Wed, 30 December 2009
Anime dvd review of Heroic Age: The Complete Series Part 1, Episodes 8-13. Directed by Takashi Noto. Series Composition by Tow Ubukata. Music by Naoki Sato. Published by Funimation. List Price: $59.98, Rated 13+.
The Argonaut continues to flee to the new human homeworld as the Azz-Azoth fleet under Nilval tries to hold off the Silver and Gold Tribe armadas. Things could get messy as Nodos Mehitak shows up to take down the Azz-Azoth. Meanwhile, Bellcross and Karkinos are still locked in battle. Their fight is not measured in minutes or days, but weeks! Like a rumble between two gods. Dhianeila's two scheming and arrogant brothers try to commandeer leadership of the human forces through bribery and extortion. They begin to move along their plan for all-out war against the Gold and Silver Tribes, with the ultimate end goal of recapturing Earth. Problem is that Meleagros, the scion of the family, is a tad bit power hungry and isn't shy about sacrificing his own forces or even entire planets if it furthers the glory and power of him and his family.
I really love the epic space opera feel of Heroic Age. When we have fleets battling each other here, it isn't just a couple of ships on each side. It's thousands, if not TENS of thousands involved. And when you're talking about the insect-like swarms of the Gold Tribes, it could be MILLIONS! It's war the likes of which we reality-bound humans can hardly imagine. And then you have the jockeying forces of the politics within each tribe (except the Gold) as the humans try to decide the best course of action. There are even factions in the Vulcan-like Silver that believe the universe is big enough for Silver and Iron while others think the humans should be destroyed.
The problems I have with this show are two: one major and one minor. The first is that the battles between the Nodos lack any impact or drama. All the Nodos are completely rendered in CG and are not animated very well, moving very stiffly and awkwardly. They are supposed to be living creatures but they move like robots. The director should have looked at some of the old Evangelion fight scenes or Eureka 7 to learn how to handle this properly. Sadly, I almost wish to jettison the whole giant monster facet of the show.
One minor complaint is in the character designs and costumes. The characters look too much like they fell out of a Gundam series, or even Fafner. The costumes of the humans are dull and boring with too much whiteness splashed with some second-thought colors. It doesn't look like too much effort was spent on their uniforms.
My Grade: B+
Listen to my podcast review of the first seven episodes:
Wed, 4 November 2009
Anime review of Episodes 10-13 of the Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha Box Set. Published by Geneon. List Price: $59.98, Rated 13+. Box Set contains Episodes 1-13. Directed by Akiyuki Shinbo (Moonphase, Negima, Maria Holic). Written by Masaki Tsuzuki.
Fate has once again failed to capture Nanoha's Jewel Seeds, so yes, it's time for a sadistic whipping from her mom, Precia Testarossa (why are the Japanese obsessed with naming their female characters Testarossa?). But this time, Aruf gets pissed and attacks Precia. For her trouble, she is almost destroyed and has to flee to Earth, where she again encounters Nanoha and her pals and decides to switch sides in order to rescue Fate from her mother. Meanwhile, the TSAB are closing in on Precia's space travelling rock for a final confrontation. Nanoha, Yuno, and Chrono have to go in after Precia wipes out an assault team.
Magical Nanoha comes to a satisfying if uneventful end. Ok, a big battle happens at the end, but what I mean is that while Nanoha has been entertaining and fun, it never really succeeds at seperating itself from the mob. All of the characters were just a tad bit too shallow and one dimensional. The animation, especially on this last dvd, is first rate and rarely reverts to shortcuts, even during the battle sequences. But Nanoha could never cast off its indebtedness to Cardcaptor Sakura, even though it succeeded in its own kinda clone way. Definitely worth watching if you're a magical girl fan but isn't going to ever break into the greatness realm.
My Grade for the Series: B
Watch the first part of episode 10 below:
Mon, 12 October 2009
Podcast anime review of Love Hina: The Complete Series, Episodes 8-13. Directed by Yoshiaki Iwasaki (Hayate, Familiar of Zero). Series Composition by Kurou Hazuki. Published by Funimation, Rated 16+, List Price: $49.99.
In this second batch of episodes, Keitaro's efforts to get into Tokyo U take a backseat to stories focusing on the female leads. Motoko, the samurai girl, finally has to confront her turtlephobia when Su lets a giant mecha-turtle loose. Then she has to enter Keitaro's dream, which is based on an old Japanese RPG, which pisses her off, even though she's in an unconscious state. Kitsune plays the role of Sherlock Holmes (she actually cosplays as him) to find out what has become of the missing monthly Hinata rent payments. Naru might just be leaving her friends and Tokyo U behind as she attempts to break into the cutthroat world of Japanese pop idols, managed by none other than the male diva, Kentaro. We also get a little more background info on the always mysterious Su, as the residents try to find out more about her older brother and sister. Whoops, I almost forgot Shinobu and her desire to experience her first kiss!
I actually enjoyed this second disk more than the first because, let's face it, Keitaro is a bit of a wanker. The girls are much more interesting, seeing as how they don't have a single goal in life that obsesses them to extremes. Actually, maybe they all do. Motoko with her sword training, Su with her absent family members and gadgets, Kitsune with her drinking, and Naru, whose quest mirrors Keitaro's. I guess I meant that the girls seem to have more texture, and the writers of the show are making them even more individual in these episodes. Even though Love Hina was one of the first harem anime, it still works better than most because there are only five girls, unlike Negima where you have over 30. So it's much easier to get to know them and add layers to their personalities. The animation is top of the line, supplied by Production IG, which wisely modified their super realistic style to suit the design of the original manga. The voice acting is done very well also.
My Grade: A
Listen to podcast of Episodes 1-7:
Sun, 27 September 2009
Area 88 Volume 3: Wings of the Wind, Episodes 10-12. Published by ADV Films. Running Time: 75 minutes. Directed by Isamu Imakake (Captain Tsubasa). Screenplay by Hiroshi Ohnogi (Kekkaishi, FMA: Brotherhood). List Price: $29.98. Also available in a box set.
There are only 3 ways out of Area 88. The first is in a bodybag. The second is to serve out your 3 year tour of duty. The last is to raise $1.5 million to buy your way out. You get a bounty for every enemy plane you down, but the pilot's ammunition and maintenence of their jet takes up a lot of money so the odds are stacked against that option. In this last volume, Shin Kazuma has scaled that mountain and only needs to shoot down one more fighter craft. Then he can go home to his beloved Ryoko and live happily ever after, remembering Area 88 only in bad dreams. Shin is usually on the ball when he's up in the air, but knowing he only has to take down one more plane puts a lot of added pressure on him. He also has visions of Ryoko dancing through his mind (not literally). This distraction almost costs Kitri her life during a dogfight and Shin's jet takes some damage. Shin is resigned at first to the delay in his liberation, that is, until he finds out Ryoko is getting married to his former best friend who also happens to be the dude that got him shipped out to Area 88!
Back in the day Viz partially published the original manga upon which this anime is based. It was before the Tokyopop innovation of cheap and original size manga so the Area 88 volumes were those huge trade paperbacks Viz put out for $16 or so. The reason I bring this up is because as I watched the anime I couldn't help but feel that it was only scratching the surface of a much larger story. I didn't think we got much time to get to know the characters or to find out more about the war they were fighting. That's right, even after the series ended, I still didn't know much about the political situation or what brought the conflict about. I don't think I ever even saw the face of an enemy soldier. I guess maybe that was the show's intention, but I doubt that it was the case in the manga. From what the cast and director said about the manga, the original creator was very much influenced by shojo character designs. I would really like to read them, but Viz isn't exactly famous for putting out old series. Maybe under their "Signature" line? I guess I'll see if I can track some of them down on Ebay.
I wish the show had been longer. Even with its brevity, I still really enjoyed it. The mysterious nature brought about by the shortness made the characters even more appealing, if that makes any sense. There is also an OVA collection from ADV that is readily available. I guess I'll be hunting that down next.
Volume 4 Grade: A-
Overall Series Grade: A-
View the trailer below:
Mon, 21 September 2009
Podcast anime review of Shigurui: Death Frenzy The Complete Series, Episodes 1-6. Directed by Hirotsugu Hamazaki (Texhnolyze). Series Composition by Seishi Minakami (Paprika, Boogiepop Phantom). Based on the manga by Takayuki Yamaguchi. Published by Funimation, List Price: $59.98, Rated 17+.
From the back cover:
Two damaged warriors wear the scars of a twisted and violent past. Bitter rivals for the secrets of their master's sword and the right to his daughter, these samurai inflict wounds on each other that would destroy lesser men. The final chapter of their saga unfolds within a brutal samurai tournament, a gruesome contest arranged to satisfy the bloodlust of a cruel tyrant overlord.
The disfigured legends of the blade must summon the strength for one last battle - a final lesson in the artistry of violence where nothing is more beautiful than the kill.
My Grade: A-
You can watch all 12 episodes for free at Funimation.com. Here is the link to the first episode:
And here's the trailer for the box set:
Sun, 13 September 2009
Anime DVD review of xxxHolic Volume 4. Directed by Tsutomu Mizushima (Genshiken, Hare+Guu). Series Composition by Ageha Ohkawa of CLAMP and Michiko Yokote (Bleach, Naruto, Genshiken). 100 minutes, Episodes 13-16. Published by Funimation, $29.98 (Rightstuf.com has it for $7.00 and Funimation has recently released a box set of the entire series), Rated 13+.
Watanuki and Domeki's partnership is growing stronger as the 4th volume of xxxHolic opens, even if Watanuki wants Domeki out of the way when it comes to his would-be romance with Himawari. He always seems to pop up as the third wheel just when he's about to get Himawari by herself. But first things first. Watanuki notices a girl at school with a strange feature on her back. She has a pair of small wings! At first he thinks they might be cosplay or something but they are real. Does it have something to do with the girl hanging out on the school roof, gazing at flying birds?
Then it's on to a two parter involving two very weird twins. Well, maybe it's all in Watanuki's imagination. When he's around the the two girls, he feels a strange sort of wave effect that does not portend anything good usually. In some way the twins are impacting each other through a psychic link or by the things they say to each other.
A comedy element of xxxHolic these days is the nine tailed fox spirit that mostly appears in a cute sort of small furry eel form that is always clinging to or wrapped around Watanuki's body. Don't get this spirit confused with Naruto's evil entity. This fox spirit is more like an affection starved dog. He starts causing trouble for Watanuki when he is changed into his full size on this volume.
xxxHolic is an anime that always falls just a tiny bit short of being a really good show. It succeeds admirably at creating a comedic but always otherworldly atmosphere that at times can creep you out. But its Twilight Zone-like endings never seem to shock or surprise. Because the writing is a bit subpar, you can always figure out what is going to happen long before it does. So the "punchlines" at the end very rarely have the impact the writers intended. This seems to be a problem that CLAMP has a lot. They are very good at designing characters and of concocting interesting plot setups, but do not do a good job with the execution of their stories. Tsubasa is a good example of this. They had awesome characters jumping across time and space but all the worlds they visited seemed so cliched and boring! I think they would be a greater force if they just set up scenarios and supplied the art and let someone else do the actual writing. I really like the characters in xxxHolic and the comedy bits are quite good. The supernatural elements are where inconsistencies popped up. It probably didn't help that I had already read some of the stories in manga form before watching the dvd. Even though it doesn't live up to its potential and the beautiful art from the manga is simplified a bit, xxxHolic is well worth watching.
My Grade: B+
All 24 episodes of the series can be watched at www.hulu.com
You can view Episode 13 below:
Mon, 7 September 2009
Anime dvd review of Otoboku (Maidens Are Falling For Me) Volume 3: Androgynous Antics. Published by Media Blasters. List Price: $19.99, Rated 16+. Episodes 10-13. Running Time: 100 minutes. Directed by Munenori Nawa (Galaxy Angel A&Z). Series Composition by Katsumi Hasegawa. (Japanese with English subtitles)
It's time to say goodbye to Seio Academy as the last dvd wraps up the series and some of its cast gets prepared to graduate. Luckily for Mizuho, for the most part, he has been able to keep the secret that he's actually a dude from most of the all female student body. This last volume focuses almost exclusively on the love triangle between Mizuho, his childhood friend, Mariya, and the Student Council President, Takako. It's unclear at this point if that love is reciprocated for either girl on Mizuho's side. I think he sees Mariya as his best friend and doesn't really see her in a romantic way. The event that brings things to a head is the staging of Romeo and Juliet at the school festival, with Mizuho and Takako playing the starcrossed lovers. It's left to them whether they will actually kiss during the love scenes. Locking lips has an odd effect on Takako as she goes from overconfident snobbish prude to love struck puppy dog after one kiss from Mizuho. Mariya is going to have to share Mizuho even more as he takes the traditional role of dancing with all the single girls at the annual Christmas dance party. The last episode on the dvd is an OVA sendup of the fairy tale of Cinderella, featuring super deformed versions of the Otoboku cast.
This series really brought something new to the crossdressing genre, (or maybe this is a harem anime?) whether it be a boy or a girl in the uncomfortable role of masquerading as something they are not. The aspect that made Otoboku unique was that after the first couple of episodes, Mizuho became a girl. What I mean is that he wasn't really a horndog like other anime characters put in the same situation. Mizuho is so nice that you forget he's a guy. There is more fan service in Maria Watches Over Us than this show. He just sorta goes with the flow and you almost feel like you're watching an all girl cast. It was really refreshing that he never tried to take advantage of the situation to seduce or cop feels or spy. But let's face it, he was already so effeminate before he came to Seio, he made Clay Aiken look tough in comparison. I almost wish the show was longer so I could see what happened with the different character's plot lines.
Extras: Clean Ending, Live Event in Kawasaki featuring the voice actresses singing songs, and a promotional music video.
Media Blasters will be releasing a box set of the entire series on Oct. 6.
My Grade: B+
Listen to my podcast review of Volume 1 here:
View the opening sequence of the anime below:
Sun, 6 September 2009
Anime review of Episodes 6-9 of the Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha Box Set. Published by Geneon. List Price: $59.98, Rated 13+. Box Set contains Episodes 1-13. Directed by Akiyuki Shinbo (Moonphase, Negima, Maria Holic). Written by Masaki Tsuzuki.
Nanoha's friends, Suzuka and Arisa, are getting very worried about her behavior. Just like her family, they can sense that something is up but Nanoha hasn't told them about her new magical girl role yet. Arisa is getting pissed and hurt because she feels Nanoha doesn't trust her. Without her in the triad of friendship, the bond between the three girls just doesn't seem the same. Nanoha, on the other hand, is intent on making a new friend, the mysterious and merciless Fate, the black-clad mage that she tangled with on the previous dvd. Fate, and her shape shifting wolf familiar, Aruf, are intent on seizing Jewel Seeds for Fate's mother. Unfortunately for Earth, and the universe at large, the clash between Nanoha and Fate over the Seeds could destroy the entire space time continuum! A Time-Space Adminstration Bureau Enforcer, a sort of interdimensional cop, arrives on the scene to make sure this doesn't happen.
While on the surface, Lyrical Nanoha might seem like a Cardcaptor Sakura rip-off, its imagery and plot skews a lot higher to older otaku. Why do I say this? Perhaps because there is some insinuated fan service, total nudity when Nanoha changes to her magical girl costume, and the fact that Fate's mom tortures her with a magical whip...over and over. So maybe I should say Cardcaptor Sakura with a dose of De Sade to poison the otherwise Hello Kitty sweetness? Also, Lyrical Nanoha at its heart is a sci-fi anime. What its users call magic is mathematical equations which mages activate with mental energy. The show gets even more sci-fi with the arrival of the Time-Space Bureau, a police force that patrols multiple dimensions in a starship, looking for people jacking with the universe. The character designs in the show are pretty cool but for the fact that every character in this series has serious "bedhead". No matter if it's a girl or a boy, everyone has these big clumps of uncombed hair poofing off the side of their head. What a tragedy that a show can actually be dragged down by bad grooming! This is not a great show but it can be entertaining if magical girls are your bag.
My Grade: B
You can watch the first part of Episode 1 below:
Mon, 6 July 2009
Area 88 Volume 3: Tightrope at the Speed of Sound. Episodes 7-9. Published by ADV Films. Running Time: 75 minutes. Directed by Isamu Imakake. Screenplay by Hiroshi Ohnogi, $29.98.
The supplies are getting pretty low at Area 88 as the enemy has shot down multiple transports that were bringing fuel and ammo for the pilot's aircraft. Of course, the enemy know Area 88's dire straits and send out a raiding party to take out the base. They are not only sending fighters but long range bombers that could destroy the whole area! The base only has enough fuel and ammo to send up three jets. Shin is in charge of the mission and picks the new female flyer, Kitri, and young but talented Kim to go with him. Kitri has a real problem with Kim. She thinks he'st too young and a mediocre pilot that has no right to be flying fighters. Another thorny problem crops up when an enemy sniper takes up position around Area 88 and starts picking off its inhabitants. He's so skilled that if anyone tries to take off in a jet, he either shoots the pilot or takes down the plane before it gets off the ground. Wouldn't you know that Shin is gonna be the one to dare the impossible? The title of this volume refers to the last episode where the Area 88 crew must negotiate a canyon in Death Star-like fashion to avoid radar as they attempt to destroy an enemy base.
The presentation of this series has always left me a little cold. It just seems like there's so much more to the story and characters that we're not getting to see. I was really glad that we got a little more backstory last volume and found out how Shin got stuck in Area 88, but it really just skimmed the surface. We only get very tiny glimpses of who the other characters, like Kitri, really are. In fact, I know next to zilch about where she learned to fly and why she got into Area 88. But I can say that about almost all of the characters. For example, what is Matoko's real motivation to capture all these pictures he's taking? Does he get a high off of it, like Speedgrapher, or does he want to show the plight of the pilots? You really needed a 24-26 episode show to get all these things into the light, rather than 12-13. Even if I feel Area 88 keeps the viewer in a box, I still like the show, especially for its dogfight sequences.
It would be nice if Viz would republish the manga (I'm not gonna hold my breath). I think they published a couple of volumes back in the good old days of flipped, unnumbered, $17 volumes before Tokyopop enlightened them on how to publish magna.
My Grade: B
Wed, 1 July 2009
Podcast anime dvd review of Trigun Volume 2: Lost Past. Directed by Satoshi Nishimura. Published by Geneon/Pioneer. List Price: 19.99 (Amazon has used copies for around $7). Episodes 5-7, Rated 13+.
Vash just can't seem to catch a break. Here he is again, just minding his own business in an Inperil City bar when another group of thugs with the $60 billion reward on their minds comes barging in to kill him. Vash takes them out no problem, but then finds that the ENTIRE city wants to take him down. Even kids are pulling out guns! At one time Inperil was a prosperous city centered around a Lost Technology power plant, but it broke and the city began to wither and die. They want to claim Vash's head so they can pay for the expensive specialists that can reignite the power plant's energy source. Realizing that even an entire city is no match for Vash, the local sherrif lets the Nebraska Brothers out of prison. In a send up of giant robots, one brother is a mad scientist type who rides on his godzilla sized cyborg brother who can shoot his fist like a chained rocket launcher. Unfortunately for Inperil, the Nebraska Brothers do not care how much property is destroyed or how many Inperilities are killed in the pursuit of Vash.
I did not like the first volume of this series at all. In fact, if I hadn't checked the first three volumes of this show out from my local library, I would not have watched this second installment. But since it was free, I was like, "what the hell". I was really surprised with Lost Past. I really liked these 3 episodes. I guess sticking with a show past the first volume really does pay off sometimes. What changed my mind about Trigun? Maybe I got used to Vash's personality and humor, and I started finding some of his mannerisms and dialogue funny. Like when he shoots a whole gang of bounty hunters with toy gun darts before they can even draw their guns. I think what really made the show turn around was that the writers made these episodes form a continuity which flowed together whereas Volume 1 seemed disjointed and unconnected. I also was intrigued by Vash's mysterious past, driven home by the fact that he cannot remember the city he supposedly destroyed to earn the price on his head. I know Vash is more than he seems, but his origin is a mystery I really want to solve.
The fact that this volume contains only 3 episodes is a bit of a rip-off that could not be pulled today. Just ask Bandai (They tried selling dvds with ONE episode!). But this was par for the anime course back in the day. Since the Trigun show is not really a current show, you should be able to find the dvds pretty easily and at low cost.
My Grade: B+
Here's the first part of Episode 5: