Scotland Loves Anime 2023 Roundup

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The 14th edition of the UK’s premier anime film festival, Scotland Loves Anime returned to Glasgow and Edinburgh at a slightly later time of year, having been pushed from October into early November. While a quieter year when it comes to blockbuster releases (there was certainly no new Makoto Shinkai or Mamoru Hosoda work!) there was still plenty for audiences to get invested in, thanks to a wide range of films on offer, spanning multiple genres although with an emphasis on sci-fi. Now with the weekends behind us, some of the team look back at their highlights from the the 2023 festival.

Gold Kingdom and Water Kingdom


Now here was a light and breezy film to start off the weekend. Set against a backdrop of two warring kingdoms, one known for immense riches and the other for its bountiful water, Sarah, princess of the Gold Kingdom, and Naranbayer, an architect and engineer from the Water Kingdom, find themselves the unwilling sacrifices of a peace treaty that arranges marriages for the most beautiful woman in the Gold Kingdom and the most intelligent man in the Water Kingdom as a trade. However, with the rulers of both kingdoms under pressure, they bungle the deal on purpose and respectively send a cat and a dog in place of their spouses-to-be! This ends up bringing the pair together in some very odd circumstances, where they team up in an effort to restore peace to their two kingdoms.

War? Light and breezy? Surely those don’t go together? Well, instead of having battles and bloodshed, this is actually a fantastical adventure about preventing war, with a bit of cheesy romance and awkward comedy built in, and I actually quite liked it because of its lighter tone.

The characters are, for the most part, well written and feel fun. The side characters are a particularly good laugh and are well designed, particularly Lailala and Saladin. Both protagonists do get their own challenges to overcome throughout the film, but I did feel that the balance was pushed too far towards focusing on Naranbayer after he is introduced, as it’s his ideas and actions that drive the story forward. While moments with Sarah are more about stepping out into the world and seeing it for real, Naranbayer’s side focuses more on the core political drama which I thought was pretty interesting as he tries to outmanoeuvre the war-mongering king. I wouldn’t say it’s ground-breaking in any way, as it’s easy to figure out what is going on and where particular allegiances lie, but it is well presented and thought out, pulling you along on the same journey that the film’s protagonists go through.

It’s the more comedic moments that are more hit-and-miss and bring the film down slightly, with one in particular being completely unnecessary and ruining the entire mood of the scene. There were a few moments like this where it seemed to be using comic relief for comic relief’s sake and not taking into account the actual purpose of certain scenes.

If you can see past this then Gold Kingdom and Water Kingdom is a rewarding film to watch and is definitely one of the more fun and engaging ones that this year’s Scotland Loves Anime had to offer. It doesn’t quite reach the heights of some of the later films like The Concierge, but I ended up liking this one more than some of the others, so I’d say it’s well worth checking out if it gets a wider release in cinemas or on home video.

Lonely Castle in the Mirror

In Competition


Saturday morning at Edinburgh kicked off with Lonely Castle in the Mirror, a film that you’d be led to believe is a fantasy adventure akin to a Ghibli film if you judged purely off of the visuals. Based on a novel by Mizuki Tsujimura, our story follows middle-school student Kokoro who has been struggling with her school life due to being bullied by her classmates. Because of this, she soon finds herself unable to leave the house, much to the dismay of her mother. One day the mirror in Kokoro’s bedroom begins to glow and when she holds her hand up to it, she’s sucked inside! On the other side of the mirror, Kokoro finds herself in front of a castle where she is greeted by a girl wearing a wolf mask who tells Kokoro that she and six other children have been chosen to take part in a hunt to find a special key that will allow them to get a wish granted as long as they find it in a little under a year.

For many other films, this would be the moment in which the protagonist would become something of a hero or at least find themselves going on an extensive journey. However, Kokoro and the others have no interest in this quest. As time goes on they often find themselves visiting the castle, making sure to stick to the rules which require them to leave by 5 pm or else face being eaten by a wolf. They may not be getting any closer to finding the key, but with nothing better to do, they are slowly growing closer as friends and beginning to open up about why they’re all available during the day when they should be at school…

I confess that going into this film I was not prepared for how heavy the content would be. There’s all kinds of emotional trauma depicted in this film which can be hard to watch. Animated by A-1 Pictures, the film looks great and these topics are treated with the sensitivity and respect they deserve but there’s a sense that quite a lot has been cut out. Because the film largely focuses on Kokoro and is told from her perspective, it feels as if we don’t get to know all the other members of the cast and their history is more or less depicted in a montage right at the end of the film.

The original novel is available in English through Transworld Publishers and I ended up picking it up after seeing the film. As I suspected, the original is quite different to the film in how it’s presented and how much focus the other characters get. It almost feels like the movie is a highlight reel or ‘best of’ that will appeal to people who have prior knowledge of the work but it isn’t as newcomer-friendly. This is not a bad film by any means, but I think it’s easy to go in with the wrong expectations of what it will be about and be unprepared for the extent of the emotional distress these characters go through. Certainly, unlike The Concierge below, this is a film that is not family-friendly. But it did do a good job of making me curious about the novel, so perhaps in some ways it did its job well.

The Concierge

Judge’s Award Winner


The Saturday of the Edinburgh side of SLA was certainly the host of some of my favourite films this year and perhaps the favourite in the form of The Concierge. This reasonably short film (70 minutes) tells the story of Akino, a woman who has just started working as a concierge in the Arctic Department Store (more of a shopping centre than a store, it has to be said!). This is something she has dreamed of since she was a child and now she’s delighted to be here in this unusual place that staffs human clerks but only serves animal customers.

Due to the prestige of the department store, only the very best are allowed to work there so the pressure is on for Akino to do her very best or risk being dismissed. Easier said than done when you’re a little bit clumsy as Akino is and she spends her first day tripping over some of the smaller animals that visit the store and calling the owner a penguin (he’s actually an Auk). But despite some blunders, Akino shows a great deal of care and attention to the needs of the customers, helping those looking for a particular item or hoping for recommendations for a loved one. These positive interactions are what will keep our plucky protagonist in work for the foreseeable…

Short and sweet, the Concierge made for a fun mid-afternoon film that delighted viewers with its humour and whimsical nature. Of everything we saw over the weekend, I think this was the most family-friendly work there and certainly the one that offers the most to people of all ages. Kids will enjoy watching the antics of the animals we meet, while adults will relate to the pressures of working in a retail environment. There’s also something to be said for the fact the Arctic Department Store only serves animals that are supposed to be extinct and it’s staffed by humans, the very reason they no longer exist. It adds an extra layer of depth for the older audience while not bringing down the mood for the younger members of the crowd.

The film is based on a two-volume manga series by Tsuchika Nishimura and has been adapted by Production I.G. As you’d expect from such a renowned studio, the finished work looks excellent with plenty of bright colours and attention to detail for the expressions of the cast. In many ways the presentation of it and the whimsical nature reminded me of The Night is Short, Walk on Girl. 

There’s a great abundance of voice actors as well, many big names who find themselves playing a small role as an animal but still clearly putting their all into it such as Minako Kotobuki playing a Sea Mink’s daughter. (One of my favourites, while not an animal, was hearing Jun Fukuyama take up the role of head waiter when Akino was briefly working in the restaurant department).

The film has been licensed in America by Crunchyroll, where it’s due to get a theatrical run in early 2024, which hopefully means it will also make its way to a wider release here in the UK as well.

Blue Giant

Audience Award Winner


I don’t really listen to, or know much about jazz, yet I found Blue Giant to be an immersive and enthralling film that’s very much in the spirit of a music genre known for its free-spirited nature.

Based on the manga by Shinichi Ishizuka and animated by studio NUT, Blue Giant tells the story of Dai Miyamoto, a talented young saxophone player who moves from Sendai to Tokyo, chasing his dream of becoming the best jazz player in the world.

The way the film plays out is very typical of both music and sports/competition dramas, as this stage of the story is about Dai forming his first band and trying to take them to glory by performing at Tokyo’s most illustrious and exclusive jazz club. I wouldn’t quite call it an underdog story as Dai is clearly a very talented musician waiting to be discovered, but it very much plays out that way, as Dai and his newfound bandmates, talented pianist and composer Yukinori Sawabe and newbie drummer Shunji Tamada, have to overcome some intense and traumatic challenges to achieve their goals. The trio themselves have some flaws, but I found them all quite warm and easy-to-love characters which helped to attach me to their story. Dai just radiates enthusiasm along with his youth and naivety, Sawabe can feel standoffish and defensive but is a softie at heart, while Shunji impresses with his determination to pick up something new in his life.

In terms of its overall art and direction, this was perhaps the most stylish film present at the festival as it really goes all in when the music kicks in. It’s a bit divisive in the way it melds and switches between 2D and CG animation, but when you consider how it swirls and dances around the passionate jazz performances heard throughout the film, it comes off as an enthralling and wild presentation that you can’t take your eyes or ears off. Without these performances, it is still a strong story to follow, but I think it would have been missing that jazzy essence so in the end I’m glad they went in this direction, no matter the reason.

This film won the audience award at the festival, overcoming the judges’ dislike of the CG animation and I’d say it deserved the win. It’s a very fun and engaging film to watch and showcases jazz as a great genre of music. If you get the chance to watch this one, definitely give it a try!


Jazz can be very polarising for a lot of people, many seeing it as just noisy and messy, while others are drawn to the genre through its experimentation or the ability to freely express their emotions. The one thing that can’t be denied is the sheer level of passion you get from those that play this genre of music, and how powerful it can be when played well. I’ve always connected to jazz for that reason, and I’ve always felt drawn to how the mood of a player flows into the music they play. Blue Giant does a fantastic job of capturing that level of passion, emotion and power in every aspect of its music. I cannot stress enough just how superb this soundtrack is. Hiromi Uehara – who is a jazz pianist herself – composed and played piano for the soundtrack and has created a stunning piece of art. The expressive nature of the piano, the fiery passion of the saxophone and the adrenaline rush from the drums are all so wonderfully curated here.

The story’s lead, Dai Miyamoto, is fantastically talented in his ability to play the saxophone, wowing and drawing in people all round quite easily to the way that he puts everything into the songs that he plays, and the level of practice he puts in. What I found fascinating for Blue Giant is that he felt less like the focus in a lot of the plot and more of the driver for the rest of the cast who really get fleshed out. Sure, it’s his journey to becoming the best jazz player in the world, but he always sits as the one shining above all else while those around him go through their character arcs. Yukinori Sawabe is working towards his dream of playing in the biggest jazz club in Tokyo while Shunji Tamada is really trying to find something that will drive him forward, that passion he needs. Dai’s charisma helps to give them that push forward whenever they need it, but also he’s very to the point when he needs to be, pointing out when something is wrong and knowing when he can’t help. I really got into this myself as, sure, maybe I’d like to see a bit more of Dai fleshed out; it also didn’t feel necessary to tell the story it wanted to tell. You also get these clips of recordings through the film showcasing the characters in what seems like a future setting, talking about Dai’s climb to fame, which gives you little snippets of how his influence shaped them for the future.

The film never hides away from the fact that jazz is in many ways, a dying genre of music and makes reference to that a lot, from the bars being often small in size and capacity, to even the biggest venue in the city being able to host no more than 250 people. It’s not something surprising to me as a fan of this music that there is less talk or interest generated around the genre nowadays, but it also was a bit of a gut punch knowing it’s viewed that way as well – especially when you consider just how much of music today is inspired by that level of experimentation and stylings from jazz. My hope is that this film does bring even a few more round to listen to it, as I cannot express how much it inspired me to take steps forward that I wouldn’t have if I didn’t discover it in my high school years.

Lastly, I can’t go without discussing the art direction and stylistic choices made for the film. It used a blend of 2D and CG animation in points to help visualise the music played in the film. It wasn’t the judges’ favourite thing as Onosume mentions above, but it really helps to express the frantic, yet passionate melodies you get through each performance that I had no real issue when they switched between the animation styles (though I completely understand why it would be jarring to some). The final performance is a spectacle to behold, however, in that it really brings the story arc to an explosive end.

Definitely my favourite film of the festival as you can no doubt tell, it will be getting a theatrical release next year thanks to Anime Limited and if you are interested to listen to the music, it is available through most music streaming sites i.e. Spotify- I highly recommend listening to N.E.W and FIRST NOTE at the very least.

Komada – A Whisky Family

Josh A. Stevens

From Masayuki Yoshihara, whom audiences cheered for as the director of peak fiction Uma Musume: Pretty Derby (yes, I wasn’t the only one), Komada – A Whisky Family is the latest in what could be informally dubbed P.A. Works’ “workplace series” – following in the spirit of the anime studio-focused Shirobako and the rural tourist board-focused Sakura Quest, to tackle a topic at the very heart of Scotland: whisky! There was clearly no better country for the film’s European premiere.

The film follows Kotaro, a novice editor for a news website, who is tasked with writing a series of articles about Japanese craft whisky – a topic he knows nothing about. Fortunately, he’s joined by something of a whisky prodigy: Rui is a young woman who recently took over her family distillery. However, Rui has a goal of her own: to revive her company’s once famous “KOMA” brand, which has been discontinued ever since an earthquake left the company in dire straits. Working together, they’ll spread the love of whisky, and revive this once legendary drink.

I have always been a fan of P.A. Works, so I definitely didn’t want to miss what might have been my only chance to see it on the big screen. The final film of the day when I had flown up early that morning, I was worried that I’d end up falling asleep during this film I had been eagerly anticipating. Fortunately, I didn’t fall asleep. However, I didn’t leave the screening excited or even disappointed, but with a more puzzling feeling of mild satisfaction. I certainly enjoyed the film for what it was, but also knew that it could have been more.

The biggest issue is arguably the one character who isn’t a part of the whisky family: Kotaro. Given how the film drowns itself in all things whisky, it makes sense for the protagonist to be a surrogate for viewers who don’t live in distilleries. However, his character arc is painfully simple: at first, he doesn’t enjoy his work, and then he does. Even the film seems to acknowledge this, as the focus shifts gears to Rui and her more interesting family drama. However, what troubles me most about Komada – A Whisky Family is an uncomfortable undercurrent throughout the film of just… accepting your lot in life. Many characters talk about how they simply fell into where they are, despite having once had loftier aspirations, and I just couldn’t shake that thought. So much of fiction is about inspiring us to chase our dreams, so is a film essentially saying “it is what is” an uncomfortable dose of pessimism, or a refreshingly honest take grounded in reality? I don’t know, but I think that the film certainly could have answered that question if it wanted to.

One thing the film does exceptionally well, though, is channel its passion for whisky. I must confess that I don’t like the drink myself – I feel sorry for my late Grandpa who, on my 18th birthday, presented me with a glass of everything in his collection… only for me to hate them all. However, Komada wonderfully shows how a family business can come together, due to a a sense of love and pride for their work. Even before the film had finished, I was left curious to try it again. Perhaps now that I’m older and have a more bitter view of the world, that may be reflected in my taste buds too. Overall, I thought that Komada – A Whisky Family was enjoyable for what it is, but didn’t quite meet the expectations of what came before. Rui’s brutally honest gremlin assistant Kawabata was Best Girl of Scotland Loves Anime, though.

Macross Plus: Movie Edition


I’ve never seen any of the Macross franchise until now, only really being aware of it thanks to the licensing mess and knowing people who are big fans of the music in the franchise, so this was a very interesting film to see. While I enjoyed elements of it, I couldn’t help but feel slightly underwhelmed, considering its pedigree.

This is the stitched-together and edited movie version of the 1994 OVA series of the same name and serves as a follow-up to the original Super Dimension Fortress Macross. Plus’s story focuses on the development of an artificial intelligence and virtual idol called Sharon Apple, produced by former singer, Myung Fang Lone. When the virtual idol’s tour brings them to the planet Eden, Myung bumps into her two old friends, Isamu and Guld, who are rival test pilots on an experimental military program. However, as both men are still in love with her, her reappearance causes old tensions to flare up and they try to outdo each other in their test missions, causing a whole load of trouble. Meanwhile, Sharon Apple is not all that she seems, as military figures begin plans to use her for nefarious means.

Macross Plus has these two very different threads that intertwine with each other to good effect, producing a very heated story about both romance and AI heading in very wrong directions. Of the two I was more interested in the rogue AI elements, as I felt it posed a lot of thought-provoking questions that are still relevant today, particularly as AI has come into more public focus with the popularity of Large Language Models. It has a lot to say about ethics and the risks of artificial intelligence going wild, as well as the conundrum of if you copy someone’s thoughts, feelings, and personality, who is real?

I also really enjoyed the film’s action scenes which are brilliantly animated and executed, showing some intense battles. The climax is particularly fantastic, as all hell breaks loose and leaves Isamu and Guld fighting for their lives. Jonathan Clements spoke about some of the effort going into this and having staff actually fly in fighter jets to be able to animate them accurately, and that effort really comes through here.

The more romantic elements however I couldn’t quite connect with, as the whole premise feels very outdated – with our two men battling it out over who “owns” Myung. Both guys are quite flat and unflattering as leads and frequently come off as jerks, so there’s nothing in their characters that makes you feel invested in them. It does attempt to tackle some more serious issues with racism, with Guld being mixed-race, and while it does show his motivations for rising to the top, it doesn’t play too much in the overall progression of the story. Myung I felt lacked agency a lot of the time, and even when she does try to do something herself, she just ends up the damsel in distress and the prize to be won anyway. There is some good stuff in the climax, but I don’t think the film really does her justice. It’s also hard to connect the three of them together, particularly at the start, as you are drip-fed details on the event that caused Isamu and Guld’s feud. Side characters are also pretty weak and don’t do much. Isamu’s secondary love interest, Lucy, for example becomes irrelevant in the second half when she’s made out to be a key character early on.

Overall then Macross Plus comes over as more of a mixed bag. The rogue AI story is very interesting and very much relevant to today and there are plenty of great action sequences born from this, but the main romantic triangle that serves as a driver for the plot feels outdated and is a struggle to get into, thanks to its unflattering characters.

Phoenix: Reminiscence of Flower

In Competition


Potentially the weirdest film of the festival, Phoenix: Reminiscence of Flower tries to pull off a sci-fi epic involving space colonisation, time dilation and the future of humanity but has so much of a depressing edge to it that I really struggled to actually enjoy it.

This is adapted from Osamu Tezuka’s manga Phoenix, which Jonathan Clements gave the pre-amble of being about an immortal phoenix observing the entire existence of humanity. We, as viewers, take the place of the phoenix, which only appears physically at the beginning and end of the film, watching the events take place.

This particular part of the overall manga follows human colonists Romi and George to a desolate planet far away from the Earth as humanity reaches out to build new homes in the vastness of space. It’s largely spilt into two parts, the first tackling trying to colonise the planet and build a new civilisation, the second showing Romi’s adventure as she tries to return to Earth to see it one last time before she dies.

While there could have been a lot done with this concept, the decision is made to focus on painting one of humanity’s possible futures as very bleak and unforgiving. There is hope at times, but death and destruction are around every turn, and it just takes one wrong move to invite disaster. With such a mood, this becomes a really difficult film to actually enjoy, even if it does have some interesting things to say and warnings for us all.

It shows space colonisation to be incredibly difficult, with limited reserves on a planet with very few resources testing our colonist couple to the limit and beyond. Meanwhile, there’s a point that technology may not make things easier and may instead trap us, while rampant greed and capitalism will turn us against each other as we destroy ourselves from the inside. That’s just some of the things it covers but it gets funkily weird in places too, touching on things like incest (although not the only film to imply this in the festival) and breeding with aliens that can make it a bit uncomfortable and seem more like someone’s weirdly horny fanfiction.

If it hadn’t been so down on a lot of things, I think this film may have been better received, as there’s definitely some potential, particularly when Romi sets out on her journey and you see her visiting other planets. It’s not bad visually either, with some decent animation from Studio 4°C, while the character designs from Tezuka’s original manga work really well, particularly with the hybrid human-alien species we see. Overall though, it falls down on its ultimate conclusion being that everything is doomed from the start and bound to repeat itself in an endless cycle without any hope for redemption. Interestingly, there is another version of this split into episodes that you can watch on Disney+ right now (Phoenix: Eden 17), that is supposed to end on a more uplifting note, so that may be more the version to watch, but this is an incredibly difficult thing to recommend unless you are genuinely interested in the philosophical ideas it tries to present.


When she's not watching anime, reading manga or reviewing, Demelza can generally be found exploring some kind of fantasy world and chasing her dreams of being a hero.

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With a chant of "Ai-katsu!", Matthew Tinn spends their days filled with idol music and J-Pop. A somewhat frequent-ish visitor to Japan, they love writing and talking about anime, Japanese music and video games.

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Josh A. Stevens

Reviewing anime by moonlight, working in film by daylight, never running out of things to write, he is the one named Josh A. Stevens.

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