Welcome to Episode 48, and a historic Anime Pocket Reviews!
Yes, these three new anime series means that we have officially reached 100 reviewed series on The Culture Cove! From our humble beginnings – namely Attack on Titan, Sword Art Online and Steins;Gate – we have developed a watch list to be proud of. You can see our Anime Ranking here to see where your favourite series rank, but be warned that these may or may not be shaken up over the next week or so as part of our 100 series celebrations.
Now, though, our focus turns to shows numbered 98, 99 & 100. We have three brand new series from this year to showcase, including an early contender for Anime of the Year 2018! First, we have a look at the start of what Netflix hope will be their breakthrough year in Japanese animation.
B: The Beginning (2018, S1, 12x25mins)
“We meet at last.”
The story takes place in the fictional, technologically advanced island of Cremona where a serial killer looms large. Killer B, named after the mark left behind at the scene of his murders, is killing criminals across the island and leaving the Royal Investigation Service chasing without success, until Keith Flick (centre) arrives. A hugely-respected, socially reclusive detective, Keith is quick to pull the pieces of the jigsaw together, and soon Keith, the RIS, and particularly the young and energetic officer Lily (right) find themselves in the middle of a war beyond their imagination involving a mysterious criminal organisation and a young boy named Koku (left) who seems to possess supernatural abilities.
Basically Plot: A serial killer known as ‘Killer B’ emerges on the island of Cremona. Keith Flick, an awkward, genius detective joins the RIS police force, and very quickly the dangerous plot behind the killings is revealed alongside young Koku, a boy who seems to possess supernatural abilities.
While Netflix have been putting their hands into the anime medium for a while now, 2018 seems to be the year that Netflix looks to make a major impact in the industry. As part of it’s plans to be a majority original content site, Netflix is set to release 30 ‘original’ anime series over this year. For the western audience this will mean many people will be seeing new anime for the first time through Netflix, turning the American programmer into something of a flag bearer for Japan’s cultural export! B: The Beginning is a decent series that fits this mould in many ways for Netflix, but my message to new anime fans is that there’s many better tales out there.
You can almost feel Netflix wanting to make this appeal to a wider audience in its production. The animation style is out of keeping with current animation in that it is particularly sweet, using simple colour tones and round-faced characters that give the series a nostalgic feeling. The series is also set in the fictional city of Cremona, a beautiful European paradise that is also English-speaking, another pull for Netflix’s majority audience who can watch the series in English.
However, past this being something of a feeler for Netflix – despite being called ‘The Beginning’ and teasing another story to follow, no second season has been confirmed as of yet – there is actually a decent Japanese anime here. The animation is really nice and lends itself perfectly to creating slightly wacky characters like Flick and Lily, and the series as a whole has a fantastic and underused ability to combine soft comedy and genuinely interesting murder mystery. At the beginning B was as exciting and colourful as it was dark and impactful, with clown-like villains running riot through the city, leaving a trail of mystery behind. However, as the story develops and the wider plot begins to take shape, B: The Beginning starts to hit far too many clichés. Despite the colourful start, by the end the series felt like just another crime mystery, with pieces of story stolen from countless other dramas to create a somewhat predictable ending that did little to excite.
Netflix’s original crime drama anime, like a lot of Netflix’s content, primarily aims to satisfy its audience. The pretty animation and nostalgically produced characters star in a mystery story that starts really brightly. However, in the wider anime-scape the overriding story here lacks originality, leading to an unsatisfying ending that dulls the otherwise colourful world of ‘Killer B’, which should have been the title of this series and it still irritates me that it wasn’t.
ANIME RANKING: #73 – The beautiful animation saves a relatively simple story, placing it alongside series such as Akiba’s Trip and Juni Taisen.
If you liked this, you’ll love: Terror in Resonance – Another short-but-sweet detective thriller that is as memorable for its animation as its story, Terror in Resonance is a beautiful series following two young kids bringing Tokyo to its knees. While Terror in Resonance is slightly more mature and thoughtful than B, fans of B’s story will find similar themes in this series, one of the more recent titles by hugely popular director Shinichiro Wantanabe.
Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens (2018, S1, 12x23mins)
Action, Drama, Comedy
“I’m a professional, after all.”
Tonkotsu Ramens is set in a fictional version of the city of Fukuoka, in which crime is so widespread that the city has developed a large and vibrant underground community, with more criminal syndicates and hands-for-hire than you can count. The story primarily follows Lin Xianming (second right), a crossdressing hitman working to find his sister and clear his family’s debt. When one of his targets commits suicide before he can reach them and his boss refuses to pay him for the work, he decides to get revenge, so when he is sent to kill Banba (far right), a local detective snooping around criminal organisations, he instead decides to work with him. Banba is in the heart of Fukuoka, with friends ranging from a local Ramen stall broker to a hairdresser-turned-torturer and his elementary school assistant (far left). Joining the friendly crowd, Lin works to discover truths about his family, the criminal underbelly of the city, and the mythical ‘hitman hitman’, the Niwaka Samurai that is the talk of the town.
Basically Plot: Set in the vibrant criminal underground of Fukuoka, the story follows Lin Xiangming, a crossdressing hitman, and Banba, the detective he was sent to kill, as they live their lives as hands-for-hire in the metropolis.
A series we reviewed at the halfway point, Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens quickly established itself as a personal favourite of mine thanks to its similarities with The Culture Cove’s #1 anime, Durarara. Now, it wont shock you to hear that its ending doesn’t quite reach those heights, but still, HTRs is a fantastic example of the crime-comedy genre done right.
As we mentioned, HTRs has a really strong storyline. Adapted from a light novel similar to Durarara as opposed to manga comics that are week-by-week, you can see as a viewer the story developing at a much more natural rate. There are plots that are wide and mysterious that span multiple episodes, keeping you hooked to the series, but at the same time there are enough small stories to make each episode really enjoyable. That latter side is somewhat lost as the series draws to its conclusion, and I didn’t really get along with the final major story of the series, but the tempo of the storytelling throughout is still something to be appreciated.
One of the major keys to the success of a series like this, though, is its character set. Durarara is our number one anime because it has a huge collection of characters that are on one hand fun personalities but on the other strong-minded killers, and HTRs delivers a smaller but similar cast here. The cast may not be as big or deep as similar series, but each character brings a unique personality, while particularly good use of colour allows HTRs to quickly paint a diverse city of people and abilities. The friendliness between them all makes each moment particularly enjoyable – the name Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens comes from the amateur baseball team they all play for – and while they may not switch masks as effectively as a series like Durarara, most of the cast is able to turn dark when the story begins to take shape.
Overall, this is a very enjoyable anime series for fans of the niche ‘crime-comedy’ genre. A fun cast deliver a slower, more naturally developed storyline that lacks perhaps the scope of some of the major successes of the genre but still delivers a small, easily enjoyed series with plenty of notable characters.
ANIME RANKING: #48 – A better-than-it-sounds ranking for this series, putting it ahead of Death Parade and just behind Black Lagoon!
If you liked this, you’ll love: Durarara!! – Yeah, it’s hard to recommend anything other than this. Both stories centre around the criminal underworld of a particular city, following a cast of characters as they live their lives in it and through it. Durarara is a much larger version of HTRs, with many more characters and much broader stories, but both these series are very similar in almost every aspect.
Note: There’s more than one reason why there’s so many comparisons here between Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens and Durarara. Both series started as Japanese light novels under the same publishing company, and both anime series are notable for their light-hearted crime stories and jazz soundtracks. The pièce de résistance, however, is that both authors have admitted similarities between their stories, and in 2016 HTRs author Chiaki Kisaki wrote a spinoff novel titled “Durarara!! x Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens” in which the characters from HTRs go to Ikebukuro to watch a baseball game and end up getting involved in the criminal underworld of the Durarara series! A future anime OVA, perhaps?
A Place Further Than the Universe (2018, S1, 13x23mins)
“I’ll go, then rub it in the faces of everyone who said I couldn’t.”
Mari Tamaki (front) is a high-school girl who worries whether she is making the most of her youth. She dreams of flunking school one day and riding the train the other direction but is always too afraid to take the plunge. Then she meets Shirase Kobuchizawa (centre-left). Nicknamed Antartica, the socially reclusive girl is teased by everyone at school for her obsession with the continent, but when she explains her plan to travel there to Tamaki, the once cautious girl finds herself determined to get them both on the journey of a lifetime.
Basically Plot: Mari is desperate for a youthful adventure. Shirase is bullied for her love of Antarctica. The two of them meet, and together they set their course for the journey of a lifetime.
This is a surprisingly excellent series! In our Half-Term Report we talked about how this show was a pleasant escape in a sea of fantasy dramas. However, A Place Further Than the Universe has grown and grown, and by the end this was a hugely fun and poignantly emotional coming-of-age, coming-to-terms story.
The characters are fairly unique for a coming-of-age story, in the sense that in the first episode none of them know each other. Usually series like this are built on childhood friendships and the like, but the fact that they are all complete individuals adds another point of interest to what becomes, over time, a really close friendship between the four of them. The characters themselves have fantastic chemistry, beyond the slapstick jokes that usually fill slice-of-life titles, with each character keeping their sense of self while also contributing to what is a really enjoyable cast throughout.
The series had a really nice animation style, too. Favouring the highlighting of white light over the traditional black shadows – a la Tsukigakirei – and giving the character’s facial features a cartoonish edge helps the story keep its light and easy tone throughout, making it a consistently enjoyable watch despite the subject matter.
It is the underlying story that, for me, makes this one of the best coming-of-age anime series I’ve seen. A Place Further Than the Universe is a fun slice-of-life adventure that is blended beautifully with a very strong story about loss. Ultimately, their journey is put into motion by Shirase, who is going to Antartica in search of her mother, who had died during a similar expedition In following in her footsteps and meeting people who were on that expedition with her mother, Shirase comes face-to-face with the weight of her loss and the effect it has had not only on her but the people around her and her mother. Ep.12 is a really emotional episode that could have been the end of the series, and I immediately thought it should have been. However, the slow, respectful nature of the actual final episode showcased yet again this series’ ability to marry those tearful moments with the simple joys of adventure and friendship, without losing the importance of either.
A Place Further Than the universe is not only an enjoyable slice-of-life adventure, but also an expertly written, honest tale about grief and loss and the importance of friendship. While I hope it’s not, I feel like this could be one of the most underrated series this year, given what has already caused it to be overlooked and some of the names coming up in the next cycle!
ANIME RANKING: #23 – A fantastic score for this excellent series, placing it alongside successes such as Sound Euphonium, Bakuman and 2017 Anime of the Year nominee Land of the Lustrous!
If you liked this, you’ll love: Ahohana: The Flower We Saw That Day – There’s no shortage of excellent coming-of-age, female-led anime series that we could have recommended. However, tying to the beautiful animation and focusing on the story of grief and loss, we recommend Anohana. While lacking the comedy and camaraderie of A Place Further Than the Universe, Anohana’s gorgeous animation highlights a very emotional story about the death of a childhood friend and the reunion that follows many years later. An excellent, thoughtful story, fans of the later episodes of A Place Further Than the Universe will definitely love this series.
We’ve said this before, but Spring 2018 genuinely feels like it could be the biggest cycle we’ve ever seen!
A Place Further Than the Universe was kind of lucky, actually. On March 27th the series reached its conclusion, earlier than many other series in the cycle. That gave it time to lap up some of the praise before the titans of Spring strode into the anime scene. Darling in the FranXX will now be under serious pressure to keep its viewership, because the sheer size of the titles in this cycle are spellbinding.
There’s been some good cycles before – Summer 17 (Kakegurui, MHA 2) springs to mind – but I don’t remember a cycle having so many huge titles in it. The incredibly successful Tokyo Ghoul returns with the beginning of its spinoff series RE, while Steins;Gate, one of the best sci-fi anime of all time, gets a similar treatment seven years on with Steins;Gate 0. Each of them alone would be enough of a headline pre-anime cycle, but add to that two recent smash-hits in the continuation of season three of Food Wars and the start of season three of My Hero Academia, and you have an incredible race for that number one spot in our Half-Term Report before you even begin to consider new series such as Dances with the Dragons and Megalo Box. Also, there is also an original animation of the hugely popular videogame Persona 5 which is of personal interest to me!
Almost all the Spring titles have started now, so which first episode has stood out for you? Let us know in the comments!
Make sure you follow The Culture Cove to see the best anime reviews before anybody else! Look out for episode 49, featuring one of the most memorable mecha anime of all time, Gurren Lagann!