Enter the Anime- Review

Enter the Anime is an hour long documentary about the Japanese animation industry and the various counter-cultures it has spawned in the well-ordered and often rigidly structured country. What made this documentary an intriguing prospect was that the trailer stated that it would be presented by a self-proclaimed novice to the field, Director Alex Burunova. So, intrigued by the trailer I dived right in... but was it worth it?

Over the course of an hour, we journey with Burunova as she tries to discover the 'soul of anime' by talking with some of its key creators and people influenced by it. The entire documentary is shot in a kinetic style to suit who she is talking to and, at moments, is quite beautiful to look at but there is a major problem... the documentary only covers the anime on Netflix rather than the medium as a whole. The fact that most of the anime presented and discussed has only been released within the last 3 or so years means that, for an art form that spans over 70 years, the scope is somewhat limited.

With these limitations, we discover the following:

Adi Shankar, writer of the excellent Netflix Castlevania anime, was influenced by early 80s OVA's, which helped to inform the look of the Castlevania show, which is produced in the West but in the anime style.

The Director of Aggretsuko, Rarecho, believes that anime is art taken to its limits and that's why it has niches, sub-cultures and sub-cultures within subcultures. When there is the mundane people seek the unusual and different.

The 'three edgiest outlaws', Tetsuya Kinoshita, Yuji Higa (Producers of Kengan Ashura) and Seiji Kishi (Director of Kengan Ashura) discuss their love of hand crafted anime using CG and the time they met Arnold Schwarzenegger at the original Gold's Gym. They talk about using real martial artists to create the fight sequence and then the animators slow it down to animate the sequence.

Studio Toei Chairman Kozo Morishita tells us that as one of the longest running and well known anime houses, much of its catalogue is classic childhood fare, much like Disney is for many people here in the West. It has handled such properties as Dragonball Z, Slam Dunk and Saint Seiya. Morishita rather honestly states that Toei was created to raise the spirits of children after the loss of World War II.

This is all hardly groundbreaking stuff. The fact that the relationship between manga and anime isn't even looked at is a huge oversight in my opinion. The two art forms feed each other and are so intertwined, so to exclude one is to the detriment of the other.

Burunova also (briefly and only through one artist) explores the anime music scene and shows how the two are linked by chatting to Yoko Takahashi, singer of Evangelion's 'A Cruel Angel' s Thesis.' Takahashi makes an appearance and talks about her experience of Evangelion and the ardent fan base.

Kawaii (cute) culture is looked at and Rilakumma makes a giant headed appearance to discuss Japan's obsession with kawaii culture as a measure against 1960s stuffiness. In a similar way, Director Rarecho believes that Aggretsuko is a expression of female frustration in the workplace and sees the character as one of empowerment and a voice for many women in the workplace, which seems prescient in the time before #MeToo became a thing.

The rise of CG anime and the processes of its painstaking creation are discussed, but the general feeling is it makes the cost of the series more manageable and affordable in this online streaming world.

Overall, this is a disappointing documentary, one that will find it hard to reach the appropriate demographic. It is not comprehensive or detailed enough for your hardcore anime or Japanaphile (weeaboo) yet I think it will be too broad and meandering for a younger audience. In this day and age when anyone can be a content creator, I have found more interesting and informative videos on YouTube than this documentary provides. It is a shame as manga and anime has entered the zeitgeist in much of the world yet this documentary does a disservice with its Edge-Lord stylings and musings. Considering there is a huge exhibition at the British Museum currently and considering that Neon Genesis Evangelion, a landmark in anime is finally stream able after years out of circulation, reducing the medium to 'creators be cray cray, psycho, mad and other silly terms diminishes the artform.
Watch it if you must but not one I'd recommend to anyone. I've listed a few documentaries that I would recommend in the links below.

The Liar Princess and the Blind Prince- Video Games As Art

I recently finished a beautiful little puzzle-platforming game called The Liar Princess and the Blind Prince. The game has a stunning storybook art style and tells the dark fairytale-like story of a wolf who loves to sing. Once night, whilst singing her voice attracts the attention of a Prince who tries to find out who the voice belongs to. The wolf, worried that the Prince would see her monstrous form, accidentally blinds the Prince. The Prince is found by his troops and, due to his blindness, is considered imperfect and thrown into jail. Feeling guilty, the wolf visits a witch and gives up her voice for the ability to transform into a Princess. Using her newfound ability, the wolf/Princess busts the Prince out of jail and takes him across various levels back to the witch so can restore his sight.

The tale is very Hans Christian Anderson or Brothers Grimm but the lush art style is all manga. The game is a bit floaty and not as tightly controlled as Limbo or Inside but for a 4 to 5 hour game it is a great experience. Check out the screenshots from my play through.

Battle Angel Alita: Mars Chronicle Vol. 6- Comic Review

This volume is an important one as it brings together most of the plot points about Alita and Erica and the socio-ploitocal history of Mars. For Alita fans, the true origins of Alita's 'birth' is revealed and we find out who her 'mother' is. In true Kishiro fashion it is anything but normal as the rug is swept from under as the expected royal lineage is not accurate. Alita’s birth does have parallels with many virgin birth stories, however I don't know of many miracle sprogs birthed from cancerous martian tumours. The shock of the reveal is grotesque in true Cronenbergian sense but with a dash of Kishiro nihilism.

Battle Angel Alita: Mars Chronicle Vol. 6

The rest of the graphic novel moves at a cracking pace and we see the end of Baron Muster and Lady Kagura as they destroy each other in the most hideous fashion. This graphic novel series is dark and continues to get darker but I do hope that we move to the present and see what the endgame is for Alita and friends.

There is a long wait until the next volume releases near the end of the year so get comfy.

LINK- Alita: Battle Angel- Film Review

LINK- Battle Angel Alita: Mars Chronicle Vol. 5- Comic Review

LINK- Battle Angel Alita: Mars Chronicle Vol. 4- Comic Review

LINK- Battle Angel Alita: Mars Chronicle Vol. 3- Comic Review

LINK- Battle Angel Alita: Mars Chronicle Vol. 2- Comic Review

LINK- Battle Angel Alita: Mars Chronicle Vol. 1- Comic Review

LINK- Battle Angel Alita: And So It Ends

LINK- The Moomins 80's Soundtrack Vinyl Review

LINK- Inspector Gadget Retro Soundtrack Review

LINK- Ulysses 31 Retro Soundtrack Review

LINK- The Mysterious Cities of Gold Retro Soundtrack Review

Alita: Battle Angel- Film Review

29 years after the source material first came out, Alita: Battle Angel has finally hit the theatres. I’ve been a HUGE fan of the series since its release in 1990 and over time have waited with bated breath for James Cameron, Mr Terminator/ Aliens/ Titanic/ Avatar to release the film he had optioned for sooo very long. With the success of Avatar, Cameron became too busy and passed the task onto Robert Rodriguez, a great/ good director with a variable success rate. I was concerned when the film was pushed back from its December release date and the trailers, while exciting, had me concerned. The online backlash *sigh* against the size of Alita’s eyes had me concerned that people were sharpening their knives for the film… so with some trepidation I kept away from all review, reports and social media on the film to see it fresh and uninfluenced, and I’m glad I did.

For those not in the know Battle Angel Alita is an ongoing manga comic book series that is a masterful piece of sci-fi. The story tells the dark tale of Alita, a young cyborg girl who is discovered broken but with her brain intact by Dr Daisuke Ido. Ido is delighted with his find and takes Alita to his home and repairs her. Over time there develops a father-daughter bond but Alita has amnesia and is unhappy as she wants to find out more about her mysterious past. Over time she learns that she knows the powerful 'Panzer Kurst' fighting technique and enters the Motorball Tournament, a Running Man/ Rollerball style gauntlet filled with cyborgs and other hideous mechanical marvels.

Over the course of the first 4 graphic novels Alita enters and becomes the champion of Motorball. The other 5 graphic novels see Alita try to live a ‘normal’ civilian life but life has other plans and there are plots to overthrow the floating city and bring equity to the Scrapyard… all pretty heady stuff!

Trying to fit over 1000 pages of comics into 2 hours would not be possible or advisable and so the film covers the first 3 graphic novels. The first 5 minutes of the movie whizz along at a cracking pace and the whole film moves from set-piece to set-piece effortlessly.

The first two series of Alita… clocking in at over 2000 pages easily!

The first two series of Alita… clocking in at over 2000 pages easily!

My heart soared with joy at seeing the scenes I'd imagined in my head for many years play out so spectacularly on the big screen. The scrapyard was bathed in a dirty golden glow as Ido finds Alita's broken body, her head and chest intact. The world of the scrapyard and the mysterious floating city of Zalem is beautifully realised, being one of the best cityscapes since Valarian, Blade Runner 2049 or Ghost in the Shell. The enlarges eyes of Alita drew initial criticism but within the first minute or so they just... blend in. When you have people with cyborg bodies roaming around slightly enlarges eyes on a robot girl seem less jarring, there isn't the uncanny valley that I and many others were worried about.

The fact that the United Republics of Mars - Earth conflict from much of Last Order and Mars Chronicle (the second and third Alita series) is mentioned is a nice inclusion for longtime fans as that’s a pretty deep cut, however it is covered well, as is the Panzer Kunst and Berserker Body. Without heavy exposition the concepts and background are explained, this is good work indeed, especially from a writing team not known for good scripting.

The love story doesn't always work as Rosa Salazar (Alita) is a much stronger actor that Keean Johnson (love interest, Hugo) in this film but the film works for me, not as an apologist for bad manga and anime conversions but generally as a bold sci-fi film. It is the best manga conversion so far and granted the bar was low but as a long time Alita fan (29 years) I was extremely happy with the end result.

LINK- Battle Angel Alita: Mars Chronicle Vol. 3- Comic Review

LINK- Battle Angel Alita: Mars Chronicle Vol. 2- Comic Review

LINK- Battle Angel Alita: Mars Chronicle Vol. 1- Comic Review

LINK- Battle Angel Alita: And So It Ends

LINK- The Moomins 80's Soundtrack Vinyl Review

LINK- Inspector Gadget Retro Soundtrack Review

LINK- Ulysses 31 Retro Soundtrack Review

LINK- The Mysterious Cities of Gold Retro Soundtrack Review

LINK- Sonic Mania Video Game Vinyl Soundtrack

LINK- Thomas Was Alone Video Game Vinyl Soundtrack Review

LINK- Akira Soundtrack Vinyl Review

Battle Angel Alita: Mars Chronicle Vol. 4- Comic Review

Another Alita book and another change of pace as we settle on Erica and her life of villainy under Baron Muster. She assists Muster in his search for the Martian treasure and we find out that Erica is quite adept at solving puzzles and committing heinous acts of violence.

Battle Angel Alita: Mars Chronicle Vol. 4

Young Yoko/ Alita is briefly mentioned and we see how she is settling into life at the Baumberg Mansion but this volume is really centred around Muster’s mission to find the secret Martian Tomb and the treasure within.

Muster is a comic book villain, all twirling moustache and cackling but in the very best sense. Just as you judge him as a power crazy monster a flashback on his youth shows his motivation and brings a bit of humanity into the proceedings.

The best aspect of this volume is the mystery around the cypher, which presents a puzzle for reader to solve. We learn about the Caeser Cypher and the importance of the book 'On War', its regular Dan Brown level stuff but does draw you in.

Battle Angel Alita Mars Chronicle is a thrill ride, you don't know where its taking you and can't predict what's coming up but by gum are you excited for what happens next. Kishiro has regained some of the momentum lost from Last Order but I hope we start to get some answers as to what the treasure is and what role Yoko/ Alita has to play in it.

LINK- Battle Angel Alita: Mars Chronicle Vol. 3- Comic Review

LINK- Battle Angel Alita: Mars Chronicle Vol. 2- Comic Review

LINK- Battle Angel Alita: Mars Chronicle Vol. 1- Comic Review

LINK- Battle Angel Alita: And So It Ends

LINK- The Moomins 80's Soundtrack Vinyl Review

LINK- Inspector Gadget Retro Soundtrack Review

LINK- Ulysses 31 Retro Soundtrack Review

LINK- The Mysterious Cities of Gold Retro Soundtrack Review

LINK- Sonic Mania Video Game Vinyl Soundtrack

LINK- Thomas Was Alone Video Game Vinyl Soundtrack Review

LINK- Akira Soundtrack Vinyl Review

Battle Angel Alita: Mars Chronicle Vol. 3- Comic Review

Battle Angel Alita: Mars Chronicle has shown great promise with volume 1 taking us back to Alita's origin as a young orphaned 80% cyborg child named Yoko living on the war-torn surface of Mars with her friend Erica. Volume 2 returned to the present and had Yoko and Erica fighting after 200 years spent apart. Volume 3 returns us to the past to flesh out the storyline of Yoko and Erica in more detail. Yukito Kishiro has always had a bleak view of the world and here it gets incredibly dark as we find out about Erica's family, the tragedy of her past and maybe her descent to the dark side. We find out how the pair were separated yet their destinies forever entwined.

After she is separated from Yoko, who finds her birth mother, Erica no longer has the positive balance in her life and so when the new big bad- Baron Muster, who sports a horrendous deformity which Kishiro seems to revel in drawing, is revealed it is quite simple to work out why Erica would turn on her friend and become a mercenary.

So overall, this volume introduces yet more characters and more sub-plots but doesn't bring a sense of closure to all the other plot threads, however we now know why Erica turned to the dark side after Yoko left.

This series is setting things up but I hope that it doesn't become like Last Order and drag for too long with incidental characters that go nowhere. At the moment though it succeeds in drawing me in and keeping me invested in this dystopian world.

Battle Angel Alita: Mars Chronicle Vol. 3 continues the journey of Yoko/ Alita on.

Tonbridge Comic-Con 2018 Builds on Previous Year Success

On one of the hottest days of the year hundreds of geeks and nerds (of which I am one) from various fandoms descended on the Angel Centre in Tonbridge to attend the second ever Tonbridge Comic-con.
I had even higher expectations than last year as that was the inaugural event and this, the sequel, had to be bigger, bolder... better. So how was it? Did it meet my expectations? Well, read on and find out...

Tonbridge Comic-Con 2018

As I approached the Angel Centre I could see a long line had formed and keeping the people entertained were various people in costume, there was Darth Vader, numerous Storm Troopers, a Sand Person, a Jawa and an Imperial Officer. People were getting their photos taken and children were kept enthralled/ terrified.
Inside there were lots of stalls selling all manner of geeky goods at a fair price including anime, manga, Marvel, DC and video game merch. A difference from last year was the amount of stalls as there seemed to be a lot more, but this was a good thing at they sold a wider range of products from last year. There were they typical Funko Pop Figs, t-shirts and posters but also there was a Disney Princess cupcake stall, wallets and purses and lots more vintage figures, annuals and collectable cards and stickers. I purchased some of these cards and was really pleased at the price (5 packs for £1) as well as 3 cupcakes (3 for £5, for my wife and 2 unwell daughters).

There were a few celebrities doing signings and photosincluding Jason Ybarra (Star Wars: Rogue One), Ian McNeice (Dr Who) and a free signed photo for all attendeed from Simon Fisher-Becker (Dr Who).
There were a few people dressed up, representing various fandoms, however not as many as last year but that was to be expected as the heat was oppressive.

Around the Angel Centre hall were lots of items and photo opportunity pieces of memorabilia and costumed folks which you could snap away at. There was the giant inflatable Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, a handmade Batmobile Tumbler and the Iron Throne. The atmosphere of the whole event was lovely and calm and outside the centre many attendees and cosplayers had a chance to congregate and share in their nerd-dom. The second Tonbridge Comic con has built upon last years successes and continues to grow. As a local event it is great and I look forward to it growing and expanding its scope and aspirations.

Overall this was a well organised event with lots of offer for families and young people, I hope next year it's even bigger and better next year!

I bought 5 packs of random cards and stickers for 1 pound... bargain! I wonder if the stick of chewing gum is any good?

Battle Angel Alita Back in Mars Chronicle

After a 4 year wait, (at least here in the West) Battle Angel Alita is back with the final arc in Mars Chronicle. The series, created by Yukito Kishiro, seemed to have run its course.

The first series, simply titled Battle Angel Alita (Gunnm in Japan) is a masterful piece of work which is an essential sci-fi read. Over 9 graphic novels we follow the adventures of Alita, a young cyborg girl who is discovered broken but with her brain intact by Dr Daisuke Ido. Ido is delighted with his find and takes Alita to his home and repairs her. Over time there develops a father-daughter bond but Alita has amnesia and is unhappy as she wants to find out more about her mysterious past. Over time she learns that she knows the powerful 'Panzer Kurst' fighting technique and enters the Motorball Tournament, a Running Man style gauntlet filled with cyborgs and other mechanical marvels. Over the course of 9 graphic novels Alita learns more about her past and the unfair society she lives in.

The original series peaks with the fifth graphic novel, Angel of Redemption but the rest of the series is still very high quality. The series continues for another 4 graphic novels and Angel's Ascension is a stunning conclusion to Yukito Kishiro's gritty cyberpunk masterpiece. In the end Alita finally discovers the ghastly secret of Tiphares, saves the floating city and the Scrapyard from destruction and finds love.

When I first read the series I loved the ending and thought that Kishiro had tied up the series wonderfully.

Then it was announced that the series would continue as Kishiro felt that the story wasn't finished yet. In a redux Last Order continued from Volume 9 of Battle Angel Alita, but diverged from the original ending. It ignored the transformation of Ketheres into a nanotechnological space flower, Alita's subsequent transformation into a flesh-and-blood human girl and her reunion with Figure, her love. Instead it takes place after Alita is killed by a doll bomb in the final volume of Battle Angel Alita.

Last Order is 19 graphic novels long and begins when Alita is resurrected by Desty Nova's nanotechnology in the floating city of Tiphares. The city's dark secrets are brutally exposed, but it turns out to be a small part of a complex world. Going into space with new and old companions alike, to look for her lost friend Lou Collins and to find out more about her forgotten past, Alita is caught up in an interplanetary struggle between the major powers of the colonized solar system. Along the way, she forms an alliance with three of the Alita Replicas who have now begun to think for themselves, an unsavory superhacker, and Nova himself when she enters the Zenith of Things Tournament (Z.O.T.T.), a fighting competition held every ten years. During the course of the story, more background about the setting of Battle Angel Alita that was not disclosed in the prior series is revealed, such as how the Earth emerged from a cataclysmic impact winter that wiped out most of the population. The series ends as Alita’s friends all converge to find out what happened to her after the Z.O.T.T. ending and roots break out across the solar system. The last two graphic novels act as an epilogue, showing us the lives of Alita’s friends as well as a final reveal of the protagonist that hinted at more to come...

My complete Alita collection.

From the sound of it Last Order sounds like more of the same and then some, but the story was extremely slow moving and the fighting so excessive that it actually ground the plot to a complete halt several times and over multiple volumes of the graphic novels. Many of the volumes were a chore to wade through as we were introduced to new characters and then told overly long back stories that no-one was really interested in. The final two volumes were especially disappointing for long term fans of the series, who had been following Alita's adventures for over 24 years.
There was a brief hiatus as Kishiro collected his thoughts but in 2015 he announced he was returning with a new Alita series, exploring her origins on Mars.

With Battle Angel Alita: Martian Chronicles I hope Kishiro regains his mastery over telling a griping, savage, brutal story expediently. I loved the first 9 graphic novels as they were brilliantly executed; moments of extreme violence were interspersed with deep introspective philosophising and beauty. With his expanded character roster and overwrought world building in Last Order I believe Kishiro lost sight of the story and heart and that was to the detriment of the series. There was no sense of urgency that made us empathise with Alita’s plight to find out who she was and where she came from. I am extremely excited for the Martian Chronicles but also cautiously optimistic. Here's hoping it finds Kishiro back on track and Alita back in fighting for form. A review will soon follow so keep updated!

Castlevania The Animated Series- Series Review (No Spoilers)

What is Castlevania, the animated series? A miserable pile of garbage or worth a watch?
When Netflix announced that it would be helping to produce an animated series on the classic Konami series of yore I was excited and then... trepidation hit. After all, how well have many Japanese and video game adaptations fared in the past? Not very well if you look at previous form: any one for any of the heinous Uwe Boll adaptations, the anemic American version of Death Note or the underwhelming Ghost in the Shell movie attest to that? So to say I was worried would be a fair assessment but after seeing the Castlevania trailer and hearing that it would be written by comic legend Warren Ellis (of The Authority and Transmetropolitan fame) my interest and hopes were piqued and raised. So how is the series?

Well, for the uninitiated Castlevania follows the adventures of the Belmont family and their multi generational battle against Dracula. When you get down to it the story is simple: the fight between good and evil. However within the first few minutes of the episodes there are shades of grey as the reasons for Dracula's hatred of the church are revealed. He becomes a more sympathetic villain than he is usually represented as in many other media. His hatred of the church and specifically the clergy forms the story arc of this series as the question of science versus religion is brought up.

There have been numerous games which have played with the official time line and lore so there is not a consistent story overall and so prior knowledge is not required to enjoy the show, but for fans of the games it contains elements from Castlevania III

The writing really is on point and even  though it is episodic, flows well, which you would expect from a renown comic writer such as Ellis. His sardonic wit comes through, especially near the end of episode 1, where Trevor Belmont hears the locals discuss their close parentage and beastiality. It seems almost Tarantino-esque as two locals discuss the misadventures of a fellow villager who has laid with his goats and sheep. I have faint echoes of Spider Jerusalem or Kev in my ears as I recall the scene as it is hilariously funny yet incredibly dark too.

The animation are art style are both exemplary and you can see that no expense has been spared. The design of the show is beautiful and there were moments in the show where  I paused to take in the true beauty of what was being represented. The art style recalls the best of go thick horror and reminded me of my youth watching Vampire Hunter D and Ninja Scroll. This animation is definitely meant for adults and the high level of blood, gore and dismemberment attests to the fact. The fight sequences are well animated and high octane without being as hyperstylised as Dragon Ball Z or many other anime or manga.

Special mention should be made of the voice actors, who are of a high caliber and contain some bona-fide Hollywood stars, which lend the whole series some gravitas and seriousness. 
Castlevania is a great animated show, recalling the best of anime whilst avoiding a lot of the tropes and fan service (read: panty shots of the female characters) which has blighted the medium over the last two decades. The story is intriguing and builds to a crescendo for the second series and based on what was shown here it should be a humdinger.
Fans of the video games should definitely check it out but also anyone interested in a quick bingeable animation show would be foolhardy to miss this.

Akira Soundtrack Vinyl Review

The Akira Symphonic Suite has finally been released on vinyl this September for the first time since its original 1988 pressing.

The record is housed in some heavy duty card with beautifulimages from the film on the cover, gatefold and dust jackets. The records are pressed on a pair of 180 gram black vinyl discs which have been re-recorded and remastered with the most advanced audio techniques available apparently. I don't have a fancy record player but listening to the LP was a revelation, it sounded so very different from the Akira CD I've listened to for years. There were sounds and instruments I hadn't heard before even though I have listened to the album many times before.

The Akira vinyl soundtrack is beautifully preseneted.

The album is a stunning piece of work which was composed by Dr. Shoji Yamashiro of the Geinoh Yamashirogumi collective, a group of over 100 individuals who worked together to create an evocative score which helped inform the way the futuristic aesthetic of the film was animated.

The tracks on this vinyl are:
Battle Against Clown
Winds Over Neo-Tokyo
Doll's Polyphony
Exodus From The Underground Fortress

The tracks are a strange fusion of music genres. As well as a mix of traditional Japanese and Indonesian gamelan music, which is present through much of the album, there are unique and strange moment like the creepy lullaby in Dolls Polyphony and the synthesiser led airy track, Wind Over Neo Tokyo. However the final piece, Requiem is the stunning culmination of all the constituent parts of the earlier tracks and is a suitably spectacular end to the album. The 14 minute track starts slowly and calmly then explodes with organs and booming drums before angelic singers chant the main characters names over and over to bring the soundtrack a fitting end.

I am so pleased that Akira Symphonic Suite has been re-released on vinyl as so many more people need to experience the music. The anime and manga has a huge cult following but due to the scarcity of the original vinyl release in 1988 the LP has been extremely rare and difficult to find. I feel pleased that this album has been made available once again for the fans.

LINK- The Moomins 80's Soundtrack Vinyl Review

LINK- Inspector Gadget Retro Soundtrack Review

LINK- Ulysses 31 Retro Soundtrack Review

LINK- The Mysterious Cities of Gold Retro Soundtrack Review

LINK- Sonic Mania Video Game Vinyl Soundtrack

Inaugural Tonbridge Comic-Con a Wonderful Event

This morning the first ever Comic-Con was held at the Angel Centre in Tonbridge and in my eyes was a real success. There were lots of stalls selling all manner of geeky goods at a fair price including anime, manga, video games, clothing, bags and Marvel and DC comics. There were a few celebrities doing signings and photos including Colin Baker, Hattie Hayridge (Holly from Red Dwarf) and Hannah Spearitt (of S Club 7 and Primeval fame)

There were lots of people dressed up, representing various fandoms and the atmosphere overall was great. I didn't dress up (I kept my Count Duckula costume in the cupboard for today) but was pleased to see many adults and children did take the opportunity to let their inner geek out. My 2 1/2 year daughter loved the festival of colour and characters and especially the dancing Groot, it was her first con of what I hope will be many. We were lucky enough to get a picture with the fern fellow (get your coat- ed), which my daughter found a little frightening, considering he was about 8 feet tall and towered over us.

My daughter and I met Groot... she was suitably scared!

Around the Angel Centre hall were lots of items and photo opportunity pieces of memorabilia which you could snap away at. My daughter and I met a Dalek, Batman and a giant inflatable Pikachu. She particularly liked the inflatable TARDIS and kept playing peek-a-boo with her 2 year old cousin. The atmosphere of the whole event was lovely and calm and outside the centre many attendees and cosplayers had a chance to congregate and share in their nerd-dom.

I've been to many Cons and this is the first time that such an event has been held in Tonbridge to my knowledge. I'd like to see it become an annual fixture in the Tonbridge calender, especially during the Summer, where more children and young people would be free and interesting in filling in some of their 6 weeks holidays and the event could use the outside space to sell food and host other stalls or activities like a bouncy castle etc. Overall this was a well organised event with lots of offer for families and young people, let's make it even bigger and better next year!

Anime Background Exhibition at the House of Illustration

When Akira was released upon an unsuspecting world in 1988, people were blown away by the animes detailed depiction of a sprawling dystopian megacity. A few years later Ghost in the Shell hit cinemas and again moviegoers were floored by the detailed vision of the near future. Both films have been cited as inspirations behind many major Hollywood films such as The Matrix and Ex Machina and been influential in other media. 

A major new exhibition at the House of Illustration, Kings Cross, London is now showcasing the backdrops to these and some other classic anime. It is a dying art as most anime are now computer generated but back at the time of these productions most were hand drawn. 

Over the course of 3 rooms you are given the opportunity to see pencil drawings, water colour paintings and other types of medium to understand the artistry involved when tasked with creating impressive but also believable cityscapes.

The anime films covered include Rintaro's Metropolis and Oshii's Patlabor, Ghost in the Shell and Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence. What is astonishing is seeing how different artists and directors had such differing views of the future, some of the artwork seems almost eerily precient.  

Seeing the research photographs of Japan and China, the original pencil sketches and then the final painted backgrounds is interesting as you can see the process from beginnning to end.

I've seen all the anime and read most of the original manga that the films are based on but whether or not you have seen them doesn't matter. The artistry and futurist imagination is what is on show here and this exhibition places that left, right and centre! This is a must see exhibition for anime, manga, film and sci-fi fans alike.  

For The Love of Comics

I've been into comics for a long time, I first fell in love with them through the bande dessinée, Tintin and Asterix but when a friend lent me Iron Man #256 my mind was blown and it was love at first sight.

I'd go weekly to my local comic shop,  Rodney's Books and Games, in the town centre for my pocket money infused fix of comics. By buying grab bags for £1 I'd find a wide mix of stuff, some great some dreadful but comics nonetheless.

I fell out of love with comics in the late 90's when there were too many titles to keep up with and so many 'event' comics that I couldn't keep up with the pace. I went instead into manga and anime, which at that time was smaller and more focused here in the UK. It was here that I discovered Battle Angel Alita and GTO and again it was love at first sight. I also discovered Vertigo and voraciously devoured Sandman, Preacher, Hellblazer, Y: The Last Man and Fables.
Since then I've fallen out of favour with anime and manga for the same reason I had fallen out of love with comics in the first place and now once again, over the past 4 years have delved back into mainstream comics.
There has been a sea change in the mainstream comics as I feel the higher ups have realised that they had huge successes with their films but this didn't correlate with their comic sales. The reasons are numerous but I'd say it was due to the fact that the comic scene is overwhelming for newcomers and that the comics didn't cater for all tastes. A lot of the comics were created in the 50's ,60's and 70's and were often white male power fantasies, not a problem in itself but when you are catering for a world market you do need to appeal for a wide range of people.
In the past few years there has been a push for diversity with a black /Hispanic Spiderman in Miles Morales, an Asian American Ms Marvel with Kamala Khan and a female Thor.
However it's not just the mainstream where comics are diversifying, the fringe comic scene has always been the champion of change and difference and there is a huge market here with Junji Ito, Emily Carroll, Raina Telgemeier and Noelle Stephenson catering for different tastes. 
I'm introducing my pupils to comics as I feel it opens up worlds, encourages reluctant readers and promotes creativity. I will be reviewing the comics I buy for them here and hope to encourage other schools and people to push comics and graphic novels into their world. As well as comics for my pupils I will also be writing reviews about comics I buy for myself.
Come join me on my journey and if you get into comics I'd like to recommend a couple of comic podcasts I listen to which are linked below.

Manga Now Exhibition at British Museum is Great

I was lucky enough to go to the British Museum to see the Manga Now exhibition today and it was a wonderfully short but sweet experience. Manga has a long history and so a small room in the museum does not do it justice but it is a welcome exhibition that hopefully will continue to spread the popularity of this art form. As I entered the room I was pleasantly surprised to see so many people walking around and appreciating the art on display. Also there were many people reading a wide variety of manga which the British Museum had laid out for people. All in all I was only there for about 20 minutes but it was good to see 3 distinct manga artists covered. If you're in London it's well worth a look!

Japan: My Journey to the East

Yesterday my life changed forever, after years of believing it wasn't possible due to various circumstances my wife and I finally had a child. The introduction of my daughter is obviously a life altering event and late the next day has me becoming more reflective over my past. It is 4:04am on the Saturday as I write this, a piece about my dreams and aspirations as a child.

A couple of years ago I finally fulfilled a dream I've had ever since I was a child of 8, I went to Japan! Japan has held me in awe for so long due to a variety of factors. I was (and still am) a huge Mysterious Cities of Gold (MCOG) fan, which I found out was a specific style of animation called anime. For me the series had it all; relatable characters, amazing adventures and a thrilling story line. I found out much later that the series was only 39 episodes long but back then it seemed to stretch on forever, like Dogtanian, Ulysses 31 and Willie Fogg; all large sequential series that showed on BBC 1 and ITV weekly and then in large chunks in the morning during those looong summers.

Whilst wondering through our local WHSmiths (a newsagents here in England) I saw Manga Mania on the top shelf, next to the more salacious magazines. The art seemed reminiscent of MCOG so after seeing it a few times over the next few days I finally picked it up and fell down the rabbit hole. I vividly remember going over the next few months with my friend to WHSmiths and reading Fire Tripper, a lesser Rumiko Takahshi work but for me at the time I didn't know any better and it was perfect! My uncle who was only slightly older than me, saw that I had an interest in manga and gave me Devilman and Akira to borrow on VHS- not bad for a 13 year old kid enthralled by this new genre. At the time Akira blew my mind, I didn't understand it then and don't even pretend to now but I knew that I was watching something special.

This was the cover of the first Manga Mania I bought, in the letters section it had a comment about the 'Mysterious Cities of Gold' and I remember being excited to see my favourite show mentioned.

There was a local comic shop in our town called 'Rodneys Books and Games' which sold games, VHS films and books too, every Saturday my best friend and I would go to browse and occasionally purchase something.  Even though I knew they sold anime and manga it wasn't until I'd been given the films by my uncle that it clicked, these were the same genre and style that I'd liked- for all those years I hadn't noticed them but now I was all about them. The first series I worked through and completed was The Guyver, getting only a couple of pounds a week it took me a couple of years to complete the entire 12 part collection. Even now I have the series, unwilling to part with it even though I do not have a video recorder to play it on. My interest in manga peaked at the same time of the Marvel and comic boom in the early to mid 90's and I soon forged a group of friends who became Japanophiles and comic buddies, recording and swapping recordings off the Sci-fi channel and Channel 4 late on Saturday nights.

I loved the Guyver series, although it ended only a third into the manga.

For my friends and I Japan was a fantasy place where everything came out first and it was all amazing. This reached its zenith  with Evangelion and Cowboy Bebop, two of the greatest series of all time. The late 90s were a difficult time in Japan with its economic bubble bursting. High unemployment and soaring suicide rates were featured prominently on the news and this soaked into the media coming out at the time. Being a teen with all the difficulties that entails I enjoyed the nihilistic and over the top mayhem of films like Battle Royale, which showed the anger and desperation of youth and a society trying to figure itself out.  But GTO (Great Teacher Onizuka) showed another side, it made me laugh. I remember getting the last trade paperback and reading it on the train home. I stifled  laughter and a Japanese passenger who sat opposite me looked at me quizzically until I showed the cover, he then smiled as if he understood. Yup, there was no doubt about it... Japan was a huge deal for me.

Evangelion is still everywhere in Japan, the cottage industry that grew out of the series is unbelievable. Even in England the amount of Eva related stuff you could buy was mental!

So with only a few months to go before we were going to leave Cambodia where we had been teaching for two years Japan was booked. Even though we only had a little bit of cash it was now or never, my wife and I agreed that this was the time to do this- we would probably never be closer to the country geographically! Excitedly I told my oldest friend, the one I used to go to WHSmiths with regularly and share manga comics and films. In a weird case of serendipity he had booked to go near the same time as we had booked, there would be a couple of days overlap where we would be able to meet up. Considering he had emigrated to Australia and we would be moving back to England this was unbelievably lucky, almost like destiny. Neither of us had been to Japan and now after 32 years we had booked to go to Japan and there would be overlap. Wierd!

So having reached Japan, I can honestly say that it was every bit as amazing as I thought it would be. We stayed in Shinjuku and walked around the red light district Kabukichō, in the heady days of the economic boom unbelievable amounts of money passed through here. Now it is slowly recovering, highlighted by the fact that there was a robot fighting show opening that week, all at a reasonable price of £50 for admission- bargain!

A great book for a great megalopolis!

On the first day we explored Shibuya and Harajuku. Harajuku I knew through various quirky fashion magazines and Fruits books which I'd bought in Forbidden Planet in London. My wife and I explored the area for the day and loved it, the uniqueness and individuality of the products on sale were beguiling. Living in London where chain stores rule and very few independent stores exist or survive it was refreshing to come across a country that appreciated individual shops as well as the big chains. For lunch we had a quick MacDonald lunch and saw that people were there with their ipads, macbooks and tablets but when they needed the toilet they just left it at their table and off they went. The crazy thing was that when they returned their property would still be there, pretty much unthinkable in London yet here it was happening in a city of 20 million plus!
Working our way through Harajuku my wife bought a lot of makeup and trinkets and I bought a few skate stickers which I knew I'd put on my recently bought macbook pro.
Yoyogi Park was nearby so we headed down there, I was keen to see the cosplayers out in force as it was a Sunday. We saw a few but what really stood out for me was the peace and quiet I felt whilst in this  small park within a huge megalopolis. The temples were beautiful and I loved getting pictures around the Dori gates, now I felt like I was in Japan!
We travelled to Shibuya and I went into Mandrake, a well known anime and manga shop, whilst my wife went mall shopping.

The highlight of the journey for me was visiting Akihabara, the gaming and manga mecca. My friends and I had heard about this hallowed place in the 90s but being there alone seemed a pity for me. My wife is not a gamer and so had little interest in going with me, so I  deposited her in a nice French style cafe (after trying to persuade her to wait for me at the Gundam Cafe- which she didn't like). Walking around Aki with a pupils borrowed copy of the 'Guide to Japan for Geeks' book I walked around the various computing and manga shops in thrall to just ALL the stuff that was there. Much I recognised from my childhood but a lot I hadn't seen before. I bought a few games and an original Gameboy but wish I had more money to buy a lot more. I went to Namco Museum Arcades and Sega Gaming Parlours and played a few games including the Persona beat em up but it being a school day and just past midday there were very few people there. I loved the experience but just wished I had someone to share the experience with. I went into a pachinko parlour and left very quickly due to the amount of noise, even for an old gamer like me, someone who is used to arcades, the noise was deafening.  Akihabara held its allure for me but I know that if I had gone to Japan at the peak of my interest in anime and manga, then it would have been a much bigger deal.

We had booked tickets to go to Kyoto and I was very excited as I wanted to go on the Bullet train. However the cost was wayyyy to much for a return so we decided to go by bus and arrive back in Tokyo by Bullet train. The bus was extremely comfortable and cheap so that was a bonus and once we arrived we travelled to the Kyoto temples, the largest number of buildings under UNESCO in the world. The temples really didn't disappoint, the most spectacular being the gold temple and the famous Kiyomizu Temple.

The journey back by bullet was a real pleasure but to be honest having travelled by Eurostar it didn't have a wow factor that I thought it would. However it was great to see the Japanese countryside drift by at speed.

The last day in Japan we spent walking around Tokyo some more and caught up with my best friend for our overlap day. We walked around Shinjuku and chatted away and it was the first time that they had a chance to meet my wife. All in all Japan was amazing but make sure you take someone who likes hustle and bustle and the city as it is a very fast paced city with courteous and friendly people.

So why did the birth of my daughter lead to to think about this Japan trip from a couple of years ago? Well, I think its due to a couple of things. Firstly even though I had visited Japan I hadn't written about the trip until now... a bit of unfinished business I suppose. But also I guess I was just ruminating about what my life was and how now it is going to be very different from now on. It's now no longer about just me and my dreams but about my whole families- life is never going to be the same but that's okay... I am really for the next exciting part of my life. Gods in his heaven And all is right with the world.