Hatsune Miku Review – virtual idol brings atmosphere minus the baggage 4/5

Last weekend yet another endless snaking queue formed around the Brixton O2 academy. The name of the latest pop star to grace the iconic venue was placed subtly over the entrance, obscured only by the chilled breath of queueing fans, a seemingly normal night before an early January gig in Brixton.

However, flashes of teal wigs and a noticeably younger clientele audience demographic than usual give hint that something unusual was about to take place. Hatsune Miku, a virtual idol with a career over a decade long, was soon to be projected onto stage for a ‘live’ performance complete with a band, choreography, and some well honed projection technology to bring her to life.

Created by Crypton Future Media as a mascot for the Yamaha Vocoloid software and subsequently made open source, Miku has a huge library to play from – over 100,000 songs and counting created by fans and artists alike. It is precisely this open source nature of ‘ownership’ amongst her fans that brought the atmosphere inside the building to near fever pitch, every polite reminder to turn off flashes before the start brought screams of anticipation.

This was only Miku’s second appearance in London, a fact that is remarkable considering the level of excitement in the room but understandable given the logistical task of putting on such an event. For myself, it was a chance to relive some nostalgia as someone who was a more committed fan in my youth, but ODDS & ENDS still managed to elicit a wave of emotion when hearing the final chorus belted out by virtual vocal chords

Miku sang in multiple languages including this English number by Anamanaguchi

With no support acts, Miku burst onto stage – quite literally – to introduce herself and other Vocaloids to the crowd, who clearly needed no introductions. The two hour gig is a relentless onslaught of J-pop, nu-metal and dance tracks with barely time to breathe for the band who persist with an energy to match that of their virtual singers. With a blend of some classics – of course World is Mine made an appearance – and newer material, the holographic pop-stars set a breakneck pace for their audience who responded in kind with LED glow stick choreographies and endless cheers.

In an era where every popstar comes with baggage, whether it’s a scandal or a moral belief that they’re keen to promote, Miku stands apart with her fellow Vocaloids as a clean (but not sterile!) group of stars that you are free to enjoy the music of. It’s that simple, and that’s all it needed to be this time round, I have no doubt fans eagerly await the announcement of the next UK date for MIKU EXPO. Fingers crossed for 2021!


Dorset Anime Screenings Boom

Sitting in the darkened theatre, feet sticking to the floor and salt assaulting your nostrils, the sound of foreign voices fill the room. The English subtitles flashing across the bottom of the screen are the only clues that you haven’t stepped through the doors and across the oceans to Japan. That and the loud Somerset accents of the family two rows in front.

Anime screenings have been setting UK records in a way not seen since ‘Spirited Away’ and other Ghibli hits. When ‘Your Name’ (aka Kimi No Na Wa) hit UK cinemas in November 2016 it quickly became a hit, ranking number 14 despite only appearing in 23 cinemas nationwide. According to distributor FUNimation Films, the movie made $108,372 on its opening day, a UK record.

YOUR NAME, (aka KIMI NO NA WA), US poster, 2016. ©FUNimation/courtesy Everett Collection

The success of the critically acclaimed Makoto Shinkai picture has paved the way for a new wave of Japanese anime films to appear in UK cinemas. The film was soon followed by ‘A Silent Voice’ (aka Koe No Katachi) in March 2017 and the Sword Art Online movie ‘Ordinal Scale’ in April 2017.

As well as national success, one Dorset cinema is leading the way in anime screenings. Cineworld Poole, in Dorset, is set to show three more anime films in the next three months, with ‘Fairy Tail: Dragon Cry’ in May, ‘In this Corner of the World’ in July, and ‘Napping Princess’ in August.

“I personally love anime because it’s usually so sentimental, emotional, and beautifully drawn”

And it seems like this is a trend set to continue, Terry Whitehead, the Cineworld Poole General Manager explained that “Cineworld aims to screen a wide range of films in order to accommodate the varying preferences of the area.” He goes on “At Cineworld Poole we’ve seen a real interest from the community in anime films…”

So, the local area seems a driving force for the wave of anime films, local cosplay groups have around 250 members and the Anime Society at Bournemouth University, just 3 miles down the road from Cineworld Poole, has over 500 members. The local businesses also reflect this, Bournemouth has had a “tech boom” according to local company Redweb, with companies expanding so fast that “1 in 5 jobs aren’t filled yet.”

Locals are enjoying the new screenings, Sam Bale lives in Poole and works at the local Cineworld and is excited by the variation “I think it’s really cool that we do them personally because… it’s obviously something rather different” and according to him it isn’t just Japanese anime that Cineworld Poole have been pushing, “alongside it we’ve done Bollywood films and we’ve started doing Polish films too!”

The new Odeon in central Bournemouth has also started screening anime films as they come out.

For Sam, the rise in anime films comes more from a desire for “variation” for audiences, with the amount of rom coms, action films, and thrillers that all seem to be clones of the last film that came out. Anime provides a new and exciting way to experience familiar genres.

Hannah Siobhan, who is a Supervisor at Cineworld Poole, thinks the expansion is part of a wider “trend” in Bournemouth and Poole. Bournemouth recently had its own comicon and, much like comic book films, Hannah thinks that “it’s just more accepted now”.

But for many, anime remains an inaccessible medium, these screenings do not have audio description for partially sighted customers who cannot read subtitles. It is also a medium for the younger generation, with the median age of subscribers to Crunchyroll (the leading UK anime streaming service) at 18 and 75% of their users under the age of 35, according to their own statistics.

Just the prospect of having to read subtitles puts many off and whilst ‘Your Name’ has begun screenings of an English dub in the US, it’s coming over 6 months later when much of the hype and excitement has died down.

But Hannah is determined to spread the joys of Japanese anime film as far as possible, to those that are sceptical she says “try a movie that will be so different and original to what they are used to watching… I personally love anime because it’s usually so sentimental, emotional, and beautifully drawn.”

Whilst the rest of the country is yet to follow the push for anime films, if Cineworld Poole can reap success, then we can expect a huge boom in UK anime.



NHS in crisis: Is privatisation the answer?

The National Health Service has been a recurring problem for governments since its inception in 1948. Rising costs, inefficiencies, scandals, and funding allocation disputes have led to a rise in government re-organisations of the NHS. Since the first one in 1974, the NHS has been reorganised 9 more times, most recently in 2012 under current Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

The Health & Social Care Act, 2012, which laid out the most recent restructuring was pitched by the government as a way to remove bureaucracy and improve efficiency. However, 5 years on and The King’s Fund’s (an independent healthcare charity) ‘Quarterly Monitoring Report’, which surveys NHS trust finance directors and clinical commissioning groups, is predicting a £873 million deficit in NHS budgets for 2016/17.

“30% think private provisions of NHS-funded care would improve the health service”

The repeated failures of reorganizations have led to some to call for a complete change of healthcare system, such as Ann Widdecombe, who called for a “mature debate” about healthcare funding on a recent episode of Question Time. The Dutch system of healthcare is a favourite of those wishing to completely change the way we fund healthcare.

In the UK our NHS is funded mostly by taxation, around 80%, with the remaining share coming from National Insurance contributions, prescription charges, land sales, and fundraising schemes. Data from the OECD think tank but UK spending on health care at 9.9% of GDP for 2014, behind our Western European neighbours.

This disparity is reflected in the quality of healthcare, the Netherlands has repeatedly topped healthcare rankings, most recently in 2015 when they topped the Health Consumer Powerhouse company’s ‘Euro Health Consumer Index’. The report points towards the Dutch system of having competition between a range of insurance companies, leading to greater patient choice in the healthcare they receive and greater accessibility to healthcare.

One of the few criticisms that come up in the report is a reliance on ‘in-patient care’, where patients are admitted to hospital to receive care, and a tendency to institutionalize elderly and vulnerable patients. The report claims this may explain why the Dutch spend a full percentage point more than the UK on health care as a proportion of GDP.

Many ambulance services are now provided by private companies. Credit: Graham Richardson

The more pressing and obvious issue that proponents of this system will have to face is the public opinion. The Dutch system requires, by law, that every resident have a health insurance plan, with those that cannot afford having their payments subsidised by the government. An Ipsos MORI poll conducted in April 2015 showed 85% of voters wanted the NHS to be “tax-funded, free at the point of use, and provides comprehensive care to all citizens”. The same poll also showed that whilst 30% think private provisions of NHS-funded care would improve the health service, 33% said it would make it worse.

Hallam Wiltshire, a Pharmacist at RP Healthcare, believes the conversation needs to change “from privatisation to patient choice” and describes that as “the driving factor in all quality healthcare”. He points towards the current way in which prescriptions can be collected in the UK, with patients choosing which pharmacy they go to. He claims “it drives innovation and you compete for patients based purely on service, whether you want short waiting times, a pharmacist always available, or a free delivery service.”

However, Jet, a Dutch student currently living in the UK for a year, suggests the system isn’t as accessible as Hallam claims: “The experience I had last time with the NHS was really good… I do love how I literally just need to sign in to get free medicine… In the Netherlands I pay 15 euro. (sic)” She goes on to explain that it can often be harder to see a specialist as “we want to be really sure… as we have to pay for it.”

One of the advantages Jet does enjoy is the ability to travel to other European countries for treatment, a right that UK citizens often have to pay extra for. Jet’s health insurance plan costs €1210 a year, but as she is a student the Dutch government subsidises €960, meaning she pays €250 a year. For context, an average UK student with a part-time job pays around £198.72 a year in National Insurance contributions.

Dutch hospitals, like this one in Groningen, have the best healthcare standards in Europe. Credit: Baston

I also met with Louis, a UK resident who was born 6 weeks prematurely with a heart condition and had a stroke shortly after. When I asked if his mum could afford the Dutch insurance he replied simply “God no.”. Louis says “If it wasn’t for the NHS I probably wouldn’t be here, it’s great, except the food is awful!” He goes on, “I get that it’s not perfect, but I needed it, would it be worth my life for a few hours saved in a waiting room? What about hundreds of other people’s lives?” In his eyes, it just isn’t worth the risk.

Sadly for Louis, the public is worried it won’t last, with 63% of respondents in the Ipsos MORI poll saying they don’t think the NHS will be free at the point of use within the next 5 years. The debate rages on, in the meantime, people’s lives remain in the balance.


The Beautiful Game for Mental Health

Icy night air is filled with the damp waft of chlorine drifting across the floodlit AstroTurf. A gentle hum of the lights is barely audible over the shouts and cries of the 20 or so young men and women illuminated by the orange glow. To the outsider looking in, it’s a regular football training session on a Wednesday evening, and if you asked the coaches, they’d say you were correct.

Not feeling different is the goal here. To feel welcome and – for what might be the only time each week – comfortable.

“My passion for sport became my passion for disability sport… and that passion has grown and grown.”

Each of these players, like 1-in-4 of us, lives with a mental health issue. According to the Mind mental health charity, physical exercise can reduce your chances of depression, increase your self-esteem and reduce stress.

The benefits of mental health in sport are visible every session. When they initially arrive, players are hermits quietly getting ready with little or no interaction. But once training has begun, shoulders drop, voices speak up, and the players’ confidence shows.

“My mental health has been bad . . . and I was a recluse,” says Martin, who plays in Albion in the Community sessions. Martin gushes about the importance of the sessions to his mental health, saying it “helped me with confidence and sense of wellbeing”.

He says he hasn’t “been for a while due to some hard times” but “can’t wait to go back starting next week!” Martin is also a big supporter of Coach Paul Brackley, known as ‘Brackers’ to the players, “he is a great guy and I believe he is doing the best for the group.”

Paul is Disability Manager for Albion in the Community, as well as coaching their mental health team, amongst others. Whilst he started coaching 8 years ago, he says he quickly became enamoured with disability sport, “My passion for sport became my passion for disability sport… and that passion has grown and grown.”

The People’s Cup recently expanded into disability and mental health football. AFC Bournemouth got two teams to this years finals.

Since he has taken over the program, the focus has been on “giving our players the best available opportunities, whether that means regular competition, or just some light training.” No matter what level you’re at, there’s an option for you.

The growth and expansion of these clubs has been nationwide, Louis Potter-Jones is a player and coach at Albion in the Community, but he has played all around the country. “we’ve played teams from all over… from Reading to Birmingham City, anywhere you can find a mainstream club, they usually have a mental health team.”

Louis, as well as coaching, is also playing competitively for Albion’s Elite Disability side. Another recent expansion in mental health and disability football is the competition, with national and regional cups at 11-a-side level as well as having several categories in the people’s cup.

Another South Coast club recently saw success in the FA People’s cup, AFC Bournemouth Ability Counts had two sides reach the final round of the tournament in Birmingham. The livestream of the event brought thousands of viewers, and for Louis exposure and funding are the biggest issues facing the sport.

Disability football has expanded into regular competition.

“We recently had to combine our two league teams into one, since we didn’t have enough players, it was a real shame because it meant we had less game time for players. What we really need is to get the word out about mental health football and disability sport.” He goes on, “Money is another problem, we rely on sponsors and the club’s charity to fund us, and they’ve been great, we have grown massively.”

But Louis knows, sadly, that other clubs aren’t so lucky. “We have a full 11-a-side pitch at Brighton’s new training ground in Lancing, but I’ve been to Bournemouth, where they pay the same amount but they are playing on a small 5-a-side pitch at a leisure centre.”

Brighton and Hove Albion’s Disability teams have access to a world class training centre, whilst many clubs are left in leisure centres.

AFC Bournemouth do have plans to build a new training complex, similar to that of Brighton and Hove Albion, but it’s not clear if their Ability Count’s teams will be included. However, Louis is keen to stress that facilities aren’t everything, “I’ve been training with the side since we were training on a rugby pitch next to an A-road, it’s always worth attending, it’s given me bags of confidence and changed me for the better.”

To get involved in mental health football in your area, find details on your local Football Association website.

An SU Election Omnishambles

I wrote this opinion piece for Nerve Magazine but it was rejected on the grounds that SUBU wouldn’t approve. It’s a shame our student media is gagged in this way but thankfully the blog exists.


After last year, the pressure was on SUBU to get these elections right. Indeed, in my role on the executive committee I oversaw the changes to the bylaws that were made to avoid the problems of last year. But let’s face it, does anyone really feel like these elections went any better?


The rules and the enforcement of them failed to actually change anything, it just forced any rule breaking into private messaging with a simple “we can’t enforce it” from the Returning Officers. Tell me, what is the point of rules if they don’t apply in all scenarios?


To answer all this and to review this election properly let’s go back the beginning. The elections campaign started with the ‘Candidates Question Time’, in theory an opportunity for voters to scrutinise candidates. Tokenism, with one question from SUBU themselves and one question from students per role, it was hardly an exercise in scrutiny. It also certainly isn’t an opportunity to scrutinise manifestos, leaving candidates to promise what they like with no way to challenge.


Meanwhile, societies had their rights to free expression gagged as they and their committees were told they could not endorse or oppose any candidates. The excuse was that we couldn’t be seen to endorse candidates whilst “wearing our SUBU hats”, but I was free to endorse as a SUBU executive member as if that isn’t the same.


This hit a peak when my very own Liberal Democrat Society was threatened with “sanctions” by the SUBU elections team following a post I made endorsing candidates. Sanctions which they had no power to enforce, and that SUBU activities said they had zero business or power to threaten.


I saw complaints from friends, of harassment by candidates, swept aside by the elections team with non-answers. After last year’s harassment allegations, amongst others, led to a disqualification it seems unforgiveable that this would happen.


Of course, the results themselves would have to be equally farcical. Just a few hours before results are due to be officially announced, rumours start circulating that the results had been visible if you logged in to vote after the deadline. This was then confirmed by the elections team in an email to candidates. The leak was due to a setting on the elections system being set to the wrong option; at this point an unsurprising error.


Just before results candidates were required to fill out “feedback forms” for how the election was run. This is more sinister. Candidates report being made to complete the form in front of the RO’s. They also claim that the forms themselves were already completed with positive feedback.


Now maybe I should stop complaining and start proposing solutions, although by no means perfect, as elections are a messy game. The rules drew the ire of candidates and students alike, the fact that no former candidates were brought in to consult on where the rules might be circumvented is shocking.


Another solution should be to encourage staff members to report candidates for infractions, especially harassment. Students have complained for years about being “chased” through the Poole House Atrium, right under the nose of staff members staffing the election booths. We need to take a hard line on harassment because it’s driving disengagement from SUBU.


Let me be clear, this is not a criticism of the new full time officers, they will be held to account in numerous ways over the next twelve months. This is about SUBU. If the aim of this election was to restore faith in the SUBU election process it has been an unmitigated disaster.