Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens Series Review: Fun Times With A Group of Killers

For an anime I expected nothing from, Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens delivered a fairly compelling story full of fun and interesting characters. What did you think of it or did you miss this during the Winter 2018 season?

Review:

There was no doubt that one of my favourite shows from the Winter 2018 season was Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens. I really enjoyed the character interactions and the way each story thread and introduced element ended up being used in a meaningful way. There never felt like something just existed for the sake of it or that any loose ends were left out. While the subject matter might put some people off (there’s quite a bit of violence and death as well as assault), this one ended up being really interesting to watch.

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The opening theme really gets you excited for the episode and I thoroughly enjoyed it each episode. It kind of perfectly set the tone of the episode and introduced the characters and their relationships nicely without giving too much away. The jazzy music continued throughout the rest of the episode and generally was always kind of fun even if a lack of variety was noted at times.

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The character relationships, particularly the developing relationship between Banba and Lin, were definitely part of the draw of this show. Characters met and their meetings had impact on other characters. The character that had the largest character focus was Lin and his character ended up being quite interesting despite the fairly generic tragic backstory. This one is another case for generic not always being bad. While it was pretty by the numbers tragedy due to poverty leading to being trained as a hitman (okay, maybe not that standard but it felt pretty generic while watching the flash back episode) they timed it right when I had wanted to learn more about his character and it filled in some of the gaps while also setting up the final villain of the series. Again, everything was purposeful and used so even the less amazing story elements were pretty acceptable.

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The support cast are pretty awesome, with a range of personalities and roles and again, all of these are used. None of them feel unnecessary to the story as a whole and none of the characters feel repetitive or unused. The one exception is a character who sees to just be the one destined to have poor luck which is used for fairly lack lustre comedic effect a few times but fortunately isn’t an overt distraction from the story, and even then their presence is integrated into the greater narrative.

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Given this one is listed as an action, I should probably address that. If you are after epic battles and fight sequences, this one isn’t going to work for you. The action is fast and brutal with most sequences over in seconds. That said, it always injects some drama into the scene and each character has a unique approach to fighting that is visually distinct.

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However, this show does have some real downsides. One of those is the lack of danger or tension in the series. None of the villains, even the final one, present much in the way of a real threat and after the first one, very few are even built up to be threatening. The main cast don’t get injured, or their injuries are brushed aside even when they shouldn’t be. It all leaves you feeling a bit like none of the drama in the series will amount to much, so if you aren’t having fun with this series there isn’t a lot else to connect with. There’s also this weird visually effect with light that they use throughout the series that is kind of distracting but it isn’t a deal breaker, it is just kind of ugly.

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That said, I had a great time with this show and really looked forward to it each week. I wouldn’t mind another show like this one. While it isn’t perfect, it is definitely watchable and well worth giving a try provided you aren’t put off by violence.

Episode Reviews:


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Karandi James

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Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens Episode 12: They Set It Up And Bring It Home

This anime didn’t disappoint. As we went into the final episode it delivered yet another cohesive resolution to its plot bringing everything together in a highly satisfying manner.

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Of course we get plenty of Lin and Banba, which probably explains part of what I liked about this episode. But mostly it was that all the characters came together in a fairly natural way, we had a fairly big blood-bath of enemies with, once again, minor injuries for the main cast, but we also had Lin make his decision regarding Fei and that gave the episode just the right amount of drama.

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As close to a confession as we’ll ever get.

The Lin/Fei moment was particularly well handled. It didn’t drag out and their final fight lasted seconds but had suitable impact. I can’t say I had any complaints at all about how this ended up. Looking forward to writing a final review for this series, but I think I’ll rewatch it first.

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Friday’s Feature: What Makes Something ‘Near Great’

As a self-proclaimed anime fan, it is sometimes hard to step back from something and really think about it. Aiming for some form of objectivity in reviews, which is never overly objective, compared with simply letting out my inner fan-girl and letting her scream “I love you anime” at the top of her lungs. Anyone who might know me in real life might scoff at the thought of me doing that, but I swear that inner fan-girl exists and sometimes she’s a real pain as she buzzes through my brain like a bee on a sugar high.

Small spoiler warning for The Ancient Magus’ Bride final episode in the images.

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And even then, some of you who have simply read my reviews will think, “Hang on a minute, weren’t you the one who gave such-and-such a scathing review or criticised so-and-so for some plot development?” And the answer would definitely be, yes. Because while that inner fan-girl exists and I sometimes love her exuberance, energy and optimism, the reality is that in any particular season of anime there are only so many good shows.

Once you eliminate all of the ones that are outside of your genre or personal preference, sometimes you are lucky to find one or two fairly solid shows within a single season. That doesn’t mean they are the only ones I like. Fan-girl me is happily laughing still at King’s Game and taking somewhat overly excited pleasure in how far Spiritpact has come since its abysmal first episode. If I only found one or two shows I liked, I’d hardly call myself a fan.

But inner fan-girl isn’t alone bouncing around inside my brain. She’s sharing the stage with a lot of different views and one of those is the cynic inside me who waits eagerly to pounce on anything fun and find the flaw (it doesn’t help that some of those flaws are even apparent to the fan-girl). This is the me that waits for things that are rising to fall, and was somewhat smugly satisfied with how KADO ended if only because it meant that inner fan-girl had to take a time out having been bitterly disappointed.

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Naturally I am speaking metaphorically and hopefully I don’t actually have multiple personalities streaming around my head for real (it’s crowded enough).

However, this post is about the ‘near great’ in anime and what I want to look at are two shows that have aired either entirely or partially during the Winter 2018 season that both stopped short of reaching greatness (despite the inner fan-girl willing them to be truly amazing). I enjoyed both in different ways and inner fan-girl was incredibly happy watching them. She waited eagerly for the episode to start and basked in the characters and the plot. For one of those shows she also basked in the gorgeous visuals while in the other she tolerated the odd lighting choices but found other things to enjoy. And yet, as the season comes to an end, and I start thinking about recommendations and what to say about these shows, the cynic in me strikes.

So why aren’t they great?

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I suppose you could ask that question of almost anything with just as much honest expectation of gaining an answer. “Why aren’t you better?” “Why don’t you match my ideals of what you should be?” “How could you fail there?”

For me though each show has one particular issue that is a sticking point that I cannot overlook. While everything will have its flaws, these are genuine concerns that, regardless of how great some aspects of the shows might be, they will never end up on my list of all time favourites even though they will end up on my list for favourite of the season.

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The Ancient Magus’ Bride

If you have followed Weekend Otaku and my collaboration series ‘200 Word Anime‘ you will know that for awhile now I’ve had some misgivings about The Ancient Magus Bride. Mostly petty nit-pickings of a show that is gorgeous to watch, has some excellent music, beautifully depicted magic and folk-lore and a reasonably compelling central couple. Okay, pacing is an issue and the whole cliff-hanger ending without really using it well in the next episode are things that have been minor irritations, but ultimately they aren’t deal breakers with this show and really come down to my own personal tastes.

No, what seals The Ancient Magus’ Bride in my mind as a show that isn’t going to achieve greatness no matter how much I wished it would is how the support cast are ultimately dealt with. That is to say, how they are not dealt with. In the race to bring events to their conclusion, characters are either entirely forgotten or become largely inconsequential. While the main couple get a worthy resolution, other characters still don’t even have a genuine purpose that has been explained. And one of those is a fairly important antagonist during the final episode and I literally have no idea what he actually wants from the confrontation.

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Any minor flaws I was over looking or putting down to taste paled in comparison with an ending that tripped over itself to get the main characters to their moment. Realistically, the show needed to move faster earlier on or needed to cull some of the characters when it adapted itself from manga to anime (assigning certain events to different characters to make it work). However, then purists would have accused it of butchering the source material and so this was a no-win situation. Ultimately people are still comparing the anime unfavourably against its source and people who never read the source just found the end a little bemusing even as it maintained the gorgeous quality we had come to expect from the series.

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Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens

As we move on, I will note this is not an exceptional show by any means. Yet it sits higher on my watch list than the Ancient Magus’ Bride and is one I’ve talked about a lot. The reason for that is I went in expecting nothing and got something wholly enjoyable. Fan-girl me went crazy for it and episode 4 which tied events of the first arc together beautifully really cemented this as one of my favourite shows of the season. But favourite of the season doesn’t mean I am blind to its flaws and while I will still most definitely recommend this anime as being worth checking out, to say it is one of the great anime of the year would probably be a lie.

Yet it isn’t the somewhat questionable visuals, the slight repetitiveness to the sound-track (awesome music, but repetitive), or even the heavy subject matter of hitmen and assassins being given a light comedic treatment that really stops this show from tipping into the realm of great. Realistically, it is the lack of tension and sense of danger this show has inflicted upon itself.

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I know, a show about hitmen and assassins lacks tension or danger? How did that happen?

Well, the anime never, and I do mean never, actually allows the main characters to actually be seriously injured, maimed or killed. No matter what happens to them or whether they are a more peripheral main character, or even if they deserve it. No, our happy hitmen will be back playing baseball in an episode or two even after being stabbed in the gut, so don’t stress or worry. Seriously. About anyone. Everyone will be fine. At least everyone you care about because the villains are totally forgettable and throw-away and treated as such (I’m hoping for a final episode blood bath but I doubt I’ll get it).

It makes for a fun viewing experience, provided the subject matter doesn’t rub you the wrong way, but it doesn’t make for particularly deep or something that is going to have a long lasting impact.

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Where to now?

The thing is, not every anime has to be great. While the great ones will awe you, blow you away, and eventually sit upon your shelf in DVD form and probably in other merchandise as well, sometimes it is enough that you have fun with what you are watching. The Near Great are the anime that keep me entertained and give me something positive to say each week. They are the anime I’ll chat about with friends and probably remember for a couple of seasons after they are done. They are anime I might even get the DVD of, once it comes down in price.  The Near Great are what keep me watching anime season after season as there are many of these and they come in many forms.

So I’ll ask you now, what are the Near Great anime you’ve been watching recently?


Thanks for reading.

Karandi James

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Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens Episode 11: Betrayal By Any Other Name

Banba, Lin, and all the other hitmen, torturers, assassins, hackers and other unsavoury characters continue to enthral as this anime enters its final stage. There is blood being spilled aplenty in this episode as well as some sweeter moments and some funny moments. Somehow the balance is just right and we continue driving smoothly toward a conclusion that I really hope manages to bring this series to a truly satisfying end.

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However, this week is all about betrayal. Past betrayals returning to bite characters, current betrayals, fake betrayals, justifying betrayal, and it all feeds into the motives of these characters as they are manoeuvred into position for what will hopefully be a spectacular confrontation in the final episode. My only real request though is that Lin gets a happy ending.

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There’s not much else to say about this episode. If you’ve been watching the series up until now, the story continues very well. If you haven’t been watching the series and a bit of blood and violence aren’t enough to put you off (early instance of sexual assault), then give this series a go, it is totally worth it.

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Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens Episode 10: Two Episodes To Go And All The Threads Are Coming Together

There are few anime that episodes from their final I feel confident in believing that everything is somehow going to come together, but Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens is remarkably reassuring in the way that each arc within the show has had closure and as we move into the final we see that each of those independent arcs served a purpose in the greater narrative. While this show may not be the most thrilling caper ever, the solid and consistent writing is more than making up for it and I’m thoroughly enjoying not having to wonder whether something actually has a purpose because I know at this stage that it will.

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That doesn’t mean that the show is perfect by any means but you could do a lot worse than what Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens dishes up this week as we see Banba’s campaign against the association resurface just as the Submarine Ninja is also hired to take them out. The association in return hires a Chinese hitman to protect its interests who just happens to be Lin’s old friend and we see everything and every player being effortlessly woven back into this story.

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Couple that with the ongoing great sound-track and the fun characters and this episode was just great fun to watch. I’m looking forward to next week and I’m really hopeful that this anime can stick its landing.

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Karandi James

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Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens Episode 9: This Confirms It – Lin Needs a Hug

Anime has this real trend of giving main characters fairly horrific back-stories which are usually revealed through flashbacks at the mid-season or just before the final arc of the season, and Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens has followed trend by devoting most of this episode to Lin. Now we already knew Lin had a fair amount of tragedy in his past but knowing things were bad and seeing what he went through and the ongoing impact it is having on him are two entirely separate things.

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It’s a straight forward episode with no twists or turns or sudden character developments. All the clutter that this series usually injects is stripped away and we get a very straight forward narrative about Lin and his time being trained to kill. In one way that doesn’t distinguish it from other episodes of the same ilk in other shows and yet it does heighten the impact in this season as we get a solid focus on this character and this moment.

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And while the end of this sequence is about as predictable as it comes that isn’t to the episode’s detriment. It wears it well and ultimately the ending has more impact because you have seen it coming and you get the satisfaction of it playing out as it needs to without trying to be overly clever.

I’m wondering though if this is the beginning of a final arc that will play out over the next couple of episodes or whether they will rush through it like the previous arc. I’d like to think they will give us a few episodes of build up to really get to a climax for this series. Either way, I enjoyed this episode and hopefully the show can continue to entertain.

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Karandi James

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Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens Episode 8: I Think We Need A Spin-Off Series Called Saito’s Revenge

Review:

I took three things away from this episode.

Number 1: The main cast have plot armour surrounding them so it doesn’t matter how many people they are up against, how much on the back foot they are, or how hard they are hit, they are going to get up and win the day so don’t worry about it.

Number 2: Enokida is definitely a pain in the neck but probably better to have him on your side than against you. Though, in Saito’s case it is hard to tell sometimes whether Enokida is actually with him or trying to kill him given this is the second time he’s given Saito assassins to deal with.

And Number 3: This show is a lot of fun no matter how predictable the plot twist for the current story turned out to be. And being fun despite being predictable is a fantastic feat and one that more shows should aim for. You don’t have to reinvent your genre to draw in an audience.

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The one complaint I do have is that the villains so far in this show really haven’t been worth the effort. Partially that is because of the aforementioned plot armour surrounding the main cast, but even the hacker and crew didn’t really manage to get beyond ‘bad guys’. They really don’t have any discernible traits or interesting characteristics and the audience has no reason to really concern themselves with them.

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Which kind of makes their defeat a little bit bland. It is a minor complaint though, because this episode zips along and it is really fun, aided as usual by the jazzy sound track and really fun main characters.

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Karandi James

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Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens Episode 7: About Time Someone Tried To Kill the Hacker

Review:

I’d been wondering how Enokida was still alive and kicking given he seems to take on more or less any job even if it means trouble for his friends. This episode starts a new arc that reveals some of his back story and also plunges us into yet another interesting caper. The only down side of this is that Lin and Banba took on a more supporting role this episode when I really wanted to see more of them.

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It isn’t a surprise that Lin and Banba kind of faded into the background for quite a bit of this episode given we’re establishing a new crew that seem to be the face of the main antagonists (though like everyone else in the show they are also working for someone), some new victims, random muscle, and of course Enokida’s father and servant. And these new faces are kind of fun, or at least have the potential to add something to the plot as we go forward.

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But probably the best point, outside of this show just being beautifully written, was that for the first time I kind of cared about Enokida. So far, he’s just kind of been there. Sometimes helping, sometimes being a bit of a jerk, but not really a character in his own right. This episode took some great strides in fixing that.

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So, another fun episode bringing us more mayhem in Hakata and I’m looking forward to this story continuing next week.

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Karandi James

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Friday’s Feature: Why Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens Works

Firstly, I’d like you to keep in mind this isn’t a review as we’re only halfway through the Winter season. This is me looking at a series that started this winter with little fanfare. And yet, it fast became my only must watch pick of this season outside of March Comes in Like a Lion. I know I am not alone in saying that this show has been surprisingly good but even without the surprise factor, this show is just good. While, like most stories, it won’t suit everyone’s tastes, there are certainly enough reasons for you to give it a go if this is a show you didn’t pick up this season.

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The most compelling reason would be that this show demonstrates some fairly solid writing. In its first four episodes it wove an interesting story with multiple characters and plot threads and seemed to effortlessly bring it all together. Not one scene or moment was wasted as everything fed into the overall story and had some significance even if at first you couldn’t quite work out why something might be important.

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I recently watched the first episode again to introduce a friend to the series and realised how many things I missed the first time. There are just so many small details that have been included and overall it creates a very cohesive and fairly compelling narrative. While the existence of that many hitmen in such a city in Japan might be fantastical, the narrative effortlessly leads you to believing that the scenario is plausible and that somehow this city functions.

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That said, at its core it is a story about hitmen and revenge, which might not interest all viewers. I was worried about the new arc starting at episode 5 and whether the show could manage to keep its momentum going, yet both episode 5 and 6 proved beyond doubt that this story has some real thought behind it to deliver something that feels fresh even if it is walking some fairly familiar story lines.

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Outside of the story, we have some really interesting characters. Probably the best part about the show is that the characters are all fun in their own way, even with the dark and serious subject matter. Whether it is Banba, who enjoys playing the clown, Lin, who has clearly been given the straight man role, Saito, who is just in over his head, the Avengers, who are every bit as over the top as their name implies, or the myriad of other hitmen, organisations and victims we encounter, each character is memorable in their own way and leaves an impression. That said, Banba and Lin’s relationship, and how that has developed over the course of the first 6 episodes, has been fantastic to watch unfold and I can’t wait to see more of it. Episode 6 saw me truly fall in love with the characters of this show and now I’m just worried they are actually going to get hurt before the season’s end.

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It is perplexing that the characters are all so oddly likeable despite most of their actions. The culmination of the events of the first arc leading to the surviving characters playing baseball together was very well done and seeing these characters interact in their day to day lives, outside of the killing people part, goes a long way toward humanising them and making you want to see them succeed even as you have to question their moral standing almost every other minute of the episodes.

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With some decent music, some very well done scenery (having been to Hakata I’ve had the pleasure of actually recognising some of the scenery and it has been an excellent reminder of the trip), and pacing that knows exactly when to move on and when to pause on a moment, Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens has so far been a pure joy to watch.

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While there are plenty of reasons why this show might not hold up all the way until the end of the season, there are plenty of reasons to believe that it will continue to build on this very solid first half. If you haven’t tried it yet, give the first episode a go and see if this anime can draw you in. Definitely not for those squeamish about blood and murder though.


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Karandi James

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Finally, you can use the affiliate link to shop at Play-Asia.com ifPlay-Asia.com - Play-Asia.com: Online Shopping for Digital Codes, Video Games, Toys, Music, Electronics & more you are interested in anime, soundtracks, figures or games. Should you use the link and make a purchase, I will receive a small percentage of the purchase price.

 

Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens Episode 6: Mistaken Identity Can Be Fun

Review:

I think this is the episode I officially fell in love with this series. I’ve really been enjoying it so far but there’s always been a hesitation in committing to it because there were so many chances for the show to derail. Yet 6 episodes of consistent entertainment and I’m now head over heels for this anime and I’m just going to try and squash that voice in the back of my mind that keeps asking where does it think it is going now.

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So what made this episode so great? Lin takes on a job for Banba and pretends to be the Niwaka Samurai which of course leads to him facing off with the ninja. That said, Lin wasn’t doing too terribly against him (not great but he didn’t get instantly wiped out so go him), however outside interference meant that Lin ended up kidnapped and knocked out. Which is where our story shows once again that every plot point exists for a reason and the kidnappers, realising they have a fake, hire the torturer for hire who set up his website in the last episode. Of course, they couldn’t have known that the torturer knew Lin and would swap him out. But what really makes this whole sequence special is how Banba and Lin both reflect on the other as they realise what is going on.

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I’d be lying if I didn’t say that my heart skipped a beat after that. I genuinely love these two characters and how well they play off one another. And just in case all of this wasn’t enough to make this a truly praise worthy episode, we do in fact get a fight between the real Samurai and Ninja.

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Plus a baseball game showdown at the end. This show is pure entertainment and when you couple a great story with great characters and a great soundtrack, there is very little not to like.

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Karandi James

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Another way you can support the content here is by buying a copy of ‘Thoughts on Anime 2017‘ as an ebook. It contains a selection of reviews, features and top 5 lists from 2017 and while the content is available free on the site, this is a great way to give a one off show of support for the blog. It is available for $3.99.

Finally, you can use the affiliate link to shop at Play-Asia.com ifPlay-Asia.com - Play-Asia.com: Online Shopping for Digital Codes, Video Games, Toys, Music, Electronics & more you are interested in anime, soundtracks, figures or games. Should you use the link and make a purchase, I will receive a small percentage of the purchase price.