Gamers!

Keita is a teenage boy with a one track mind – games, games and more games! He overlooks socialising and hobbies in favour of pursuing his hobby so is taken aback when pretty, popular academic Karen Tendou asks him to join her Gaming Club. To her shock he turns down her offer as he prefers to play games for fun and not in a competitive way.

“I’m just a girl…standing in front of a boy…asking him to play video games with her.”

I had expected Gamers! to play out with Keita joining the club, getting to know the other members and attempting to win Karen’s affection, so I was happy when everything was turned on its head so spectacularly. Keita is nonplussed by turning down Karen’s invitation and is socially inept enough that he doesn’t realise he’s done something radically against social norms by rejecting a girl much higher than him in the school social hierarchy. He also doesn’t realise how much he has embarrassed Karen with the rejection. Things get hilarious pretty quickly when another popular kid, Tasuku confronts him about his behaviour in what turns into an over the top melodramatic slanging match on a bridge.

Gamers! continues to play with expectations as we see Karen completely fall apart over Keita. She falls for him hard, and is completely reduced to cartoon ashes, a sparkly eyed gooey mess or a jealous monster over Keita’s interactions with other girls and his utter obliviousness to her feelings. In fact, the show sets up such clear roles and types for each character with the sole purpose of destroying these setups. I really enjoyed this ‘in your face’ method of letting the audience know that comedic chaos is about to unfold in the very first episode.

All’s fair in love and games

Although gaming is continually mentioned and referenced throughout the anime as you’d expect, there’s a smaller focus on it than I had thought, and really I’d define Gamers! as a romantic comedy. The show sets up increasingly more elaborate and wacky misunderstandings between characters, who think X is dating Y when actually Z is dating Y and X wants someone else altogether. Although it seems over the top, it works really well a lot of the time as each character has their own foibles – Karen’s pride, Keita’s inferiority complex – and these form the heart of misunderstandings and miscommunications just as you’d see in real life.

Gamers! is a sweet anime packed full of laugh out loud moments, and romances you’ll want to root for, even if only for more humourous moments.

Gamers! is now streaming on Crunchyroll.

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New Game!

Aoba is fresh out of high school and greener than green when she starts her first job at the game developer Eagle Jump. Inspired by a game she loved as a child she is thrilled to find out she’ll be working on the sequel. But with such zany colleagues she’s in for a heap of wacky misadventures along the way…

As someone who is a few years into the working world, I immediately recalled and related to the feelings that New Game! immediately conjures up as we see Aoba meeting her team and adjusting to their quirks, trying to work out when to ask for help and how to do it, and feeling excited about her first paycheck. Each episode focuses on a different topic with titles such as “What Happens if I’m Late to Work?” and “That’s How Many Nights We Have to Stay Over?”. You can dip in and out of them if you just want some light office-based humour but you’re likely to enjoy it more if you watch them chronologically as the series also charts Aoba’s adjustments to adult and working life and it’s enjoyable watching her learn and grow as she takes advice from her teammates.

I enjoyed how realistically the office environment is rendered, admittedly with some otaku feeling touches to the environment. There are multiple shots of Aoba looking at her computer clock across the episodes, a really simple but effective way that I found made me feel more immersed in her working life and routine. I think this is the first anime I’ve ever seen that features an office environment for most of the scenes and the little touches are really nice and really help give the impression of a creative company’s working space.

New Game! renders a colourful but realistic office environment

The relationships in New Game! also feel natural, with Aoba quickly finding her place amongst her female colleagues in spite of a few newbie mistakes like locking herself out of the office every time she goes to the bathroom because she forgot her key card. The humour flows nicely, with some one-off gag moments that remind you that the anime is based on a four panel manga, as well as some more cleverly built up jokes – there is a great one in particular where Aoba walks in on her colleagues in a compromising situation, but it’s too good to spoil here!

New Game! also makes a few nods to yuri relationships in a way that repeatedly threatens to cross the line into something explicit, but then always wimps out at the last minute. It’s perhaps unsurprising that an anime so exclusively about female friendships and relationships would hint at this to try and widen its audience but also bewildering at times when moments are created then not built on any further. There are also light fanservice-y moments in general with the odd butt close-up but it’s so infrequent and brief that it never feels like you’re watching a fanservice anime.

“What do you mean our romantic relationship can only be implied?!”

I’m really enjoying this anime and definitely recommend it. New Game! offers a sweet and happy story about a young woman’s first foray into the working world, and as she pursues her dream it’s impossible not to remember being the newbie and find yourself rooting for her every step of the way. With a great assortment of characters and genuine laughs I’d recommend this to anyone looking for a funny anime set in the working world that offers up lots of great office humour.

Hanayamata 

Naru is a self-labelled “average teen” who wants to shine but feels inadequate next to her gorgeous, popular, in-a-band friend, Yaya. A chance encounter with a mysterious blonde girl called Hana at a shrine leads her into the world of yosakoi, a traditional Japanese dance.

In spite of its cutesy graphics, Hanayamata adds some emotional depth from the first episode which I was pleasantly surprised by, and we see the main characters struggle with their insecurities and fears in an understated way. Naru, for example, agrees to join Hana’s Yosakoi group but only as an assistant at first, betraying her anxiety that she isn’t a good enough dancer to “dazzle” and be worthy of the group. Tami is a well-behaved daddy’s girl who chooses to break away expectations from of her to join the group, and Yaya in turn battles with her own jealousy as she sees Naru step out of her insecurities and start to believe in herself again.

Hana’s motto – life’s too short not to be happy!
Although I was impressed with Hanayamata’s commitment to clear-cut character motivation and insecurity from the beginning, it did then move back to comfortable and cutesy territory once this had been established. Some of the scenes are excessively sentimental – Naru gives more than one emotional speech about how much yosakoi means to her, and how much her friends mean to her, which might be more powerful if it was more than five episodes in, but luckily a lot of the more sugary emoting is usually balanced with some light comedy. Perhaps because of the solid character establishing at the beginning, even the simpler scenes in Hanayamata feel weighted enough to avoid slipping into pure fluff territory.

It’s tough being the only glass half full member of the group sometimes
For me, Hanayamata is a nice “middle of the road” sort of anime. It offers enough character depth and drama to avoid floating away on its own fluffiness, and Naru’s stage fright and insecurities will be easily understandable and relatable to many. But it is still a fairly lightweight cutesy anime about five girls embracing friendship and a new passion. If you’re looking for something with pretty shoujo style animation, silly comedy and engaging main characters it’s definitely one to put on your ‘to watch’ list.

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?

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!