Covid-19 Lockdown: the Sequel – Anime Picks for Survival

“In between those Zoom/Teams/Skype meetings there is a plethora of quality Japanese animation to catch-up on, so here is a list of easily accessible Anime to get you through these difficult times”

Like an inevitable movie sequel, the UK, among many other countries too, are back in Covid-19 isolation. As the virus continues to spread across the globe, many have been told to work from home and isolate where possible. Restaurants, bars and most non-essential shops have closed once again, and many people’s living rooms have become their office. For others that may mean not being able to work at all. Staying indoors for long periods can of course take its toll in different ways to all of us. But don’t fear, as in between those Zoom/Teams/Skype meetings there is a plethora of quality Japanese animation to catch-up on. So here is a list of easily accessible Anime to get you through these difficult times. Because even a month can feel like forever. All the best to those struggling during these unprecedented times.

Dragon Ball Super

What better way to spend your abundance of free time than bingeing on a long-running, instant classic? Dragon Ball Super is the sequel series to the incomparable Dragon Ball Z. So, forget about that Dragon Ball GT boxset on your shelf and watch the real thing. 131 episodes and 5 sagas should pass the time on nicely. Even if you have already watched the DBZ movies Battle of Gods and Resurrection F it is still worth catching the whole action-packed series. The later sagas boast some of the best looking animated visuals ever seen on screen, and with a Crunchyroll account, the entire series (subtitled only) can be viewed for free.

Dragon Ball Super is also available on Blu-Ray/DVD by chapters or complete box set.

Cowboy Bebop

Let’s all be honest with each other here. We all have it on our DVD/Blu-Ray shelf, sitting pretty amongst all the other anime. But now is the best time to sit and watch those classics you worked so hard to get the best bargain online. Cowboy Bebop certain ranks amongst the all-time classic anime series. Experience a future of legal bounty hunters, otherwise known as ‘Cowboys’, as they chase bad guys across moons orbiting around a now-inhabitable planet Earth. Although only twenty-six episodes, it is an intergalactic crime caper entertainment of the highest order. It also stands as quite possibly the best single-season anime of all time.

Cowboy Bebop is available on DVD/Blu-Ray, and to stream for free via All 4.

Neon Genesis Evangelion

The prominence of anime on Netflix in recent times is remarkable. In the last twelve months alone, the contingent of classic anime additions bolster an already impressive library of latest releases. One such classic is Neon Genesis Evangelion. Seemingly left in license limbo, Netflix also went to town on this acquisition by having the English dub track re-casted and re-recorded. Make of that what you will (believe me, many have), but nevertheless, Evangelion truly does rank among the greats. What starts out as high school kids piloting world-saving robots against prophesised alien lifeforms known as Angels, descends into a fascinating crescendo of mental health, trauma and depression against an ever-escalating apocalyptic landscape. You can feel that director Hideaki Anno has poured his absolute heart and soul into this, and remains a work that Anno himself confessed was left completely burnt out after its conclusion. Twenty-five years on, Neon Genesis Evangelion remains as remarkable and essential anime viewing as you’re ever likely to see.

Neon Genesis Evangelion is available to stream on Netflix.

Mobile Suit Gundam: Unicorn

This original video animation adaption is another Netflix entry worthy of your watch list. This series of seven, mini-movie length episodes were released over a period of four years. MSG: Unicorn follows Banagher Links, a schoolboy, like many, residing in the space colony Industrial 7. His life turns upside down after meeting and rescuing disguised princess Audrey Burne and encountering a new Gundam armour. What follows is seven and a half hours of amazing action-adventure storytelling, and an audio-visual spectacle. MSG: Unicorn could easily be thrown in among the space opera genre on its appearance alone, which does it no harm, but at its heart and soul it is a highly-entertaining quest story. For those concerned, you do not need to be cultured in the way of Gundam in any way to know what is happening. Just sit back, relax, and let the fantastic action guide you through.  

Mobile Suit Gundam: Unicorn is available to buy on Blu-Ray and to stream on Netflix.

Devilman: Crybaby

The best Netflix-produced anime out there, Devilman Crybaby, is one of the most batshit crazy and apocalyptic series you’re ever likely to come across. This modern-day retelling of the 1970’s Go Nagai manga powers through the origin of Devilman, AKA Akira Fudo, and how becoming the ultimate anti-hero changes his life and of those around him. Love, betrayal, violence (a LOT of violence) and drama come together in this ten-episode onslaught on the senses. Forget the hilariously-dubbed Manga effort, Devilman Crybaby is as raw as they come.

Devilman Crybaby is available to stream on Netflix.

We’re a few days into the current UK national lockdown, what have you watched so far, or intend to whilst at home for the next three weeks?

DC Goes Interactive With Batman: Death in the Family

“Will you choose whether Jason Todd lives or dies? How will these choices affect Batman and the Joker? One thing for certain – It’s going to be a lot of fun finding out.”

Over 30 years ago DC Comics fans were given the remarkable chance to choose the fate of one Jason Todd as Robin. The question was simple: should he live, or die? After the votes of thousands of fans they incredibly chose for Jason to die. In turn, creating comic book history in the process.

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment is about to give us all the opportunity to answer a new question: if you had the chance to do it again, would you make the same choice? This time, there is no old-school hotline to call, or any online forms. Instead you can make the choice just by clicking your Blu-ray remote.

From the DC Comics announcement page:-

Produced by DC and Warner Bros. Animation, DC Showcase – Batman: Death in the Family is an anthology of 2019-2020 animated shorts anchored by a new, extended-length short that adapts the iconic Batman: A Death in the Family comic book storyline by Jim Starlin and Jim Aparo. However, in a fitting twist, the Batman: Death in the Family short will take an interactive approach—a Warner Bros. Home Entertainment first—and offer viewers the opportunity to choose which direction the story goes by making choices using their remote control. As if that isn’t fascinating enough, this take on the classic storyline also boasts some intriguing connections to the popular 2010 DC Universe Movie, Batman: Under the Red Hood.

Batman: Death in the Family comes from director Brandon Vietti, who also directed Batman: Under the Red Hood, which also celebrated its tenth anniversary last week. Bruce Greenwood, Vincent Martella and John DiMaggio will reprise their Batman: Under the Red Hood roles of Batman, young Jason Todd and the Joker, respectively. Bruce Greenwood’s performance as the Joker 10 years ago alone will spark interest in this role reprisal.

“Batman: Death in the Family is essentially a comic book come to life,” Vietti says. “We’ve paid homage to the 1988 interactive experience of DC’s A Death in the Family comics release by giving fans a unique opportunity to craft their own story through a branching tool that can lead in multiple directions. The viewer gets to choose these characters’ paths, and each choice paves an alternate future for all of the characters and, ultimately, the story.”

DC has presented its viewers with a real opportunity here. An opportunity to re-write a piece of history. And furthermore, to write new futures. Multiple endings, twists and turns, or simply the opportunity to play out the original story if you wish, are all on offer here.

But that’s not all on offer. Batman: Death in the Family is but one of five shorts. Although not interactive, the other four shorts are as follows:-

  • Sgt. Rock (below), originally attached to Batman: Hush, directed by Bruce Timm. Karl Urban (Star Trek, The Boys and Dredd 3D) provides the voice of the titular character who thinks he has seen everything on the battlefield. But now he is tasked to lead a company consisting of legendary monsters into battle against – what else – Nazi zombies.
  • Death, inspired by Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman, is produced and directed by Sam Liu (Superman: Red Son, The Death of Superman). It tells the story of Vincent, an artist with unresolved inner demons, who meets a mysterious girl that helps him come to terms with his creative legacy…and eventual death. Death was originally included with Wonder Woman: Bloodlines.
  • The Phantom Stranger has Bruce Timm (Batman: The Killing Joke) on board as executive producer and director, and was included on the release of Superman: Red Son. This one is set in the 1970s, as the enigmatic DC mystery man simultaneously playing both narrator and character in a supernatural story of good vs. evil.
  • Adam Strange, an original story attached to Justice League Dark: Apokolips War, is produced and directed by Butch Lukic (Superman: Man of Tomorrow). It tells the origins of Adam Strange, played out in flashbacks, as he struggles to save the very people who have scorned him for so long as the local town drunk.

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DC Showcase – Batman: Death in the Family will be available on both Blu-ray and Digital from October 13, 2020. If you want the interactive experience of Batman: Death in the Family, you’ll need to buy the Blu-ray edition. The digital edition features the Batman: Death in the Family extended-length, non-interactive version of the story. Three other non-interactive versions of the main short (entitled Jason Todd’s RebellionRobin’s Revenge and Red Hood’s Reckoning) should be included as bonus features, along with the other four 2019-2020 DC Showcase shorts.

With DC Showcase – Batman: Death in the Family, DC have invited us to make a choice. Will you choose whether Jason Todd lives or dies? How will these choices affect Batman and the Joker? One thing for certain – It’s going to be a lot of fun finding out.

DC Showcase – Batman: Death in the Family will be available on both Blu-ray and Digital starting on October 13, 2020.

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Superman: The Man of Tomorrow – The New DC Animated Movie Ushering in a New Era

“it is time for the DC animated movies to get a fresh start themselves. And this time, they’re doing it with the hero that began the DC Animated Original Movies line: Superman.”

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If there’s one thing DC loves, it’s a reboot. Usually a tactic reserved for comic books, as the continuity is “reset” every few years, this has now become a thing in comic book movies. There have been “reboots” for both Superman and Batman in Hollywood. The former began with Man of Steel, now part of the DC Extended Universe, while the Batman franchise, now also part of the same universe, is about to venture into its second reboot in less than 20 years. Now it is time for the DC animated movies to get a fresh start themselves. And this time, they’re doing it with the hero that began the DC Animated Original Movies line: Superman.

The release of Justice League Dark: Apokolips War last month marked the end of the 6-year, 20-movie DC animated movie universe that began with Justice League: War. It was a universe within a universe, with the full series of original movies truly beginning with Superman: Doomsday in 2007. Now, with Butch Lukic at the helm as the new Supervising Producer, a new continuity begins with Superman: Man of Tomorrow.

Warner Bros have already dropped the trailer and debuted the box art and release date for the upcoming movie:-

As usual, there are several special features included. They have been revealed as:-

  • Lobo: Natural Force of Chaos Featurette
  • Martian Manhunter: Lost and Found Featurette
  • Look Back: Justice League vs. The Fatal Five Featurette
  • Look Back: Superman/Batman: Public Enemies Featurette
  • From the DC Vault: Superman: The Animated Series, “The Main Man, Part I”
  • From the DC Vault: Superman: The Animated Series, “The Main Man, Part II”
  • Movie trailers for Justice League Dark: Apokolips War, Mortal Kombat Legends: Scorpion’s Revenge, and Superman: Red Son.
  • A Sneak Peek at the next DC Universe Movie — An advanced look at the next animated film in the popular DC Universe Movies collection.

The voice cast includes Darren Criss (Glee) as Clark Kent/Superman, Zachary Quinto (Heroes) as Lex Luthor, Alexandra Daddario (San Andreas) as Lois Lane, Brett Dalton (Agents of SHIELD) as Parasite/Rudy Jones, Ryan Hurst (The Walking DeadSons of Anarchy) as Lobo, Ike Amadi (Mass Effect 3Mortal Kombat Legends: Scorpion’s Revenge) as Martian Manhunter, Neil Flynn (The MiddleScrubs) as Jonathan Kent, Bellamy Young (ScandalProdigal Son) as Martha Kent, Cristina Milizia (DC Super Hero Girls) as Maya, Petey & Kaylie, Eugene Byrd (BonesLEGO Star Wars: The Freemaker Adventures) as Ron Troupe, April Stewart (South Park) as Mrs. Ross, and Piotr Michael (The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle) as Perry White, as well as Cissy Jones (Firewatch) and David Chen (Gotham).

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The movie will be directed by Chris Palmer, who has previously directed several episodes of Voltron: Legendary Defender, and written by Tim Sheridan, the scriber of The Death of Superman and Reign of the Supermen. The official synopsis is as follows:-

“It’s the dawn of a new age of heroes, and Metropolis has just met its first. But as Daily Planet intern Clark Kent – working alongside reporter Lois Lane – secretly wields his alien powers of flight, super-strength and x-ray vision in the battle for good, there’s even greater trouble on the horizon. Follow the budding hero as he engages in bloody battles with intergalactic bounty hunter Lobo and fights for his life to halt the attack of power-hungry alien Parasite. The world will learn about Superman … but first, Superman must save the world!”

Mary Ellen Thomas, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Senior Vice President, Originals, Animation and Family Marketing, said of the movie:-

Superman: Man of Tomorrow is an inspiring retelling of the DC Universe Movies’ backstory for The Man of Steel, taking the audience to his early days as an intern at the Daily Planet – and his beginnings as a learning-on-the-job DC Super Hero. Darren Criss and Zachary Quinto have wholeheartedly embraced their roles as Superman and Lex Luthor for this film, and the end result is a special addition to canon of films that every Superman fan will want to add to their collection.”

Having Lukic at the helm will bring a new visual aesthetic to Superman: Man of Tomorrow that departs from the animation styles of previous producers Bruce Timm (23 films) and James Tucker (17 films), thus far represented in the DC Universe Movies.

Superman: The Man of Tomorrow hits digital on August 23, before the Blu-ray/DVD combo pack arrives on September 8. In the UK, HMV has it listed for September 7.

A Silent Voice Review

“A Silent Voice, one of Kyoto’s finest productions to date, undoubtedly gives the viewer provocation to reflect on any regrettable childhood actions.”

Director: Naoko Yamada; Distributor: Anime Limited. 12 cert, 130 mins.

Last year one of the most tragic events in Japan since World War II took place at Kyoto Animation. 36 people died in a horrific attack that has left a feeling of reflection and sadness associated with any Kyoto Animation production. A Silent Voice, one of Kyoto’s finest productions to date, undoubtedly gives the viewer provocation to reflect on any regrettable childhood actions. Naoko Yamada’s adaption of Yoshitoki Ōima’s manga Koe No Katachi, A Silent Voice, is a coming-of-age drama; A story of atonement, friendship, and much more. Originally released in the UK in 2017, it now receives the special edition DVD/Blu-Ray treatment thanks to Anime Limited. Sadness and reflection may root at the core of A Silent Voice, but its poignancy and beauty are defintely worth savouring.

6th grade student Ishida Shouya is the resident class prankster. That is until his increasingly-serious bullying behavior results in a hearing-impaired classmate being transferred out of his school. Ishida, ostrasised by his friends and classmates, begins to learn first-hand how it feels to be the victim. The original title translates as “The Shape of Voice”. It not only displays at both the beginning and end of the movie, it is also curiously closer to the movie’s meaning.

A Silent Voice is a movie about many things. Self-worth, friendship, love, restitution, even regret. The movie originates with bullying as its focus; its many forms and repercussions of such actions. Ishida’s pranks are cruel, unfair and systemic. And although he is responsible for the majority of the bullying against Nishimiya Shōko, his friends and even his teacher immediately and continually reject their new classmate’s difficulties, as well as her personality. Ishida’s happy-go-lucky life is turned upside down when both friends and staff ostracise him following Shōko’s bullying-driven transfer.

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Bullying is a subject that is of course very real. Whether it be shunning someone who just wants to be friends, or throwing their school bag into a pond. Yamada’s delivery of such actions plus their repercussions in later life are eloquently delivered. There is a distinct tenderness to Yamada’s direction, despite the movie exploring a number of unpleasant and difficult topics. Scenes with sign language are subtly non-subtitled to give you a flavour of what it’s like to deduce what is being said. Equally effective are silent Shōko scenes that lead you, through family facial expressions and Shōko’s actions, to empathise with their plight. Empathetic, endearing yet subtle.

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A Silent Voice makes extensive use of photography work. The palette is lightly-coloured and bathes the city of Ogaki with elegance and beauty. More so than the real thing, which is what animation should be; a representation of a world and it’s character, not the world itself.

The soundtrack is also a delight. Soft piano and ambient melodies capture the mood just as effectively as the moments where silence take centre stage in delivering emotion. It’s an auditory experience that’s memorable as a whole as opposed to standout tracks that stick in your mind.

Beguiling, sensuous, delicate yet brilliant, A Silent Movie is simply a captivating experience. The subject matter may well be polarising for some, but it’s a powerful movie that’s definitely worthy of anyone’s time.

The 11 Best Episodes Of ‘X-Men The Animated Series’

As the 2010’s leave us like a bullet train passing through a station, franchise reboots and re-releases are as ingrained into our brains and bookshelves as the wealth of more recent material. Retro is back, and seemingly here to stay.

Recent examples of note include the 1992 Batman: The Animated Series getting the Blu-Ray treatment in 2018, more than 20 years on. 2019 marked the 20-year anniversary of Batman Beyond (1999-2001) with a similar effort. But enough about DC’s glorious gems, what about Marvel?

X-Men: The Animated Series is one such deserving gem. It originally ran from 1992-1997 for five, fun-packed seasons. With it came concepts more associated with TV dramas, such as progressive storylines, season-long narratives and multi-part adaptions derived from some of the most famous stories from the comic books.

Unfortunately, there is no high-definition re-release on the cards anytime soon. However, with the arrival of Disney Plus, as well as the handy aqcuisition of Fox, all episodes are indeed part of the gargantuan streaming service. With Disney Plus finally arriving in the UK on March 21, I for one am keen to revisit a near 30-year old animated classic.

So, without any further ado, and in no particular order, sit back and enjoy my favourite episodes from the series.

Night of the Sentinels Parts 1 + 2

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Where best to start than right at the beginning? Right off the bat, this 2-part opener sets the scene and tone of the show perfectly. We are introduced to the X-Men through the perspective of one Jubilation Lee (AKA Jubilee: “I blow stuff up”) as she seeks salvation from mutant prejudice. The pubertal manifestation of her mutant powers has all but ended her normal life. Even the authorities are out to get to her through the government-funded Mutant Control Agency, supposedly set up to help mutants, but is in fact a front to eliminate them.

Real issues such as racism and xenophobia are a constant throughout the series. X-Men: TAS does an excellent job in exerting such issues, through that of teenagers, even young adults, in a terrifying, relatable manner. I’m well aware that none of us are going to be hunted by giant, malevolent robots because we can blow stuff up with our bare hands. But these emotional notions can directly be transferred into the real world of teen angst; here it is simply in a alternative, fictional guise.

The threat posed to these would-be heroes, who are forced to operate outside the law, pulls no punches, with an initial tragedy thrown in to cement that. This is no origin story. You are thrown straight into the X-Men’s world and all that comes with it. All suitable for Saturday mornings, of course.

Deadly Reunions

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By the fourth episode we’ve already been introduced emphatically to Magneto, Charles Xavier’s long-time friend, and one of the X-Men’s main rivals. The X-Men prevented a Magneto-powered missile attack in just the previous episode, but Mr Maniacal Magnetic Mutant is far from done. Magneto attempts to draw out Charles for a reunion years in the making, and is prepared to put human lives on the line to do so.

What follows is the first psychological pitting of two very differently motivated mutant minds. Charles’ idealism that all mutants follow his vision is also put to the test. It is so important that this rivalry is introduced so early in the series, as it will continue to become a backbone throughout. As will the animosity between Wolverine and Sabretooth, whose very physical battle also test’s Charles and his methods.

Cold Vengeance

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This Wolverine-centric episode widened my eyes (“Deadly Reunions” had certainly pried them open) to the brutal relationship between Logan and Victor Creed, otherwise known as Sabretooth. After their brief yet destructive battle in Deadly Reunions, “Cold Vengeance” takes it up to eleven. They’re both literally trying to kill each other and, given the array of claws on offer, the intensity is maintained without the need for graphic violence. A true testament of the show for sure.

Elsewhere, the adaption of the “mutant friendly” nation of Genosha comes into play. Cyclops steals the show as his tetchy tendencies are unleashed on the charismatic but often-cocky Cajun, Gambit. Whether it’s combat or conjecture, Cold Vengeance really turns up the heat in a series just six episodes strong at this stage.

Days of Future Past Parts 1 + 2

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A story so synonymous with the X-Men universe it was even adapted in the movie universe, Days of Future Past is up there with the best on offer. Kitty Pryde, the comic book’s original time-travelling saviour, is completely absent from the show, despite being the front of the original pilot from the show’s producers. Instead, Days of Future Past becomes the platform to introduce another time-traveller, Bishop, into the show. The switch is admirable, and even with a completely new dynamic as a result of the change, it works handsomely.

Days of Future Past taps into everything the X-Men’s world is all about; why they fight against persecution. The bleak tone of their potential future resonates from the page to screen perfectly. It is a 2-part adventure that casts doubt on the characters you’re just getting to know, interspersed with a nice dose of science fiction to boot.

The Final Decision

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Artificial intelligence goes self-aware and runs amok in this first season finale. After the fallout of “Days of Future Past”, Senator Kelly is kidnapped by Magneto. This in turn leads to anti-mutant protest rallies, with the X-Men in the middle trying to keep the peace. The Final Decision really hammers home the nobility of the X-Men and Charles’s hope for human/mutant peace.

The sentinel program comes to a head, even rebelling against its creator, Bolivar Trask. What follows is the X-Men putting their lives on the line against an army of mutant-killing robots in a spectacular battle sequence that is among the best the series has to offer over its five seasons.

Time Fugitives Part 1 + 2

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It wouldn’t be a true X-Men show without everyone’s, me included, favourite time travelling mutant, Cable. The show casts Cable as a hardened warrior, A non-killing Rambo, if you’ll pardon the reference. Cable fights the good fight, albeit in his own way. That is to say, helping the X-Men’s cause, just rarely directly or by the same methods.

In Time Fugitives, it is Cable’s future that’s on the line. Bishop is also back, and another time jump to the present day is subsequently erasing Cable’s timeline. The only probable solution? Take out Bishop. Time Fugitives is a 2-part adventure told in a before-then-after format, with direct comparisons drawn as an open-and-shut version of the Legacy Virus comic book storyline.

Above all else, this interlude in the show’s most progressive season showcases some of its best action sequences. With regards to Cable, TAS always did an excellent job of painting Cable as a top supporting character. The show manages to tease its audience with Cable’s true meaning to the team, particularly Cyclops, without feeling the need to delve any deeper. It’s a perfect nod for comic fans of the show, and enough for newcomers to be left asking themselves provocative questions that may or may not be answered down the line.

Reunion Parts 1 + 2

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The second season of X-Men: The Animated Series, emboldened by the groundwork already laid in the first season, explored a TV concept usually reserved for adult shows: The season-long story arc. The season opener “Till Death Us Do Part” saw an X-Man, previously thought long gone, luring both Xavier and Magneto to The Savage Land. What begins as a secondary storyline becomes the foundation for this, the 2-part season finale.

Stripped of their powers, Xavier and Magneto must set aside their differences and work together to survive in a prehistoric land. These segments, usually on the back end of episodes throughout the season, explore the more distinctive element of their relationship: friendship. The mastermind of season 2 is an undoubtedly Sinister character (wink wink), whose obsession with Cyclops and Jean Grey’s mutagenic possibilities results in a battle for all the X-Men’s lives. His ability to even manipulate Xavier ranks Sinister above most if not all the foes the X-Men face throughout the entire series.

What were your favorite episodes of “X-Men: The Animated Series?” Leave a comment with yours! 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Akira is Making a Comeback, Let’s Fall in Love With it All Over Again

The anime behemoth is back – in more ways than one

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This past weekend at Anime Expo 2019, legendary manga creator Katsuhiro Otomo announced a new anime project, namely an adaption of his Akira manga. Sunrise, one of Japan’s biggest animation studios, creators of classics such as Cowboy Bebop, Mobile Suit Gundam and even non-Japanese productions Inspector Gadget (i miss that) and Batman: The Animated Series, will produce. Sunrise CEO Makoto Asanuma confirmed the intention of incorporating the entire story of the manga. So yeah, pretty huge news.

And if that news alone wasn’t huge enough for you, well how about this: The original 1988 movie will receive a 4K remaster in both Japan and the US. Hopefully a UK version will follow also, with Akira still serving as one of Manga UK’s key licenses.

Otomo’s original sci-fi action manga ran for 8 years in Kodansha’s Weekly Young Magazine, from 1982 to 1990. It is set in Neo-Tokyo, a city that has been rebuilt following a mysterious explosion. The movie, directed by Otomo, created an explosion of its own in the west back in the early 1990’s. It is still considered by many, me included, to be the benchmark is Japanese animation. Its hard to argue this point, despite many other glowing examples in the last 30 years.

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After paving the way for anime into the mainstream, Akira also helped launch Manga Mania, a UK-based anime/manga magazine from Dark Horse Comics. The western translation became its premiere manga strip, with 100 pages each month. The magazine’s decline is often attributed to the end of the strip in issue 38. Akira’s 6-volume run is always in circulation across the globe, and remains one of the most successful and influential manga ever created.

As for the movie, a 4K edition is most welcome, and certainly deserving. Of all the Japanese anime works in the world, especially one that is over 30 years old, there are few that look better, even today. It wasn’t the most expensive anime film of its time (1.1 billion yen) for nothing. It has already undergone remaster treatment for both DVD in 2001 (as well as the alternative English dub track) and more recently Blu-Ray, featuring a Japanese Dolby TrueHD 192 kHz remaster. Definitely plenty to look forward to from a 4K version.

As for the manga adaption, if it indeed is produced as a series, don’t expect the same lavish production. Although I’ve little doubt that if Otomo is involved, it will need to be some form of standard-setter. His 2004 effort Steamboy is still the most expensive anime ever produced, standing at 2.4 billion yen, and was in production for 10 years. It’ll be interesting to see how the creative style stays true to his manga. Although the 1988 movie does not follow the original manga (it was still being produced by Otomo while he was making the movie), the style remained very true to the original.

So after 31 years, Akira has once again come to the forefront of Japanese animation across the world. I will of course remain sceptical of the planned Warner Bros Taika Waititi Hollywood effort. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to go watch and read Akira all over again.

Buy Akira on Blu-Ray here

Buy the Akira manga here

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dragon Ball Super: Broly Blu-Ray Review – The Franchise Beast Comes to Your Living Room

Its Over 9000, etc etc

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This post includes the previously published cinematic review from February 2019.

Movie Review:-

There has never been a better time to be a Dragon Ball fan. Following Dragon Ball’s resurrection after almost 20 years with Dragon Ball Super, there has been a resurgence for Akira Toriyama’s franchise like never before. And while that series has now ended, there is no sign of a let up in that resurgence, either. Dragon Ball FighterZ, the excellently-accessible and instantly beloved beat-em-up, took the fighting video game scene by storm as well the franchise’s fan base, me included. And now, in early 2019, comes Dragon Ball Super: Broly: an anime movie for the ages.

Unlike the non-canon Broly movies of the 90’s, DBS: Broly is no simple series tie-in movie. This is Broly’s official integration into the Dragon Ball canon, with the story coming from series creator himself, Akira Toriyama. And where 1993’s Broly: The Legendary Super Saiyan felt like nothing more than disconnected DBZ DLC, this Broly absolutely feels like the real deal.

Dragon Ball Z and Super were both series known for thrusting muscle over matter. DBS: Broly parks that notion somewhat for the first half of the movie. In its place is a history lesson. Broly’s origin is detailed but also that of the the Saiyan race as a whole. Indeed, the Planet Vegeta opening, admittedly initially met with uncertainty, quickly becomes the most successful and powerful gambit Toriyama has ever played. The Saiyans are not as they have always been perceived to be.

Nothing to see here, Richard Donner

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Their status as planet conquerors is reaffirmed, but under nothing more than a slave capacity to – guess who – Frieza. It’s a wholly refreshing take that also integrates the series’ sense of charm and humour to lighten the mood in the face of hardship. Furthermore, insight into Goku and Vegeta’s origins offer what no other Dragon Ball movie ever has before – immediate accessibility for newcomers to the universe.

As for Broly himself, as a child he is outcast to a distant planet due to his immeasurable potential power. Despite his father’s dedication to his son’s well-being, Broly is a child born of mental fragility, a loss of innocence, and the relationship with his father is a strained one. All of which resonate far too well; this is not some simple rival for Goku or a world-conquering threat. Broly is a young man who has been denied the chance to discover his own destiny by both his rulers and his father. Fast forward to the present, where – being mindful of spoilers – Broly, Goku, Vegeta and Frieza face off in a jaw-dropping, spectacular and unrelenting second act that few will forget.

A bit of work required on Broly’s ‘breaking the ice’ technique

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DBS: Broly is absolutely one of the best drawn animated movies ever. The use of 2D shading over 3D models during the excellently choreographed fight sequences is very well done. It delivers a sense of speed and detail never seen in the Dragon Ball universe. You’d be forgiven for having your jaw pushed back up from time to time, such is the quality Toei have delivered here.

As a spectacle, like many a Dragon Ball conflict, DBS: Broly feels like the build up to a boxing title match. You know for a fact there is a big fight on the way. But part of that anticipation is not knowing how it will turn out. It could be anticlimactic. It could be a fight that will live long in the memory. Somehow, over the course of its 40-minute back and forth fight sequence, DBS: Broly manages to be all of those things. It has to be seen to be believed. Slightly unfortunate however, given the shift from origin-movie drama to breakneck battle bonanza, is the resulting inconsistent change of pace. It reached a point that quite frankly feels a little overwhelming on first viewing.

DBS: Broly is an energetic, emotional and exciting thrill ride of a movie. It’s incredible to realise that Dragon Ball, a franchise that began over 30 years ago, has not only sustained its popularity, it stands to be more popular than ever before. It’s the Dragon Ball movie all fans have been waiting for. Given its rampant success so far on its theatrical run, plus the revelations of its Toriyama-penned story, there are sure to be new fans waiting in the wings.

Blu-Ray Review:-

Manga Entertainment’s release comes in various formats. There is the Blu-ray and DVD combination Steelbook, a collector’s edition Blu-ray featuring art cards and poster,  the standard Blu-ray and DVD, as well as a combination pack that includes Broly with Resurrection F and Battle of Gods. Sainsbury’s are also offering an exclusive edition featuring four art cards that are different from those included in the collector’s edition. Personally, I opted for the collector’s edition Blu-Ray release.

The transition of the movie to Blu-Ray is flawless, with both original Japanese and English dubbing tracks available. There is no ‘green tint’ that was present in the US Funimation release. Unfortunately, the UK release of the movie has no special features, which appears to have been a licensing issue.

Regardless of the lack of extras, Dragon Ball Super: Broly is a must-buy for any Dragon Ball or anime fan in general. Despite its place in the Dragon Ball canon and timeline, the movie serves as a good introduction for new fans of the series. There are plenty of emotional moments for existing fans also. The first act alone is some of the engaging Dragon Ball material ever produced. And the final act, consisting of a 35-minute strong fight scene, is breathtaking anime entertainment.

 

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The 9 Best Episodes Of ‘Batman: The Animated Series’

Remember, remember the 5th of November. A significant date for the ages. No, I’m not talking about Guy Fawkes or bonfire night. Instead I’m talking about the release of something special: Batman: The Animated Series has come to Blu-Ray.

This is not a review of that box-set, as I am not yet fortunate enough to own a copy. But it is definitely worth noting this is not some hasty dump of all 109 episodes that offers nothing more than the existing DVD collection already did. Warner Bros. have gone ALL out on this one. Every episode has been remastered, much like how Disney handle their remastered releases, giving them a new lease of life. And boy do they look fantastic.

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What always amazed me about Batman: The Animated Series, above all other animated shows, was the sound and the ambience of the show. The explosions were like nothing else on television at the time, certainly not cartoons. And the explosive launch of Batman’s grapple gun still gets me every time. You can feel them, let alone hear them. As an 11 year old upon its release, watching via the Warner Bros-sponsored UK children’s entertainment show What’s Up Doc?, it was a feast for the eyes. Now by all accounts, this box-set is just that all over again, and somehow more.

Then there are the extras, including the excellent spin-off movies Mask of the Phantasm and Sub-Zero. There are commentaries for several key episodes, several feature shows, even a 98-minute documentary that traces the origins of the show through to today’s still-existent influence. I cannot wait to get my hands on it.

In the meantime, I’ve been reacquainting myself with the series via Prime Video. Their affiliation with Warner Bros is worth the subscription alone, with the entire Batman and Justice League runs on offer, as well as several of the DC Animated Movie series. And so I offer you my pick of the 9 best episodes of Batman: The Animated Series. This does not include the movies, but does include episodes of the latter series The New Batman Adventures. Nor are they in any particular order. I’m sure my picks will differ from yours, but that’s all part of the fun, isn’t it?

Appointment in Crime Alley

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Adapted from the 1976 Denny O’Neill-penned comic story “There Is No Hope in Crime Alley”, writing legend Gerry Conway brings this tale of remembrance and reality to the small screen. Batman has an appointment to keep in Crime Alley, the location of Bruce Wayne’s parents’ murder. Corrupt businessman Roland Daggett however has plans to blow up Crime Alley in order to expand his own empire. It is in this wonderfully-scored episode that the relationship between Batman and Leslie Thompkins comes to fruition. Although a simpler episode with regards to scripting, this is an episode that instead lets its actions and soundtrack do the talking. This episode was also successfully adapted into a novel entitled Shadows of the Past, A first for the series.

Girls’ Night Out

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On a recent episode of the Kevin Smith podcast-style show, Fatman Beyond, the magnificently talented Tara Strong (the voice of Batgirl in The New Batman Adventures) declared this among her favourite episodes to work on. It’s easy to see why. Forget DC Superhero Girls, this is the ultimate Superhero girl team-up. With both Bats and Supes away, Batgirl and Supergirl come to the forefront to take on the recently-escaped Livewire. Things escalate further when Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy also join the fray. The chemistry is electric (literally, in the case of Livewire, voiced perfectly by Tank Girl’s Lori Petty), as Batgirl demonstrates her true capability as a member of the Bat family. Even more so for Supergirl, desperate to prove herself and realise her dream of becoming a hero in her own right. What better place than Gotham? Speaking of Tara Strong (who is undoubtedly the best Batgirl, in one of the few roles using her natural speaking voice), she recently also spoke of the recording sessions taking place with the cast together, as opposed to separate recordings. This is key to the entire series, and imagining such a great cast bouncing off of each other only reinforces the fantastic character chemistry throughout.

Heart of Ice

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I heavily considered this one as being my favourite episode, and is definitely up there with the best. In its first season, this is one of the few episodes that sat apart from the rest, establishing Batman: The Animated Series as a truly special series. This traumatic tale of tragedy depicts Victor Freeze as an exploited scientist, who becomes Mr Freeze after his former employer accidentally kills Freeze’s wife Nora, and also forces Victor to live on in an ice cold suit. As a result vengeance consumes him, as the now literally cold-hearted Mr Freeze will stop at nothing to harm those that harmed him and his beloved Nora. With Heart of Ice, the stakes in BAS were risen to new levels. Real drama is thrust at you, and as a fairly early episode of the show, Heart of Ice proves that the writers, Paul Dini in this case, were not kidding around. Even in a kids show. The screenplay for Heart of Ice also won a Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing. Cold as ice.

Joker’s Favor 

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Another contender for best-ever episode, Joker’s Favor is the perfect combination of everything Batman: The Animated Series is all about. Comedy, suspense, action, and in the case of Charlie Collins, a very relatable, very human protagonist. Charlie is just like you and me; living the responsibilities of an everyday working family man. After a bad day on all fronts, Charlie takes his anger out on a random driver – only to find that random driver is none other than The Joker. Now Charlie has to pay for his mistake by being on hand when the Joker comes calling. Joker’s Favor is a perfect BAS specimen; Joker wants to blow up the city, Batman needs to stop him, an innocent is inadvertently in the firing line, an all too familiar Batman tale. But its simple synopsis paves the way for a disturbing villain to be his chilling best as he terrorises Charlie into doing his bidding. But even the every-man has his limits, with Charlie’s standoff with The Joker proving that Batman isn’t the only hero in Gotham City. This episode also marked the debut of Harley Quinn into the DC Universe in an unremarkable yet subtle taste of what was to come. And although Batman does feature prominently, Joker’s Favor is a perfect tale of Gotham City. It proves that Batman: The Animated Series is not just about Batman or his Batmobile and Batcave.

Perchance to Dream

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Every series has a “dream-scape” episode. Perchance to Dream takes that plot device and adds a typically Batman mystery feel to the proceedings. Bruce Wayne wakes up one morning to find his life as Batman is no more. Why? Because his parents are still alive, that’s why. Despite his memories of being Batman, there is no Batcave to speak of, with Bruce now living the idyllic life he never had. Or so it seems, as even this new life soon unravels to reveal the truth. Perchance to Dream delivers an emotional roller-coaster for Bruce, giving him a taste of the world where he no longer needs to be The Batman. The battle between Bruce and the Batman in this new life is one of the most humanising moments in the entire series, once again proving this series is playing for keeps.

P.O.V

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Few episodes of Batman: The Animated Series delivered a different point of view from Batman or his numerous iconic villains. But P.O.V dials that concept up a notch by delivering four. After Detective Bullock rushes in alone on a planned heist without waiting for backup, who are still en route, the heist goes south. Bullock cements his place here as an unfavourable protagonist, willing to throw his fellow officers (and Batman) to the wolves (not literally) in order to protect himself and his self-proclaimed image. In the face of disciplinary action, all parties tell their side of the story to divulge what really happened. The concept of P.O.V is hardly ground-breaking. And yet its quirkiness and purpose of humanising the GCPD, particularly Montoya as potential detective material, shines throughout.

Robin’s Reckoning Part 1

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Boasting some of the best animation in the entire series, this first half of Robin’s origin recap centres on some of the most tragic material also. Robin’s Reckoning displays intensity and sorrow like never before as flashbacks depict Dick Grayson’s defining tragedy. In a show that has very few clear-cut deaths to speak of, here we see the fate of Dick’s parents with their deaths taking place just off-screen. Couple that with Robin’s heart-rending dialogue as he recounts feeling the guilt of his parents’ death every single day, and you’ve got yourself one hell of a roller-coaster ride. And this is just part 1. All of the feels.

The Man Who Killed Batman

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What begins as a cautionary tale to the super-villains of Gotham descends into some of the show’s funniest moments. When small-time gang help Sidney Debris supposedly (and accidentally) causes Batman’s demise, Sidney, now dubbed the “Squid” given his developed reputation, seeks out Rupert Thorne and The Joker to tell all. Naturally, neither believe him, with The Joker becoming somewhat despondent at the news. The Man Who Killed Batman plays out in a similar manner to P.O.V, with Sidney’s flashback taking up the first half. But it’s Mark Hamill’s Joker, as is often the case, who steals the show with some of his best scenes. Joker’s eulogy for Batman is terrific viewing, and further cements Hamill’s Joker is the best Joker. Having seemingly disposed of Sidney, with Harley performing Amazing Grace on a Kazoo, Joker then declares “Well that was fun. Who’s for Chinese?” Genius. Pure Genius.

Two Face Part 1

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Like the first part of Robin’s Reckoning, the Two-Face origin story is one that began in the very first episode, On Leather Wings. There, a scene takes place with District Attorney Harvey Dent, repeatedly flipping his trademark coin during a discussion at City Hall. But here is where one face becomes two, as Harvey struggles to contain his anger in the eyes of the press as he seeks re-election. Following Rupert Thorne’s threat to reveal to the press that Harvey has been diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder, Harvey cannot repress his anger any longer, and “Big Bad Harv” takes hold for good. Despite Batman’s intervention (and Harvey being one of Bruce’s closest friends), an electrical fire scars Harvey’s entire left side, thus creating Two-Face. There are several 2-part stories in Batman: The Animated Series, and Two-Face is up there with the best. Being only the 10th episode, this half was another episode that cemented the show’s quality. Immaculately acted, brilliantly animated, with tension you simply rarely see in cartoons anymore. I must add that there is nothing wrong with Two-Face part 2, but given only a few BAS villains have their origins told in its present time, this is a special one. And as Two-Face origins go, it beats both Nolan’s and Schumacher’s efforts.

And there you have it. Picking just 9 standout episodes from 109 (almost 10%) wasn’t easy. But I certainly had fun watching them again to come up with this list. As an 11 year this show was all about Batman and how cool and dark he was. The cool villains and the gadgets. If Tim Burton’s Batman and Batman Returns were my starter, this was the main course. Now, as a 37 year old adult, I see Batman: The Animated Series for what it was truly intended to be: It’s not all about Batman. It’s Batman’s city, Gotham City, which is on show. The film-noir style and vintage timelessness is simply a joy to watch with each and every episode. Now I just need to get my hands on that Blu-Ray set. Anyone got £60 they could lend me?

Batman: The Animated Series on Blu-Ray is available now from Amazon and many other retailers.