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?

Amanchu!

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Ooki is a shy girl still preoccupied with her old life and friends on moving to a new town. When she meets Hikari, a bubbly and eccentric girl who embraces everything in life from her new desk seat to that fresh textbook smell with equal enthusiasm, things look like they might be set to change for the better. Hikari is an experienced diver, and Ooki is persuaded to join the school’s diving club.

Hikari is initially the main draw to this anime. If you don’t like characters who are positive to the point of eccentricity you might find her peppiness grating, but her excitement for everything in life sets Amanchu! up as a positive and sweet anime. Hikari’s outlook is juxtaposed with Ooki’s sadness about trying to adjust to a whole new life – we see her apathy about joining any high school clubs and excitement for getting texts from her old friends. Hikari is the catalyst for change and when Ooki joins the diving club she gradually begins to re-emerge from her shell.

Ooki feels sad and lonely to begin with
Ooki feels sad and lonely to begin with

Ooki’s thoughts and behaviour indicate someone who struggles with anxiety and low self esteem that has been made worse by having to try and process the changes in her life, and the sensitive way her peers respond to this adds deeper emotion to what would otherwise be a simple fluffy story. The anime focuses closely on Ooki and her immediate peers – Hikari, and two other friends who are part of the diving club. The fact that scenes often include no more than four or five people really cements Amanchu! as an intimate anime and allows Ooki and Hikari’s characters in particular to be focused on to a stronger emotional effect.

Hikari is endearingly in love with life
Hikari is endearingly in love with life

Yuri fans will also delight in the ongoing subtext of Hikari and Ooki’s chemistry. Ooki’s tendency to get flustered and blush around Hikari can easily be explained away as part of her introverted and bashful nature…but there’s enough there to suggest an underlying attraction too. Their relationship forms the heart of the show and Hikari’s unquestioning support of Ooki in diving and beyond often tugs at the heartstrings. Although their scenes together are moving, they have strong moments alone too. One moment that really warmed my heart was when Hikari takes a train journey just to catch a brief but stunning glimpse of some blooming hydrangeas on its route, (she plans to get off at the next stop and then head back). She frequently embodies this “live in the now/enjoy all of life’s little wonders” attitude that slowly rubs off on Ooki. Hikari’s carefree attitude also works well alongside the anime’s aesthetic of light pastels, sparkling oceans and a relaxing soundtrack which make this a perfect summer watch.

You won't have to dive too deep for lesbian subtext here...
You won’t have to dive too deep for romantic subtext here…

Amanchu! disguises itself pretty convincingly under a veneer of fluffiness and light comedy, but from the get go it grounds itself in emotional honesty with a strong character arc as we see Ooki opening up to others and learning to embrace a new life that resonates across even the goofiest of scenes. The parallels of learning to dive underwater with learning to dive into a new life are a beautiful metaphor as we see Ooki overcome her sadness and anxiety step by step.

Check out this warm gem of an anime, Amanchu! is now available on Crunchyroll.

ReLIFE

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27 year old Arata has no full time job or career plan and nobody to tide him over when his parents cut him off financially. When he bumps into a charming man named Ryo who offers him an all expenses paid get out for a whole year Arata instantly agrees, not realising the consequences of his decision until the morning after. Ryo works for ReLIFE laboratory and Arata has taken an experimental drug which makes him physically transform to his 17 year old self. Ryo reveals that ReLIFE is actually a rehabilitation programme for unemployed NEET types like Arata who are sent back to high school for a year to reinvigorate them and help them learn what it means to work hard.

ReLIFE wastes no time setting up an entertaining fish out of water situation in which Arata struggles with the practicalities of being a teenager again. He forgets that he shouldn’t be smoking, scores badly on the high school tests and unthinkingly lends larger sums of money than a student would be expected to have. Interestingly, although Arata seems to be alone at 27 when he becomes a student again he easily connects with the boys and girls around him, making it obvious pretty early on that his time in ReLIFE will have a positive impact on his new friends as much as they will on him.

Arata has some trouble behaving like a 17 year old...
Arata has some trouble behaving like a 17 year old…

I went into this anime expecting the focus to be entirely on Arata’s development but whilst we get his internal monologue throughout during his interactions with his high school peers, the anime sets up most of the drama about his new friends. The first few episodes are deceptively lighthearted, almost to the point of goofiness in places but ReLIFE begins to build emotional investment from the get go as Arata’s new friends struggle with their own insecurities and the impact they have on their relationships with each other. The animation is pretty standard with the odd lapse into chibi style at comedic moments, and the discordant and erratic piano soundtrack works well to support each teenager’s internal conflicts and provide a quirky backdrop to the tension.

Another day, another derp moment
Another day, another derp moment

Although ReLIFE features realistic characters with believable quirks and struggles, I wish that it had done more to give some of the emotional moments greater impact. We’re shown some poignant backstory for Arata’s life as a 27 year old and also for Ryo’s life working on another case in the ReLIFE laboratory but most of this isn’t until the last part of the anime. The focus remains on the melodrama between Arata’s classmates and whilst they are likeable and interesting enough, their characters are never built up enough to provide the right kind of emotional depth to make their conflicts with each other as interesting as they could be.

Arata's backstory plays out to powerful effect
Arata’s backstory plays out to powerful effect

The ending frustrated me most about ReLIFE, this anime offers powerful twist at the end and then just doesn’t do nearly enough with it. It’s a shame that the potential for a real emotionally moving finish fades away in favour of the light humour and fluffiness that has been present throughout, when it would have been easy to provide a strong emotional finish for two of the central characters.

ReLIFE provides plenty of laugh-out-loud moments without resorting to lazy stereotypes or over the top fanservice. It also tackles some darker topics, so if you have the patience to stick with it through some predictable drama situations you’ll find some moving scenes towards the end and there are enough touching moments throughout to maintain your interest. It is an easy watch whether you’re relatively new to anime and looking to ease yourself in gently, or just looking for a funny anime with some standard high school drama.

ReLIFE is now available on Crunchyroll.

Yamada’s First Time (B Gata H Kei)

Yamada's always prepared...
Yamada’s always prepared…

Yamada is a teenage girl with a mission – she wants to have “one hundred sex friends”. As the prettiest girl at her school, she thinks this won’t be too hard, but there’s one obstacle – she’s still a virgin with no experience. She decides to start simple, choosing a stranger she identifies as a “cherry boy”, and thinks she’ll have him in bed in no time.

The only problem is that the equally inexperienced Kosuda has no idea Yamada is interested in him, which forms the basis for this romantic comedy anime. Yamada is continually seeking to move her relationship with Kosuda towards sex. Although it’s supposedly her mission to lose her v card, she becomes embarrassed and self-conscious while trying to engineer bold seduction moves, and realises it’s not as easy as she thought. Yamada’s frustration at Kosuda’s s obliviousness to her desires also means the two are constantly experiencing the misunderstandings and struggles towards romantic courage often seen in high school anime, that it’s the girl who only has one thing on the brain adding a fresh twist to each moment.

Unfortunately, as the male love interest, Kosuda is a cardboard cut-out of the inexperienced teenage boy. Beyond his interest in photography and Yamada, there’s no real personality to speak of and much of his dialogue and actions feel dry and predictable. However, this is an anime about Yamada’s journey towards sex and love and she makes for an interesting character – appearance obsessed, flirtatious and often a little callous in her doggedness to have sex but with an important touch of vulnerability as she finds her heart interfering with her libido.

B Gata H Kei isn’t going to win many points for originality in the high school romance comedy genre, but it offers some sharp comedic moments, which make the romantic touches all the sweeter. It’s always good to see an anime in which the heroine is moving towards sex consciously and consentingly, and not being exploited for fanservice purposes. If you’re looking for an easy watch with some dirty humour, check this one out.

Princess Jellyfish

Tsukimi is a shy bespectacled young woman who feels ashamed to have not blossomed into a “princess”, especially as so many beautiful girls surround her in Tokyo. Her passion is jellyfish, stemming from a young age in which she would visit them with her mother, and admire their simple beauty. This hobby helps her feel close to her mother, who she lost some years ago, so jellyfish have a special place in her heart.

Tsukimi is no good with people, but she sure knows her jellyfish!
                            Tsukimi is no good with people, but she sure knows her jellyfish!

One evening, whilst trying to rescue a jellyfish, Tsukimi meets an incredibly beautiful woman. Not long after arriving back at Tsukimi’s all girl dorm, filled with other dorky ladies, each with their own unusual interests, Tsukimi is shocked to discover this stunning woman is actually a stunning man called Kuranosuke. She has no experience with the opposite sex whatsoever and is surprised by his interest in her.

Complications begin to ensue when he returns to the dorm dressed as a woman. Men are forbidden at the dorm so if Tsukimi’s fellow residents find out, she’s in trouble.

Whilst the culture clash of the “normal” and glamourous folk such as Kuranosuke and his family against the nerdy and socially inept girls of the dorm provides for obvious misunderstandings and often hyperactive comedy, it also touches on a more serious point that no matter what type of person you are, everyone has a heart, and deserves respect and kindness.

Although the wacky over the top antics of the characters can get a bit wearing, this is a shoujo anime with heart, and if you have the patience for a little repetitive insanity, Tsukimi’s tenderly represented yearnings and burgeoning womanhood offer a relatable account for anyone who remembers the first stirrings of love.

Watamote (No Matter How I Look At It, It’s You Guys’ Fault I’m Not Popular!)

Tomoko is our schoolgirl protagonist, ready for popularity, friendship and fun on entering high school. She is quickly shocked to find that her expert knowledge of video games and dating sim experience doesn’t translate to real life social success.

Each episode of this anime is titled “Since I’m not popular, I’ll…” and charts the quirky and outlandish methods Tomoko turns to in an attempt to make friends and impress her peers. The antics that follow make for a cringey but relatable anime as we see the impressionable heroine attempt everything from over the top makeovers to cheesy one liners to try and win the people around her over.

Tomoko herself is a refreshingly different presentation of young woman from some of the cookie cutter softly spoken sweet girls in so many high school anime. With her grungy black hair and sallow eyes she even visually stands out from the commonly drawn bambi eyed perky anime girl. Personality wise, she also represents a much more realistic adolescent girl – we see the ungraceful blossoming of her sexuality as she fantasises over a male celebrity at a meet and greet, sleeps in a certain position because she read in a magazine it would give her more sexual dreams and lies about her relationship status to her younger cousin.

Watamote focuses almost exclusively on Tomoko’s viewpoint, but the constant access to her thoughts and feelings help to ensure we never feel too far away from her wacky or embarrassing actions, making her a likeable character overall. This helps to balance out some of the more two dimensional background characters who are often simply there to provide reactions to Tomoko’s eccentric behaviour.

Watamote is a warts and all account of the lengths a person will go to in the name of looking cool and making friends, something everyone can relate to – even more so when you throw in the mistakes a gullible socially challenged teenager makes. It’s always refreshing to see anime in which female characters are acknowledged to have sexual desires without being sexualised. If you’re looking for a simple anime to dip in and out of with a quirky heroine – check out Watamote.

Ouran High School Host Club

Haruhi Fujioka is a bookish girl, clever enough to be granted a scholarship into the prestigious private Ouran High School. However, she remains a “commoner” amongst the wealthy and elite around her, so when she accidentally breaks a priceless lamp, she finds herself paying off her debt in the most unusual manner.

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                   Meet the host club!

Enter the host club – a group of attractive young men who spend their time entertaining and charming the young women of the school. This group is comprised of each kind of anime male archetype – the prince, the stoic quiet one, the cynical smart one, the adorable one and mischievous twins. Haruhi finds herself joining the group and dressing as a male host to pay off her debt.

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This may be a shoujo anime but it isn’t afraid of a little self-parody

Ouran High School Host Club is a mixed bag. It draws much of its comedy from parodying the shoujo genre with exaggerated motifs such as flower petals and sparkles, alongside postmodern references – at one point Tamaki (our prince figure) observes that he and Haruhi are the key players in a romantic comedy, and the rest of the host club are the “homosexual supporting cast”. Slapstick and melodrama is also frequently used, which can be tiring or distracting in places, but often works well to highlight the differences between the superficial emotional tendencies of Tamaki with Haruhi’s pragmatic nature.

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Expect plenty of over the top moments like this

For all of its fooling around, Ouran High School Host Club offers some hilarious moments, and some truly moving ones too as we witness the blossoming relationship between Tamaki and Haruhi, and are offered some touchingly presented emotional scenes as we learn more about how each host club member has become the person they are.

This is a classic shoujo anime with heart and humour, if you can get used to the over the top antics, you’ll enjoy its spirit.