Anime Spotlight: Your Lie in April

Your Lie in April is based on a manga series written and illustrated by Naoshi Arakawa. The anime was produced by A-1 Pictures and was directed by Kyohei Ishiguro. The series ran on Japanese television from October 9, 2014-March 19, 2015. As of this writing, Aniplex of America holds the North American distribution license for Your Lie in April.

Kosei Arima was a piano prodigy as a child and was famous among child musicians. But after his mother, who also served as his instructor, passed away, he had a mental breakdown while performing at a piano recital. Since then, he can no longer hear the sound of the piano even though he can still hear perfectly well, and has disappeared from performing.

Kosei is now in middle school, and hasn’t touched the piano in two years. But his life starts to change after meeting Kaori Miyazono, a free-spirited violinist who ends up dragging Kosei back into the world of music. Kosei encounters a lot of struggles as he tries to resume playing the piano, and he also finds himself falling for Kaori. But Kaori seems to like Kosei’s best friend, Watari, so this complicates matters for Kosei. And it turns out that Kosei’s longtime friend and next door neighbor Tsubaki is in love with him, but he doesn’t notice. The elements of music and personal drama come together to create a compelling story that keeps a viewer riveted and wanting to see more.

The first thing that caught my attention was the animation. From the very first scene, I was impressed by the vivid look it had. The character designs also stood out, but in a good way.

By the time I finished watching the first episode, I was already hooked on the story and I wanted to see more. I had a couple days where I binge watched about 6 or 7 episodes in one day, which is highly unusual for me to do. And the only reason I would stop after watching that many episodes was because it was a time where I had other things I had to get done.

As I watched Your Lie in April, I found myself becoming highly emotional. The story was so well told that there were at least two episodes where I was actually crying. The writing for this series develops the characters so well that the viewer comes to care about them very quickly.

Another thing the writing got right was how the backstories for some of the characters unfolds. The audience learns the basic gist of an event, and then a later episode embellishes on what was told and reveals additional information from seeing the same event from the viewpoint of another character.

Music is an important element for Your Lie in April, and the viewer can hear just how much care was put into that aspect of the series. It’s the combination of the storytelling, the animation, and the music that makes Your Lie in April such a strong and fantastic series.

Your Lie in April is an incredible anime series, and it should appeal to viewers who enjoy music and highly emotional drama. Once you start this series, you’ll find that you don’t want to stop.

Anime Film Review: Yowamushi Pedal: The Movie

Yowamushi Pedal: The Movie is a film that tells a completely new story about what happens to Sohoku High’s bicycle racing club after the Inter-High race.

Yowamushi Pedal: The Movie

Directed by: Norihiro Naganuma
Written by: Reiko Yoshida
Starring: Daiki Yamashita, Jun Fukushima, Kosuke Toriumi, Atsushi Abe, Ayaka Suwa, Daisuke Kishio, Hirofumi Nojima, Hiroki Yasumoto, Hiroyuki Yoshino, Junichi Suwabe, Kentaro Ito, Ken’yu Horiuchi, Koji Yusa, Kouki Miyata, Megumi Han, Satoshi Hino, Shotaro Morikubo, Tetsuya Kakihara, Tomoaki Maeno, Tsubasa Yonaga, Yoshitsugu Matsuoka
Run Time: 90 minutes
English Publisher: Discotek Media
Format: Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack
Release Date: December 26, 2017

The film opens with the members of Sohoku’s bicycle racing club returning to school after the Inter-High race. Both the team and Sakamichi recive attention for winning the Inter-High, and it’s awkward for Sakamich because he’s not used to that kind of attention.

Since Yowamushi Pedal focuses on bicycle racing, you knew that a race would have to be coming up. Sure enough, Sohoku;s team is invited to participate in the Kumamoto Hi Province Mountain Range Race, which is only open to the top-tier teams from around the country. Of course, this means that Hakone Academy will participate, and this race also brings in Kyoto Fushimi and Hiroshima Kureminami. But this race also introduces the audience to another team, Kumamoto Daiichi High School, the local team for the location where the race is being held. But it was quite surprising to see that Midousuji decided not to participate with Kyoto Fushimi. Instead, Ishigaki serves as the team’s ace, and Nobuyuki has a running gag of trying to take Midousuji’s place as the ace. This gag with Nobuyuki was amusing the first couple of times it appeared, but it wore out its welcome rather quickly.

But the race itself isn’t the only source of drama in Yowamushi Pedal: The Movie. It turns out that Makishima is heading to England to study abroad and help his older brother with his business, and needs to withdraw from Sohoku’s bicycle racing club. With Makishima departing, that leaves Sakamichi as the team’s only climber. When Kinjou tells Sakamichi that he’ll be the mountain climbing ace for the upcoming race, the younger climber feels a lot of pressure. Sakamichi’s uncertainty at being placed in this important role also serves as a driving factor for the drama in the film. But there’s a surprise near the end of the race that I expected, although I wasn’t quite sure how it would be pulled off until it happened. Even though I expected the twist, I still enjoyed seeing the ending of the story.

Getting to see the interactions between Sohoku’s racers and Hakone Academy’s team was very enjoyable to watch. But you kind of had to feel bad for Toudou when he discovered that Makishima wasn’t at the race. As I watched the race, I just felt like something was missing without Midousuji around, and this made the Kyoto Fushimi team a little less interesting to watch. All I can figure is that there was already enough going on in the film that the writer decided there just wasn’t a way to fit Midousuji in with the story that they wanted to tell. The Hiroshima Kureminami team seemed to serve the exact same purpose they did when they were introduced in Yowamushi Pedal Grande Road. We only get to meet two of the new members of the Kumamoto Daiichi High School, and by the end of the movie, they didn’t really leave much of an impression on me. They just came across as a couple of overconfident and pompous racers.

Story-wise, it felt like the writer didn’t miss a beat between the end of Yowamushi Pedal Grande Road and the movie. Of course, it probably helped that I had just seen both of the Yowamushi Pedal recap movies before watching this one.

Fans of Yowamushi Pedal won’t want to miss Yowamushi Pedal: The Movie, because it provides a new story for our characters and it also seems to be setting the stage for another season. Since the movie played up that this would be the last race for the third-years, I would expect that the third season that has been green-lit for the anime will likely either start right at the end of that school year with the third-years graduating, or right at the beginning of the next school year.

When it comes to the American home video release, the video is available in 1.85:1 16:9 and 1080p/480p. For audio, there is Japanese DTS Master Audio 5.1 (BD), Japanese LPCM Stereo 2.0 (BD), and Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 (DVD). There are English subtitles for the Japanese audio.

When it comes to bonus features, there were four teasers and a trailer for the movie included.

If you enjoy Yowamushi Pedal: The Movie and want to add it to your anime home video library, then this release is worth getting.

Anime Film Review: Yowamushi Pedal Re:ROAD

Yowamushi Pedal Re:ROAD is a compilation film for Yowamushi Pedal Grande Road, the second season of Yowamushi Pedal.

Yowamushi Pedal Re:ROAD
Directed by: Osamu Nabeshima
Written by: Reiko Yoshida
Starring: Daiki Yamashita, Jun Fukushima, Kosuke Toriumi, Atsushi Abe, Ayaka Suwa, Daisuke Kishio, Hirofumi Nojima, Hiroki Yasumoto, Hiroyuki Yoshino, Junichi Suwabe, Kentaro Ito, Ken’yu Horiuchi, Koji Yusa, Kouki Miyata, Megumi Han, Satoshi Hino, Shotaro Morikubo, Tetsuya Kakihara, Tomoaki Maeno, Tsubasa Yonaga, Yoshitsugu Matsuoka
Run Time: 90 minutes

After seeing the Yowamushi Pedal Re:RIDE compilation film and enjoying it, I came into this film with high expectations. Like the previous compilation film, Yowamushi Pedal Re:ROAD takes the end of the second day and all of the third day of the Inter-High race and condenses it down to the important plot points. There are some new animation sequences included that act as a “bridge” between the various plot points in the recap.

Overall, I have to say that the “bridge” footage didn’t work as well in Yowamushi Pedal Re:ROAD as they did in Yowamushi Pedal Re:RIDE. While the first film showed a couple of the character reminiscing on the first two days of the Inter-High, the new animation for this film didn’t serve the same purpose. This time, the new footage focuses on Hakone Acadey’s third years surprising Juichi with a trip to an amusement park to thank him for being their team captain. This new footage never truly tied in with the recap, and at times it felt like it was randomly thrown in. The only important thing about the new footage in this movie is the fact that it directly ties in with the omake that appeared at the end of the film.

Like with the first film, Yowamushi Pedal Re:ROAD did a good job of condensing down the episodes of the second season to around 90 minutes. The action just kept moving and made the film interesting to watch, and it became frustrating at times when the new footage would show up and break up the flow. With this film, I can say that I never really felt like the condensing down made any point of the film feel jumpy.

Yowamushi Pedal Re:ROAD was a good compilation movie, outside of the new footage added to it. But since this film specifically condenses down the second season, it’s not something that viewers unfamiliar with the property can simply jump into. However, it could serve as a companion piece with Yowamushi Pedal Re:RIDE to help introduce new viewers to the world of Yowamushi Pedal.

Anime Film Review: Yowamushi Pedal Re:RIDE

Yowamushi Pedal Re:RIDE is a compilation film for the first season of the Yowamushi Pedal television anime series.

Yowamushi Pedal Re:RIDE
Directed by: Osamu Nabeshima
Written by: Reiko Yoshida
Starring: Daiki Yamashita, Jun Fukushima, Kosuke Toriumi, Atsushi Abe, Ayaka Suwa, Daisuke Kishio, Hirofumi Nojima, Hiroki Yasumoto, Hiroyuki Yoshino, Junichi Suwabe, Kentaro Ito, Ken’yu Horiuchi, Koji Yusa, Kouki Miyata, Megumi Han, Satoshi Hino, Shotaro Morikubo, Tetsuya Kakihara, Tomoaki Maeno, Tsubasa Yonaga, Yoshitsugu Matsuoka
Run Time: 90 minutes

I have to admit that when I heard that this would be a compilation film for the first season of the Yowamushi Pedal anime with some additional new footage added, I was a little skeptical of what the final product would be like. But after watching this film, I can say that it’s probably one of the better anime season compilation films that I have personally seen.

It opens with Sakamichi narrating how he ended up joining Sohoku’s bicycle racing club and became part of the group that went to the Inter-High race. After the opening credits, we get to see the first of the new footage that was made specifically for the film. The premise is that Hakone team member Toudou comes from a family that owns a hot springs inn, and he invited Makishima and Sakamichi to come visit after the Inter-High race is over. During their time at the inn, both Sakamichi and Makishima have memories of the events that happened during the first two days of the Inter-High race. Most of the new footage animated for the film was rather enjoyable, and worked well as “bridge pieces” between the memories.

Overall, I thought the scriptwriter did a good job condensing down the episodes of the Inter-High down to this film length. To achieve this, it was decided to simply focus on the important events that happened to the members of the Sohoku team. In the anime series, there was the occasional episode where the focus was primarily on non-Sohoku racers, so the events from those episodes weren’t included. And this made sense, since it’s Makishima and Sakamichi having the memories of the race. They certainly can’t remember events that happened when they weren’t around! Overall, this condensing down was executed smoothly except at one point where Sakamichi had fallen to last place because he had been involved in a big bike crash. The movie jumped from Naruko realizing that Sakamichi wasn’t with the rest of the team to Sakamichi lying on the ground right after the accident. That felt jumpy, but maybe that was just me.

For viewers who see this movie without watching the first season of the anime will likely be confused at the end, because the Inter-High race doesn’t end in the film. But since this movie came out between the two seasons (and the second season focused on the third day of the Inter-High), it makes sense that there’s nothing shown for the final day of the race in this compilation film.

I was also pleasantly surprised by the omake that appeared after the ending credits of the movie. Since this was always done at the end of the episodes in the anime series, I thought this was a nice touch for the movie.

Viewers who have already seen the first season of Yowamushi Pedal should still watch this film, both for the new footage and to be able to see a more condensed version of the race. Since it had been a while since I personally watched the first season of the series, this was a nice refresher on the main points of the story in that season. This could also work well as a way to introduce someone to Yowamushi Pedal, as long as it’s explained that the race shown in the movie doesn’t actually conclude because the conclusion appears in the second season of the television series.

Anime DVD Review: Bubblegum Crash: Total Crash Collection

Bubblegum Crash: Total Crash Collection includes all three OVA episodes on one DVD. Audio is available with an English dub and the original Japanese audio with English subtitles.

Bubblegum Crash: Total Crash Collection
English Publisher: AnimEigo
Format: DVD
Release Date: November 20, 2001

Bubblegum Crash is set in 2034, and the Knight Sabers haven’t been seen for a while. It appears that all of the members, except for Nene, have drifted off to pursue their own goals and dreams. Priss is poised to make her debut as a professional singer, while Linna becomes active in the financial markets. Sylia and Mackie seem to have disappeared. Nene still works for the A.D. Police, and is the only one who seems to want the Knight Sabers to continue.

As the story opens, pieces of a unique artificial intelligence are stolen by several villains who act on orders from a mysterious voice. With the Knight Sabers gone, the A.D. Police are having problems apprehending the villains. But things change when Sylia resurfaces unexpectedly and brings the Knight Sabers back together in order to stop the thefts.

It was evident right away that some kind of a timeskip had occurred between the end of Bubblegum Crisis and Bubblegum Crash. Admittedly, this took a little getting used to during the first episode of Bubblegum Crash. But I think the idea of the Knight Sabers drifting apart before the start of this series made sense as a way to bring the property back, since this added a new tensions and a new dimension to it. Obviously, I knew the four of them would have to get back together somehow in order to continue the story, but I wanted to know how exactly this happened.

It was a little disappointing to see that Mackie’s role was so diminished in Bubblegum Crash. All I could figure is that the directors and writers wanted to make the girls seem like they had more “girl power” by handling things on their own without any real assistance from Mackie.

In the end, Bubblegum Crash isn’t a bad OVA series, but I didn’t think it was quite as strong as Bubblegum Crisis.

When it comes to the DVD itself, there are only two items in the special features menu. The first is a gallery of 26 images, and unlike the Bubblegum Crisis and A.D. Police Files releases, this was not done as a slideshow. Instead, the viewer uses their remote to flip through the images. I appreciated the fact that the viewer was given more control over when the images change, but it was at the expense of losing the music that the Bubblegum Crisis line art galleries had. The other bonus feature is “Settei,” which includes 49 pages of model sheets. The interface for this feature is exactly like what was used for the gallery. There’s also a section in the main menu to view the credits.

After seeing AnimEigo’s releases for A.D. Police Files and Bubblegum Crisis, this one was a little disappointing. But it appears that Bubblegum Crash was release three years before the other two, which might explain why it feels so bare bones when it comes to the bonus features. 2001 would still have been part of the early years of DVD, which was a time when studios didn’t put nearly as much bonus features on releases as they do now.

Since Bubblegum Crash is a sequel series, I can only truly recommend it to viewers who have already seen or have familiarity with Bubblegum Crisis. If you’re a fan of this anime universe and haven’t added Bubblegum Crash to your anime library, this release is currently the only way of acquiring the series in North America.

Anime DVD Box Set Review: Bubblegum Crisis Remastered DVD Box Set

Bubblegum Crisis Remastered DVD Box Set includes four DVDs that contain two of the episodes of the series and bonus features. Audio is available in English, Spanish, and the original Japanese with English subtitles. The set comes packaged in an artbox.

Bubblegum Crisis Remastered DVD Box Set
English Publisher: AnimEigo
Format: DVD
Release Date: November 6, 2004

Bubblegum Crisis is a cyberpunk-style anime that is set in 2032, in a post disaster Tokyo that has been renamed “Megatokyo.” A corporation called Genom holds immense power in Megatokyo, and their main product is Boomers, artificial beings used for manual labor. However, the Boomers end up being used by villains to be deadly instruments of destruction, and the A.D. Police have the task of dealing with Boomer-related crimes. There are also the Knight Sabers, a group of women who fight the Boomers for money for those who are willing to pay. These four women are a fighting team with incredible abilities, and they also have powered armor suits.

Sylia Stingray is the ringleader of the Knight Sabers, and she is the daughter of Dr. Katsuhito Stingray, the man responsible for creating the Boomers. Her father was murdered by a Genom executive, and the death was covered as an accident. But before he died, Dr. Stingray managed to send Sylia a data unit that provided the technological means to create the Knight Sabers’ suits. Sylia is a scientist in her own right, and is also a wealthy businesswoman. Sylia’s younger brother, Mackie, serves as the Knight Sabers’ youthful mascot and mechanic. He’s a whiz kid with computers and technology, and is the sole caretaker of the hardsuits. Mackie also drives a truck that delivers the Knight Sabers and their bikes to any situation they need to attend to.

Priss Asagiri, a member of the Knight Sabers, is also a rock ‘n’ roll singer. She is a motorcyclist who has a bad temper and hates virtually all authority figures (especially the A.D. Police). Priss also finds herself in a love/hate relationship with an A.D. Policeman named Leon McNichol. Leon has a tendency to rush into things without thinking, and is a skilled armor pilot.

Nene Romanova, another member of the Knight Sabers, is a technical conductor and hacker. She is also an employee of the A.D. Police, where she functions as the Knight Sabers’ mole. Outside of her skills as a hacker, Nene is often portrayed as bubbly, naïve, and blissfully inept with real world logic. Linna Yamazaki is the final member of the Knight Sabers, and she is often presented as shallow, greedy, and superficial.

Brian J. Mason, who is also known as Largo, is the main villain of the first three episodes of the original OVA series. After this, there are several other antagonists for the Knight Sabers to deal with.

I really enjoyed the feeling of “girl power” that’s prevalent in Bubblegum Crisis, and also appreciated that the series was realistic enough to show that these women have weaknesses. Characters like Sylia, Priss, and Linna receive some fantastic character development in the series, and Leon and Nene add some comic relief that helps to keep the stories from becoming too dark. Bubblegum Crisis has the right mixture of drama and comedy to keep viewers wanting to come back for more.

Bubblegum Crisis can be violent, but it has nowhere near the amount of violence that A.D. Police Files has. There are also occasional shots of female nudity when the Knight Sabers change into their hardsuits. But these things didn’t really bother me, though.

The biggest disappointment for me is the fact that Bubblegum Crisis doesn’t actually end. While there are individual stories that run throughout the eight episodes, you can still tell that there’s a bigger overarching story that should lead up to some kind of climax. But since there’s no ending, that overarching story just seems to come to a screeching halt.

When it comes to the DVD set itself, each disc includes music videos for the songs that appear in Bubblegum Crisis. Considering how important of a role music plays in the series, this really isn’t that surprising. But I was happy to see that the videos had the songs in Japanese, and that the lyrics appeared as English subtitles. Most of the music videos are clips that focus on the animation from the series, there are a handful of live-action videos that were released in Japan on a set called, Hurricane Live Music Videos.

Each disc also contains a line art gallery, and each one is done in a slideshow format. The length of each one varies, but the slides change every five seconds. Fortunately, the decision was made to have music going in the background during the slideshows, which helped to keep my interest as the various images came and went. There are also “Program Notes” on each disc, which usually includes text of interviews with various members of the production, as well as summaries for the Bubblegum Crisis episodes. Disc Two also contains 57 pages of text of a reunion of the voice actors that took place seven years after Episode 8 was released. For all of the program notes, the viewer has to scroll through each one by using their remote.

Disc Two also has the distinction of including “Holiday in Bali,” which was a live-action special that featured the series’ voice actresses as they’re on a vacation in India. This must have been done as some kind of promotional thing back when Bubblegum Crisis was first being released, but I really didn’t understand the point of it. While this was a nice inclusion for fans that want to have everything that was released in regards to the Bubblegum Crisis OVA, I personally wasn’t too terribly impressed with it.

If you’re a Bubblegum Crisis fan and haven’t picked up the series yet, this DVD set would be a great way to pick up the whole OVA series, as well as the Hurricane Live Music Videos and the “Holiday in Bali” special. While AnimEigo ran a Kickstarter to release the series on Blu-ray and successfully funded it, I don’t know easy it is to acquire that Blu-ray release.

Anime DVD Review: A.D. Police Files 1-3

A.D. Police Files 1-3 includes all three OVAs on one disc. Audio options include an English dub and the original Japanese audio with English subtitles.

A.D. Police Files 1-3
English Publisher: AnimEigo
Format: DVD
Release Date: October 5, 2004

A.D. Police Files focuses on police inspector Leon McNichol’s early days in the A.D. Police, back when he was just an officer. A female officer named Jeena is also an integral part of all three episodes.

The first episode establishes the Boomers, which are robots manufactured by the Genom Corporation that take care of most of the manual labor in the city. They have started to malfunction and commit crimes and create violence. After one of Jeena’s co-workers is killed by a Boomer, it’s theorized the officer was part of an insurance scam. Jeena, along with Leon, work to prove the fallen officer’s innocence.

In the second episode, the A.D. Police must work at solving a string of murders in an area called Paradise Loop after its suspected that a Boomer is behind them. It turns out that when a normal police officer goes to an organ bank to replace her eye with a cybernetic one, she discovers the truth about who’s behind all the murders.

The final episode focuses on Billy Fanword, the captain of the A.D. Police Special Mobile Squad. He sustained massive injuries from a rogue Boomer and nearly died. His brain and tongue are his only viable organs, and they are transplanted into an experimental cyborg body. During the episode, Billy starts losing touch with his humanity. Jeena plays an important role in the story, because she is Billy’s ex-lover.

The writers and directors for this OVA series seemed to go into this production with the idea that viewers would have already seen Bubblegum Crisis. No time is spent on explaining the Boomers or what they are, and the first episode just jumps immediately into the action. Fortunately, I had already seem the Bubblegum Crisis remake series, Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040, so I already had that knowledge. A viewer going into this OVA without any prior knowledge of Bubblegum Crisis will be confused about what’s going on.

After watching all three episodes, it felt as if these stories weren’t as fleshed out as they could have been. It seemed like the production team went into this deciding they couldn’t go any longer than 28 minutes for any of the episodes. Since the stories weren’t as fleshed out as they could have been, it made it harder for me to remain interested in what I was seeing or really caring about what was happening.

When it comes to the DVD release itself, there are four bonus features included. The first is labeled as “Videos,” and this includes music videos (which only have English audio), Japanese commercials for the first two OVAs, as well as a trailer for a Japanese A.D. Police manga. When it comes to the music videos, there was one labeled as “Mega-Tokyo Mix,” which included videos for three songs and ran for almost 11 minutes long. The striking thing about this video is that is used footage from Bubblegum Crisis rather than from the A.D. Police Files OVA series. The other three music videos, however, did use footage from this OVA series. I was rather frustrated with the fact that audio was only available in English, because I much prefer the Japanese vocals. Honestly, I thought the woman singing the English versions was trying too hard to sound like Bonnie Tyler in “Holding Out for a Hero.”

There’s a gallery that’s done in a slideshow style that runs for almost four minutes. It includes around 23 images, with each image being up on the screen for about 10 seconds. The gallery includes production sketches, model sheets, and promotional art. Unfortunately, the slideshow was completely silent, so this made this gallery hard to watch. At least having music in the background would have helped to keep my interest.

Program Notes is done in a slideshow format, and all it includes are 14 slides of the English lyrics for the songs. But since the slides are only up for about 10 seconds each, this makes it hard to actually read the lyrics unless you pause each slide. This release also includes trailers for other releases from AnimEigo.

When all is said and done, I can only truly recommend this release to die-hard fans of the Bubblegum Crisis franchise who want to own every series related to it. However, it should be noted that A.D. Police Files is violent and gritty, and that the DVD box shows that the content is rated “18+.”