Halloween special: tale of the bakeneko


SekienNekomataSeeing as it’s Halloween this week, I thought it’d be appropriate to take a look at one of my favourite creatures from Japanese folklore – the bakeneko or “monster cat”. There’s no shortage of demon and ghost stories in Japan but there’s also no shortage of blog posts rounding up all of said stories. As a cat-lover and a blogger who has shamefully not written about Japanese folklore for a long time, I decided to go with the bakeneko.

The tale of the bakeneko stems from a very old belief in Japan that cats that live to an old age develop supernatural powers and transform into demons, or yokai. A cat that has recently become a bakeneko may look like a regular cat but they soon begin to walk on their hind legs and can grow very large, sometimes as big as a human. They often disguise themselves as humans, even their own masters, and dress up with towels on their heads and dance around.

Doesn’t sound too scary so far, does it? But, wait, there’s more! Many bakeneko learn to speak the human language and eat things much bigger than them, even poisonous things, without any difficulty at all. There’s nothing to stop them from eating their own master, either, then take their form and live in their place. If they don’t kill their owner, they’ll probably bring down curses and great misfortunes on them. Add to the list of damages the abilities to summon ghostly fireballs and reanimate fresh corpses, you can see why the bakeneko were considered to be a menace to any house they lived in or near.

076-bakenekoSo, how did people spot a bakeneko? If your cat lived a long life (generally over 13 years), grew to a certain size, licked up large quantities of lamp oil or had an exceptionally long tail, you might start to worry. The last sign led to a custom of bobbing a cats tail at an early age to prevent it from transforming into a yokai. This might explain the popularity of bobtail cats in Japan.

One particularly terrifying breed of bakeneko is the neko-mata, or “fork-tailed cat”, which grew to immense sizes and retreated to the mountains where they feasted on bears and, of course, wandering humans.

Unsurprisingly, the story of the bakeneko inspired Japanese art and theatre. In the Edo period, bakeneko often appeared in ukiyo-e art, usually hiding in the background to portray human nature, and bakeneko prostitutes haunting Yoshiwara also featured in books. The succession conflict of the Nabeshima household in the 19th century inspired the kabuki play Hana Sagano Nekoma Ishibumi Shi, which set the stage for bakeneko being popular monsters for future performances.

Here is one famous bakeneko tale to get you in the mood for Halloween: “A famous bake-neko story involves a man named Takasu Genbei, whose pet cat of many years went missing just as his mother’s personality changed completely. The woman shunned company and took her meals alone in her room, and when the curious family peered in on her, they saw not a human being but a feline monster in the old lady’s clothes, chewing on animal carcasses. Takasu, with much reluctance, slew what looked like his mother, and after a day had passed the body turned back into the same pet cat that had gone missing. After that Takasu miserably tore up the tatami mats and the floorboards in his mother’s room, only to find the old woman’s bones hidden there, gnawed clean of flesh.”

kabuki-bakenekoHappy Halloween!

Image sources: monstropedia, yokai.com, hyakumonogatari

WIN! Buddhist Wisdom book


It’s competition time again, courtesy of Tuttle Publishing. Here’s your chance to win a little book of Buddhist wisdom. Also, two blog posts in a day? Aren’t you lucky?

Buddhism Wisdom

This little book of Buddhist wisdom would make a perfect stocking filler present (yes, I’m thinking about that already) or bedside table buddy. You can read one reflection each day, or open to any page to find the insight, comfort or guidance you’re looking for. It also offers a quick and easy way to incorporate the teachings of the Buddha into your daily life, with a brief introduction to Buddhist practice and a calendar of events to observe throughout the year. Buddhism is a tradition that offers all individuals, regardless of religion, a way of exploring the true role and purpose of our lives as human beings. The reflections have been drawn from a range of sources widely regarded as the most accurate recorded versions of Buddha’s teachings.

This book is great for someone who leads a busy life but can nonetheless spare 15 seconds a day to read just one reflection (which we all can). The book’s the ideal size too, probably the smallest competition prize on this blog so far!

For over 60 years, Tuttle has published more than 6,000 books and today maintains an active backlist of around 2,000 titles. Many of the books originally published by Charles E. Tuttle in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s remain popular today—a great testament to his skill as a publisher. The company now produces 150 new titles each year, most of which still focus on the areas of Asian interest that Tuttle has long been known for—everything from Asian literature and language learning to cooking, art, crafts and design.

For your chance to win a copy, all you have to do is like Tuttle Publishing on Facebook and comment below by 9pm Sunday 26 Sunday.

‘Mistress of creepy manga’ Junko Mizuno in London this week!


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PRESS RELEASE

From the 20th to the 28th October 2014, the Atomica Gallery in London is showcasing the works of celebrated Japanese artist Junko Mizuno, known for her erotic female characters and blending of cute and horrific imagery. “Belle: The Art of Junko Mizuno” will bring together a diverse selection of multimedia works from her esteemed career, and its opening night on the 20th will be attended by Jonathan Ross as well as Junko herself.

Junko will also be appearing at a Comica Festival exclusive talk and book-signing event taking place at Foyles Bookshop on Wednesday the 22nd of October. To attend the opening reception on Monday 20th please join the Facebook event here or email rsvp@atomicagallery.com

Siro-A are back in town!


You may remember I blogged about a fantastic performance taking place at Leicester Square Theatre in London last year called Siro-A. The only way I can describe it is the most mind-blowing and often hilarious light/dance/techno/special effects show I’ve ever seen. The very good news is that Siro-A has returned to London for a third time and, whether or not you’ve seen or even heard of them before, they’re not to be missed.

Siro-A combines theatrical performance with experimental music and dramatic visual effects, although frankly this description doesn’t do this show justice. I can say for certain that it’s like nothing you’ll have ever seen on a London stage before. Through dance, mime and puppetry, Siro-A draw their audience right into their performance. So, if you step through the doors and one of the performers try and get you over to a suspicious looking photo booth, just go with it. I won’t tell you why as it’ll spoil the surprise…

Siro-A’s one hour show is a mixture of mind-blowing dance sequences, comedy acts and audience participation. A British audience probably won’t expect a camera to be tuned on them or for their own faces to be suddenly used in the show. Be warned, you might get chosen! As a semi-regular theatre goer, the actors really broke the fourth wall and did something completely different. The younger audience members loved it but I think it was a bit of a shock to some of the more serious older members. In my opinion, the amazing techno dance sequences were my favourite part of the show but each act is completely different. There are both group and solo performances, so you get to see each of the six individual guy’s talents.

SIRO-A61-950x633

Having seen Siro-A last year, I was a bit worried I’d be watching more or less the same show as last year. Amazingly, most of the material was brand new and even more advanced and insane than ever. The best new performance for me was the ‘movie tribute’ (feat. Disney’s Frozen!) but the good old fashioned favourites like ‘Barcode Man’ remained. The show is over all too quickly in just one hour but it really is worth every penny. Plus, you can grab dinner beforehand in China Town. What’s not to like?

Siro-A are performing more or less every day in London until 11 January 2015, so you’ve got no excuse not to go! This is one of those rare spectacles you rarely see in England, so click here to buy your tickets now!

From the New World – the best anime


from-new-world-frontEvery couple of years you come across an anime series that ticks all the boxes; moving story, real dilemmas, fantastic yet believable, beautiful animation, well-developed characters, emotive soundtrack. ‘From the New World’, a new release from MVM Entertainment, is that series for me. I’ve watched my fair share of anime over what must be the last decade, so I’m fairly confident I can identify between a very good and masterful series. ‘From the New World’ just blows everything else I’ve seen out of the water (rivalling my much-loved ‘Kids on the Slope’ and ‘Full Metal Alchemist’).

‘From the New World’ is set in Japan a thousand years in the future and is a perfect blend of fantasy, slice-of-life and drama. People live in small, seemingly idyllic villages, and have developed telekinetic powers, rendering technology irrelevant. But not everything is as perfect as it seems. Children who lag behind in school mysteriously vanish and are forgotten by their peers, people are forbidden to venture beyond the barriers erected around their village, tales of monster cats and ogres terrify children and adults alike, and no one really seems to know how their idyllic society came into being. Five school children; Saki, Shun, Satoru, Maria and Mamoru capture a fabled ‘false minoshiro’ on a camping trip and learn the bloody history of their world and are drawn deep into a world of subterfuge, secrecy and unimaginable horror.

This series has the most fleshed-out and mature story I have ever come across, which probably isn’t surprising as it’s based on a famous Japanese novel of the same name. The novel was written by Yusuke Kishi in 2008 and won the Nihon SF Taisho Award but sadly doesn’t seem to have been translated into English. Fortunately, I think its anime adaption is flawless and can’t imagine anybody not enjoying it. I can’t reveal too much about the series without taking away a lot of the delight of you (the watcher) discovering things for yourself but I can at least pick out a few of my favourite things about ‘From the New World’.

EP211There are so many layers to the story and there is no shortage of twists and turns. One of the biggest reveals comes right in the last five minutes of the series, which really throws you and makes you question so much of the world. Children obviously play a very important part of the story, particularly how they are treated by the adult world. While our main characters start off as innocent twelve-year olds, we see them mature to fourteen years to their mid-twenties, which impacts their relationships with each other and the seemingly perfect world around them. Each character is fleshed out very well and unique and, while there are comedic moments, this is by no means a simplistic “high school romance” series. Some of the children are weaker and more selfish but this is what made them feel so real to me, and is the reason you’ll become so attached to them all.

from-the-new-worldThis brings me right onto my next favourite thing about the series; the world itself. It does have a Orwellian feel to it in that, while everything seems perfect on the surface, there are far darker forces at work beneath it. Having the main characters progress through this world from children to adults makes this even more effective. Then there are the legends of ogres and demons, who have supposedly not been seen for centuries but are a constant invisible threat, as well as mysterious creatures such as the ‘false minoshiro’ that should not have evolved in the short space of a thousand years. Finally, the monster rats, genetically-engineered creatures that serve humanity play an increasingly important role in the story’s progression. I became so invested in the entire world, which is as well-developed and clearly-thought out as fantasy masterpieces like ‘The Lord of the Rings’ and ‘The Name of the Wind’. Still, ‘From the New World’ is just rooted enough in the real world to be believable and feel that it’s not entirely on a different planet.

I’m warning you now, this show will probably make you cry but it’s worth it. ‘From the New World’ has immediately climbed to the top of my ‘favourite shows ever’ list and I urge you all to watch it for yourselves. It’s available from MVM Entertainment in two parts, twenty five episodes in all, and is well worth the money. Definitely one for the birthday/Christmas/impulse buy list!

Score: a massive 10/10!

Image source: MVM Entertainmentphotobucket, thenextthingblog

Book review – Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage


TazakiWhenever I try to explain Haruki Murakami books to someone who hasn’t read any before, I tend to sum them up as “contemporary Japanese stories with a lot of weird dream sex”. Is this a fair description of a typical Haruki Murakami book? Based on the couple of books of his I’ve read, which have involved incest, seducing a forty year old piano teacher, and a man having sex with one woman in a dream but impregnating another, yes! A typical Murakami novel makes you question what’s real and what’s the dream. They’re certainly weird but I’ve generally enjoyed his novels, even if they leave a lot unanswered at the end.

So, when I bought Haruki Murakami’s ‘Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage’, I had high hopes. Were they met? Well, no. In fact, I was bored for most of the story. I almost didn’t review this book because I really don’t like posting reviews where I’m more negative than positive. Plus, this is the prolific Haruki Murakami, so I’d better have a good reason for not liking this book – right?

The premise of the book is intriguing and, knowing it is a Murakami work, it’s fair to assume that nothing is what is seems. The book opens with the main character, Tsukuru Tazaki, looking back on his teenage years and his four close friends who suddenly cut off all contact with him with no explanation. By chance all of their names contained a colour. The two boys were called Akamatsu, meaning ‘red pine’, and Oumi, ‘blue sea’, while the girls’ names were Shirane, ‘white root’, and Kurono, ‘black field’. Tazaki was the only last name with no colour in it.

What has prompted him to look back on this event in his thirties? The woman he is dating, Sara, can’t have sex with him because she feels he is elsewhere and has unresolved issues. So, Tazaki travels back to his home in Nagoya to find out. After a bit more reading, you learn that Tsukuru spent a long time contemplating suicide and changed beyond all recognition in the year after his friends dumped him. Then, after he recovers and makes one friend at university in Tokyo, he has a weird sexual dream about him and the friend also suddenly leaves him without explanation. My first thought was why on earth is this guy just “oh, OK, my best friends don’t want to see me ever again but I never questioned why, then I thought about killing myself but never wondered if the two were connected, then the only friend I made also suddenly abandoned me. That’s just the way it is. Oh, well”.

Now, I appreciate that Tazaki isn’t meant to be ‘normal’ but, having read a few Murakami books, this ‘emotionless man with strange sexual fantasies who doesn’t question anything’ seems to appear in every one of his books. “I’m having an affair with my wife and know it’s wrong but, oh, well” or “I had sex with one woman in a dream but another one somehow got pregnant? Oh, well.” There’s a difference between a character who you generally believe cannot connect with the real world and him being almost indistinguishable from the author’s other main characters.

Alright, so I’m not keen on the main character and narrator but what about the story itself? Is it classic weird and gripping Murakami? Well, it’s certainly weird but I was not at all gripped. I’d go far as saying that, if I hadn’t read any Murakami before, I’d probably have put it down. There is so much exposition in the first fifty or so pages, where Tazaki simply describes his friends’ personalities and how he met Sara. When the story moves on to Tazaki’s fact-finding mission, I simply wasn’t intrigued enough by the story. It was an interesting mystery, yes, but it really lacked any of the ‘what is real?’ element that I love about Murakami books. There is a juicy development with one of Tazaki’s friends halfway through, which I can’t elaborate on without massively ruining the plot, but it is not at all resolved and I actually wondered whether Murakami had even decided what had happened and decided not to reveal to the reader.

To summarise, I felt pretty let down by this book and that it was one of Murakami’s weaker works. Then again, it did sell a million copies in Japan in its first week, so maybe I’m completely wrong? Of course, I’d recommend Murakami fans read it so they can judge for themselves (books are very subjective, after all) but not to someone who has never read his books before. Incidentally, if you were wondering, my personal favourites are ‘The Wind-up Bird Chronicles’ or ‘Kafka on the Shore’, before you berate me for bashing the talent that is Haruki Murakami.

 

 

Book review – Ningyo: The Art of the Japanese Doll


NINGYOI received an absolute treat in the post last week; an absolutely beautiful book about the history of Japanese dolls, ningyo.

Japanese ningyo are instantly recognisably by the mysterious and intricate beauty, and you are inevitably drawn to the tiniest details in the face, clothes or item they are holding. They have played a very important part in Japanese history and culture, and still do today. I knew very little about the ningyo themselves, so this book is an absolute treasure trove of information.

‘Ningyo: The Art of the Japanese Doll’  is the first comprehensive book on these dolls published in English and focuses on six of the primary categories of dolls:

- Gosho-ningyo: Palace Dolls and Auspicious Wishes

- Hina-ningyo: Dolls for Girl’s Day Festival

- Musha-ningyo: Warrior Dolls for the Boy’s Day Festival

- Isho-ningyo: Fashion Dolls and Popular Culture

- Ningyo in the theatre: Entertaining the Gods and Man

- Ningyo and health: Dolls as Talisman and Tool

As soon as I unboxed this book, I could tell it was a labour of love. With 275 pictures of various ningyo and other familiar Japanese scenes and an immaculate hardback cover, it is a book you can return to again and again knowing you will always read and spot something new. It’s definitely too big to fit on your bookshelf, nestled among (I assume) your Haruki Murakami and manga, but it’s perfect for displaying on the coffee table and showing off to your guests. This is a book that needs to be seen and have pride and place in your reading area, wherever that may be.

That said, this isn’t just a pretty picture book but also a history book (and a very thorough one at that). ‘Ningyo’ explores everything from the nature of materials used to create the dolls, to what they teach us about people from that period, to their spiritual purpose. Japanese doll culture raises three important historical and cultural issues: worship, play and visual appreciation. The earliest ningyo date back to 12000-250BC but most surviving dolls, and the focus of this book, are from the Edo period. As a history graduate and Japanophile, this is the pretty much for the perfect book for me.

The brains behind this book are Alan Scott Pate, a leading expert on Japanese dolls in the US and owner of the Japanese antique firm Akanezumiya in Montana, and Lynton Gardiner, a Manhattan-based photographer specialising in arts and culture material. Alan has an MA in East Asian Studies from Harvard University, curated exhibitions and lectured extensively on Japanese dolls, and Lynton has photographed for big name clients all over the world. So, we know we’re in safe, knowledgeable hands.

Because there’s so much brilliant information in ‘Ningyo’, and I’m still reading through it myself, I thought the best way to review this would be to work briefly through each of the six sections and tell you a little bit about the dolls.

 Gosho-ningyo 

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Ningyo, including gosho-ningyo, or ‘palace dolls’, are unusual in the doll world as, rather than being playthings for children, they are set pieces for adults. They depict children pretending to be adults, which is why the dolls in this section of the book really do look ‘child-like’. Gosho-ningyo reflect the Japanese appreciation for childlike innocence. Also, visiting daimyo, samurai warlords, to the imperial court were required to bring gifts as tribute and often gave gosho-ningyo holding particular items to convey a particular message or wish for the recipient; such as health, fertility or success for a son. In later history, they also depicted gods and figures of legends, often appearing in sets. Importantly, gasho-ningyo were received as gifts and kept as talismans.

Hina-ningyo

photo (5)

Literally meaning ‘girl dolls’, hina-ningyo are special dolls made for the Girl’s Festival (hina matsuri) in Japan. The hina matsuri, seen as a day of purification and steeped in talisman and ritual history, is linked with the traditions of the Japanese court; court practices and government restrictions played a role in the development of these dolls. The earliest festivals were effectively a mock court wedding, preparing girls for married life. Dolls were seen to help protect children and newborn babies from disease and evil forces in ages where the infant mortality rate was high. This is why ‘amagatsu’ were placed alongside the hina-ningyo at the hina matsuri as they were believed to carry away the evil spirits from the afterworld afflicting children. Hina dolls were usually depicted in pairs, as male and female.

Musha-ningyo

photo (6)

Where the hina-ningyo are symbols of the hina matsuri, musha-ningyo are symbols of the Boy’s Festival (Gogatsu-no-getsu). These figures typically depicted figures of Japan’s martial past and also served as temporary vessels for their spirits, protecting and purifying the houses that welcomed them. The Gogatsu-no-getsu festival was a celebration of samurai as protectors, as well as boy’s courage and determination. Famous samurai such as Musashibo Benkei, Minamoto no Yoshitsune and Toyotomi Hideyoshi all received the musha-ningyo treatment.

Isho-ningyo

As we’ve already read, ningyo weren’t so much playthings as they were informative. What began in the seventeenth century as wood-carved figures depicting lively costuming and hairstyles of the day evolved into a sophisticated illustration of nearly every topic from kimono fashion to plays on the kabuki stage. These were the isho-ningyo. Clothing was the focus of the earlier Edo period isho-ningyo, and dolls were designed to be eye-catching and beautiful, but by the end of the seventeenth century they had evolved to depict characters from popular stories and legends.

Ningyo in the theatre

Ningyo were not necessarily always stationary, they were also used for entertainment. Mechanical dolls were originally imported from China and the establishment of the establishment of a theatres in Osaka saw the rise of elaborate plays involving large mechanical dolls, which delighted audiences. This form of puppetry was known as ningyo joruri, or bunraku, which was influenced by early Buddhist traditions  of using puppets to help monks communicate with the gods. Bunraku puppet plays often involved the most dramatic and complex stories, and yet they were expertly communicated not through human actors but elaborately constructed puppets.

Ningyo and health

We’ve already read that ningyo were often used to ward off evil and act as vessels of the dead, so it not a big surprise that they also performed duties as health talismans. Ningyo were culturally empowered to absorb or divert disease and the malevolent, thereby purifying the individual.  Red-coloured ningyo, hoso-ningyo, primarily protected children from smallpox and measles as the colour had much symbolic power attached to it. Other examples of ningyo used to aid health include those allowing people to study the human body as early as the sixteenth century, and even mechanical sex dolls.

So, today we’ve learned that ningyo were not merely playthings but symbolic works of art in Japanese culture. I’d go so far as to say that this is the best thing I have received through my Japan blogging journey. A massive thank you to Jo and Tuttle Publishing for giving me a rare opportunity to review such an amazing book. You can expect a few more ningyo-related blog posts from me in the next few weeks, as there are many more things in this book I want to share!

This beautiful book is a must-have for any fan of Japanese culture (I’m looking at all my fellow Japan bloggers)! It really is worth buying and displaying proudly in your home and seeing for yourself, or buying for a Japan-loving friend as a birthday/Christmas present. At $52.94 (£32.11), it’s 200% worth the money! Click here to get yours!

 

 

HYPER JAPAN is back for Christmas!


22f58ccc-89d5-453c-bbad-2b41fb4bc2e7It’s back! The HYPER JAPAN Christmas Market is officially returning to London for Christmas this year! You can buy your tickets here.

From Friday 14 to Sunday 16 November, you’ll be able to get all your Japan-themed Christmas shopping done (and indulge yourself!) at the Kensington Olympia’s National Hall.

Bringing together diverse exhibitors, sellers, performers and fans, HYPER JAPAN Christmas Market will show off the best of both traditional and contemporary Japan in the heart of London. Visitors will be able to experience diverse elements of Japan’s culture in a single venue, and HYPER JAPAN Christmas Market particularly focuses on gift ideas and exclusive goods with a Japanese theme to them, timed just right for one’s seasonal shopping.

Whether it’s shopping, food and drink, fashion or entertainment, you can get it all at HYPER JAPAN.

This event is a firm favourite of mine. I was disappointed I couldn’t make the one in July, so doubly looking forward to November!

Tickets on sale tomorrow! Final Fantasy: A New World


New World
A New World: intimate music from FINAL FANTASY returns to London for an up-close and personal Halloween performance, featuring the extraordinary music, characters, and settings of over 25 years of FINAL FANTASY, scored for a variety of chamber ensembles. Limited number VIP tickets for best seats and post-show meet and greet with Arnie Roth and Nobuo Uematsu available!

This most intimate experience of FINAL FANTASY music promises many of the favorites from last February’s London World Premiere concerts and recording as well as the World Premiere of FINAL FANTASY V: Home Sweet Home, plus so much more!

The concert is taking place on Friday 31 October at St. John’s Smith Square. Tickets for the concert only are priced at £25, 45, 50.

Tickets go on sale on Friday 29 August at 10am, so get in quick as they won’t be there long!

I’m posting this from a computer that won’t accept hyperlinks, so please make do with an unprofessional long link to the website for ticket sales: http://www.sjss.org.uk/events/new-world-intimate-music-final-fantasy

Double anime review: Accel World and Btooom!


Seeing as I have a few anime reviews to get through, I thought I’d try something different this week. I recently watched Accel World and Btoom! from MVM Entertainment, both series about video games and virtual worlds… so I thought I’d make them fight each other! We’ll go through a couple of key points about each series and give them ratings out of 10, then tally it up to pick a winning show.

Source: accel-world.net

Source: accel-world.net

Accel World is the brain child of Sunrise Studios (Cowboy Bebop, Code Geass) and Flying Dog (.hack, Sengoku Basara) set in the not-so-far future of 2046. Haruyuki Arita is a young boy who finds himself on the lowest social rungs of his school. Ashamed of his miserable life, he can only cope by indulging in virtual games. But that all changes when Kuroyukihime, the most popular girl in school, introduces him to a mysterious program called Brain Burst and a virtual reality called the Accel World.

btooom-anime

btooom-anime

Btooom! is also from is also the product of Flying Dog and Madhouse Studios (Cardcaptor Sakura, Metropolis movie) and based around a video game. Ryouta Sakamoto suddenly finds himself stranded on a mysterious island, equipped with a day’s worth of provisions, a bag of bombs, a strange crystal embedded in his left hand and a huge gaping hole in his memory. But it doesn’t take long to figure out what’s going on. Someone is attempting to recreate the ultra-violent Btoom! game in real life, and the island has been filled with an army of other unwilling players, each armed with one of the multiple variants of explosive weapons called BIM. There’s only one way off the island: kill seven other people before they can kill you! Can Ryouta repurpose his game based skills fast enough to survive?

Plot

In some ways, these two shows are quite similar in terms of plot as both revolve around teenagers’ obsession with video games and how it affects them in the real world.

Source: wegame

Source: wegame

In Accel World, teenagers wear special necklaces that hook them up to the internet and a virtual world where everyone has their own avatar. Some of them have a special programme called “Brain Burst” installed, which takes things to the next level with a virtual fighting game. The story starts by explaining the concept of the game, such as levelling up and clans, then moves on to virus and hackers. There’s a fair amount of plot and thematic progression, so each episode (26 in total) feels like part of a story and there’s very little filler, giving it a 7/10.

Btooom-anime2

blogspot

Btooom! has a slightly darker plot as the characters are uprooted from their normal lives and thrown onto an island where they have to kill each other in order to escape. There’s definitely a “Battle Royale”-esque element to it all and no shortage of insane people wanting to kill each other. You can’t escape and recuperate in the safety of the real world here, as you can in Accel World, which makes the whole scenario feel that much more hopeless and dangerous. All in all, a good action anime. For that reason, I’m giving Btooom! 8/10.

Characters

To be honest, I didn’t feel either series had exceptionally strong main characters. The main draw for me was the worlds in which they were set but everybody has different tastes.

Source: Gematsu

Source: Gematsu

Accel World has a more intriguing leading male character. Haruyuki is quite possibly the only fat main character I’ve come across in anime, which is quite refreshing. He starts off extremely whiny as you might expect but he does learn to stand up for himself eventually. Plus, his avatar in the online world is a pig, which is super cute.  The leading female character, Kuroyukihime, is your rather stereotypical ‘serious cool pretty girl’ – cut from the same cloth of a lot of other anime girls but certainly not a bad character in herself. The thing I struggled to accept the most about the whole series is actually her OTT confession of love for Haruyuki early on in the series. I appreciate anything can happen in anime but talk about an ‘odd couple’.

I actually preferred the secondary characters in Accel World, namely the other avatars such as Red Rider and Dusk Taker who I found a bit more three dimensional. If you’re not overly fussed about super developed characters but like seeing lots of different avatars fighting, Accel World is your kind of show. I’m going to give it a collective 7/10 for characterisation.

BTOOOM-Sakamoto-dodges-Himiko

Source:blogspot

Btooom! really let itself down in terms of characters for me. For a supposed NEET, Ryouta is very good-looking and pretty well built, which made his character itself a bit more unbelievable. That said, he isn’t completely two dimensional in that he’s only ever angry or mopey and goes through a lot of emotions during his time on the island – angry, distressed, terrified, resolute etcetc. Our heroine Himiko, however, is a complete pain in the backside. There has never been a more useless and dim female character in anime. It’s very hard to take her seriously when her breasts (bigger than her head) are bouncing about every two seconds and, better yet, reflecting bombs and defying gravity.

To be fair, Btooom! only has 13 episodes to develop its characters whereas Accel World has 26 but I still felt it was lacking for good leading characters. Again, I preferred the secondary characters like the bumbling businessman Taira and mysterious Nobutaka. The anime is based on a still-running manga and, to its credit, ends mid-series so there is a lot left to be explained about characters in the series. Still, I can’t give it more than a 5/10.

Animation

Both series have very lovely animation and great fight scenes – always a plus!

Source: mediacache

Source: mediacache

Accel World’s benefitted from some well-known art directors. Nobutaka Ike worked on the likes of Paprika and Takafumi Nishima on Monster and Steins Gate. I particularly enjoyed the fight scenes, which were very sharp. 8/10.

Source: blogspot

Source: blogspot

I really loved the animation for Btoom! The island looks beautiful, the characters sharp and deaths gory without being over the top. For this, it draws with Accel World and gets a nice 8/10.

Music

Accel World has a fantastic soundtrack, some of my favourite songs being ‘Silvery Wings’ and ‘Blood History’. There’s a big range of orchestral, jazz and guitar music thrown in there. It gets another 8/10 for this.

My favourite song from Btooom! is actually its opening theme, which really ‘gets you pumping’ as they say. I didn’t think the soundtrack was spectacular compared to Accel World, so will give it a 6/10.

And the winner is…

I’d heard good things about Accel World, so was keen to check it out when MVM released it. Overall, I enjoyed it and marathoned the whole series in three nights – a good sign. I’m one of those people who is drawn in by animation and music as much as plot, and for this reason the series wins with a collective 30/40!

Btooom! caught my eye from the beginning because of its plot and cool opening theme. The manga has very positive reviews but I feel the anime didn’t live entirely up to its potential because it only had 13 episodes to work with and had a girl with breasts that defied physics. If you like explosions and action anime, it’s still worth checking out with a healthy Sophie rating of 27/40.