Monday 23 October 2017

Streaming: Autumn 2017 anime first impressions

Whew. There are a lot of heavy-hitting sequels this season, and also quite a few cases of series changing streaming services in between seasons, so putting this first impressions post has taken absolutely ages. Shoukoku No Altair, Ballroom He Youkoso are both continuing from the Summer season and on top of that my schedule is already pre-filled with a staggering number of follow-ups to beloved titles, which means that anything brand new has a harder job than usual to get my attention. I also decided to try out a HIDIVE subscription since it isn't all that pricey and they snagged a couple of titles I wanted to see; the lack of apps is still disappointing. I can't get the service running on any of my usual devices at all. Please hurry up with a solution, HIDIVE, or stop enforcing exclusivity!

I don't have much time to moan about the state of streaming in the UK this time, partly because I want to go and clear New Danganronpa V3 as soon as I finish this post and partly because actually, we're in a very fortunate position now. Animax UK is as good as dead, Viewster gave up on simulcasting, and the US anime distributors finally remembered that we exist. If HIDIVE sorted out the app issue and Netflix would just stop blocking legal simulcasting from titles which would otherwise have appeared on Crunchyroll, everything would be close to perfect.

So with all of that said and done, I'll move on to the first impressions of all of the new anime content!

Saturday 21 October 2017

Streaming: Summer 2017 anime final impressions

Another season has come and gone. Summer 2017 wasn't the strongest season of anime I've followed; in fact, it was rather weak overall, which is probably for the best as there are suddenly plenty of interesting games I want to play! I'm currently working through New Danganronpa V3 and the mobile port of Gyakuten Saiban 6 (or Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Spirit of Justice, to use its long-winded localised name). Both are fantastic and titles I have been looking forward to for a long time, so it's going to be tough going to tear myself away and watch all of the first episodes for the upcoming season in between gaming sessions!

A final impressions post requires the usual completely arbitrary top three, and accordingly here it is.

1. Tsuredure Children
2. Owarimonogatari second season
3. Saiyuuki Reload Blast

Tsuredure Children was simply the best. I looked forward to it every week despite it being different to my usual favourites in every conceivable way. Owarimonogatari was its usual self and worthy of a spot despite having a short run. And Saiyuuki was sort of average except I needed a third series for the list and it felt good to revisit the past every week.

One notable omission from the full list below is Hajimete No Gal (My First Girlfriend Is A Gal), which I finally dropped two thirds of the way through the season for being persisently mediocre after all. I had hoped for something better; instead, it got worse, and there wasn't even any worthwhile fan service to make the plot feel less awful. I also discovered later on that all of the creepy child molester jokes were actually added for the anime, a fact that is probably going to haunt me for life. I'm not easily offended but they weren't even slightly funny and just added an awkward atmosphere to something which wasn't good enough to rise above the poor taste; what on earth was the team thinking?

Monday 24 July 2017

Streaming: Summer 2017 anime first impressions

Wow. Crunchyroll nearly completely wiped out when it came to licensing high quality titles this season; if I wasn't already subscribed for a year I'd have seriously considered taking a break if they hadn't snagged Jigoku Shoujo. It's not a strong season to begin with - the majority of titles are 'ok' rather than 'unmissable' - but it's the first where Crunchyroll's dominance in the UK has started to show major cracks. The main culprits are Amazon Prime, who have grabbed some high quality titles once again, and Sentai's new venture HIDIVE. Netflix are also sitting on the sidelines, singlehandedly justifying piracy for many viewers by withholding all international access for anything they touch and treating the anime community like a mindless cash cow. Screw Netflix.

Amazon's anime push is nothing new for this season, but Sentai's relaunch is actively frustrating. To draw attention to their homegrown service they have stopped allowing other anime sites to show their content, which means that none of their shows can be viewed on half my devices and there are no apps whatsoever since the new site is still in beta. In addition, the billing/trial system is poorly described and confusing. Even though their support team is friendly and responsive, by now we've all gone through this many times before with overly ambitious new site launches in legal streaming and it's never fun.

Manga Entertainment's Jerome accidentally hit the nail on the head in one of his characteristic Twitter rants recently when he said, "Isn't that weird? Usually consumers see monopolisation as a bad thing, but anime fans r screaming out for 1 source for everything."

In my mind, there's a simple explanation. Competition is important. The ideal anime streaming market would have sites like Crunchyroll, Netflix, Amazon, Funimation and HIDIVE all streaming every show, worldwide, with subtitles in multiple languages. If Netflix wants to push this stupid enforced 'box set' marathon model, let them do so. If HIDIVE think they are best positioned for providing a unified streaming-and-physical service to the US and English-majority regions, let them. If Crunchyroll think a completely free service on a delay is worth more to fans on a budget while Viewster think fans deserve day-and-date with adverts, fine. The customers can pick which site they find easiest to use, and everyone has legal access to as much anime as possible. The best sites will get the most customers and the anime industry will get feedback on what works best, without all of the lies, exaggerations and excuses.

What we have now is not competition. It's the opposite. As a fan, I don't want to watch some random shounen anime on my platform of choice, so I have to follow the shows I want to watch to the platforms where they end up even if it destroys my viewing experience, as it can easily do when a service is poorly run (Animax UK, I'm talking about you). Fans can't afford to subscribe to half a dozen different platforms to watch half a dozen different shows. Fans can't afford new computers just to have something which works to stream through a certain badly-written website. Fans can't afford to spend hours each week trying to piece together the puzzle of working out which site has the show they want to see for their region (if anyone has it at all) and which language options are available where. It's even worse for casual or new fans, who have no real investment in the industry to encourage them to put up with all of this disorganisation.

Piracy is flourishing because of this baffling parody of the spirit of competition, where the services with the most money grab all of the best shows and lock them away from potential viewers. For most of these sites the distributors aren't being paid based on the number of viewers, they're being paid based on how exclusive their contract is. Distributors like Jerome are incentivised to give exclusivity contracts to each service (or not stream at all, thanks Jerome), and thus we end up in a situation where almost every single title this season is exclusive to one streaming service in the UK. The services don't even specialise in anime genres, so one season you'll have to go to Amazon Prime for your mature, female-orientated entertainment and the next that stuff will be on Crunchyroll instead and Amazon Prime only has action fantasy shows. The cheapest way to subscribe is via annual subscription, but to subscribe to each and every streaming site costs several times more than most fans' anime budgets. Ironically, this current interpration of 'competition' is probably crippling the spending power of Jerome's own physical anime buyers more than he realises.

In short, anime streaming is still a huge mess and the distributors are completely to blame. But as I love anime and hate piracy, I'm forced to put up with it and can't do anything about it other than complain.

So let's switch topics and talk about my first impressions of this latest batch of anime. On top of the titles I liked from the selection below, I'm still streaming Boku No Hero Academia, Nobunaga No Shinobi and Sakura Quest from previous seasons. Crunchyroll's lineup page still has a blank slot which I'm guessing will be filled later in the season too.

Sunday 23 July 2017

Streaming: Spring 2017 anime final impressions

Time is passing by too fast for me. It's difficult to keep up, yet despite some travel I managed to complete all of the shows I was watching in the spring anime season. It looks as though Crunchyroll has lost its monopoly on content at this point, with me finally subscribing to another platform ready for summer to avoid some of the blocks on exclusives the industry seems obsessed with inflicting upon us. What a pain.

I'll talk about it more in my summer 2017 post, but I ended up picking up Re:Creators right at the end of the season after finally gaining access to it. Everything else is largely unchanged from my first impressions post so here is my top three:

1. Uchouten Kazoku
2. Shingeki No Kyojin
3. Berserk

Not a big change there, except that somehow Berserk's terrible animation trounced SukaSuka's melodramatic romance in the final ranking. It wasn't the most life-changing season. All three of those shows are sequels!

Monday 29 May 2017

Event report: Basara Club Fan Meeting 2017 Spring

It's been a while since this blog featured something like this, hasn't it?

Since real life didn't allow me to attend the previous Basara Matsuri and stage play events, I leapt at the opportunity to apply for tickets to this weekend's Basara Club Fan Meeting 2017 Spring events when the timing ended up coinciding with some travel I'd already arranged. The Sengoku Basara fandom is in a huge lull right now in Japan - even more so than it was prior to the announcement of Sengoku Basara 4 - and it's been a little sad seeing how few signs there are of the series' influence while travelling around the country over the past two weeks. Sengoku Basara merchandise has vanished from most stores, the anime discs are in bargain bins and we just had the news that Sengoku Basara Dokugan, the only serialised manga currently running (not counting the Retsuden one-shots in Dengeki Maoh) is to end in a couple of weeks. If not for this summer's Zangeki Sengoku Basara: Odawara Seibatsu ('Odawara Subjugation') stage play which has just started its major advertising push, I'd be ready to declare the series officially dead.

So it was with a little anxiety that I bought my tickets and turned up at the venue, half-worrying that I might be the only person there! Thankfully, that wasn't the case. The hardcore fans are still eager to celebrate the crazy action of Sengoku Basara even during this period of deathly quiet.

First of all, to avoid any dashing of hopes I want to make it clear that these fan gatherings are just for fun. The gaming media isn't present and there are no major announcements, so this post won't secretly reveal any news about Sengoku Basara 5 right at the end (sadly). If you still want to read more anyway, please go ahead!

Sunday 7 May 2017

Streaming: Spring 2017 anime first impressions

What on earth happened to anime streaming this season? Right as we had finally settled into a wonderful era of Crunchyroll getting UK simulcast rights for almost everything on offer, Amazon Prime and Netflix have both stepped up their plans to grab exclusive licenses with bizarre global strategies; in Amazon's case, they've started licensing some titles for the US only which has left other English-speaking regions in the dust. It's as though we've gone back in time several years! The situation is worsened by UK licensor Manga Entertainment continuing to sit on its own licenses instead of putting them on some kind of simulcasting service. Their decisionmakers don't like Crunchyroll or dub-only outlet Funimation Now, but in the absence of any viable alternative Manga Entertainment continue to license shows and provoke the pirates by squatting on the digital rights for the UK. And so I don't buy from Manga.

I'm desperately hoping that this mess is just a temporarily blip on the path to progress, though it's not exactly unusual for the anime industry to shoot itself in the foot and prevent those who want to from watching and supporting their favourite titles. Global streaming is always such a mess.

All of my ongoing shows have finished other than Nobunaga No Shinobi, which has a second season continuing straight on from the previous one. So will anything new be joining it in my weekly viewing schedule? Let's see.

Streaming: Winter 2017 anime final impressions

Another busy season for me outside of this poor blog, which is limping along on these anime roundups alone these days. I've only been keeping up on the shows which aired on Crunchyroll which was rather convenient and economical. It feels as though this era may be over moving into the spring season, sadly, as it's absolutely loaded with service-specific exclusives; even losing just one must-see title in winter to Amazon Prime was a shame.

I dropped Fuuka partway through its run after realising that it was never going to become the alternate version of NANA I was hoping for, and from all accounts it seems that I dodged a bullet there. I also dropped Ao No Exorcist for no reason in particular. It was too confusing trying to stitch the canonical events from the previous adaptation together.

So let's go with this for my top three:

1. Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu
2. ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Dept

The other reason for my lateness in posting these final impressions (and consequently, my first impressions for spring) is a little silly. I loved my top show so much that I was afraid to finish it for quite a few weeks, and ended up trapped in an extended winter much longer than I planned. Several of the shows - most notably Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu and Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans - were such emotional rollercoasters that they left me in tatters. I hope the current season will be kinder.

Saturday 4 February 2017

News roundup: Catching up on Sengoku Basara news right before this weekend's Basara Matsuri

Wow, it's been a long time since I wrote one of these! The Sengoku Basara series has been reasonably quiet over the last few months, so I've been catching up on real life (and playing lots of Final Fantasy XIV). Thank you all very much for the notes/corrections/suggestions on my Sanada Yukimura-den guide; I'll update that very soon but the comments section has a lot of great information from the community. I also need to update it to reflect the changes to the DLC pricing, and the expanded availability of the mascot costumes for Benmaru and Bontenmaru which are now available for purchase.

I'm going to make this news roundup less detailed than my old ones since there's a lot to get through.

Announcements are expected tomorrow at the latest Basara Matsuri event

I never got around to announcing it at all but the big Basara Matsuri 2017 ~Mononofu Katari~ celebration is taking place this Sunday 5th February 2017 at the Maihama Amphitheater in Chiba! There will be two separate events on the same day, one at 14:00 and the other at 18:00. Tickets cost between ¥7,200 and ¥8,200 each depending on the seat.

The theme of this event, which was originally revealed several months ago, is loosely a celebration of the Yukimura collaborations we had throughout 2016. Mononofu is a fairly specific word for a brave warrior which has a very strong association with the historical Sanada Yukimura in Japan, so he's the star attraction this time. I bet Nakai Kazuya (Date Masamune) turns up as a secret guest at the end though; it happens so often now that it's no longer really a surprise! The main attraction is being advertised as live voice performances by the star-studded seiyuu cast including a special story created just for the event, and we can also expect some brand new information from KobaP.

Sadly I can't attend in person this year - which is upsetting as Noto-san will be there and I would have loved to see her - so I won't be writing up a detailed report, but any announcements made at the event should receive full press coverage (and of course, attendees will be updating on social media). Given the silence since the last game was released and the lack of information from the fan meeting events late last year, I'm excited (and more than a little nervous) to learn where the series will be going in future.

The guest list is great, as always:

Hoshi Souichirou (Sanada Yukimura)
Morita Masakazu (Maeda Keiji)
Seki Tomokazu (Ishida Mitsunari)
Miki Shinichirou (Gotou Matabee)
Okiayu Ryoutarou (Toyotomi Hideyoshi)
Okamoto Nobuhiko (Shibata Katsuie)
Oohara Sayaka (Saika Magoichi)
Kobayashi 'KobaP' Hiroyuki (series producer)

Afternoon show only:

Ookawa Tooru (Tokugawa Ieyasu)
Genda Tesshou (Takeda Shingen)
Hayami Shou (Akechi Mitsunari)

Evening only:

Ishino Ryuuzou (Chousokabe Motochika)
Nakahara Shigeru (Mouri Motonari)
Kuroda Kanbee (Koyama Rikiya)
Noto Mamiko (Oichi)

As usual, there's exclusive merchandise available at the venue for fans to scramble to obtain.

Event pamphlet (¥2,800):

Seven double-sided oversized uchiwa fans (¥700 each):

Two batches of seven tradable kanji acrylic charms (¥500 each), separated into 'heaven' and 'brave' sets to help fans increase the chance of getting the charm they want:

A muffler towel (¥2,000):

A denim tote bag (¥3,000):

And an IC card case (¥1,500):

They have also announced the details for the home video version of the event, and I was delighted to see that there will be a Blu-ray option!

The Blu-ray version will cost ¥7,800 while the double DVD set will be ¥6,800 before tax.

Both versions will be released on 26th May 2017 and the first press bonus will be a booklet. Those who preorder at the event venue will receive an A3 poster as an extra incentive:

Reports from the newest Sengoku Basara stage play

The absence of the usual stage play guests at Basara Matsuri has a very simple explanation: the new stage play has just begun its run. Zangeki Sengoku Basara: The Battle Of Sekigahara is being performed from 3rd February to 12th February 2017 in Tokyo then moving to Osaka for the shows from 17th February to 19th February 2017.

There are a number of special treats lined up for attendees, such as a live performance of the series' anniversary theme song by band SOLIDEMO after Sunday's show and cast appearances from seiyuu Miki Shinichirou (Matabee), Ishino Ryuuzou (Motochika) and Ookawa Tooru (Ieyasu) on certain dates.

The cast of the current stage play is as follows (bold names are new to the roles):

Nakao Kenya (Tokugawa Ieyasu)
Okino Kouji (Ishida Mitsunari)
Mashima Shuuto (Date Masamune)
Matsumura Ryuunosuke (Sanada Yukimura)
Shiina Taizou (Sarutobi Sasuke)
Shiramata Atsushi (Chousokabe Motochika)
Sueno Takuma (Fuuma Kotarou)
Ooyama Masashi (Ootani Yoshitsugu)
Kawamura Yui (Ii Naotora)
Mamoru Asana (Saika Magoichi)
Shiozaki 'IRE' Airu (Gotou Matabee)
Itou Yuuichi (Kuroda Kanbee)
Matsuda Kenji (Matsunaga Hisahide)
Video footage appearance only: Inoue Masahiro (Katakura Kojuurou)

I'm interested in the new actors, especially since most of the leads have been replaced, but I'm also interested to see how well Naotora survives the transition to live action. It's good to see her appearing at last.

There are also some special appearances by characters who aren't part of the main play for a few of the shows, where they'll have extra scenes exclusive to those performances! Kotani Yoshikazu (Mouri Motonari), Inoue Masahiro (Katakura Kojuurou), Saitou Shuusuke (Shima Sakon), Nakayama Yuuki from SOLIDEMO (Hisahiko) and Yamaguchi Tomoya from SOLIDEMO (Takezou) will appear on certain dates, and in some cases they'll come back on stage for an 'after talk' chat after the finale. I hope that these extra scenes make it to the DVD so everyone can enjoy them.

In the meantime, we will have to make do with the early reports from news sites such as 4Gamer, Famitsu, Gamer, iLIP and Stage Natalie, as well as this illustrated version.

A new stage play means new merchandise, and this one is no different in that respect. As well as a food and drink tie-in at the Karaoke Pasela store in Shinjuku, fans who go to see a live performance can purchase the following goods at the venue.

The official pamphlet (¥2,000):

A set of two A4 clear files (Eastern Army and Western Army versions) with all of the other characters on the reverse (¥1,000):

Thirteen sets of three large cast photographs (¥500 per set):

One of thirteen blind-packaged 54mm badges (¥300 each):

A B2 poster with the main visual for the play (¥800):

Or you can simply buy the 'complete set' bundle for a cool ¥10,000...

On the topic of the stage plays, Lumi noted that fans are no longer being forced to order the DVD versions through the Japan-only Ace Store, as Amazon Japan now lists Butai Sengoku Basara 4 for direct purchase. This is a much more convenient (and less costly) way for fans outside Japan to support the stage play series. Let's hope that the new play DVDs will eventually begin arriving on Amazon in a timely manner!

Brighten up your home with three new Sengoku Basara 4 wall scrolls

Three new B2 tapestries (wall scrolls) will be released on 27th March 2017 with illustrations by Sengoku Basara 4 manga artist Yoshihara Motoki. The designs were originally sold as exclusives in three Japanese regions but have now been made widely available within Japan on the Dengekiya store and Amazon Japan: Masamune/Kojuurou (Sendai), Yukimura/Sasuke (Nagano) and Mitsunari/Sakon (Kinki).

The Sengoku Basara Retsuden Series returns - in manga form

The Sengoku Basara series will be returning to monthly manga anthology magazine Dengeki Maoh this spring with a series of three all-new Sengoku Basara Retsuden manga focusing on specific characters from the Sengoku Basara universe.

The first of the new stories will be drawn by Sengoku Basara 4 artist Yoshihara Motoki, and it will be about Date Masamune. It will be followed by a story about Ishida Mitsunari from Sengoku Basara 3 -ROAR OF DRAGON- artist Ooga Asagi, then finally there will be a story focusing on Matsunaga Hisahide from frequent collaborator Tsutsumi Yoshisada. All three artists have worked on the series in the past so it's good to see them returning with this new project. In addition, Capcom's Yamamoto Makoto will be overseeing all three of the new manga so we can expect to see his input in the brand new stories.

The second volume of Sengoku Basara DOKUGAN can now be preordered

The alternate universe Sengoku Basara DOKUGAN manga is already up to its second collected volume, which will be released on 17th March 2017 under Akita's Young Champion Comics label for ¥562 before tax. It will be widely available from all good import bookstores as usual.

Speaking of Sengoku Basara DOKUGAN, I never had the chance to show off the cover artwork for the first volume which went on sale last October! Here it is.

Boost your Sengoku Basara music collection with a new compilation CD

The Sengoku Basara Complete Best 2011-2016 CD is a limited edition release which came out (AmiAmi) on 30th November 2016 for ¥3,000 before tax. The CD will only remain in print until March 2017.

The track list features the most recent opening and ending theme songs from the series, gathered together for the first time:

1. FLAGS (T.M.Revolution) - from Sengoku Basara -The Last Party-
2. The party must go on (T.M.Revolution) - from Sengoku Basara -The Last Party-
3. Chikai (Do As Infinity) - from Sengoku Basara Chronicle Heroes
4. UTAGE (T.M.Revolution) - from Sengoku Basara 3 Utage
5. Tasogare (Do As Infinity) - from Sengoku Basara 3 Utage
6. WE aRE (abingdon boys school) - from Sengoku Basara HD Collection
7. Count ZERO (T.M.Revolution) - from Sengoku Basara 4
8. Runners high (SCANDAL) - from Sengoku Basara 4
9. DOUBLE-DEAL (T.M.Revolution) - from Sengoku Basara 4 Sumeragi
10. Heavenly Blue (Ishikawa Chiaki) - from Sengoku Basara 4 Sumeragi
11. Hokkyokusei ~ Polaris (Ishikawa Chiaki) - from Sengoku Basara Judge End
12. Committed RED (T.M.Revolution) - from Sengoku Basara Sanada Yukimura-den

A few other miscellaneous merchandise announcements

To avoid my computer exploding from including too many images in this post, I'll recap some of the more commonplace new merchandise more briefly. There have been several new types of merchandise released in Japan over the winter, ranging from Sanada Yukimura-den metal straps to paid in-app decorations for ubiquitous transport planning app NAVITIME. The Capcom x B-Side Label sticker collaboration continued with additional designs for Yukimura, Masamune, Benmaru, Bontenmaru, Masayuki and Nobuyuki.

There was also a batch of Sanada Yukimura-den goods including five magnets (¥300 each), a clear bookmark set (¥500) and a 2017 A5 desktop calendar (¥1,000) with art from the latest game:

It's odd that Naotora is included in the magnet and bookmark roster as one of the main characters, partly because merchandise for female Sengoku Basara characters is rare in general and partly because she has very little to do with the game the merchandise relates to in the first place! A preemptive sign that there were plans to boost her popularity to tie in with this year's taiga drama in Japan?

The Capcom Cafe has updated its menu to add new dishes.

Like this amazing beef stew...

...and at the same time, the cafe has updated its merchandise list with a whole host of new items incorporating the Sanada Yukimura-den cast:

From January 2017, fans in Japan can visit amusement arcades to try to win one of six 15cm nesoberi mascot plushies from Banpresto based on Masamune, Yukimura, Ieyasu, Mitsunari, Motochika and Motonari:

Lastly, Japan-only official merchandise store e-Capcom has also been offering a unique ¥2,130 calendar which collects some of the quirky illustrations that Itou Ryuu has been creating for the Sengoku Basara LINE account. The account has continued to send strange new pictures to its subscribers on a regular basis, so it would be nice to see them all collected into an art book eventually. Until then, this calendar is the only way to have a high quality physical copy of those illustrations. Preorders close on 8th February 2017 with delivery estimated for 10th March 2017. The calendar starts in April and runs for twelve months, so including the cover there are thirteen images included in total. For those of us who can't afford the calendar via a deputy service, following the official LINE account is a free alternative with images like this appearing on a regular basis.

A few autumn/winter event updates, many of which have now ended

While I wasn't updating, we've had collaborations with Hacka Doll, and mobile game Senran No Samurai Kingdom. We have had a Yukimura-themed tour running alongside the promotions at the Tokyo Game Show, and the Sweets Paradise Sanada Cafe relocated for another campaign.

The Bali Tower hotel in Tennouji (Osaka) is letting guests stay in special Sengoku Basara Yukimura or Masamune themed rooms up until 28th February 2017, and gorgeous Christmas cupcakes and macarons were made available across Japan by mail order through Priroll.

Meanwhile, there is currently a major real world campaign heavily featuring Ii Naotora (along with Ieyasu) to capitalise on the increased interest she's expected to be receiving in Japan throughout 2017. The main purpose of the campaign is promote tourism in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka, a region with strong historical ties to the Sengoku period. A full announcement is available in English already courtesy of Capcom and the Japanese website for the promotion shows off the various attractions, from the standees used in the stamp rally to the stunning Sengoku Basara train decorations. The free Sengoku Hamamatsu Stamp Rally smartphone application is available for iOS and Android devices and lets visitors unlock digital wallpapers and frames. You can also earn exclusive merchandise by travelling around the Hamamatsu area.

Visiting 15 locations earns you an oversized badge:

While visiting 30 (!) locations earns acrylic key holders or labels:

There are also additional benefits to travelling around the Shizuoka area, with the Tenryuu Hamanako Railroad x Sengoku Basara campaign offering exclusive Naotora-themed ticket designs, smartphone cases and collectable model trains for its customers to buy.

I would love to get my hands on that little train!

Still waiting to see Judge End? It's now available in English on Blu-Ray and DVD

Funimation have finally released (RightStuf link) the 2014 spin-off anime Sengoku Basara: Judge End under its official US title Sengoku Basara: End Of Judgement on 27th December 2016. It's a DVD/Blu-Ray combo pack priced at $64.98 SRP; with online discounts it can usually be found around the $40 mark before shipping.

There are no special editions this time around, though the first press comes with an o-card (a thin cardboard slipcase). Special features include an episode 3 commentary, textless songs, and trailers. The series is presented with a choice of the original Japanese audio with English subtitles, or the brand new English dub (which is being discussed here; thank you to Mewshuji as always for spreading the word!)

I doubt a UK license is imminent - Manga UK reported that the previous Production I.G. anime sold poorly here and they actively avoid licensing titles popular with women (!), so it all depends on whether Funimation and Anime Limited decide to relaunch the series in the UK themselves. Given that Judge End isn't all that popular even amongst fans, I decided not to wait and picked up a copy of the US set for my collection. I'll try to write a comparison with the Japanese discs when there is time.

To accompany the release of Judge End, Funimation has also rereleased the previous anime at a rock bottom price in its S.A.V.E. range. You can get both seasons of the Production I.G. anime television series (including the OAV episodes and extras) bundled together on Blu-Ray and DVD for under $25 which is an amazing deal. The rerelease of the movie is priced similarly. S.A.V.E. releases usually come towards the end of a product's life cycle before the series goes out of print entirely, so if you have been waiting before picking up a copy of the anime this rerelease might be your last chance.


Whew, writing all of this took so long that it's already Basara Matsuri day in Japan! I'm praying that we get some good news.

Friday 13 January 2017

Streaming: Winter 2017 anime first impressions

It feels so good to be back on schedule after a truly exhausting six months. This season was looking like a light one for a while, being comprised almost entirely of fluffy moe shows about giggly schoolgirls and a bunch of sequels. Somehow, though, I've ended up stuffing my schedule with a whole bunch of titles; it remains to be seen how many cling on for the whole season!

Now that Crunchyroll has devoured most of its competitors in the UK streaming scene, it looked as though they would be making a clean sweep of most of the worthwhile licenses this season - The Anime Network, Amazon Prime, Daisuki and Netflix have grabbed a few titles yet almost everything else is coming through Crunchyroll directly. The service really does represent incredible value for money for a fan in the UK these days.

Still, things are always unpredictable in the world of anime licensing. Right before I finished mopping up the last few first episodes to finish this post, Amazon announced that they would be entering the anime streaming business properly with a dedicated anime service named Anime Strike! At first glance it seemed like a pretty good deal; the Amazon exclusives each season are annoying, but for less than $5 fans could subscribe to have full access to the simulcasts and also the rest of Amazon's rather impressive digital anime catalogue. If anyone was going to rise up and become a true rival to Crunchyroll, perhaps Anime Strike would be the first to succeed!

Upon closer inspection, however, Anime Strike is a really, really bad deal. You have to pay $4.99 per month, which is comparable to Crunchyroll's subscription fee. And on top of that, you have to pay the $99 per year for an Amazon Prime account, making the true cost of Anime Strike more than $13 per month - around twice the price of a Crunchyroll subscription if you're signing up for anime alone and don't need the other Prime features. Meanwhile, Crunchyroll offers a free ad-supported service for those who can't afford to pay, along with more languages, more regions, scheduled simulcasts on a proper timetable and more content. The icing on the cake is that Amazon's Prime Video player is nowhere near as good as Crunchyroll's unless you're using it on Amazon hardware, while the market leader supports a huge range of devices to stream the anime you're paying for onto your consoles, phones and tablets. Paying twice as much for a tiny fraction of the content (Amazon Prime has two simulcasts compared to Crunchyroll's sixty this season) isn't appealing at all, and it feels as though doing so would send the message that Amazon's tactic of grabbing the worldwide streaming rights for new titles straight from Japan and releasing them only to a small subset of regions is acceptable. It's not acceptable. It encourages people to pirate anime.

Thankfully Anime Strike is US-exclusive at the moment (hello, region locking!) and if the online reactions are representative of Prime customers' feelings on the matter it doesn't look as though it's going to be a roaring success over there. Perhaps it will be rethought before daring to step outside its home turf to be steadfastly ignored by the rest of the anime-viewing world.

With my commentary on that brand new drama over, I'll move on to my first impressions! The ongoing titles I'm still following are ALL OUT!, March Comes In Like A Lion, Nobunaga No Shinobi and Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans. Everything else is new.

Saturday 31 December 2016

Streaming: Autumn 2016 anime final impressions

I've been trying to take it easy this season since I came in so late that it was tough to get caught up on everything. Still, there were quite a few good shows which prevented me from watching as little as possible and easing myself in gently. It helped that I was able to watch absolutely everything I wanted on Crunchyroll alone (for once), avoiding the hassle of juggling half a dozen different streaming services with their own unique annoyances.

Although they started out reasonably strong I ended up dropping Touken Ranbu: Hanamaru and Magic-kyun! Renaissance due to time constraints; neither really succeeded in keeping my attention. And I wonder what happened to the promised Watashi Ga Motete Dousunda (Kiss Him, Not Me) simulcast? It never turned up. UK license-holders Anime Limited say the signed paperwork was turned over to Crunchyroll but the show remained region locked away from the UK right until the end. A pity.

It's difficult to rank individual shows for this post-season ranking. There were a lot of titles I enjoyed but my favourites changed week by week!

1. JoJo's Bizarre Adventure
2. Yuuri!!! On Ice
3. Drifters

Yuuri!!! On Ice was amazing, a real surprise bursting with idealism and elegance. On the other hand, this year's long-running JoJo's Bizarre Adventure saga somehow kept things bonkers from start to finish and was like nothing else I've watched all year. Then there was Drifters, which I'd been looking forward to for ages and found even better than the manga. They're all completely different shows and incomparable, so the ranking is even more meaningless than usual.