Doesn’t time fly? And as many of the new and recent UK releases are Blu-ray editions of old favourites (or not-so favourites in certain cases) the writers at Anime UK News have turned the clock back a decade to check out what we were watching (and, in some cases, reviewing). Are any of these series worthy of a reissue? Or a collector’s edition? Have we unearthed any forgotten treasures? What have we overlooked? Share your memories of 2011 with us!
When I look back at 2011, I see two series not only dominated my reviews for that year, but also happen to be series I’m still a fan of to this day. The first one is Vampire Knight; a series which I spoke of positively in our vampire article last year, and still recommend to any vampire fan, but in terms of re-release? The manga is easily bought as a box set; however, the DVD has been out of print for a good while and is sadly (at the time of writing) no longer on Netflix. A Blu-ray set containing both series would be a fang-tastic idea, considering it’s already passed it’s 10 year anniversary.
The other series I discovered in 2011 was Black Butler, set in the Victorian era of London; a 13-year-old earl named Ciel loses his whole family and manor in a fire. He is kidnapped, then sold into slavery. In the pits of his despair, a demon approaches Ciel to make a contract; he will find out who killed his family and punish them, in return for Ciel’s soul. The demon becomes Ciel’s one hell of a butler, Sebastian, and the pair not only battle day-to-day supernatural threats on the streets of London, but also try to solve Ciel’s own mystery. It was not only a beautifully stylish show, but dark, exciting, and mysterious with instantly memorable characters, great score and lovely English dub to boot. This series was very popular for a while, enough to not only get 3 anime seasons (including one releasing 4 years after the last one) but also an animated film, OVA, AND a live action movie. The UK has luckily seen the release of most of these, and the manga is currently on-going at the time of writing, but I will be mad for as long as the Book of Atlantic and Book of Murder remain unreleased in the UK. Why? In 2018, I went to New York for a week-long holiday and happened upon Blu-ray copies of both in the anime store, I withheld from buying either because I was confident that, as everything else had been licensed in the UK, they’d follow suit, right? So far, I’ve been proved horrible wrong, and am still mad that I didn’t get either. So if any company – Manga, Anime Limited, or MVM – sees this message, please bring it over to the UK and put my soul to rest!
Ten years ago, Beez Entertainment (remember them?) released Sound of the Sky (otherwise known as So Ra No Wo) on DVD in the UK. The series was an original work by studio A-1 Pictures and followed the story of Kanata Sorami, a young private in the army who is sent to serve in Clocktower Fortress. Now when you hear the word ‘army’ I’m sure you’re thinking of some dark and gritty war story, but in actuality Sound of the Sky was a coming-of-age story rooted in a slice-of-life series.
Kanata was inspired to join the military after hearing the song of a mysterious military trumpeter, which inspired her to choose it as a job for herself. Her days in the Clocktower Fortress are peaceful and her fellow platoon members are all cheerful and easy-going. As they spend their days peacefully, Kanata learns a great deal about both herself and the world around her. Despite how cutesy the artwork for the series is, there is a great deal of depth here – especially as we delve into the history of some of Kanata’s new co-workers turned friends. One of the things this anime does best is prove that not everything is as it first seems, which leads to some surprising developments as things go on.
Perhaps it’s no wonder Sound of the Sky was such a fantastic series though, since it was directed by Mamoru Kanbe (Cardcaptor Sakura, Your Lie in April) with music by Michiru Oshima (Fullmetal Alchemist). Coupled with A-1’s wonderfully vibrant animation, the show certainly had plenty going for it. That’s why it’s such a shame that there hasn’t been a home video release since Beez’s, despite the fact the US had a Blu-ray release in 2017. Worse still the show is no longer available on Crunchyroll, so this gem is currently completely missing from the UK anime scene. We can only hope someone will rescue it in the coming years so a whole new audience can experience it!
Looking back to our Anime UK News Review of 2011, I see that I chose Birdy the Mighty – Decode (Manga Entertainment) over Durarara!! as my overall favourite that year and I was curious to revisit that SF title which – unlike Durarara!! – hasn’t received a re-release or a Blu-ray edition. Coming from the same creative team as another of my all-time favourites, Noein, Birdy the Mighty – Decode turned out to be one of those SF anime series that spring up out of nowhere and leave a very positive impression (just like Punchline where a deceptive fan service exterior conceals an amazingly watchable SF interior). We have two great reviews here from Christor in 2011 for those who are interested – but, sadly, I haven’t yet been able to locate my own discs and rewatch this series that so impressed me back in the day when I reviewed it (for another magazine).
Birdy is an alien law enforcer (or Federation police officer) who, on a secret mission to Earth, accidentally kills an innocent bystander, student Tsutomu. In order to keep him alive until his body can be reconstructed on her home planet, she initiates a body share, placing his consciousness in her own body. So, in some ways, what ensues is a novel SF variation on the buddy cop show – as the two attempt to track down the Altarian aliens in hiding on Earth while trying to convince Tsutomu’s family and friends that all is just as before. Directed by Kazuke Akane (Vision of Escaflowne, Noein, Stars Align) and with a score by the versatile Yugo Kanno (Psycho-Pass, The Millionaire Detective) Birdy the Mighty – Decode is long overdue a reissue, preferably on Blu-ray!
My other standout favourite from 2011 is contemporary ninja tale Nabari no Ou (2008, but released on R2 in 2011 by Manga Entertainment) which definitely deserves more attention. Based on the manga by Yuhki Kamatani (mangaka of the recent highly praised LGBT+ series Our Dreams at Dusk) Nabari no Ou contains all the elements that make up an intriguing adventure mystery, with a fascinating cast of characters, all drawn to unlikely hero Miharu, a boy who is best known for his apathetic attitude to life. When Miharu learns that he carries the Shinra Banshou within him: a scroll that contains the most powerful secret of the ninja world of Nabari, his safe, boring routine is turned upside down as he becomes the target of competing ninja clans. Now he no longer knows who to trust – even when he’s taken to the Fuuma ninja village to meet the clan leader who may know a way to remove the scroll from his body.
So far, so standard ninja tale, perhaps? But it’s the characters and their interactions that make this such a fascinating watch. We get to see events from all points of view, including the rival squad sent to kidnap Miharu, including Yoite, a young person possessed of a terrifying power with whom Miharu strikes up a friendship. Interestingly, Yoite is depicted as neither male nor female, and mangaka Yuhki Kamatani has asked to be identified as asexual and X-gender.
Why watch Nabari no Ou? (And, unlike Birdy the Mighty, it’s currently available on Funimation.) It can be enjoyed as a straightforward ninja action adventure with authentic contemporary Japanese settings with engaging characters, plenty of fights, and a well-thought-out magic system. But it can also be enjoyed on another level: the characters are complex and, like Miharu, it’s hard to know who’s telling the truth or where the next double-cross is coming from. The series is well animated and has the added bonus of another great score from Michiru Oshima (Ride Your Wave, Fullmetal Alchemist). It’s also one of those shows where the English script is something of an improvement on the original; the English cast are really convincing, with Brina Palencia as Miharu and Joel McDonald as Yoite. And for completists, like me, if you like the character designs, it’s probably because they’re by Kazunori Iwakura who also did the character designs for R1 Loveless (2005).
Looking back ten years, which for the record is a very scary thing to do, there are three series that stand out in my mind, but only two of those I actually watched ten years ago (Durarara!! was something I watched a few years after everyone else…)
The first of these was Steins;Gate, a time travel tale that started off more of a light-hearted sci-fi twist on an almost slice-of-life setting, before going full-on time travel paradoxes and twisty plots. As it aired weekly I do remember in the early half missing a week or two and then watching a couple of episodes in a row, but when it hit that big cliffhanger halfway through, it became must-watch TV every week.
The story, focusing on self-confessed mad scientist Rintaro Okabe and his friends inventing a microwave that could send text messages back in time, mixed in plenty of comedy and a bit of romance before becoming more of a sci-fi thriller, but still kept the heart of the show through all the murder, time travel, re-murder, time travel, World War III, yet more time travel… Looking back, the show probably works better now it can be watched a few episodes at a time via Blu-ray or streaming services but it’s definitely still worth tracking down. It received a sequel in Steins;Gate 0 in 2018, but while not terrible, it’s safe to say it’s one of those sequels that you can avoid without feeling like you’re missing out.
The other series I want to talk about is Fate/Zero, which is sort-of cheating because only the first half of the series aired in 2011, but when I think about that year, this coming out of nowhere to absolutely blow me away always comes to mind. Going into the series I hadn’t played any Fate visual novels, I hadn’t read the light novel this was based on, it was all simply me watching a show because the trailers looked good. While I could spend a few paragraphs talking about the plot, and to be honest it’s been a good number of years so I’d have to remind myself on some of the characters, the story dealing with the latest Holy Grail War and the summoning of heroes long dead to fight in it isn’t what I wanted to talk about, instead I want to talk about the animation. Specifically I want to talk about Ufotable,
I don’t think I’m alone in saying I hadn’t really heard of Ufotable before Fate/Zero (unless you were into the Garden of Sinners film series) but within a few weeks the entire online anime community were collectively losing their minds at some of the action on show, made all the more impressive by the fact it was a weekly series; the look and smoothness of the fight scenes alone were done better than a lot of full-budget movies. It’s safe to say that Ufotable have continued to build on their own reputation, and with one of the biggest hits in anime history now in their house, it’s fun to look back on 2011 when they came out of nowhere to steal the year’s spotlight.