New Podcast

Your vertically-enhanced host, Jeremy Graves, is joined by the newly-healed, disease-free Jerome Mazandarani, Andrew Hewson and Jonathan Clements for another rip-snorting, fan-baiting, Jerome-bashing podcast, featuring questions from you, yes you, answered by us, yes us.

00:00 JC on the costs of living in China, and the prospects of a Chinese middle class. Singing the praises of Western Phoenix booze. How on earth does that relate to anime? No worries, here’s a picture of Karen Allen impersonating Jonathan Clements.

05:00 Pricing and quality in China.

09:00 parallel importing.

13:00 Why are people still asking about One Piece? The behind-the-scenes panic last month that led to our hasty previous podcast (thanks, Amazon!). JC sleeps like a baby while Andrew and Jeremy run around in ever-decreasing circles. Mark Smith and his human minions. The problems of coordinating announcements and products.


16:00 On which note, announced on Amazon and exclusive to Amazon right now: Supernatural the Anime, about which we are instant experts, thanks to Wikipedia. Check out our article about Warner Brothers and the anime world.
28: 00 Recent releases – what’s out this week and coming soon. Including discussion of the unlikely connection between Oblivion Island and Skyfall.

33:00 Disney’s announcement (or lack thereof) of no new 2D animated films coming, and what people feel about that. Is it really the end of an era, or did “the era” really end some time ago? The controversy over Rhythm & Hues filing for bankruptcy despite Oscar attention.

40:00 Outsourcing in the film business, and the devious actions of accountants who can chase the money around the world. Bob the Builder is now made in Poland… make your own jokes. How can a film about Space Nazis, shot in Germany and Australia be called “Finnish”? And Revolver Entertainment gets shown the revolving door.


47:00 The history of the PlayStation, and what effect it’s had on modern media.

50:00 It’s brand spanking new news. Manga UK new release announcements: Deadman Wonderland and Steins; Gate.

57: 00 The MCM Expo is now the MCM Comicon.

60: 00 The death of Toren Smith and matters arising, including the top five Toren accomplishments. And in his memory, a rehash of the old Oh! My Goddess argument, just for old time’s sake.

75:00 Ask Manga UK. Almost an hour of your questions, yes yours, answered, dodged or otherwise belittled. The fate of Lupin III; the possible return of UK-based dubs and a tangent about looking for work as voice_over.jpga voice actor. What links Naruto to Hawaii Five-0, at least next week? A plug for the book Voice-Over Voice-Actor by Yuri Lowenthal and Tara Platt, and for the scheme to raise money for Peter Doyle.

87:00 Happy memories of Saiko Exciting, and the likelihood of there ever being anything like it again. The recent ratings for Summer Wars on Sky, and how those ratings are reflected in Japan.

94:00 The return of fifteening? A release date for Aria: The Scarlet Ammo? Would you rather have the Japanese market or the UK market? The possibilities for the Macross franchise in the UK.

101:00 Possibilities for Blu-ray releases of things thus far only released on DVD. The possibilities of UK Blu-ray only release. The mechanics of an Irish release, and why we don’t do many. The nature of the subtitles currently used.

110:00 Fate/Zero’s dub; what’s wrong with lending DVDs to friends (nothing). Chihayafuru’s chances of getting licensed. The perils of letting people know when a licence is about to run out. And the plans to have a live recording of the *next* podcast at the Birmingham Comicon. And we’re out!

The Podcast is available to download now HERE, or find it and an archive of previous shows at our iTunes page. For a detailed contents listing of previous podcasts, check out our Podcasts page.


Try to control your excitement, for I am on a podcast, talking with Jeremy Graves and Jerome Mazandarani on the pilot edition of Manga UK’s new periodical audio chatfest. They wanted me there for behind-the-scenes gossip, or possibly just because they wanted everyone to have a name that began with “J”.

00:00 Introductions and new releases.

11:52 Discussion on how the disaster in Japan last year affected Manga UK and anime in general. Also Chinese works and Asian music.

37:03 News. Topics include the approaching end of the Bleach anime, new licenses to be announced at Birmingham MCM Expo, details on why the release date for Angel Beats was pushed back and an exclusive announcement.

1:02:27 The Manga UK Community segment. Answering your questions submitted via Facebook and Twitter on a variety of subjects. Not all of them sensible.

You can download it here.

Look Back in Manga

Online magazine The Raygun has published a set of reminiscences of twenty years of the company Manga Entertainment. Part one includes former managing director Mike Preece talking about his time running the company, and noting: “We were with it but just far enough removed so as not to become of it and I really believe that’s why it was successful, as up to then the genre had lent itself to those who become so fixated with the product that objectivity for its marketability is blinded by passion for content.” I’m sure such words will chafe with many long-term anime fans, but I also feel that they are a fair assessment of why many of Manga Entertainment’s competitors failed in the same market.

Part two includes the current head of acquisitions, Jerome Mazandarani, as well as Schoolgirl Milky Crisis author Jonathan Clements (that’s me), bringing the rose-tinted memories up to date with some coverage of the late-1990s doldrums and recent changes in the company’s behaviour. Please note, owing to some strange wording on my part, it seems as if at one point I am implying that Naruto is a shojo show. I’m not — I’m merely noting that neither Naruto nor shojo shows were the sort of thing that the company used to make a success of.

“Look Back in Manga” was also the title I used for a monthly piece in Manga Max magazine, detailing the things that were going on in the anime business five years earlier. Tempting to revive it to cover 20-year-old news so that today’s fans can realise that they’ve never had it so good, but then again, I fear that such a series would only appeal to a tiny circle of oldsters like myself. Kids today don’t want to hear about the good/bad old days, which makes the publication of these testimonials, particularly Preece’s, valuable documents for future researchers.

Groove in a Grove

Tajomaru is part of a trend in filmmaking that has seen a number of Japanese classics approached from new angles. In Hollywood, we have the Satsuma Rebellion retooled in The Last Samurai, and Keanu Reeves already at work on the forthcoming Forty-seven Ronin. Within Japan, Sogo Ishii’s Gojoe (2000) replayed a famous samurai legend with a gritty, glossy, pop sensibility. Shinji Higuchi’s Hidden Fortress: The Last Princess (2008) re-appraised a Kurosawa classic through the priorities and influences of George Lucas’s Star Wars. Kazuaki Kiriya’s Goemon (2009) retold an old kabuki tale, re-imagined with the weight of a century of potboiler novels and schlocky ninja movies. And now we have Hiroyuki Nakano’s Tajomaru (2009), a retelling of the acclaimed Rashomon (1950), filtered through six decades of Hollywoodisations, changes in priority, and upheavals in the movie business.

In particular, it resembles the recent TV remake of Grave of the Fireflies, both in its repurposing of the material and in its attempt to tell two stories within its running time – the original and a new tale that grows around it like a clinging vine. It is also oddly similar to Ridley Scott’s recent Robin Hood, in its earnest attempts to revere an “original” that does not really exist. Tajomaru is not a genuine historical figure. He is a name from an early twentieth-century short story, who has gained in celebrity over the last fifty years merely because he was played in a film adaptation by the famous Toshiro Mifune. Only now, almost a century after he first appeared, does he get a backstory, and a motivation beyond the basest of desires.

The first, and most noticeable thing about Hiroyuki Nakano’s Tajomaru is its vibrant colour – not unexpected from the former pop-promo director whose best-known video was the psychedelic Groove is in the Heart for Deee-Lite. The original Rashomon film, of course, was made in stark black and white, a teasing counterpoint to the endless shades of grey revealed during its story. But Nakano’s film is saturated with rainbow hues throughout, right from the opening sequence of the young nobles wandering through a forest of cherry trees. Continue reading

Spooky Ooky

Danger comes to the forest where kindly spirits have made their home, when a construction company begins evicting tenants from a nearby housing estate. Local child Kenta Miura seeks the help of the 350-year-old ghost-‘boy’ Kitaro after the human residents are plagued by evil spirits. These hauntings turn out to be the work of Kitaro’s fair-weather friend Nezumi Otoko (‘Ratman’), a mischievous spirit who has been hired by the Chaya Construction Company to scare the residents out.

On the run after being discovered by Kitaro, Nezumi Otoko stumbles across a precious stone that he sells to pawnbroker. It is a Spirit Stone, possessed by the evil in the hearts of both men and ghosts, and it soon exerts its evil influence on Kenta’s father. Meanwhile, the town is infested with creatures from the Clan of the Earthly Foxes, determined to steal the stone back for their own purposes…

The Kitaro series has been a feature of Japanese comics, cartoons, films, games and books for the last fifty years. Production began on these new, rebooted Kitaro movies in 2002. With a subtle relationship between Kitaro and a human girl in the foreground, it was decided to base the main plot on three episodes from the original manga by Shigeru Mizuki: ‘Amagitsune’ (Sky Fox), ‘Yokai Daisaiban’ (Great Spirit Trial) and ‘Yokai Ressha’ (‘The Haunted Train’). The human love interest, Kenta’s sister, would be played by Mao Inoue, a teen idol best known in Japan for appearing in the live-action version of the anime series Hana Yori Dango.

A sequel entered production in the same month that the first film opened in Japanese theatres. With an appreciably higher budget and a few stylistic tweaks to make it closer to the original manga, Kitaro and the Millennium Curse was filmed between December 2007 and March 2008. Unlike the previous movie, it featured an all-new plot unrelated to any anime or manga incarnations, with the story of a cursed song that brings death to anyone that hears it. When Kaede Hiramoto (played by a new teen idol, Kii Kitano) hears the Song of Kagome, she has 48 hours to live unless Kitaro can somehow perform a ritual of exorcism. To break the spell, he must find five magical musical instruments, and use them to perform a counter-spell before time runs out. But as he searches desperately for the necessary pieces of the puzzle, he runs into interference from the scheming old spirit Nurari, who has an altogether more apocalyptic plan that will affect the whole human race. Continue reading

Suffer Little Kildren

“I turned 55 last year,” notes Mamoru Oshii. “When you’re young, there’s so many things you want to do, so many mountains to climb…. Then, it was like I woke up. Suddenly, I’m the adult on the production, and the staff are all younger than me. I thought, very deeply, very strongly, that this film had something to say to the young people of today.”

Oshii is speaking of a common theme in science fiction all around the world, ever since the end of WW2 – the concept that today’s children have never had it so good, and yet don’t appreciate their luck. “Modern Japanese youth live in a country without hunger, without war, without revolution. They don’t have to worry about clothes or food or a home. Everything is just handed to us. But on the flipside, I can’t help but wonder if that is really a sort of misfortune…. Now I’ve got to this age, I wonder if this easy living isn’t doing them more harm than good.”

Hiroshi Mori’s Sky Crawlers was the first of several books to be published about the “Kildren”, clone-like soldiers in an unspecified future war, who fight similar artificial people in what is either the most savage reality TV show ever made, or a genuine war fought by proxy in order to avoid damage to “real” people. Although the origin of the Kildren is no real secret, they are discouraged from dwelling on the implications. Nevertheless, many react to their existence with apathy – after all, what difference does it make if they die in battle if a replacement will be rolled off the production line within days?

Hiroshi Mori’s books have sold over eight million copies in Japanese, and are clearly immensely popular with the young. But director Mamoru Oshii wished to turn Sky Crawlers into a film for his own purposes, regarding it as “a work that should be made into a movie for young people now,” not because it is a book they read, but because, in Oshii’s view, of the attitudes they hold.

Although Sky Crawlers was the first in the sequence of five novels to be published, it is actually one of the last stories in the chronological narrative. Other books, telling the stories of Kusanagi’s first meeting with the Teacher, the fate of Kannami’s predecessor, and the aftermath of the events in Sky Crawlers, were deliberately released out of order, as part of Mori’s desire to make it clear to readers that the books were more rewarding if read out of sequence, leaving the reader as much in the dark about past events as newly-arrived Kildren.

“I guess I got the offer for the film rights about three years ago,” Mori recalls, “when I was writing the second book in the series. I’d always thought that I’d written something unfilmable.” The news came in that Production IG, celebrating its 21st year of operations, wanted to turn Sky Crawlers into a film. Mori was initially reluctant.

“Then I heard that Mamoru Oshii was going to be the director. I thought to myself, ‘Ah, well if it’s going to be Mamoru Oshii, then we’ll be okay.’ I remembered in particular his work on Avalon, and I thought this is a guy I know who will bring out the beauty in my work.” Continue reading

The Secret History of Genghis Khan

Andrei Borisov’s epic film By the Will of Genghis Khan presents the historical figure Temujin not as the terrifying bogeyman of European lore, but as he is remembered across much of the East, as a just ruler, a lawgiver, and a man of honour. It places the lifestyle of the steppe peoples front and centre, presenting the ever moving, herd-following Mongols, Naimans and Buryats as the norm, and questioning the “civilised” notion of putting down roots in one place. The history of Central Asia has long been a story of tension between nomads and farmers; By the Will of Genghis Khan deliberately pushes a nomad’s eye view of the beauty and wonder of life on the steppes.

“In the province of Yeka Mongol, there was a certain man called Chinghis. This man became a mighty hunter. He learned to steal men, and to take them for prey. He ranged into other countries taking as many captives as he could, and joining them unto himself. Also, he allured the men of his own country unto him, who followed him as their captain and ringleader to do mischief.”

— Friar John of Pian de Carpini, 13th century AD

“Not long ago, Genghis Khan evoked only unpleasant memories; he was thought of as a tyrant,” producer Vladimir Ivanov told Variety. “The film will strike a wide audience with its honesty about complex historical facts.”

Temujin (played here by three actors at different stages of his life) might have been a famous Mongol, but the extent of his empire from the edges of Europe to the Pacific coast ensured that his memory had a much larger footprint. The activities of his grandsons, who conquered Hungary, Persia and China, ensure that the name Genghis Khan is a bankable movie idea across the whole of Eurasia. By the Will of Genghis Khan is a truly international production, growing out of a novel and play first performed in the Republic of Yakutia, adapted into cinema form with co-producers in the USA, and a cast including members from China, Germany and a dozen Russian republics. But the bulk of its talent and industry is rooted not in Mongolia as one might expect, but in the vast region of Siberia – once ruled by Genghis Khan, now the Russian Far East. Continue reading

What's Up, Spider Lily?

Higanjima is a multiple pun in Japanese. It literally means Equinox Island, or the Yonder Isle, perhaps even The Island on the Other Side. However, as noted by the characters when they first arrive on the notorious “vampire island”, it is also a reference to higanbana (Lycoris radiata), the red-flowered spider lilies whose poisonous bulbs are sometimes strewn at the edges of Japanese farmhouses to kill mice. Flowering around the time of the autumn equinox, spider lilies have become associated in Buddhist tradition with the onset of winter, and hence the threshold between life and death. They should never be presented to a living person.

In Japan, spider lilies are usually associated with graveyards. In Chinese and Japanese legend, they are said to be the flowers that grow in hell, and also the flowers that mark the path towards reincarnation. For this latter reason, they are sometimes presented as bouquets to the deceased at Japanese funerals. Another superstition suggests that if two associates will never meet again, spider lilies will be found in their path as they part. Hence the ominous tension that surrounds the characters as they come ashore at the island, to find that every path, in every direction, bears the flowering symbol of eternal separation and death.

Koji Yamamoto’s original 2003 manga Higanjima was soon snapped up as a game adaptation, turned into a text-based interactive adventure by Now Productions, released in Japan on the PSP in 2005. The action of the 15-rated game would be reflected in the later movie, with the player guiding Akira on his search for his missing brother. The manga story, however, extends far beyond the events in the movie, introducing numerous new forms of enemy, and setting up Higanjima as the perfect survivalist playground – an island that is literally off the map, infested with evil, and inviting return visits by adventurous heroes. Running at thirty volumes and still ongoing, it is also very popular in France, where many volumes have been translated as L’Ile des Vampires.

Higanjima the manga, and its game spin-off are grab-bags of horror ideas. It eagerly mixes the locked-room combat of Battle Royale with the viral horror of Resident Evil, with just a dash of the old-time religion of The Wicker Man, and presents that most tantalising of locations for the role-playing gamer – a private island of adventure, close to home and yet inhabiting a world of myth and magic. Continue reading