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.

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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?

Root Letter

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Although I enjoy gaming and anime, I’ve never actually played a visual novel before, so when I first read about Root Letter I was drawn in by its beautiful graphics and that it was a game revolving around penpals. For those who don’t know, a visual novel is essentially an interactive, playable novel with mostly static graphics. They are largely linear with a set storyline and ending, although some can have multiple endings.

In Root Letter you are a 33 year old man who has returned to the Shimane prefecture in the hopes of finding a penpal you used to write to in high school called Aya Fumino. You recall that she stopped writing to you for some reason, and on digging out her old letters to you, you discover one that had been unopened, in which she says she has killed someone. Keen to get to the bottom of the mystery, your quest is to track down the classmates Aya mentioned in her letters to you to get the truth. Luckily they all had distinctive nicknames such as Fatty, Bestie, Shorty, Bitch, Snappy and Four Eyes and Aya’s letters provide clues to their past that help you figure out where they might have ended up.

At the beginning of each chapter of the game you take out one of Aya’s old letters to read, in each one she discusses a different one of her classmates. After reading her letter, you recall your own response and at the end of the letter the game gives you the option to decide what you wrote for part of the letter – the choice you make will affect the ending you get in the final chapter of the game.

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All of Aya’s stationery is totally adorable
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Try your hand at virtual snail mail

Most of the gameplay is you travelling around Shimane to talk to people and pick up items along the way. You can then use this knowledge, and the items to win an “investigation” at the end of the chapter and uncover one of Aya’s classmates. The investigations are the most fun part of the game because you have to say the right thing or use the right evidence in the right order, and if you get it wrong too many times then you have to redo the investigation from the beginning.

During the investigation you can also use “Max mode” (your character’s nickname is Max) to choose from a selection of sayings across a moving meter to get the reaction you need from the person in question. If you pick the wrong answer the person you are talking to will be unimpressed and you have to try again.

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Max mode is one of the more dynamic features of the game

One of the things I really enjoyed about this game is that the Shimane prefecture in the game is heavily based on real life with many of the real locations beautifully rendered in the photo realist style that anime scenery is renowned for. The game itself also fills you in with little titbits of information along the way so if you’re keen to visit Japan it’s a really fun virtual tour.

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Matsue Castle in the game…
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…and Matsue Castle in real life

My expectations for the game would be that it centred heavily on high school age characters, which isn’t the case as you meet the classmates all grown up. The cutesy cover art also duped me into thinking it would be a sweet emotional game. I was surprised that there’s actually a lot of humour and wit. The character you play as, Takayuki, has a really dry, sarcastic sense of humour, which really works well to keep the game engaging and entertaining during the slower moments when you’re just pressing one button repeatedly to move through a lot of dialogue.

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Takayuki is cocky at the best of times

Although Root Letter wasn’t what I expected I really enjoyed this game. The soundtrack has a relaxing, serene quality that complements the stunning landscape art beautifully. The characters usually subvert expectations and make for entertaining and often suspenseful investigation gameplay as they constantly clam up when it comes to Aya, deepening the mystery and creating an increasingly compelling story. The only major downside to this game is that the five alternate endings only come into play in the last chapter of the game, which means that the rest of the game hints at all five endings throughout which can make the gameplay feel a little confusing and nonsensical as it tries to maintain an ambiguous element by mentioning all the different themes. If you’re willing to overlook this you can still enjoy the mystery though.

Root Letter is available now for PS4 and PSVita. You can also buy a special edition of the game which includes an artbook containing the beautiful landscape art featured in the game.

Everyone’s Getting Married (volume 2) 

In volume 2 of Everyone’s Getting Married, Asuka and Ryu have started a romantic relationship. Interestingly, although they remain at odds on the subject of marriage, it isn’t their conflicting views on settling down that causes them problems in this volume, but Ryu’s extremely busy and high pressure career.


I’m really enjoying this manga series. The majority of shoujo romance manga I see on the shelves are about teen relationships and can feature a lot of coy blushing and childish bickering. Asuka and Ryu’s relationship is mature, trusting and adult from the outset as they try to negotiate their intense work lives with the time they want to spend together, trying to grab private moments to be intimate whenever they can.

Asuka and Ryu continue to be well-written characters. Ryu is handsome and intelligent, and not just a superficially charming bishie. He cares deeply for Asuka and is well characterised as someone who is very much caught up in their career, to the point where he sometimes hurts Asuka. Asuka still yearns for marriage but doesn’t spend all her time pining over it, although she doesn’t apologise for it either. The two of them are honest about their standpoints and respectful of each other’s differences, taking the time to consider whether it’s wise for them to settle into a long term relationship when one wants to marry and the other doesn’t.

If you enjoy love stories and want a more grown up manga, give Everyone’s Getting Married a go!

Shelter (Porter Robinson, Madeon, Toshifumi Akai)

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I’m all about my pretty anime, so when I saw the above image while browsing Crunchyroll, and read in the description that it involved a futuristic sci-fi storyline, I was sold. I didn’t realise until clicking on it that it was actually a music video, and not a full length anime!

Six minutes long, the story follows Rin who lives in an incredible simulated world. Through a tablet device, she can draw whatever landscape she wants, and it will be beautifully rendered before her eyes. But she is sad and lonely, continually checking her tablet which reveals it has been a long time since she received any messages.

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Is a limitless world really heaven when you have no one to share it with?

Pairing a vibrant electronic dance track with the endless visual wonders that anime can achieve is a match made in heaven and they fit so well together that if I had found the video elsewhere I would have thought the music was created especially for the animation. This is a gorgeous watch – Rin is delightfully drawn, with big sparkling eyes and an equally beautifully world she moulds at her fingertips, allowing us to marvel alongside her at the northern lights, cerulean blue skies with thick fluffy white clouds and impressive cliff tops. The cherry on the cake is the more humble but still beautiful Japan she came from, shown through an emotive family montage (as well as the classic cherry blossoms).

It’s such a shame that Shelter isn’t a full length movie, because it is a triumph. At 4 million views on Youtube already, I’m clearly not the only one who thinks so! Watch it below and experience the beauty yourself:

 

Death Note

I have never fully committed to reading Death Note, but I was recently gifted the first six volumes of manga and decided to read them on holiday. If you’re even a little bit into manga and anime it’s very unlikely that you won’t have at least heard of Death Note as it’s very well known and has received multiple awards, meriting its own anime, live action movies and even a musical. If you’re not familiar with it, here’s a synopsis below:

Light Yagami is a highly intelligent teenager. So intelligent that he’s bored with life. When he picks up a mysterious black notebook one day called the Death Note and discovers that it can kill people provided he knows their face when writing their name down, he takes it upon himself to rid the world of the immoral, corrupt and criminal. When another gifted teenager who goes by the alias ‘L’ realises what is happening he offers his own impressive intellect to the Japanese police and sets out to track down the mystery killer, who the world calls “Kira”.

Death Note is an addictive read from the outset. Light is a classic psychopath, with all the charisma and hubris that makes his ruthless determination to outwit L and the police to “rid the world of evil” all the more compelling to read. L also has all the appearance and characteristics of an unhinged genius and his tendency to perch on chairs and eat as many sweet treats as he can get his hands on provide much needed visual light relief against the dark subject matter of death and crime.

They do say power goes to your head...
They do say power goes to your head…

Death Note isn’t a standard cat-and-mouse story because Light is hunting L as keenly as L wants to catch Kira, and Light isn’t afraid to risk nail-bitingly bold manoeuvres like telling someone he’s the killer only seconds before they’re meant to enact a plan he wrote into the Death Note. L isn’t afraid to use risky and outlandish strategies either, and even approaches Light directly and asks for his help to defeat Kira despite harbouring a suspicion that Light is Kira. The manga also throws other interesting elements into the mix such as Light’s father being captain of the police force, and the unexpected appearance of another Kira.

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L upholds a lawful justice system

The stakes get ever higher as L and Light battle for the upper hand which means some improbable plot devices are used, but L and Light’s intricate thought processes add gravitas which help keep the narrative grounded as they constantly analyse and dissect how Kira would act, L to catch him and Light to avoid suspicion.

Light’s relationship with Ryuk, the shinigami accompanying the Death Note is also enjoyably unique, with Ryuk standing back and silently watching Light’s decisions with the Death Note, occasionally revealing something about its workings, or just comically twisting about if he’s denied apples for too long (apples are like crack to shinigami). It’s refreshing to see that despite the shinigami having terrifying appearances, they are rational, feeling creatures and sometimes seem more human than the humans.

Death Note is an absorbing read that proves itself worthy of its cult status with all the melodramatic plot twists and intellectual ponderings that only the best of manga can pull off.

If you liked this you might like…

Code Geass

When I originally heard of Death Note it reminded me a lot of one of my favourite anime, Code Geass. Both stories feature two lead characters with opposing morals, one of whom has a supernatural element to help them fulfill their goal. I think one of the reasons I prefer Code Geass is that the central characters are given strong backstories and motives for their moral stances, so if you like Death Note, definitely give Code Geass a try.