A Girl on the Shore – Inio Asano

Koume is feeling pretty blue after her crush, the local playboy Misaki uses her for his own sexual pleasure then dumps her like a hot potato. She turns to Isobe, a boy who has always had a thing for her, looking for some rebound sex. In spite of Isobe’s declared intentions, Koume isn’t interested in a relationship with him, so the two step into uncharted waters of sexual exploration with each other instead.


Koume and Isobe’s relationship is dysfunctional from the outset as they navigate what is the first ongoing sexual relationship for both of them, complicated by their jealousy. Isobe also hides a dark secret which is compounded by Koume’s lack of regard for him into anger and destructive behaviour.

From reading the summary of this manga I had expected some kind of love story, so I was surprised to find more of an anti love story. Koume uses Isobe with no respect for his feelings at all, and Isobe is violent towards her when she angers him. I didn’t feel fully sympathetic for either character, which was jarring at first, but once I got used to it, it was also a refreshing change to read such flawed, selfish and complex characters.

Although this story wasn’t what I expected there is a lot to praise about this manga. I found it enjoyable to read a manga that neither puts sex on a pedestal of “that special perfect first time” as many shoujo manga are apt to do, but displays it with an openness that is never pushed to salaciousness, right down to the artwork even displaying pubic hair, a rare occurrence in manga and anime. The artwork style is also really interesting, and the photo realistic backdrops are impressive to pore over.

A Girl on the Shore is a great story, but the ending felt rushed for me in comparison to the emotional buildup. Isobe is shown to be struggling with depression to the point of suicidal thoughts, and yet after a pivotal moment when Koume worriedly searches for him in a rainstorm, he is revealed to be totally fine, with no satisfying emotional payoff for how he overcame his personal demons.

On the whole I enjoyed this story overall and would recommend it if you’re looking for a complex teen relationship story. Inio Asano presents a dark and flawed portrait of his characters, and it’s really something you can get stuck into.

Minami Kamakura High School Girls Cycling Club

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Hiromi has moved to the beautiful coastal town of Kamakura, a city just south of Tokyo that is filled with temples and hiking trails. She plans to ride her bike to school but is a little rusty on the basics, and fortunately bumps into a fellow classmate Tomoe who offers to help her relearn.

As Hiromi meets more of her classmates they discover that they all have an interest in cycling, and decide to form a club. Their cycling journeys and quest to secure a budget for the club (they have to prove themselves worthy first) form the basis of this anime.

If you haven’t already guessed, this is a light and fluffy anime through and through. I have never watched a sport anime before, it was the clean art style and soft bright colour palette that drew me to this show. It’s easy for anyone that isn’t a sporty person or expert on cycling to get into this show as it makes it very accessible for the viewer. Hiromi and her friends are newbs to the cycling world and much about the best bicycles for them to use and the correct cycling technique is covered both within the anime, and within a real life featurette at the end which provides extra hints and tips for any budding cyclists.

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Hiromi and her friends have fun riding around Kamakura
This anime is cute and enjoyable – for me the highlights are seeing the sights of Kamakura gorgeously rendered with lush greenery and stunning blue skies and learning about cycling. But there’s nothing to make it a stand out anime – I’ll openly admit that couldn’t tell you the names of all of Hiromi’s friends and the anime doesn’t do much to create any in-depth personalities for them. Nonetheless this is a fun and cheery anime so if you’re looking for a fluffy sport anime it’s a definite contender.

Yugioh! The Dark Side of Dimensions

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I am a huge Yugioh fan. The series was the bedrock of my childhood. I would spend hours playacting as the characters with my sister, to the point where we had moulded them to our own and created our own stories. So it was with some excitement that I sat down and prepared to watch a brand new movie, and I was not disappointed!

Dark Side of Dimensions picks up where our characters had been left off. Pharaoh Atem has ascended to the spirit world, leaving the Millennium Puzzle in pieces, and Yugi is missing him but carrying on with his life and thinking about life after high school graduation with his friends Tristan, Tea, Joey and Bakura. Things are not set to be peaceful for long though as Seto Kaiba seeks to reassemble the puzzle and challenge the pharaoh once more, and a mysterious man named Aigami has a special interest in Yugi…

The movie gets off to a very cheesy start as Yugi meets up with his friends for school, almost introducing them one by one. I was afraid the dialogue would be as slow and corny throughout the rest of the movie as it was in the scene in which Yugi and his friends discuss what they plan to do with their lives after high school, but their responses are effectively a quick way to get the essence of their character for anyone who is coming into the movie with no prior knowledge of the story. I was also pleased to see that whilst the character styles had been updated a bit, it wasn’t so much as to lose the heart of the original character designs.

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“Hey Yugi, does my hair look slightly different than it used to or is that my imagination?”
The antagonist for this movie is Aigami, a blue-haired bishie boy who takes an interest in Yugi and his friends. I instantly warmed to him, because he was a fairly understated villain, which is probably a good thing with Seto Kaiba’s planet-sized ego already filling the screen on a regular basis. Aigami’s backstory is nicely tied in to the character of Shadi and how one character acquired their Millennium item. Aigami has his own kind of magic which he can use to create special “dimension” duels, which makes duelling him all the more complex and difficult for Yugi and Kaiba.

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Aigami – not your average bishie
So what did I enjoy so much about this movie? The humour was a big one, and I was pleasantly surprised by how often I laughed. Eric Stuart is on brilliant form as Seto Kaiba, with so many hilarious lines referencing his own colossal ego, and a great one in which he refers to painstakingly recreating the pharoah’s “perfectly coiffed” hair for a simulation duel. The movie makes numerous hilarious nods to the fandom as well, with Bakura’s acknowledged entourage of fangirls (“it’s the accent”), Joey dressed as a dog (again) and more over-the-top Seto Kaiba behaviour (Space elevator? Check. Casually jumping out of a moving jet? Check.)

Although there’s much that feels comfortably familiar, it also feels like characters have grown a bit too. Yugi is the heart of the series and he gives a gentle and touching speech at the beginning about missing Atem, but we nonetheless see him go on and do battle with Seto and Aigami on his own as brave as ever. Even when not mentioned, Atem’s absence is very much felt, and as Kaiba seeks to reconstruct the puzzle we wonder if we will see a return of the figure everyone is missing so much.

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Yugi may be one Pharaoh down, but he’s stronger than ever
I won’t spoil it, but the ending of the film is touching, and ends on the most thrilling tease of what I hope will be the start of a sequel movie or anime series. Even if it doesn’t, Dark Side of Dimensions reminded me of what I really love about Yugioh, and it’s vastly superior to its two predecessor movies (in my opinion). If you’re a fan it’s a must-see, and if you’re brand new to the Yugioh world, why not give it a try?

My top ten My Little Pony songs

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Alongside anime I’ve always been a huge fan of Western animation, including My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. There are so many things I love about this show but for this post I thought I’d focus on one thing – music. I’m always impressed with the variety of music MLP offers, from soulful ballads, to upbeat numbers, to dramatic duets. Read on to find out my top ten favourites and why I think they’re some of the best…and a great reason to watch this fantastic show.

10. At the Gala

This was the offering for the finale of the first season of My Little Pony. It was the first time we saw MLP doing some really fun things with each pony’s personality in relation to music, and I love the way the mane six’s themes join at the end.

9. Hearts Strong as Horses

“We’re kinda short, but so what? We don’t get defeated/We could take a little break but, we don’t need it”. This song really sums up the Cutie Mark Crusaders perfectly and it’s my favourite of their songs with so much boundless optimism!

8. B.B.B.F.F.

This is a short but sweet introduction to Twilight’s older brother, Shining Armour, with a really nice emotional key change.

7. Battle – Equestria Girls: Rainbow Rocks

Kazumi Evans adds a feisty edge to Rarity’s vocal style to transform into the captivating villain Adagio Dazzle in this rocky number. It’s a really fun song designed to seduce us into embracing our darker, more selfish side with a strong hook.

6. This Day Aria

Not only is this song a magnificent duet of good versus evil, it makes a meta joke, as it musically uses a “deceptive cadence”, which is a clever reference to the evil Princess Cadence. The theme of a female villain and a wedding feels similar to Disney’s Little Mermaid, in a good way.

5. The Spectacle

My Little Pony proves they can do techno-pop with an effortless Lady Gaga-esque song that I think could easily been a chart-topper if it were released mainstream.

4. The Magic Inside (I Am Just A Pony)

Another musical turn from Lena Hall who casts off her “razzle dazzle” from my favourite song in fifth place, and offers a raw soulful piano ballad with some moving vocals. Just don’t ask how she’s managing to play piano with hooves…

3. What More is Out There – Equestria Girls: The Friendship Games

The entirety of The Friendship Games is one brilliant song after another in my opinion, so it’s tough to pick a winner, but the song that stood out for me is Twilight’s hopeful ode to a new beginning. It starts humbly and builds into something to rival any Disney number of a heroine eager to start their journey. Unlike some of the cutesier MLP numbers it asks bigger questions that anyone could relate to – “Will I find what I’m looking for if I just do it on my own?”

2. The Midnight in Me – Equestria Girls: Legend of Everfree

I could sing this ballad all day. It’s a shame that Daniel Ingram’s full length version didn’t make it to the film, but this one minute and thirty seconds packs a punch, and is a pretty powerful metaphor for depression at that…

1. Pinkie Pie’s Smile Song (Come on Everypony Smile, Smile, Smile)

My number one has to be Pinkie Pie’s Smile Song! This is the first song I heard that I felt sounded like it could be a full song in its own right outside the context of the show, and it really cemented Pinkie Pie as my favourite character by so brilliantly encapsulating what a huge heart she has. I challenge you to watch it and not, well, smile!

There are so many other My Little Pony songs I love that I couldn’t fit on here. Which ones do you love? Leave a comment below and let me know!

 

March Comes in Like a Lion

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As a young boy, Rei’s world is torn apart when his family are killed in a car accident. There’s hope for a new family when a kindly man takes him in and the two bond over shogi, much to his own children’s jealousy. Flash forward and Rei is on the cusp of adulthood, living alone in an apartment funded by his shogi game wins. Still lost in loneliness and grief, he is surrounded by new friends who gently support him.

For me, one of anime’s outstanding qualities is its ability to capture the subtle but important nuances of emotion and March Comes in Like a Lion does this wonderfully. An example – when Rei meets three sisters, Akari, Hinata and Momo Kawamoto who frequently invite him over to their home for dinner, Rei’s own inner monologue reflects the home he finds there. At one point he describes holding some warm leftovers as he walks home as being like a small animal that warms his heart and it’s painfully clear how starved of love and kindness he has felt up to that point. This anime is full of poetic monologues in that vein that really show how mature and sensitive Rei is in spite of his reserved outward personality.

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Rei’s inner monologues are poetic and often heartrending

Visually, the anime is much less subtle. Rei lives in hues of black and grey, and many of his flashbacks and monologues are cast in a strong monochromatic style. In contrast, the Kawamoto house is filled with warm orange tones and the love and affection the girls show to Rei shines off the screen as he appreciatively sits down to delicious homemade meals with them. Rei himself can be a quiet and introspective young man for a lot of the time so the intense visuals work really well to communicate his thoughts and feelings about the world around him.

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Rei’s apartment is stark and bare
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The Kawamoto house is filled with life and love

Rei himself is a fascinating character, and I was pleased that March Comes in Like a Lion also extends this complexity to other characters. For example, Harunobu, Rei’s longtime shogi rival, is shown to be a chronically ill man who finds it frustrating to continuously lose to Rei. All the same we see him supporting Rei in his shogi games. He could have been reduced to a plot device or one dimensional character, but he never blames his losses on his illness, and is never shown as someone to be pitied but rather as a kind and good person with a positive outlook on life and a drive to better himself.

I was impressed with the realism the show devotes to shogi as well. As well as describing moves and strategies, we see Rei playing in real time, sometimes at least five minutes of an episode patiently displaying the silent, paced methodology of a real match as if it were being filmed. The show also accounts for viewers who aren’t familiar with shogi, and an episode early on explains the how to play the game with a cute and silly cat animation which reappears later on during the occasional match.

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The pacing and detail shown in shogi matches offers a nice realism

I’d forgive you for getting impatient with this anime. It starts off promising, then gets a bit wacky with a very disjointed mood change, and overall takes a while to provide some of the emotional backstory you might want to feel invested. Do stick with it, you’ll find some very rewarding scenes that tackle depression, loss and the contrasting rigidities of honour in competition versus honour in Japanese family. If you’re a seasoned anime viewer and looking for something to invest in that will reward you over time, this is a great choice.

March Comes In Like a Lion is now available on Crunchyroll. The original manga by Chica Umino can be read online here.

Afflecks Palace, Manchester city centre 

If you live in the United Kingdom and can make a trip to Manchester city centre, Afflecks Palace is the place to go for all your anime and manga merchandise needs! Located in the Northern Quarter (a district full of quirky and unique independent shops), the arcade boasts several little shops which offer a range of anime goods such as figurines, CD soundtracks, posters, cushions, bags, purses and more.



One shop I particularly love, and will undoubtedly continue to revisit is called Sunflower and is devoted to all things Studio Ghibli, with a huge range of quality merchandise that’s perfect for any fan or collector. Here’s a picture of my great haul below:

I particularly love this Kiki’s Delivery Service clutch bag I bought for myself which is an excellent quality. I expected the price to be at least £40 for such a good quality bag that’s also quite unique but it was only £18! The rose detailing is also on the back and I love the decoration on the front which resembles a Chinese comb.

If you’re looking for a good selection of anime merchandise, this is definitely a place worth checking out – and Forbidden Planet and Travelling Man are only a short walk away if you want to splurge even further!

Have you got any great UK anime shops to recommend? If so, leave a comment below!

Your Name (Kimi No Na Wa)

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Mitsuha is sick of her life out in the sticks, and not even having a cafe or bookstore in her little town. She passionately declares one night “Make me a Tokyo boy in my next life!” And then she wakes up the next morning…in a Tokyo boy’s body. Taki, the boy in question, is an average teen making the most of city life, enjoying fancy treats after school with his friends which he pays for via a waiter job at a nice restaurant.

Your Name immediately takes advantage of all of the comedic value of an unexpected body swap. Mitsuha and Taki are both in the throes of puberty and still discovering their own bodies, so waking up inside the opposite sex’s has an extra layer of hilarity. One of the film’s running gags features Mitsuha (sometimes herself, sometimes Taki) waking up each morning and fondling her own breasts.

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Body swapping ain’t all it’s cracked up to be…

Mitsuha and Taki’s friends tell them that they’ve noticed a change in their personalities, and once the pair discover that what they thought were incredibly realistic dreams is actually the two of them swopping bodies, they try to ensure their lives don’t become messier than needed, leaving notes for each other to read on their bodies, and sometimes on their phones. Unfortunately, the two of them never remember each other’s names when they wake up back in their own bodies, prolonging the suspense as they don’t know whose life it is that they keep finding themselves in the middle of.

The film doesn’t focus too deeply on the effects their swapping has on each other’s lives, but it does show the obvious awkwardness of them having to ask their friends questions like “Where do I work?”and having to juggle things that are completely foreign to them – Taki attempting a traditional weaving technique is contrasted against Mitsuha running around like a headless chicken in Taki’s job. In spite of their superficial differences, the universality of their adolescent feelings shines through – Mitsuha manages to get Taki a date with his long-time crush while inhabiting his body, but realises once she’s back in her own body that she’s actually quite jealous.

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“Dear Taki, stop feeling up my boobs, Yours, Mitsuha”

The second half of Your Name takes a more serious turn than I had expected, dealing with a thread about a comet set up from the beginning. The film uses this to further expand on its themes of family, duty, and love and open out the film to a grander scale, and build much higher stakes. There are a lot of very Japanese themes thrown into the second half (I won’t spoil them here) which is one of the things bound to help this film stand the test of time as a Makoto Shinkai classic.

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This is just one example of the astounding landscapes Your Name features

Your Name is visually spectacular. The contrast of city life to country life is stunningly illustrated. Taki’s hectic urban jungle is brilliantly showcased, each sharp angular line of the skyscrapers and twinkling city lights popping off the screen. Mitsuha’s verdant town is a lush delight, and I also really loved seeing the details of her traditional life, such as when she performs a traditional Japanese ritual in her family’s shrine. I also love that the film makes multiple references to the red string of fate, inserting the symbolism in a beautifully simple but striking way throughout the film.

A gorgeous anime needs a great soundtrack and this one does not disappoint! As well as some beautiful strings pieces that really evoke the nature scenes of Mitsuha’s beautiful rural town, RADWIMPS, a Japanese rock band, offer some furiously energetic pop tracks for the chaotic life-swapping scenes of Mitsuha and Taki’s teenage lives. I’ve included the trailer below which features one of the brilliant RADWIMPS tracks.

From Garden of Words and 5 Centimetres Per Second, to Your Name, Makoto Shinkai seems to be continually building on his work, with each anime offering a greater and greater emotional scope that extends into impressive far-reaching themes of the traditional against the modern, long distance love, and figuring out our place in the world.

I love everything about Your Name: its staggeringly beautiful animation, its expressive characters with deep hearts and its moving soundtrack. It’s Japan’s highest grossing movie of 2016, if you haven’t already watched it, what are you waiting for?