WIN Hakuouki seasons 1, 2 and 3!


It’s my birthday this week and you know what that means – competition time! This one’s the best one yet and comes courtesy of the fantastic guys at MVM Entertainment, who’ve licensed one of my all-time favourite anime series, ‘Hakuoki’.

Up for grabs is not only the first season, but the second (‘Hakuoki Hekketsuroku’) and third (‘Hakuoki Reimeiroku’) as well! That’s almost the entire series, excluding the OVA, which you will also be able to buy in the near future. Read on for the review and details of how to enter…

Chizuru Yukimura has come to Kyoto looking for her father, a doctor who has gone missing. While there, she witnesses a fight between an Oni and the Shinsengumi. Taking her into custody, the Shinsengumi debates on what to do with Chizuru, when they discover that she is the daughter of the doctor for whom they are also looking. The Shinsengumi then take Chizuru along on their search after the missing doctor, from adventure to adventure.

The ‘Hakuoki’ anime series is loosely based on the history of the Shinsengumi, the ‘secret police’ of the late Tokugawa Shogunate and their struggle against the changing times as western culture permeates Japan. In terms of dates, characters and battles, its fairly accurate, which is good news for history fans. The whole demon thing obviously isn’t accurate but, compared to how ridiculous and over the top other ‘historical action’ series can be (*cough cough* Sengoku Basara) you can’t poke too many holes in it.

In case in wasn’t incredibly accurate by all the beautiful bishounen men on the DVD cover, ‘Hakuoki’ also sits comfortably in the romance category. The TV series is based on a Japanese dating sim video game, ‘Hakuoki ~ Shinsengumi Kitan ~ Demon of the Fleeting Blossom’. Samurai, romance, history? I’m sold!

The good news is this series isn’t just easy on the eye, although I’d definitely say this is one for the girls. It’s got action, great fight scenes, a decent historical backdrop, a fantastic soundtrack and beautiful art. The seasons develop well and each stand out on their own; where the first season sets the scene, the second gets a lot darker and ‘Game of Thrones’-esque, and the third is in fact a prequel to the first series. There are hours of viewing material in each of the DVDs and each episode brings you something new and different, so there’s no lull or time to get bored in between episodes. Out of the lot, season two is by far my personal favourite.

How to enter

Simply like MVM Entertainment on Facebook then leave a comment below this blog post telling us you’ve done so! Get your entries in by 7pm Friday 28 March. So, get liking, sharing and watching!

A massive thanks to MVM Entertainment for providing an amazing prize. You can check out their other fantastic titles here!

‘Another': anime review


another_animeSince I started studying for a Diploma last month, my anime-watching time has been somewhat reduced and I’ve been a lot more selective in my viewing habits. This was why I chose to watch ‘Another’, a recent release from MVM Entertainment, among all the other great shows available to buy at the moment.

‘Another’ is an unpredictable and, at times, heart-stopping paranormal horror story crammed into just 12 episodes. Right from the first episode, I was hooked and blitzed through the whole series in just two nights. The balance between concise story-telling and not throwing the entire plot in front of the audience in the first 20 minutes, a trap that a lot of short anime series fall into, is almost perfect.

When Kouichi Sasakibara transfers to his new school, he can sense something frightening in the atmosphere of his new class, a secret none of them will talk about. At the center is the beautiful girl Mei Misaki. Kouichi is immediately drawn to her mysterious aura, but then he begins to realize that no one else in the class is aware of her presence.

The less I elaborate on the plot, the better. This really isn’t just because I can’t be bothered to write a long review but because it takes a few episodes to fully comprehend what’s going on in the school and who all the characters are. All I will say is nothing is as it seems and the ending is impactful yet leaves the right amount of mystery, although I did see one or two of the plot twists coming. It is in fact based on a Japanese novel of the same name by Yukito Ayatsuji and, from what my internet research has told me, sticks very close to the plot, so that might also be a read too!

SceneI’m a big fan of the psychological horror anime series which have a good balance of gratuitious blood, hysterical school girls and comedy, like ‘Higurashi no Naku Koro ni’ and ‘Mirai Nikki’, so if you’ve enjoyed either of those shows ‘Another’ will be right up your alley. This show also wins extra points for some very creative deaths and, even if you can end up reading the comments in Youtube and spoil yourself (not recommended!), you’ll spend a lot of your time half-hiding behind a cushion.

The animation and soundtrack also add to the eerie ghost story effect, as does the mysterious character design for Mei herself. The only thing I didn’t like about the show was actually the way it was all wrapped up – I’m all for leaving some mystery but I was actually just confused, and a little bit annoyed. For this reason, ‘Another’ gets an impressive 9/10.

Arakawa Under the Bridge review


th (11)‘Arakawa Under the Bridge’ is one of those anime series that is so bizarre that it makes absolutely no sense, and yet there’s some deep hidden meaning behind the insanity that it actually makes a  great amount of sense. Does that make any sense at all? I thought not.

Right from the beginning, this show is crazy. The scene opens with Kou Ichinomiya, self-proclaimed ‘perfect’ heir to a great family business empire, standing on Arakawa bridge and having a long inner monologue about how he owes his success to his family motto: never be indebted to anyone. The shot pans out and we learn his trousers have been stolen and a girl has hooked them on her fishing line to save them, but he won’t take them back because then he’d be indebted to her. He then falls off the bridge and is saved by the girl, who says he can repay her by living with her under the bridge as her lover.

Welcome to ‘Arakawa Under the Bridge’. Leave your sanity by the door because you won’t need it.

This is really as far as we go in terms of plot, excluding the last few episodes which I won’t spoil for you, but this really isn’t a bad thing as what makes ‘Arakawa’ so great is its bizarre range of characters. Kou’s new girlfriend claims to be a Venusian, and therefore has no idea what having a boyfriend actually entails and seems permanently spaced out. The ‘chief’ is a kappa, at least we think he is until we see he is wearing a zip-up costume, but he continues to insist he really is a kappa. Hoshi has a bright yellow star shaped head, plays guitar and wears a tshirt that has ‘ore no tshirt’ on it (that more or less translates to ‘my tshirt’). ‘Sister’ is a war veteran dressed as a nun, and is in love with the beautiful farm girl Maria, who is an absolute sadist. Add to the mix two twins with tin cans on their heads and have escaped from a laboratory, and a man who can only walk on white lines, and it’s clearly pretty mental under the bridge.

However, the show actually made me question whether the people living under the bridge were all simply nut cases and outcasts of society, or whether Kou had stumbled across a fantastical world where the guy in the suit really is a kappa, or Nino really is a Venusian. The show never really tells you and you have to decide for yourself. There is an actual community down there and everyone has a ‘job’, from catching fish (monstrous Moby Dick sized) to running the bath house (which is actually just a tub) and Kou, ever the hard-working salary man, chooses to become a teacher to educate everyone. You can guess how well that goes.

‘Arakawa Under the Bridge’ is originally a manga series created by Hikaru Nakamura, and the Japanese animation studio shaft adapted it into an anime in 2010. The company has some pretty good credentials and is behind other popular shows such as ‘Maria Holic’ and ‘Puella Magi Madoka Magica’, although I’d say ‘Arakawa’ is a cut above these.

mvm-arakawa-frontUnusually, there’s no English language dub for the ‘Arakawa Under the Bridge’ anime series. You’ll get the original Japanese dub with the DVD and you’ll definitely like it, as the voice actor line-up is very strong and well-suited to the characters. Hiroshi Kamiya (‘sensei’ in ‘Sayonara Zetsubo Sensei’) voices Kou, Maaya Sakamoto (Ciel Phantomhive in ‘Black Butler’), Takehito Koyasu (Sasuke Sarutobi in ‘Sengoku Basara’) voices Sister and Tomokazu Sugita (Gin from ‘Gintama’) voices Hoshi.

This is one of those shows I’d show to someone if I wanted to demonstrate anime at its wackiest. My sister joined me for the odd episode as I was watching it over the Christmas break, and her reaction was pretty much “what the actual *expletive deleted* is this?” even though she kept coming back to watch some more. The madness of ‘Arakawa’ is definitely what makes it so magnetic.

If ‘Arakawa Under the Bridge’ sounds like your kind of watch, both it and its sequel series are available to buy from MVM Entertainment now! It’s a great one for the collection.

Score: 8.5/10

Image credits: animenewsnetwork, MVM Entertainment

C for Control: Christmas competition!


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It’s competition time again, just in time for Christmas! This is your chance to win a copy of one of MVM Entertainment’s latest anime titles, C for Control: The Money of Soul and Possibility.

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Kimimaro is a hard-working college student, juggling two part time jobs and studying to be a civil servant. His ambition in life? To have just enough money to get by comfortably. One night he is approached by a strange man in a top hat, Masakaki, who makes him an intriguing offer: receive a near-endless supply of money through loans leveraged against one’s future. Intrigued, Kimimaro  accepts his new role as an ‘entrepreneur’ and receives a mysterious bank card which, when used, transports him to the otherworldly Financial District. There, he battles alongside his Asset, Mshyu, against other people who have been drawn into the District. Those who win return to the real world to find great amounts of money in the banks. Those who lose go bankrupt and, in many cases, lose much more.

I was intrigued by C for Control because it is quite possibly the only series I have ever come across that deals with the very serious subject of economics. Admittedly, the seriousness disappears when you bring in the otherwordliness and Pokemon-style battles but there are some interesting themes running throughout the series. People’s obsession with and dependence on money, the lengths they are prepared to go to to earn it, and the god-like role money plays in everyone’s lives. Another nice touch is that when people return from the Financial District to the real world, they bring with them tainted Midas money which is then distributed through the entire country’s financial system. To Kimimaro and other entrepreneurs, the money is black but, to everyone else, it looks like regular cash. What affect does the Midas money have on the country? You’ll have to watch to find out.

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With just 11 episodes, the cast is quite small but likeable. Kimimaro is your stereotypical regular-guy-who-is-just-trying-to-make-ends-meet-then-suddenly-everything-changes-like-oh-my-gosh-doesn’t-this-sound-familiar but keeps the show as grounded as it can be, given how there’s a magical bank in the background. Mshyu, the Asset, is fiesty and interacts/scolds Kimimaro constantly by talking to him through his bank card in the real world. Jennifer Sato is an International Monetary Fund (IMF) spy investigating the activities of the Midas bank and Soichiro Mikuni is the mysterious handsome stranger who tries to take on Kimimaro as an apprentice. Mshyu and Jennifer were my favourite characters although, as can be appreciated with just 11 episodes, they were quite two-dimensional but likeable all the same.

Other things in this series favour are the soundtrack (particularly the rocking opening theme), bold animation and one of the best English vocal castings I’ve ever come across. I watched the first five episodes in English quite happily and there was little lost in translation when I switched to subtitles. The themes of greed and money are particularly relevant in this day and age (especially when you live in the financial centre that is London) and, whilst the series might not tackle them in a conventional way, it does give you some food for thought.

All in all, this is a very good series and I’d give it a solid 7/10. I really recommend it!

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Entering couldn’t be any easier: just like MVM on Facebook and leave a comment below this blog post by midnight Sunday 22 December. A winner will be selected at random and the DVD will be posted to you in the New Year.

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Image sources: animenewsnetwork, MVM Entertainment, wallcg

Anime Christmas countdown!


Do you like advent calendars? Do you like Christmas? Are you wondering what great anime titles you can buy for your friends , family or yourself this Christmas? Good news, the blog’s going to be counting down to Christmas on Facebook. A different series will be posted each day, giving you plenty of ideas for what to watch and buy!

As it’s now the first day of Christmas, let’s kick the countdown off with a classic: Cowboy Bebop Collector’s Edition!

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Make sure you like the blog on Facebook so you can follow the countdown!

Butterflies and dresses: Red Garden


mvm-redgarden-frontDue to my not having any internet for the last two weeks, Aisha has kindly stepped up to the challenge to bring you this week’s post. Enjoy her review of ‘Red Garden’, a new release from MVM Entertainment.

‘Red Garden’ brings back a lot of memories for me, it is a Japanese anime produced by Gonzo studios which originally came out in 2006. It was also a manga series in Comic Birz , 2006. The plot revolves around four random girls at the same school who become involved in a series of supernatural murders. One common factor links them, their dead friend Lisa. It has a real American suspense to it and aptly done so as it is based in New York.
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After school announces Lisa’s death, the turn of events gets weirder for the main characters. They find themselves tired every morning without recollection of the night before. Then, for reasons unknown, the four girls are drawn by red butterflies that gather them in the same place. There, they are approached by a woman called Lula and her partner JC to tell them all that they are already dead.
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Later, events are pieced back into their memory and they now have to work for their lives. They are revealed to be working for an organization called ‘Animus’. Lula also claims she has the means to eventually return them to their previous lives when their job is done. Their job is killing “monsters” – sounds easy enough, right? Get a gun…? Oh wait, they have to do it using their bare hands. This could get tricky. Lula and JC summon the girls sporadically, and they fight certain human looking “monsters” who then disappear.
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What puzzles me is that the girls are chosen at random to do this and while they battle to survive, other girls are being killed and put into the same situation. No one is bothered nor to the authorities look into the many missing girls. The girls are at least realistically scared and untrained so they start from scratch; being scared out of their wits then accepting their fates and learning to battle or survive.
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The  production of ‘Red Garden’ is interesting in that the producers employed a technique often used by animated productions outside Japan, but rarely used in Japanese industry itself. For example, adding the characters’ dialogue animation after the voices have been recorded. I noticed the synchronization is particularly evident in scenes where characters are singing.
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red-garden006The art looks a bit grainy at times but I pay more attention to the ladies’ outfits, I do like they how have different outfits everyday, rather than living in the one outfit in their fantasy anime world. The music is quite jazzy at the beginning and end, which seems out of place when actually watching the anime with the talents of  LM.C and JiLL-Decoy association (JIRUDEKO).
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OVA: Dead Girls
 
Also included in the boxset is an OVA called Dead Girls, originally released in 2007.  The four girls continue to wander in the world of ruin fighting as bounty hunters and this time they are after a specific wanted person. Carrying on their double lives, they encounter a  beautiful transfer student called Louise and she tries to befriend them. They also meet the handsome young man, Edgar.
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‘Red Garden’ starts as a mystery anime, making me hold out for a shocking conclusion or great plot building. Sadly I was left confused and almost bored with the human ‘monsters’ and the point of the organisation.
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The characters did not have much personality but at least they had fashion sense. Beautiful animation and music, teamed with a terrible story. ‘Dead Girls’ was a interesting addition but far from a saving grace of the whole series.
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For more great reviews on anime, games and events from Aisha & the @animeukshow  team check out wearearcade.com
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Image credits: MVM Entertainment, canime
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Next week: I’ll be taking a look at some strange Japanese drinks! For obvious reasons, no taste tests will be involved…

Pumpkin Scissors giveaway and review!


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It’s time for another anime DVD giveaway, courtesy of the wonderful guys at MVM Entertainment! If you’re a fan of military series like ‘Full Metal Alchemist’ that have that perfect mix of comedy and emotional plot, ‘Pumpkin Scissors’ is a must-watch. The competition details are at the bottom of this post, so I like to assume you’ll all do this properly and read the review first. Or, you’re sold by me comparing the series to ‘Full Metal Alchemist’ and you’ll have scrolled down already…

oland[2]‘Pumpkin Scissors’ is set three years after the end of a war between the Empire and the Republic of Frost, in which the Empire hastily signed a ceasefire and is now trying to rebuild a society blighted by poverty, corruption and plague. ‘Pumpkin Scissors’, a branch of the Imperial army, is charged with issuing war relief. This should involve mundane projects such as rebuilding roads and issuing rations but this all changes when they meet Randel Orlando, a former Anti-Tank Trooper. Orlando is the product of medical experiments of soldiers during the war and has the rather freakish ability to destroy tanks, so the platoon’s work suddenly becomes a lot more dangerous.

‘Pumpkin Scissors’ is based on the ongoing manga by Ryotara Iwanaga, which was originally serialised in 2002. The director of the series is Katsuhito Akiyama, whose most famous other works include ‘Guyver: The Bioboosted Armour’ and ‘Appleseed: Ex Machina’, so if you’re familiar with your anime you should have some idea of what to expect: giant weapons, action and super powers. Gonzo, one of Japan’s greatest anime production companies, is also behind the project, so that’s another big selling point for anime connoisseurs.

Pumpkin-Scissors2The thing I loved most about ‘Pumpkin Scissors’ is the cast, which is pretty well-rounded and the source of the comedic relief. Alice L. Marvin is a member of one of the noble thirteen families who shirks off the lady-like role expected of her in favour of leading the Pumpkin Scissors platoon. Although engaged to another noble, she is constantly at odds with her two older sisters who keep trying to put her in pretty dresses. Orlando, on the surface, seems more like the BFG with a love for stray cats rather than a tank destroyer but, on activating the ghostly lantern at his belt, goes pretty crazy. His memories of the war and search for answers leads the second half of the series. The other two main members of the platoon are Oreldo, whose charm, handsomeness and lecherousness actually come in useful and save the day on several occasions, and warrant officer Matis, who only wishes he could be as cool as Oreldo but drives army cars pretty well. There’s also Captain Hanks, who is an absolute boss and enjoys antagonising the higher-ups, Stekkin, whose main role seems to be annoying me, and Mercury, a dog who delivers emergency messages and likes biting people.

So, what does ‘Pumpkin Scissors’ even mean? According to Alice, the troop must “face the threat of corrupt people who protect themselves behind lies, power, and money like the rind of pumpkin”, and their platoon must act like a pair of scissors cutting through those layers and delivering justice for the people. This message becomes a lot clearer as the series progresses and the extent of this corruption is revealed.

The first half of the series introduces our main characters and the setting, meaning that each episode tends to look at one mission or a particular character. It gets a lot more gritty in the second half when the audience learns a lot more about the war that took place three years ago and the scars it left behind. The reason for this transition is Orlando, whose mysterious past and certain members of the platoon’s initial suspicion of him drag Pumpkin Scissors deeper into the corruption right at the top of the army.

My only complaint about this series is that it ends on a massive cliffhanger and, as far as I’m aware, there are no plans for a second series. This, of course, means that if you really get into the story you will want to pick up the manga afterwards. There is, however, plenty of action, explosions, character development and comedy to make the anime an excellent introduction to the series. At 26 episodes, it’s a decent length to ensure the story is told properly and the audience are invested. I give ‘Pumpkin Scissors’ 8.5 out of 10!

OK, on to the bit you really care about…

MVD7073 Pumpkin Scissors Collection psCompetition details

We’re doing it slightly differently this time around, as I’ll be in the moors of Scotland next week and won’t be able to approve blog posts. Simply like MVM Entertainment on Facebook and send an email to sophiesjapanblogATlive.co.uk with your name and postal address. Entries close at 9pm Sunday 22nd September and the winner will be contacted that evening. You must live in the UK to enter!

If you can’t wait that long, or want to support the anime industry, you can head over to the MVM shop and buy it now.

Image credits:  animenewsnetworkabsoluteanimeanimangacorner, MVM Entertainment

What conventions have taught me


So, Ayacon was beyond mental. Anime conventions tend to be like that, and I loved it. You can check out my photos over on the Facebook page, and feel free to tag yourself! Anyway, I thought I’d write a semi-informative blog post about the ‘important lessons’ I have learned at these conventions I have been going to on-off over the last few years.

I imagine a number of you have no idea what Ayacon is (in short, a three day convention filled with parties, cosplay and Japanese pop culture geekery) but, on the off chance you’re interested, I thought I’d share some ‘wisdom’, if you can call it that. For those of you who were at Ayacon, or have been to similar conventions yourself, I hope you appreciate some of these observations!

Next week, we’ll get back to the more serious stuff, I promise!

Make a packing list

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Almost all conventions are held in either a hotel or on university campuses. So, depending on which one your convention is at, you’d better make sure you’ve got everything you need. I personally always forget the little things like towels and clothes hangers, which will be provided for you if you’re in a hotel. If you’re in student halls though, remember that they will be completely bare! There’s nothing more annoying than unloading your suitcase and realising you have no towel, toothpaste and so on for the weekend. Of course, you can go out and buy these things, but who has time for shopping when you’re at a convention?

This brings me nicely on to my next two points. You WILL want to buy or at least bring with you the next two things…

Eating is pretty important!

001 (3)You’re running around like a hyperactive maniac, high on adrenaline, and there’s a good chance you’ll either forget to eat, or just have a bag or crisps for lunch and nothing else. I did this at my first convention and ate my body weight in home-cooked food when I got back, and subsequently got ill. Please, pack a bag of oranges or Nutri Grain bars or something!

Drinking all the alcohol on the first night isn’t the best idea

041 (2)Do you really want to be hungover Saturday and Sunday? No, sir, leave that until Monday! Most conventions have amazing parties, complete with geeky music and glow sticks. You will inevitably get drunk, and it’s an overall very safe environment to be drunk in because you’re surrounded by loving geeks and friends, but your stomach may not handle all that booze on night #1 and punish you for the rest of the weekend. I was at one convention a few years back, drank a load on the Friday night (having not drunk for months) and fell asleep at 10pm. You do not want to be that person.

Don’t cosplay for the winter in the middle of summer

I know a lot of hardcore cosplayers reading this will laugh at my non-hardcore-ness here, and will probably disagree with me. If you’re cosplaying at a convention, you might not want to wear a heavy leather jacket and black wig in the middle of August… Then again, if you’re part of a group, and you spent so long on that jacket that nothing could tear you apart from it, fair enough. At least carry a bottle of water with you!

There is not enough anime karaoke in the world

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Where else can you sing the themes from Pokemon, Attack on Titan or that strange forgotten tune from the 90s? At anime conventions, obviously. This is a staple event and is always fun, so make sure you drag your friends to this and get your requests in early… the queue is always long!

Cosplay chess should be a national sport

111 (2)I can’t explain how weird and wonderful cosplay chess. Imagine wizard’s chess in Harry Potter, then replace the chess pieces with cosplayers who act the part of their characters. I went along to Ayacon’s cosplay chess event and it was one of the highlights of the whole weekend for me. If done right, cosplay chess can be a laugh out loud event. I’m glad I was sat on the floor for this because I was doubled over a lot of the time. Where else are you going to see Korra (Avatar) chuck a bucket of water at someone all dressed in military uniform, or Ganondorf (Legend of Zelda) finally getting to be king? At cosplay chess, obviously.

Bring a spare memory card and battery for your camera

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This only applies to would-be photographers like myself. The pros have all their fancy equipment, whereas I suffered with camera envy with my tiny digital camera. If wearing a costume at a convention is not your thing, you can play photographer for the weekend instead. Just make sure your camera can handle it and don’t forget your charger!

The best bargains are found at the bring and buy

There’s always a dealers’ room at a convention, where you can stock up on collectables and snacks, or commission some amazing artwork from independent artists. If this all sounds too expensive, you can make some money by dropping all that unwanted anime and video game stuff off at the bring and buy table. The bring and buy is basically a very geeky car boot sale, without the cars, and geeks from all over the country bring their weird and wonderful stuff for the next geek to take off their hands. You can get some good deals on manga and DVD collections, figurines and art books, so put aside some cash for this one!

Fun fact: I made £50 at the bring and buy!

Panels are great

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Shameless self plug of my panel description. I didn’t write it, as you can probably guess!

Go to a panel or, better yet, run one! Ayacon was the first convention where I held a panel, ‘Blogging about Anime and Japan’ and I’m glad to report it went off more or less without a hitch. There was a slight technical error on my part which involved the readjustment of a kimono but let’s ignore that. Thanks to everyone who turned up and supported me on the day, no less at 10am, and apparently someone was taking notes which amazes me. I also got a free mug out of it and a special events and press badges, which I was flashing around all day. I also went along to the Japanese Literature 101 panel run by the fantastic Storme. I’ve got plenty of new authors to check out now, so expect some more book reviews!

Panels are a great way of learning about a niche part of Japanese culture or win prizes, if there’s a quiz involved. You’ll be in need of some ‘down time’ with all that running around and excitement, so I highly recommend checking your con schedule and circling the things you want to go to.

Talk to everyone!

046 (2)Yes, even the people who aren’t wearing convention badges- they could be closet geeks to who just happen to live there and are confused and curious. This is your community, so make some new friends! You’ve got to be in the same building with them for three days, after all. Social norms don’t apply here, although that doesn’t mean you can get away with acting creepy. That said, there’s nothing wrong with randomly approaching someone you’ve never met before and striking up a conversation with them. That person could be your future new best friend, flatmate, or even girlfriend/boyfriend.

Oh yes, expect your friend requests to surge a bit post-con.

Be nice to the staff

Whether it’s pizza parties, drinking games, or costume pieces, that stuff’s going to have to get cleaned up post-con by the cleaning staff. You’re having a constant three day party and these guys are going to be so confused and hopefully amused, so give them a smile or a ‘thank you’ when you can. I felt bad about the state of my room, which was comparably clean compared to others’, but I still left a thank you note, half a bottle of vodka and my remaining satsumas for the cleaners when I left. I hope they appreciated it!

The amount of pain you feel post-con is directly proportionate to how much fun you had

336Self-explanatory. If you’ve got a raging hangover or unexplained bruises, you had fun. In my case, I slipped in a puddle of water in the kitchen and fell on my backside, then had trouble walking for the next three days. Make sure you bring some comfy flat shoes and pain killers in case of an accident!

Until next time…

I have no idea if I’ll be going to another anime convention – both because I’ve been to so many now and am saving up for an eventual Japan holiday, but I’ve have a lot of good memories and made great friends through them over the years. If you’ve not been to a convention but are now sorely tempted, here are a few that you can go to in 2014!

Kitacon (28-30 March, Hilton Birmingham Metropole)

Auchinawa (Glasgow – date and venue TBC)

Amecon (date and venue TBC)

Sadly, there will not be another Ayacon as that was the final one! Eight conventions in 15 years, done entirely on a voluntary basis is quite a feat. A massive thank you to all the staff, volunteers and attendees who made it a memorable weekend!

Finally, here is a really awesome video from TheElectroSpectrum, which captures the cosplay essence of Ayacon.

ef: A Tale of Memories


‘ef: A Tale of Memories’ is short, sweet and quite melancholy. In twelve short episodes, it tells two different stories of love and loss. This series is all about the visuals, so let’s just straight get into things with the trailer!

On Christmas Eve, Hiro Hirono befriends a girl named Miyako Miyamura as she chases a purse snatcher. This makes Hiro’s childhood friend, Kei Shindō, feel left out, so she tries to compete with Miyako for Hiro’s affection, creating a love triangle. Meanwhile, Renji Asō meets a girl named Chihiro Shindō at an abandoned train station. He soon learns that Chihiro suffers from a type of amnesia where her memory lasts for only 13 hours. He also discovers Chihiro’s dream of writing a novel, but she has never been able to fulfill that dream due to her condition. Renji then decides to help her fulfill that dream.

The focus of ‘ef: A Tale of Memories’ is the two main love stories; Hirono and his relationship with love rivals Miyako and Kei, and Renji and Chihiro’s efforts to write a novel as she struggles with her amnesia. There is also a third sub-story Kyosuke Tsutsumi, a student film maker obsessed with catching ‘the perfect scene’, which involves a bit of friendly stalking of Kei. There’s quite a lot of names here, so let’s look at the two love stories individually…

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I was much more interested in Renji and Chihiro’s story because, although it was in essence a love story, the premise was different and a lot less run-of-the-mill. Due to her amnesia, Chihiro keeps a diary which she reads every morning in order to refresh her memories. When Renji meets and falls in love with her, he ignores the warnings that their relationship can only end in tragedy and helps Chihiro to write her novel. The two characters are likeable and, as you might hope, you do care about what happens to them in the end. Renji’s home life is rather entertaining, with a mother who barely looks older than him and a rather weird but handsome neighbour who has an inexplicable stash of high school girl uniforms. Chihiro is very ‘moe moe’ (cute) with her high pitched voice, which can be explained by the fact she is trapped in her thirteen-year-old mentality, but her mission to write a novel against all the odds is what drew me to her as a character. I’ve been ‘working on’ my fantasy trilogy for over ten years, on and off, and my excuses will never be good as “I have amnesia and I keep forgetting what I’m writing”.

ef - a tale of memories - 05 - Large 10The second main love story, between Hiro, Miyako and Kei, is a tried and tested formula in shoujo anime. Personally, I feel the love triangle has been done to death in fiction in general, so I was not as interested in this part of the story. Miyoko, although seemingly nice at first, turns out to be needy, obsessive, hysterical and a homewrecker. At times, I even found it frustrating. Hiro, an aspiring manga artist who risking his future at school by staying up all night drawing and sleeping in, is at the best of times indecisive and other people’s problems. Kei, Chihiro’s twin sister, Hiro’s childhood friend and sports nut, was the only one out of the three I had any sympathy for, despite her insistence on calling Hiro “oni-san” (another trite quality of shoujo anime, I believe). I was rooting for Kei and wanting to smack Hiro for being clueless and Miyako for being so whiny and annoying.

‘ef: A Tale of Memories’ has some really beautiful animation, which is my favourite thing about the series. The characters themselves are beautifully drawn but the scenery and transitions are very unusual and not something I’ve seen done before in anime. One minute everything might be grey, then sepia, then full colour. Characters may be drawn as shadows, or incomplete, which forces you to concentrate on the script or something entirely different. It’s always hard to explain animation when it’s all about the visuals, so check out the short video below of one of my favourite part of the series, when Miyako calls Hiro after he stands her up on a date. You can probably see why I don’t like her after watching this, but the whole scene is really well done.

The soundtrack is another selling point for this series. The opening song, ‘Euphoric Field’ is absolutely beautiful and I really can’t stop listening to it. It also has two or three different ending songs, depending on which characters are the focus of the episode, which I found quite interesting.

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My only real complaint about ‘ef: A Tale of Memories’ was how disjointed the two love stories were. The only thing linking them was Chihiro and Kei, who mainly communicate by text during the series. The love stories are certainly different from each other, and the series alternates between the two as they progress, so no one is really off screen long enough to be completely forgotten. It would have been nice to have seen Hiro and Renji have some dialogue, as they never actually meet, but the reason for this might have been to distinguish the stories from each other. It would also probably shatter the illusion somewhat if everyone knew everyone.

Overall, I give ‘ef: A Tale of Memories’ a solid 7 out of 10. It was interesting to see two separate love stories play out together and it probably was inevitable that I would like one more than the other, as most people would. I recommend buying the DVD for the beautiful and at times borderline-existential animation alone. Shoujo fans will love this series and, good news, there’s a sequel called ‘ef: A Tale of Melodies’, which is also coming out from MVM this month!

Photo credits: randomc and MVM Entertainment

Ayacon announcement!


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It’s official… I’m running a panel at Ayacon, the UK’s summer anime and manga convention!

What is the panel about, you ask? It couldn’t be anything other than Blogging about Anime and Japan.

Does the idea of getting free anime DVDs in the post and free entry into MCM Comic Con and Hyper Japan sound like your idea of fun? Maybe it’s time to take up blogging! In this panel, Sophie of Sophie’s Japan Blog will give you some tips on how to get started and navigate the infinite landscape that is the internet and social media. Whether it’s a blog, photo diary, podcast or Youtube account, or you’re not sure what to talk about or how to deal with certain weirdos and, yes, criminals, on the internet, this panel is for you! There will also be a Japan-tastic quiz and great prizes up for grabs, and even a delicious Ace Attorney birthday cake.

That’s right, an Ace Attorney birthday cake! By sheer coincidence, the blog will turn two years old on the very day the panel’s running, so a cake seemed appropriate. I won’t be offended if people just turn up to the panel for free cake and prizes, by the way! Although, I hope some of you will leave wanting to start your own blog.

The quiz at the end of the panel should put those Japan and anime-based brains to the test and the prizes are going to be pretty sweet! The only way you’ll know what they are is if you turn up!

So, if you happen to be at Ayacon this year you can come along to the panel on Sunday 10am at the Conference room (right in the middle of campus, so it will be easy to find). Fun fact – I used to have history lectures in this very room! You can check out the full schedule for the weekend here.

See you at Ayacon!