devout glasses fetishist he cannot stand idly by and watch a bespectacled beauty perish. His good deed doesn’t earn Mirai’s gratitude however. After being saved she proceeds to impale Akihito in the chest with a blade fashioned from her own solidified blood. Good thing then that Akihito is a half-human/youmu hybrid who possesses the power of immortality. It transpires that Mirai is a fledgling Spirit Warrior who isn’t particularly good at her job. To practice her craft she has decided to train on the durable Akihito. A fine idea in theory, but Akihito isn’t too keen on becoming a living dartboard for Mirai’s lethal strikes. Sure he cannot be slain, but that doesn’t mean that getting stabbed in the heart doesn’t hurt like hell.

As the story advances Akihito decides to aid Mirai in battling the malevolent Youmu haunting their town – partially to avoid getting gouged himself and partially to satiate Mirai’s rumbling tummy (due to her inept Youmu killing skills she cannot afford to purchase any nutritious meals.) Predictably romance begins to blossom between the two outcasts. The community fears Akihito because of his latent half-breed powers whilst Mirai is shunned by other Spirit Warriors due to the cursed blood flowing through her veins. The pair’s tumultuous relationship is rather sweet and good fun to watch. Akihito is smitten by the prospect of having a cute specs wearing girlfriend, but Mirai is unaccustomed to displays of affection. Compliments never fail to get Mirai flustered and trigger her catchphrase “how unpleasant.”

VERDICT

Beyond the Boundary is regarded as one of the better shows to come out of the Autumn 2013 anime season and after watching it I can see why. Unsurprisingly, from a studio that has previously worked on K-On and Lucky Star, the series has a good roster of likable characters. These include a teacher who regularly laments her inability to snag a man, Akihito’s eccentric cosplaying mom and an older brother who has an unhealthy fixation on his sister. With Japanese males lusting after siblings and cartoon characters is it a wonder that the nation’s birth rate is so low? The show’s amusing adolescent antics don’t however bar it from having top-notch action sequences. The battles with the Youmu are very impressive thanks to Kyoto’s exceptional animation work. On the audio side of things I liked the show’s opening theme and many other viewers have been gushing over the tune that plays during the end credits.

My final rating is four stars. I might have awarded the series full marks had it ran for more than a dozen episodes. The urban fantasy world Torii has crafted is an interesting one, so once the ending hit I was left wanting more. Beyond the Boundary has a solid story, which will keep you guessing who the piece’s true villains are. Perhaps the only place where the script stumbles is the manner in which it executes its finale. The latter half of the series has a neat twist, but the events that follow it are a little far fetched. Although it didn’t bug me, viewers with a low threshold for deus ex machina may get annoyed by how things pan out. Overall I really enjoyed the show and hope that Kyoto Animation decide to adapt more of the ongoing source material in the future. Ignoring this franchise would be most “unpleasant.”

Review of K-On!

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Yui Hirasawa has just commenced high school triggering the most important decision of her life – from the plethora of available options, which after school club should she join? After much deliberation the ditzy teen decides to register with the recently revived light music club. Sadly for her the group, which specialises in performing pop tunes, isn’t in need of a scatter brained castanet player. No worries, there is a vacancy open for the position of lead guitarist/vocalist. Yui can fill that role, after all how hard can it be to learn a stringed instrument from scratch? If she practices on Guitar Hero for a bit I am sure Yui will get the hang of it.

OVERVIEW

K-On is a slice of life anime, which originally aired on Japanese TV way back in 2009. The show, based off a four-panel manga created by Kakifly, is animated by Kyoto Animation (who have previously worked on Lucky Star and Clannad.) The first season DVD set, which comprises of thirteen episodes and a solitary OVA, can be purchased in the UK courtesy of Manga Entertainment.

The show follows the exploits of the four girls that make up the light music club, with their membership growing to five later in the series when jazz prodigy Azusa Nakano joins the fold. Out of the original quartet, Yui Hirasawa is the one I would class as the protagonist. She’s nice, but dim – often succumbing to bouts of daydreaming. Although she isn’t the brightest lass to grace Japanese animation she is capable of learning new skills surprisingly quick (although doing so expunges other knowledge from her brain.) After just a few episodes she is able to play the guitar like a pro and can even tune the instrument without the aid of a tuner. One thing I envy about Yui is her efficient metabolism. No matter how many slices of cake she gorges on she never puts on a single pound.

SUPPORTING CAST

The group’s other members include childhood friends Ritsu Tainaka and Mio Akiyama. Ritsu is the band’s drummer and the self-appointed club president. She took on the presidency mainly for the prestigious title, although she isn’t very good at the role. On more than one occasion the club finds itself in a bind because she would rather goof off rather than submit application forms and other necessary paperwork. Mio, the bashful bassist who pens the group’s song lyrics, is more mature than her chum although she has a weakness for anything scary. Over the course of the series she is reduced to a nervous wreck by the sight of a horror movie DVD, ghost stories and even barnacles that she spots at the beach.

Last, but not least is Tsumugi Kotobuki – better known simply as Mugi. In the band she plays the keyboard, making good use of all the piano lessons she has received from a young age. Mugi hails from an affluent family, but is not the spoiled rich brat you would find in other shows. She’s extremely courteous and seems to revel in doing what us lowly commoners partake in (one episode for example has her working at a fast food restaurant.) One quirk that Mugi has is a fondness for girls showing affection towards each other, leading to speculation that she may be a lesbian or at the very least a rabid connoisseur of yuri fiction.

VERDICT

K-On could well be the My Little Pony of anime. The subject matter seems to be targeted at girls, but from what I have seen the series has a sizable male viewership too. I’m not surprised, as the show’s charming comedy skits are appealing to anyone regardless of gender. I for example found myself chuckling whenever the club’s advisor Sawako Yamanaka was onscreen. She masquerades as a sweet senpai, but is in fact a former death metal guitarist who has a passion for cosplay. A recurring gag sees Sawako try to coerce the girls into donning all manner of ridiculous outfits.

If you are a fan of cheery J-Pop then K-On’s soundtrack will be right up your alley. Be warned however that the occasions when the girls actually do play something are rather sparse. Mio and Azusa try to encourage their companions to practice, but more often than not the girls end up spending their time sipping on cuppas and chomping down on desserts. Things get so bad that Sawako eventually christens the group After School Tea Time.

My final rating for season one of K-On is four stars. It’s an enjoyable experience for anyone who enjoys peeking at cute girls doing cute things… and who doesn’t like that sort of thing? I know I do – well I did until that pesky parent caught me hiding in the bushes. Now I have to stay away from the school due to a court order. Sigh.

Sarkeesian Strikes Again!

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Looks like Anita Sarkeesian does not approve of Persona pop idol Rise Kujikawa featuring prominently on the E3 passes. How sad that someone who derides the video game industry gets invited to the event, whilst genuine gamers who would gladly cover the E3 announcements get turned away. Once inside Sarkeesian proceeded to bash the Dark Souls stall and Capcom for hiring “booth babes” to promote their products. What’s wrong with models working to make an income? It’s nobler than being a shyster who profits under the guise of feminism.

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Review of Fate/kaleid liner Prisma Illya

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An offshoot from Type Moon’s popular Fate franchise, Fate/kaleid liner Prisma Illya takes place in an alternate universe where all the nasty Holy Grail malarkey, that plagued the cast of Fate/Zero, never took place. As a result Illyasviel von Einzbern (known simply as Illya to her friends) grew up to become a normal adolescent girl. Well… relatively normal. With Illya’s parents regularly away on business, the teenage anime fanatic has been raised by a pair of albino maids and she also cohobates with her adoptive brother Shiro (who she has the hots for because incest is all the rage in Japan.) One fateful night Illya’s relatively peaceful existence comes to an end when a sentient wand bestows her with the powers of a magical girl.

OVERVIEW

The series begins with Rin Tosaka and Luvia Edelfelt arriving in Japan. The magicians in training have been tasked with retrieving seven mystical cards that are guarded by powerful heroic spirits. To aid them in their quest the aspiring mages have been granted the use of magical wands that enhance their powers… and most importantly of all transform them into smexy cat girls! Unfortunately for the budding sorceresses the aforementioned wands (named Ruby and Sapphire) have a free will of their own and have grown weary of Rin and Luvia’s constant bickering. They ditch their current owners and seek out less fiery masters to accomplish their card-collecting goal. Ruby picks Illya to become her new wielder whilst Sapphire comes into the possession of a homeless girl named Miyu.

Illya is initially hesitant to risk her life for some glorified Yu-Gi-Oh cards, but eventually comes around to the idea after it is revealed that brandishing Ruby transforms her into a magical girl (the type of heroine featured in her favourite cartoons.) At first Illya doesn’t fare well against the apparitions protecting the cards she seeks, but under the mentorship of Rin she eventually becomes a capable magical girl… and even manages to make the embarrassing pink outfit look good. On the flip side Miyu is more gifted when it comes to tackling supernatural entities – although she struggles to reach her full potential, as her logical mind cannot grasp the physics defying abilities she has been granted. Luvia adopts Miyu, coaching her in the ways of magic in addition to employing her as her own personal maid.

VERDICT

Despite a shaky start, Fate/kaleid liner Prisma Illya ended up being a show I really enjoyed. The first episode is a little corny, making me fear that this would be another cheesy spin-off cashing in on a popular property (i.e. The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki) but thankfully it improved after that. Once the cast were established and the action began to flow I was hooked on the series. Silver Link (the studio that adapted Dusk Maiden of Amnesia and Watamote) has done a superb job animating the action sequences. Don’t let the cutesy character designs deceive you – the duel between Illya and Saber blows most shounen animes out of the water and isn’t far below what Ufotable has achieved with the other flashy Fate shows.

Fate Illya’s only real weakness is it’s shallow “monster of the week” structure, although the lack of depth isn’t particularly noticeable given that the first season only spans across ten episodes. Binding the whole thing together is the friendship between Illya and Miyu. They start off as rivals, but as the series progresses their relationship becomes borderline yuri. As a fan of the Fate series it was fun seeing the cast appear in a more light-hearted show. Viewers who aren’t fond of the Fate franchise, due to the tragic storylines that haunt the series, can safely watch this season, as it is free of grim elements. Kaleid is pretty much a jovial magical girl show and the whole thing is set in an alternate timeline so you don’t need to be acquainted with the mainline Fate series to follow what is going on. Fate fans may chastise me for this, but after watching this anime I am looking forward to the other Illya seasons more than Unlimited Blade Works.

FINAL RATING: FOUR STARS

Review of Tsuritama

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From skimming through the list of upcoming anime releases one could be forgiven for thinking that Japanese animation is nothing more than perverted harem shows and endless Shounen fighting cartoons. If you are “fishing” for something a little different I would recommend checking out Tsuritama – a science fiction series that has a heavy emphasis on angling. This twelve-episode anime, created by A-1 Pictures, appeared on Japanese television back in 2012 and can now be purchased in the UK courtesy of MVM Entertainment.

OVERVIEW

Tsuritama stars a teenage boy named Yuki Sanada. He’s one of those poor kids who is constantly changing schools due to the work commitments of his parents, or rather the grandmother that is raising him. Due to his nomadic existence, plus the fact that he is an only child from a small family, Yuki isn’t the best at social interactions. He especially struggles when put on the spot, as evidenced on his inaugural day at school shortly after moving to the tiny island of Enoshima. As is the custom in Japanese high schools, Yuki starts his first day by introducing himself in front of his new classmates. The realisation that everyone is staring at him causes Yuki to clam up in a nervous cold sweat. Looks like a poor first impression may have scuppered his chances of making friends.

Luckily for Yuki a fellow transfer student named Haru gets rather attached to him and insists on becoming his new best pal. Haru is rather eccentric to put it kindly. He’s hyperactive, eternally chipper and claims to be an extra terrestrial. Are those merely the ramblings of a loon? Perhaps, but the brainwash inducing water pistol he carries does add some credence to his assertions. For some reason Haru insists that Yuki learn the art of fishing – with the fate of the world supposedly hanging on Sanada’s skill with a rod. After much persuasion, classmate Natsuki Usami (a local celebrity known as the Fishing Prince) hesitantly agrees to coach Yuki in the ways of catching aquatic life. Armed with an assortment of lures and fishing rods the trio head to the seaside… from the shadows the mysterious Akira Yamada keeps tabs on their activities.

VERDICT

Wow, what a breath of fresh air it is to see a show fronted by a quartet of guys. Much as I may love the ladies, it does get tiresome seeing animes dominated by females just because the fairer sex equals higher merchandise sales. Tsuritama bucks the trend and delivers a light-hearted sci-fi romp that oozes charm. The amiable cast all have their faults, which they overcome through the bonds they make through fishing. As mentioned above Yuki suffers from panic attacks and Haru’s behaviour is downright odd (which can be attributed to him literally being a fish out of water.) Natsuki is more composed than his chums, but has a tumultuous relationship with his dad. What’s Akira’s problem? Well aside from taking his duties way too seriously he is also an anime Indian. His voice actor spares him from the stereotypical accent, but he cannot escape the clich√© of wearing a turban and working at a curry house.

A-1 Pictures have done an exemplary job animating the series and I really appreciate the colourful art style they went with. Tsuritama is not one of those shows were you need to crank up your TV’s brightness settings just because the action takes place in complete darkness. Hardcore anglers may be disappointed that the show doesn’t have enough fishing (it’s primarily a coming of age story with some wacky science fiction elements) but the fishing that does feature I found quite interesting. Natsuki’s lessons include techniques on how to catch different types of fish in addition to correct usage of fishing gear. Overall I was so impressed with what Tsuritama accomplished in a dozen episodes that I am awarding it four stars. Yarrr Tsuritama, yah truly are the catch of the day.

Review of Love at First Sight

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Whilst browsing Steam’s ever-growing visual novel library a new release titled Love at First Sight caught my eye (no pun intended.) Published by the folks at Sekai Project, this high school romance chronicles the blossoming relationship between a shy girl named Sachi Usui and a transfer student called Mamarou. What is so distinguishing about this generic plot I hear you ask? Well, if the game’s picture hasn’t given it away already, Sachi happens to be a Cyclops. The novel’s leading lady was born with a single giant eye and no nose… although that isn’t too odd, as anime characters tend to be lacking in the schnoz department. Love between a human and a monster girl sounds weird to me, but then again what do I know? Monster Musume sells by the bucket load so clearly there is a market out there for geeks who lust after mythological creatures.

OVERVIEW

Our unorthodox tale of love begins with Mamarou bumping into a tearful Sachi. The ocular challenged cutie is feeling low, as a nasty classmate has been tormenting her. Although taken aback by her distinct appearance, Mamarou cannot get Sachi out of his head after their inaugural encounter. Wanting to get to know her better Mamarou begins to meet up with Sachi during recess. After learning that Sachi is an avid reader he begins to woo her with a stockpile of manga before eventually asking her out to a movie. Ah, so that’s what I have been doing wrong. I keep wasting money on flowers and chocolates. Next time I try to court a beauty I will shower her with comics instead.

Love at First Sight’s supporting cast, which you can count on one hand, includes Mamarou’s two best friends. Akemi is a bubbly lass blessed with a motor mouth and is the polar opposite of Tomonori who is much more reserved and sombre. Although likable, Mamarou’s chums are fairly one-dimensional and no I’m not talking about the way they are drawn. The same applies to Rui – the bully who picks on Sachi. Always seen with a scowl on her face, she is presented as a stereotypical troublemaker who preys on the meek. Perhaps the most fleshed out character from the bunch is Sachi’s aunt. She is initially presented as a cold-hearted foster parent, but the novel’s later chapters reveal that her relationship with Sachi is a bit more complex than that.

VERDICT

My rating for Love at First Sight is three stars. It’s a sweet short story brought to life by some striking artwork. Creepy Cute is the artist responsible for creating the novel and it must be said that he lives up to his moniker. Although the graphics have an eerie quality to them he still manages to make the scar covered Sachi look adorable. Even though the story is sold on starring a mono-eyed girl the narrative doesn’t dwell too deeply on Sachi’s looks and reads like a standard teen romance. The only thing weird about the plot is Sachi’s fondness for having her wounds caressed. Is this a clever way of exploring intimacy without resorting to potentially controversial sex scenes? Nah. In the extras section the author openly admits to having a scar fetish.

I would award Love at First Sight a higher score if it weren’t for its steep asking price. The whole thing can be read in just two hours, which isn’t great given that the download costs ¬£7.00. A bit more content would have been nice, especially as Sachi’s final confrontation with Rui feels a tad rushed. Due to time constraints (the whole project was made in a couple of weeks to meet a convention deadline) there are also no branching paths to explore, which hurt the title’s replay value. Those quibbles aside, I still give Love at First Sight a thumbs up. Sachi’s plight should resonate with any readers who suffer from shyness, victims of bullying or anyone who has self-esteem issues pertaining to their physical appearance. Don’t let the cost put you off sampling this treat. If money is an issue “eye” recommend waiting for an inevitable Steam discount.

Review of Wanna Be the Strongest in the World

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Back during the late eighties I used to be a big fan of the WWF (now called the WWE due to a dispute with a well known nature conservation group.) Alas as I grew older my interests shifted from the squared circle to Premier League football pitches. These days I barely keep up with “sports entertainment” as modern wrestlers lack the charisma of Macho Man Randy Savage or the technical skills of Brett Hart. Perhaps I would still be interested in the sport if it were anything like Wanna Be the Strongest in the World. This twelve episode anime series (known as Sekai de Ichiban Tsuyoku Naritai in its native Japan) features female grapplers who wear wrestling attire that is ill suited for containing their colossal mammaries.

OVERVIEW

Wanna Be the Strongest in the World stars a pop idol singer named Sakura Hagiwara who fronts the popular all girl group Sweet Diva. One day a promotional tour takes Sakura and her band mate Elena Miyazawa to a gym where female athletes are coached in the ways of pro-wrestling. Whilst visiting the premise, Elena disrespects the training facilities incurring the wrath of a sadistic brawler named Rio Kazama. Rio retaliates by placing Elena in an excruciating submission hold before mocking the singers for being complete bimbos. Determined to uphold the honour of pop idols everywhere Sakura challenges Rio to a wrestling match. The resulting bout sees Sakura get pulverized much like Leona Lewis facing Brock Lesnar in a fight.

Unperturbed by the humiliating loss Sakura challenges Rio to a rematch. Rio agrees under one condition – Sakura must abandon her pop idol career and instead become a full time wrestler. Surprisingly the busty singer agrees to the stipulation faster than you can bite into a Slim Jim. Sakura’s baptism into the wrestling industry doesn’t go well initially, but under the tutelage of champion Misaki Toyoda she eventually becomes an accomplished competitor. The gruelling training regime she suffered may be for naught though. Just when the wrestling community begins to accept Sakura into the fold she is confronted by a luchadora named Blue Panther. The masked beauty demands that Sakura quit the ring unless she can best her in a match. Insert dramatic music here.

VERDICT

My rating for Wanna Be the Strongest in the World is three stars. I don’t get the opportunity to watch many sport centric shows so this anime ended up being a delightful treat. Although the cast is lacking in memorable personalities I was still able to get behind the underdog tale of Sakura triumphing over adversity. From a production values point of view the series clearly doesn’t have a huge budget to play with, but it still accomplished its objective of recreating the original manga’s artwork to a satisfactory standard. The lack of dazzle is barely noticeable as the in ring action keeps gravity defying acrobatics to a minimum, instead favouring more slow based duels were opponents counter each others submission moves.

Critics have universally panned the cartoon for being a lowbrow fan service show, which I feel is a little harsh. The cast is no sexier than the well-endowed ladies found in most other animes and their clothing doesn’t disintegrate into thin air, like some other examples I could mention. The eye candy on offer is restricted to a few tame shower scenes, although harder to defend is the show’s fascination with extreme crotch close-ups. Instead of the visuals I think the opening episodes may be what puts most viewers off. The first story arc has Sakura suffering an incredibly long losing streak. Although realistic, given her pampered background, the way she continuously succumbs to the same painful manoeuvre makes her come across as a whiny crybaby.

In Sakura’s defence, her mentor shouldn’t have taken so long to teach her how to escape the hold in question. The show however requires some suspension of disbelief to enjoy. This applies to the manner in which interference and weapon usage go unpunished during matches, along with the contrived episode twelve finale. The decision whether Sakura will ultimately sacrifice wrestling or singing wraps up a little too nicely for my cynical tastes. Overall Wanna Be the Strongest in the World is no classic, but I still managed to enjoy it for what it was. If the WWE Divas could match this Sweet Diva’s wrestling talent I would perhaps still follow the sport.