Anime Corner: Hanasaku Iroha Blossoms for Tomorrow Review

Fest It Up!

What’s the Story?

When Ohana’s mother takes off with her iffy boyfriend to avoid paying his debts, Ohana is sent to live with her grandmother who owns an inn, Kissuiso. At first Ohana is convinced this is going to be a grand adventure, but five seconds after meeting her grandmother, that delusion is well and truly gone. Ohana’s grandmother is a harsh taskmaster and she expects Ohana to work if she’s going to stay with her. So Ohana becomes an attendant at the inn, and while the work is hard and often gruelling, Ohana starts to notice something. She actually enjoys it. Whether it’s giving the best experience to a customer, or finding out more about her new co-workers, there’s a special feeling from doing a job to the best of your ability. Of course Ohana is still a teenager, so awkward feelings, misunderstandings and a whole lot of drama are soon to follow.

The Review

Yes! I finally made it! Ever since I watched Sakura Quest I’ve been meaning to get around to this series and that time has finally arrived! For those that don’t know, this series forms a loose set with Sakura Quest and Shirobako as part of P.A. Works’ ‘Working’ series. There’s no actual connection between the series, each one has a completely different cast, location and it’s own themes and ideas that it wants to explore. The only real things connecting each series is that, one, the cast is largely female-centric, two, they’re done by P.A. Works and, three, they’re focussed on some sort of job. Shirobako was about working the anime industry (check out my review HERE), Sakura Quest was about working in tourism and revitalising a small town (check out my review HERE) and Hanasaku Iroha is obviously about working in an inn. They’re also about more than that, but I’ll get to that once I’m into the review proper. For now, if you want to check out each series, then I thoroughly recommend each of them, but if you’re wondering if there’s a particular order to watch them in or anything, don’t worry, pick what you want and watch that (Technically speaking, Hanasaku Iroha is the first show in the series and I’ve watched it last with no problems whatsoever).

Right, now that the set up’s out of the way, what is this series actually like? It’s really, really good. I’m often up front with my opinions in reviews and there is no way I’m holding that one in any longer, this is a really great series and I want to kick myself for waiting so long to watch it. It’s honestly amazing to think that this series is roughly eight and a half years old, because it holds up astonishing well. Maybe the animation isn’t as bright or flashy as some current anime, but in a lot of places this series is stunning to look at. From the streets of Tokyo to the sweeping vistas of a more rural Japan, this series just makes me want to step through my screen and end up at Kissuiso. Admittedly a lot of this is shown through panning shots and there isn’t a great deal of dynamic action, it’s a show about an inn, having everyone running about isn’t really the desired scenario. When it counts though, the characters are filled with all the energy and impact you could ask for.  

What makes this show though, is the characters. Each of them is just brimming with personality and while there are those who aren’t really the focus of the series, everyone gets their own little moment in the spotlight. Whether it’s the shy and nervous Nako, the bloody-minded and often infuriating, Minko, or even the resident erotica writer and his antics (I was worried said character was going to be really annoying, but after the first couple of episodes his role is toned down and he gets used for some effective comedy), everyone has their time to shine. I especially love that the majority of the characters get their own little arcs and develop across the series while still remaining the kind of tight-knit team I always enjoy in a series. Of course Ohana is our main character and she gets the bulk of the development. A lot of it is your typical coming-of-age stuff, with Ohana working out her feelings for a boy, finding out where she belongs and thinking about what she really wants to do with her life. What keeps this storyline fresh though is Ohana’s attitude.

Ohana has a habit of rushing in head-first into a situation, sometimes not even understanding why she’s doing something, just knowing that it’s the thing that needs to be done. She wants to ‘sparkle’, as she puts it, to find her thing and excel at it, something that she’s never really given much thought to while she’s been taking care of her disaster of her mother. That’s another thing I’ll give this series, it did actually manage to redeem Ohana’s mother by the end, somewhat, though I’m not going to let her off the hook entirely. It speaks to the depth of these characters, that every one has shades to them and as the series progresses we get to see more and more sides to them and learn what makes them tick. Even the central romance between Ohana and Ko is developed in a natural way, between the awkward conversations and the constant back and forth of them trying to work out their feeling while living miles and miles apart is kind of adorable and you can’t help but root for them (not as much as I rooted for Minchi to confession though, but that was purely so she could get her feelings out in the open and stop being such a nightmare to everyone. I seriously wanted to strangle that girl on several occasions, which just goes to show how much I got invested in this show and these characters).

On a last note, I suppose I should rank the ‘Working’. For me, personally, Shirobako comes out on top. Hanasaku Iroha is a better series on a technical level, but Shirobako just means more to me on a personal level with it giving an insight into the anime industry and the fact that I watched it at a time in my life when I really needed it. Hanasaku Iroha takes second place, but it’s only a whisker behind Shirobako and that leaves Sakura Quest in third place. All three series are really good though and I thoroughly recommend each of them.  

The Verdict

Hanasaku Iroha is a fantastic series following not only an energetic protagonist finding her way, but a whole host of eclectic and fascinating characters. There are some gorgeous backdrops to look at and a wealth of drama, whether that be in the workplace or in personal lives, to keep you glued to the screen. There’s a slight lull in the middle of the series, as the show takes time to explore some of the characters in a bit more detail, but I like these characters so much that I honestly don’t mind. This is twenty-six episodes of anime goodness and I’m now really sad that I’m done with the ‘Working’ series from P.A. Works. Then again, I can always watch the series all over again, so I might just do that.

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday or you can follow me on Twitter @ChrisGJoynson.

Anime Corner: Top 10 Favourite Anime (Redux)

Blog Top 10 Anime Redux Title

And your challenge, should you choose to accept it, 1) Name all the characters featured above 2) Before reading the rest of this post, guess which one of these characters isn’t going to appear in the list. Have fun.

I love anime. Considering the amount of it I’ve reviewed over the past five years that probably comes as a surprise to no one, but with this being the start of a new year, and a new decade, it got me thinking. Back in the early days of this little blog o’mine I posted up a ‘Top 10 Favourite Anime’ list (you can check it out HERE if you want and compare it to the list I’m about to go through). Obviously I’ve watched a heck of a lot more anime since then, the majority of which I have adored and gushed over on this very blog, so me thinks it’s time for an update.

The same rules apply as last time, this list will only contain anime that I have seen (obviously) and only anime that have finished airing. I’ll admit this list was tough to put together, but I think I’m finally happy with the order it’s in, if you want to drop your own list down in the comments then feel free and with that, let’s get this show on the road!

  1. Cardcaptor Sakura

Upon finding a mysterious book in her basement, Sakura accidentally released the Clow Cards. Created by one of the most powerful sorcerers in history, Clow Reed, the cards each have their own unique personality and abilities. Now it’s Sakura’s job to capture them before their powers get out of hand and end up hurting someone, but with the help of guardian beast Kero and her best friend Tomoyo, Sakura is sure everything will be alright.

This is the series that carved out a place for the magical girl genre in my heart for all eternity. I remember watching it as a kid and falling in love with Sakura who was just so sweet and charming and endlessly optimistic that I couldn’t do anything but admire her, and that was before she started roller-skating on to the back of giant birds and trying to outrun sentient water. Whether it’s the beautiful designs of both the characters and the cards, the fun characters themselves or even just the mad antics of capturing the card of the week, I adore this series. It’s innocence personified and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

  1. Digimon Tamers

Takato loves Digimon, whether it’s the TV show or playing the card game with his friends. He spends his days dreaming about what his perfect partner would be like and one day, when he finds a mysterious blue card, his wishes come true and the Digimon he designed, Guilmon, comes to life! However owning a real life Digimon isn’t as easy as Takato thought and soon he finds himself dealing not only with the differing views of his fellow Tamers, but invading Digimon causing havoc and a secret government organisation out to delete all Digimon from the real world!

This is my favourite Digimon series of all time and one that I recommend for everyone to watch. For a show primarily created to sell toys to kids it has a remarkably mature story (which makes sense when you realise this was written by the same guy that did Serial Experiments Lain). We get some great character arcs across the series, especially in Impmon who runs the full gambit from troublemaker to villain to hero seeking redemption. The series also isn’t afraid to throw in a few more complex themes and a bit of moral and ethical questioning for its characters to deal with. It may start off a little slow but it all builds into something truly dark and epic like no other Digimon series has ever done before or since.

  1. Shirobako

When they were at school, Aoi, Ema, Shizuka, Misa and Midori all played a part in making their very own anime short. Now, having graduated, the girls are all either looking for or holding down jobs in their favourite industry, the anime industry! Unfortunately it turns out that getting their dream job may actually be a bit of a nightmare, between crushing production schedules, dithering directors and really unhelpful middle men, turns out working in anime can be really rough. Do the girls have what it takes to pull things together and someday, somehow, get to all work on a project together like they did at school?

Anime is tough guys. If you ever doubted that then just watch this anime (though I realise it is also a romanticised version of the anime industry so I have no doubt the real thing is even more hellish than this series depicts). I first watched this anime when I was in a bit of a slump, my adolescent idealism had crashed headfirst into the cliffs of adult reality and I was feeling pretty dejected, pretty much in the same way the characters are at points in this series and it gave me hope to know that maybe, just maybe, the struggle would be worth it in the end (the moment where all the girls get to work together at the end really is a thing of beauty). Rewatching the series now though, it speaks to me on even more levels, from the arduous path of the creative process to what it’s like to work in an office (though the office I work in is nowhere near as pressurised as the one in this show). Add on all the little in jokes and references and all anime fans should watch this at some point.

  1. A Place Further Than the Universe

Tamaki Mari, AKA Kimari, always wanted to have a grand adventure before she finishes high school, but she’s always been afraid to take that first step. All that changes when she meets Shirase, a girl determined above anything else to go to Antarctica, despite how impossible that sounds. Now, with a newfound passion and determination, Kimari sets out with Shirase and her other new friends to make the impossible possible and shout ‘I told you I’d make it!’ to all those who said they couldn’t. Their youth is finally in motion!

Heartfelt, that’s the best word I can come up with to describe this series. Everything in this show, from the gorgeous animation to the sweet and charming characters, even the emotional stories of each girl, all of it just hits me right in the feels. I cried at every single episode when I first watched this series and I cried a good chunk of the time when I re-watched it. I love this show. Not only is the message a really important and powerful one, that you can’t let fear and doubt hold you back, if there’s something you want to do, go and do it. It’ll take some hard work and a bit of luck, but if all you ever do is back down then you’ll never get anywhere. Also I love these characters and the chemistry between them, they feel like the best of friends and it’s just a joy to be around them.

  1. Mob Psycho 100

Mob wants nothing more than to be an ordinary kid, and maybe the ability to talk to his childhood sweetheart in complete sentences. However, between his tremendous psychic powers, repressed emotions and his con man boss, there’s not much chance of that. Whether it’s exorcising evil spirits or taking on deranged psychics, Mob’s real battle is with himself, learning to control and, eventually, accept his emotions to the point were he becomes a better, more rounded person.

It’s the second season of this show that gets it on to this list. However much I enjoyed the first season, the second feels like something special. It takes everything that the first season had, the lightning fast comedy, the visually diverse and stunning animation and fun characters and adds so much emotion on top of that. Watching Mob’s journey from an awkward, emotionally repressed teen to such a kind, open and emotionally healthy person is by far one of my favourite character arcs in all of anime. I also think this series has some really beautiful messages about forming bonds, how people can change and how its not good to let your own ego blind you to the world around you, all of which feel really relevant to the world today.

  1. Sound Euphonium

When Kumiko begins her first year of high school she’s determined to have a fresh start, yet somehow finds herself joining the school’s concert band and playing the euphonium (an instrument she’s been stuck playing for the past seven years). It doesn’t help that an old school friend of Kumiko’s is also in the club, a friend that Kumiko feels incredibly awkward around. Things begin to change though when the band’s new advisor starts pushing the students to improve and tensions rise. Will Kumiko rediscover her love for music and the euphonium? Or will this put her off for life?

Every part of this series is beautiful, from the jaw-dropping animation to the blissful music and the clever and life-like writing. More than that though I love each and every one of these characters. Kumiko’s arc from detached and indecisive to someone who is driven by her passions is great and I have to admit resonates a fair amount with me. This is not a show that I would typically watch, but I’m so glad I did. Even if you’ve never been in a band, or have the least bit of interest in one (like me), make sure to check this series out as it has so much more to offer you than your standard high school drama. You’re missing out if you don’t see this one.

  1. Psycho-Pass

In the future you’d better watch what you think because thanks to the Sibyl System a person can now be judged on how likely they are to commit a crime. Anyone who’s deemed as a potential danger to society will have the Enforcers sent after them, either to bring them in for emergency therapy or, if they’re beyond help, to blow their heads clean off. But what if the system couldn’t read a certain type of person? What if there was a master criminal out their inciting others to commit crimes and providing them with all they need to go on their own crime sprees? For rookie Inspector Akane Tsunemori these are going to be important questions, but the biggest of all may be just what exactly is the Sibyl System?

I love so much about this series I really don’t know where to start or how to summarise it, but here goes. For starters the world of Psycho-Pass is one of my favourite, so rich and detailed, from all the fun tech it employs to the moral questions it raises. Add on top of that some fantastic characters and you have a great anime. Akane is one of my favourite female protagonists of all time, her journey from naïve rookie to badass detective is another of my favourite character arcs. Then we’ve got Makishima who’s one of my favourite anime antagonists and there’s Kogami and I could really go on all day like this. Every time I watch this series I come away loving it that little bit more.

  1. Fate/Zero

The 4th Holy Grail War is upon us. Once again Seven Masters will summon seven Servants, Heroic Spirits of legend such as King Arthur or Alexander the Great brought to life again in the modern day. Together they’ll battle it out for the Holy Grail and the chance to have their dearest wish made a reality. For Kiritsugu Emiya, that wish is for the world to find peace, but for a man who has spent his life killing mages, can they ever really be any peace? The answer has already been decided and no matter what anyone does, fate marches on to its inevitable tragic end.

If you’ve checked out my previous favourite anime list then you may have noticed that my top three anime hasn’t really changed, and I doubt they ever will. Fate/Zero is not perfect, but I adore it with all my soul. I love these characters, I love seeing them interact with one another, so many clashing philosophies and goals this is what makes a great story for me. Whether it’s Saber’s idealism clashing with Kiritsugu’s pragmatism or Iskandar, King of Conquerors, giving Waver lessons on what it means to be a true king, I could watch this forever and not get bored. Add on the great music and animation, some epic fights and you have an anime for the ages.

  1. Puella Magi Madoka Magica

Madoka wants nothing more to help others and make a difference with her life, a chance she seemingly gets when a strange creature named Kyubey offers her a deal. In exchange for any wish she desires, she can become a magical girl and protect the innocent people of the city from evil witches. Sounds like a win-win right? Well it turns out that the life of a magical girl isn’t quite so magical and between the dangers of the job and battles with rivals, Madoka’s about to learn what happens when a wish turns into a curse.

If there were only one anime I could watch again for the very first time, I’d pick this one. When I first watched this series I binged it all in one night and it destroyed me emotionally. I’ve never quite had a reaction like it before or since, though not for lack of trying. This show is as close to perfection as it gets for me. The plot is so tightly written and paced, knowing just when to let you catch your breathe before plunging you into an even deeper well of despair. Everything is connected and so many little details turn out to be really important later, I get so much fun out of every time I rewatch this series. Add on to that the music and, I don’t even know how to describe the animation, it has such a unique artistic quality to it that I just love it.

  1. Fullmetal Alchemist (2003)

The law of Equivalent Exchange is the core principle of alchemy, something the brothers Alphonse and Edward Elric learn the hard way when they try to resurrect their dead mother. They lose much in the exchange; Edward has his arm and leg taken away from him, while Alphonse loses his entire body. They’re only hope to put themselves back together is to get a hold of a philosopher’s stone, something that will let them perform alchemy without obeying equivalent exchange. They aren’t the only ones searching for a stone though and when the boys learn just what it takes to make one, will they be willing to pay the cost?

The original, and my personal favourite. Madoka Magica may be close to perfection for me, but this series has everything I could ever ask for from an anime, great characters, compelling story and drama, even stunning animation, it’s all here. The bond between the two brothers is really something special, their willingness to sacrifice themselves for one another is truly beautiful and that moment at the end of the series where they demonstrate just how far they’ll go for one another is one of my all time favourite moments in anime. Then again this series is packed with great moments that I love, from the boys confronting their mother to certain deaths, which I won’t spoil here, but this show is a real roller coaster. The story never once falters, perfectly paced and engaging, I don’t even skip over the filler I like it so much, though I think it’s greatest strength is that it never loses sight of its core. Edward and Alphonse are the centrepiece of this story and they are such great characters. If you’ve not seen this anime, or only ever watched Brotherhood, then do yourself a favour and check this one out.

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday.  

Anime Corner: Sakura Quest Review

Blog Sakura Quest Review Title

It’s like Shirobako, but in the country.

What’s the Story?

Yoshino has always wanted to do something that only she can do, normal ain’t her thing, but with one failed job application after another it looks like she can’t do normal even if she tries. She ends up taking a one-off job to appear as the queen in a promotional campaign out in the country, to hopefully garner some interest in a small town. Unfortunately she doesn’t read the small print and what she thinks is a job for one day, is actually for one year. Now Yoshino finds herself as a member of the tourism board, working alongside four other young women whose careers aren’t exactly going to plan either. Together can they help to revive this small town?

The Review

Before I start the review properly, I do have to bring up Shirobako. I loved Shirobako (see my review of it here), it came to me at a time in my life when I needed it and was a really sweet and heart-warming series. Why am I bringing this up? Well because not only is PA Works also behind this series, but these two are part of a trilogy of series themed around ‘working girls’ (not got round to seeing the third series yet). Sakura Quest manages to keep the same heart and character that made Shirobako a winner for me, but takes its theme in a different direction. However, the main characters look exactly the same, look at Yoshino, then look at Aoi. They changed the hair colour and gave her a haircut, that’s it for all I can see. Don’t get me wrong, I love both Aoi and Yoshino, but that bugged me (for the first couple of episodes anyway).

On to the show itself. Thoughtful and heartfelt is the best way I can think to describe this series. I like the way it tackles the idea of trying to bring business and life back to a small town, I mean we’ve all seen this story before. City girl heads out into the country and livens the place up with her big ideas, while also learning that country living has it’s own special qualities to share. There are elements of that to the story, but it’s not that easy. Yoshino and the girls fail, multiple times, it is a struggle for them all the way, fighting against people who are stuck in their ways or have given up. Yet at the same time they can’t just bring in new stuff and force it on the people if they don’t want it. However they revive the town, it has to work for the people of the town. Just getting the town to survive isn’t enough, and I know this may be a bit cliché and hyperbole, but the spirit of the town has to carry on. If this series had to be about one thing I think it would be embracing new ideas, changing without losing a bit of yourself in the process.

Our characters certainly change and grow across the series, mostly. We’ll start with Yoshino, my lovable fool. She doesn’t want to be ordinary; in fact she vehemently hates all things even remotely ordinary. That’s why she left her countryside hometown and moved to the big city, so it’s a bit of a comedown for her to find herself stuck back out in the country in what she sees as an ordinary town. Slowly she starts to change though, seeing the parts of the town that are special and before she knows it she genuinely wants to help make this place better. Sometimes her ideas are just a bit too out there or she doesn’t think things through. She may want to help the town, but she knows very little about it and what makes it tick and that is stuff she has to learn if she wants to help it survive in the right way. Of course this isn’t just a one-way process, it’s not enough to bend to the whims of the people, she has to get them to work with her. You feel for her every step of the way and are willing her on, she’s sweet and charming and funny and everything I want in a main character.

Now of course Yoshino isn’t the only girl who has a struggle on her hands, or even a career in a nosedive. We’ve got Maki a failed actress who has returned to her hometown after finally deciding that she’s just not cut out for the job. Hers is a particularly heart-wrenching arc through the series as you can tell she very much loves acting, but one too many rejections has damaged her confidence and now she’s given up. It’s a testament to this series that they don’t go the clichéd route and have Maki suddenly spotted by some director and having all her acting dreams come true. No the series finds a way to incorporate Maki’s passion in her life in a way I’m sure she never thought of before, but works for there.

Then there’s Ririko, the quiet and shy girl who’s into all things supernatural and who feels like an outsider in her own town. She wants to be like Yoshino and eventually manages to come out of her shell and even make a few life-changing decisions. There’s Sanae, the practically minded city girl born and raised in Tokyo but moved to the country for a better lifestyle, though it takes getting involved with the others for her to really become apart of the town. Honestly Shiori is the only one that doesn’t change all that much, she’s the sweet country girl who loves her hometown and never wants to leave, much in counterpoint to the others and that doesn’t change. I think she does become a little more accepting and understanding of people who don’t share her views though. I love all of these characters and I haven’t even gone into the plethora of side characters that make this series a joy to watch, but this review is kind of running on so I think I’ll leave it at this.

The Verdict

Sakura Quest is a heart-warming and thoughtful tale about change and growth, not just for the town but for the characters as well. All of the characters are really relatable and their struggles understandable, so you’re bound to find at least one that you want to root for. I also just want to applaud the way it goes about reviving the town while avoiding the usual clichés, instead focusing on creative ideas and the many, many problems that come about from a town falling into decline. The message of this show is a positive one and the end of the series is both realistic yet still gave me the warm fuzzies. It’s sweet, it’s funny, it’s charming and very much a worthy successor to Shirobako. Now stop reading me ramble on about it and go watch it!

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Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday.  

Top 10 Favourite Anime

Anime Top 10 Title Card

Ok, so I’ve done my top 10 Disney films (here) and I’ve done my top 10 animated films (here), I guess it’s time for the anime list isn’t it? Anime is a huge part of my life, it always has been I guess. I’ve been watching anime since I was very little, although back then they were all just really cool cartoons to me. Pokemon, Digimon, Guyver, Dragonball Z, Sailor Moon, Gundam, these are all a part of my childhood, as well as many others. The thing I love most about anime though, is the sheer diversity of it, you can really have anything. Sci-fi stories set in the far future, epic adventures in fantasy lands, comedies, tragedies, dark deconstructions, or just everyday life, there is no story you cannot tell. It also helps that anime is damn crazy sometimes, and we all need a little bit of crazy in our lives.

To be fair this list has taken me a while to put in order, there’s so many different anime that I love, but beyond that a lot of these anime speak to me in different ways, so it’s hard to qualify why one show should be put above another. I think I’ve finally got it right though.

Here are the rules for the list. This list will only contain anime that I have seen (naturally), and more importantly anime that has finished. That means for one there will be no ongoing shonen anime on this list, like One Piece and Fairy Tail. Besides, however much I love those anime I don’t love everything about them, though it’s mostly the filler arcs that I have a problem with (maybe I could do a top 10 arcs list one day?). Also this is a list of my top 10 FAVOURITE anime, this is not a ‘Best of’ list, the anime contained within and their order are entirely dictated by my heart, not my head.

Anyway, enough rambling, on with the show!

  1. Cardcaptor Sakura

One day, Sakura accidentally releases the Clow Cards (magical cards left behind by a powerful wizard) upon her unsuspecting city. Now it’s her job to collect the cards, before their simple acts of mischief end up hurting someone.

Ok, I’m going to come across as a massive saddo here, but I suppose there’s no point in hiding it. This anime is the reason I have a soft spot for magical girl anime (I’m a fan of Sailor Moon, but this show is what cemented the genre into a corner of my heart). I fell in love with Sakura when I was ten, and it’s never really gone away. She’s sweet, she’s funny, she’s brave, yet she’s a little bit clumsy and terrified of ghosts. She’s a goody two-shoes, but never boring or perfect, which I like. Her adventures were always exciting and fun for my younger self, and I still really like all of the designs for the cards she had to collect. To make me look even sadder, I will admit that I used to make my own versions of the cards to play with (hey there was a distinct lack of merchandise over here in the UK). Ok, now that I’m older I do have to admit that it’s a little repetitive and there are probably a few other flaws knocking about, but the nostalgia is too strong for me on this one.

  1. Outlaw Star

Gene Starwind and his young partner Jim run an odd job business, but soon are catapulted on a series of misadventures as they hunt for the legendary Galactic Leyline. They’ll battle magic-wielding space pirates, crazy cat girls and a mind-controlling cactus (you know, I think anime might just be weird).

If I were to describe this series in a word, it would be fun. Epic space battles, guns that shoot magic, a cast of crazy characters, and arm-wrestling spaceships, all can be found here. This is just one entertaining ride. Not that this series is brainless, it’s just storyless. The plot is merely there to get us from one adventure to the next. This series prefers to give its attention to the detail of the universe, building up a rich history and setting for our characters to explore. Our characters themselves aren’t that deep, but they’re well-defined and uncomplicated. You can work out what makes them tick after just a few minutes. It’s wild, it’s cool, it’s Outlaw Star.

  1. Digimon Tamers

Takato loves the digimon card game, but one day he discovers that he has his own real-life digimon. At first it’s fun and full of hijinks, but with more and more digimon appearing in our world, and a shadowy government organisation lurking in the background, things are about to become very dangerous indeed.

Now I love the original Digimon, but for me Season 3 is just that little bit better. It’s a more mature series, and I love the real world setting. I like how they incorporate the game and trading cards, and make it feel like this is what it would be like if Digimon were real (and who doesn’t love that idea?). It’s certainly one of the darkest series, containing some downright terrifying scenes, as well as a few heart-wrenching ones too, but never so much that it stops being fun or enjoyable. To me this is a really good sci-fi/fantasy story, while also still feeling like a Digimon series (unlike some of the later series).

  1. Attack on Titan

For years humanity has sat safely behind its three giant walls, keeping out the monstrous Titans that have a habit of devouring humans for no apparent reason. One day that peace is shattered, when a gigantic Titan appears and smashes down the first wall. Young Eren swears to join the Survey Corps and wipe out every last Titan. But what exactly are the Titans, and where do they come from?

Is this overhyped? Yeah, but you have to remember that that hype came from somewhere. This is a really good series without a doubt. Yeah the ending is really abrupt, and what we learn about the titans and where they come from amounts to about zero, but that’s what the manga (and that long promised second season) is for, which is annoying I admit. This series is exciting, dramatic and terrifying, sometimes all at once. The animation has its own unique style, both beautiful and ugly at the same time. The fights sequences are just jaw-dropping, and that soundtrack is just mind-blowing. I really like the characters too (the ones that survive anyway). They all feel like real people, full of flaws and psychosis. Most of these people are broken in some way or another, and sometimes it’s not the titans that are the greatest threat to humanity. If nothing else, this is a really great story about humanity, both at its best and at its worst.

  1. Kill la Kill

Ryuko Matoi transfers to a strange school, where the student council runs the place like its own private dictatorship, all in the aid of finding her father’s murderer. Ryuko finds a talking uniform (just go with it) and epic insanity ensues.

I love Kill la Kill, even though I probably shouldn’t. This anime has a way of bypassing the logic part of my brain and striking right at the gleeful kid inside. It’s over the top, it’s extreme, it’s gratuitous, and it is awesome! This anime hits a level that transcends fun. It’s a blitz of intense action, hilarious characters, explosions and, of course, boobs. Ok, the story is nonsense, the characters aren’t exactly deep, and that fanservice is just overwhelming, yet I still love this. All I can say is that this anime is overflowing with love, enthusiasm and pure undiluted fun. It’s infectious and I have never had so much fun watching an anime.

  1. Shirobako

An anime about making anime. How very meta. We follow the struggles of five girls as they enter into various careers in the anime industry, hoping to one day work together on the same project.

I seriously love this show. There are so many moments of just undiluted joy to be seen here. Watching our characters start out as wide-eyed young students, we follow them as they confront the harsh realities of working in the industry, yet in the end they still make it to a happy ending. This anime gives me hope. At a time in my life when I’ve been questioning where I’m going and lamenting how far from my dream I still am, this anime has shown me that if I keep pushing forward I can still make it.

  1. Cowboy Bebop

The futuristic misadventures of an easy-going bounty hunter and his odd crew, which includes an ex-cop, a femme fatale in massive debt, a computer hacker who’s as much a genius as she is crazy, and a dog.

Is a show overhyped if it’s deserving of its praise? This is one of the greats of anime, a classic that everyone deserves to watch at least once, even if you’re not all that into anime. It has a great cast of rich characters, its stories range from hilarious to heart-breaking, but for me what makes this anime so great, is its presentation. The animation is stunning, the soundtrack is beautiful and the direction is top-notch. This is simply a master class in how a visual medium should be done. Everything slots together so perfectly that you can hardly imagine one component without the others. It says so much with so few words, one of the most iconic shots has to be Spike falling through that window with flashes of his past. It’s such a simple and effect way of telling us so much, without a single word. It’s simply breath-taking.

  1. Fate Zero

The 4th Holy Grail war is upon us. Seven Masters are chosen from across the world. Each Master summons a Servant, a heroic spirit of legend such as King Arthur, brought into the modern world to do battle for the ancient wish-granting relic. Whoever wins gets their heart’s desire granted to them, but you know the old saying, be careful what you wish for.

Okay, I’ve struggled with where to put this one on the list. There are a couple of things in this anime that I have problem with (check out my review here, for more details), but when it comes down to it the stuff that is good in this anime is just too damn good. For me it’s the characters that make this show so great. Each character is fully fleshed out, with their own ideology and way of doing things and it is endlessly fascinating to watch them amble down their paths towards inevitable tragedy. I seriously cannot get enough of these guys. Add in some wonderful top quality animation, a good soundtrack and some great, if occasionally longwinded, dialogue and you have one of the greats of anime.

  1. Puella Magi Madoka Magica

Madoka wants to help others and make a difference. She seemingly gets her chance when a strange creature called Kyubey offers to fulfil any wish she desires, in exchange she will become a magical girl and battle against witches that torment innocent people. As it turns out though, the life of a magical girl isn’t all that magical, and it isn’t long before wishes turn into curses.

When I first watched this show, it destroyed me. I mean that quite literally. After watching a couple of reviews on the internet recommending the show, I finally decided to give it a go. I watched the entire series in one night, mostly because I couldn’t stop watching, and by the end I was left as an emotional wreck, blubbing like a baby for a good half hour after the last episode finished. No other show has had this kind of effect on me, certainly not in recent years. I don’t really believe there’s such a thing as a perfect anime, but this comes damn close. The pacing of the story is top-notch constantly moving and twisting into something new, giving you just enough time to breathe before pulling the rug out from under you yet again. Everything is connected, and it is wonderful to rewatch the earlier episodes and see all of the hints and clues that were sat there staring you in the face. The animation itself may not be as good as some anime, but it has this wonderful artistic quality to it that just makes this such a treat for the eyes.

  1. Fullmetal Alchemist (2003)

In a world where alchemy is a thriving magic, two brothers decide to commit a great taboo and resurrect their recently deceased mother. Things go wrong though, resulting in Edward losing an arm and a leg, and Alphonse losing his body entirely. The two brothers begin a dangerous search for the philosopher’s stone, in order to get back what they’ve lost.

The original, and my favourite anime. I first saw this on the TV, back when I was only just discovering what anime was (and learning that I’d secretly been watching anime for years without my knowledge). I never saw the run in its entirety back then, I only caught random episodes and one of the first ones I saw (and my most vivid memory of the series) was that final episode. I’ll be honest I didn’t have much idea what was going on, but it all looked really cool, and the animation was amazing. What spoke to me most though was the two brothers, Alphonse and Edward, and their willingness to sacrifice themselves for the one another. It was truly beautiful, and watching the series all together I can safely say that the rest of the anime holds up to that moment. It has a story that never falters either in pacing or development, it even has time to spend on filler, decent filler at that which manages to add to the story (now that’s a miracle). Add in a host of great and memorable characters, some heart-wrenching drama and exhilarating action, and you have an anime that pretty much has everything I could ever want from an anime. And throughout all of that, it never loses sight of its core, the bond between the two brothers and their mission to fix one another, and that’s why this gets the number one spot.

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday.

Anime Corner: Shirobako Review

Blog Shirobako Review Title

“Hello? Yes, this is Musashino Animation. What do you mean there’s been a delay? The author wants the character designs redone? No this isn’t a funny story! I’ve still got a thousand cuts to check, hundreds of meetings to go to and that’s if there isn’t another major disaster in the next five minutes, which going by my track record is more than likely!”

(Working in animation = Living the dream.)

What’s the Story?

At school five girls produce their own animated short for a culture festival. They enjoy the experience so much that they all decide they will go into the anime industry, and promise to one day make an anime together. The reality of working in anime is not what the girls expected though, struggling through the daily hardships of production, animation and acting. It won’t be an easy path, but can the girls survive long enough to make it to that shared project?

The Review

I love anime. I love this anime in particular (spoilers!). There are people out there who say anime has already had its heyday, that we’ll never see the likes of Cowboy Bebop and Fullmetal Alchemist again. After completing this anime though I feel well within my rights to smack those people over the head and tell them just how wrong they are. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not lauding this anime as the next Cowboy Bebop. This anime isn’t a technical or story-telling masterpiece, it isn’t perfect, but it is something beautiful and wonderful. A tiny little gem that gives me hope that anime still has a very long way to go.

This is an anime about making anime, so at the very least it gives you an idea of just how rough the industry can be. What with delays, retakes, editorial interference and your typical everyday disaster, watching this makes you realise just how much of a miracle it is that we get so much anime every week. I feel I certainly appreciate anime a lot more now, and I’m even a bit more forgiving of the bad ones. Not that this is a ‘How to’ guide to making anime. We get talked through several processes and how the business works, but we never delve too deep into the specifics of software and tools and the like. This anime puts its focus primarily on the people working in the industry, because they are the big beating heart of both the industry and this show.

The cast is huge for this show. There are hundreds of people involved and we get to meet most of them in turn. We go all the way from the director and production, right through to the animators, the voice actors and about every role in-between. Most of the cast gets a moment to shine, even if they only pop up for an episode or two. One very tiny, miniscule, gripe I have is that we never really get to know a lot of the characters. A lot of it is surface stuff, we get to know their quirks and their personality, and that’s about it. Fortunately the character’s heart is always on display, even knowing very little about them, you understand them. There are so many people here that I’m sure everyone will find at least one character that they will fall in love with (though personally I’ve fallen for about twenty of them).

Our five main cast members, the girls from the beginning, get a bit more focus than everyone else, though only just. We don’t really go too deep into their characters either, but their arcs are longer than everyone else’s. You really care for these girls as they confront the harsh reality of the industry. Some end up doing jobs they don’t enjoy, while others struggle to find any decent work at all. Even if you know nothing about anime or working in the industry, everyone can resonate with these struggles. I especially get all of these feelings of just getting further and further away from your dream, knocking on doors with no answer, yet this anime gives me hope that if I keep pushing forward, one day I’ll make it. That’s what this anime is to me, hope, joy and love. It’s been a while since I’ve smiled so warmly watching an anime (and it has reduced me to tears of utter delight more than once).

Shirobako does cover a wide range of topics, and the various challenges that anime production is faced with. We get all sorts, from trying to escape the shadow of a previous failure, to dealing with rather vague and confusing feedback from editorial staff, through to how faithful an anime should be to an original source. Most of these arcs are shown as personal trials, spotlighting specific characters, though sometimes the topics can be a bit broader and bigger, such as the episodes about 2D animation vs. 3D animation. Or the ones asking why people make anime. The answers to these questions aren’t that deep or thought-provoking, but then this anime isn’t trying to be like that. It’ll highlight a problem, but it’s not here to fix it. It’s here to show that despite all of these issues, no matter what struggles the people go through, they continue to make anime because it’s what they want to do. It’s their passion and their drive that keeps them going, and that keeps anime going.

On the animation side of things, the animation is pretty good. It’s nothing groundbreaking, but it’s always bright and colourful and gets the job done. There are moments where the motion just becomes really sweet though. It’s the tiny little details, like the way hair or the body moves. It’s not showy, but it adds so much to realism of the characters and the scenes.

The Verdict

This anime is love letter to anime. This is such a heart-warming, beautiful anime I just can’t praise it enough. It’s so gratifying to watch these characters go through all of these trials, yet still make it to the end happy. Even if you only have a passing interest in anime, you have to watch this show. So what are you waiting for?

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Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday.


First Impressions: Shirobako

Sometimes you have to break away from what you normally watch and dip your toe into a different genre, just to expand your horizons.

I’m saying that because I don’t normally watch slice of life type shows, I prefer more fantasy or supernatural stuff. I watch TV (and write, and draw) in order to escape reality most of the time. Still, this show has me intrigued.

Shirobako is about the trials and tribulations of a group of young girls entering the anime industry. Whether it be working in production, animation or even voice acting.

Now I know animation is no easy thing, I can only imagine the stress and mayhem that goes on when you have deadlines, directors and executives breathing down your neck. It’s a hundred times worse when you have to pump out a quality product each week. And judging by the first few episodes, things are worse than I expected. If nothing else, I have a feeling this show is going to give me a great amount of respect and gratitude for my weekly supply of anime.

Though that doesn’t mean this episode is devoid of fun, I particularly liked the sweet, happy tune played over the high-speed street race, seriously was that legal? I thought for a moment that someone had slipped in some test animation from a Need for Speed game by accident.

But I like the characters, what I got to see of them. And I do like the contrast of the overflowing enthusiasm when the girls were making their own little short at school, to the endless grind of the actual job. I think I’m going to be sticking with this show for a bit. And now I have a craving for donuts.