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Columns



Akira on Blu-ray, Dragon Ball, and Love Hina

AnimeTalk

March 2009 Edition

by Todd Douglass, John Sinnott, and Wen-Tsai

Welcome back everyone! It's time once again to mull over the pile of anime that has come our way and tell you what's worth while, and what's not. The past couple of months have been kind of quiet on the anime release front, but I'm sure that will all change once convention season starts rolling around again (You may spot us at Anime Boston this year!). As you're undoubtedly already aware that's when publishers come out to drop licensing bombs on the masses. I just hope the economic chill doesn't impact the industry too much this year with regards to its stability. Who knows, if things get really bad, maybe otaku can ask Congress for a bail-out? I kid, I kid.

So, what's going on right now? Well, FUNimation has actually been very busy with announcements such as Rin ~ Daughters of Mnemosyne, My Bride Is A Mermaid, El Cazador De La Bruja, Dragonaut, Tower of Druaga, Blassreiter, and Bamboo Blade. All of these titles have been announced since we last brought you the Anime Talk Column, so needless to say there is some awesome stuff on the horizon. As far as other publishers are concerned Bandai has the Lucky Star OVA coming out, and ADV is coming back with Clannad (Yay!).

While the economy may be unstable right now, it's always nice to know that there's at least some lights at the end of the tunnel. We'll see how long the recession lasts, but rest assured, once you're back on your feet there will be plenty of anime to pick up. Here's a little list of what John and I have gone through in the past month or so, a little bargain stimulus package from WTK, and a glowing review by Jeffrey Kauffman for the release of Akira on Blu-ray. Until next time stay warm, stay employed, and spend your free time watching anime!


The Latest Anime Reviews:
(Click on the links to read the full review.)

Do you love Dragon Ball? Well, if you do then the past month or so has undoubtedly kept you really busy. The second installment of Dragon Ball GT, the eight season of Dragon Ball Z, and another pair of Dragon Ball Z movies has been released by FUNimation. While Dragon Ball GT may suck and the movies may be lightly plotted, and extended, episodes, it's nice to know that at least the eighth season of the classic is pretty damned good. Despite that fact, it's kind of late in the game to pick up a season of DBZ and run with it. If you're interested in the series you're better off starting over from the beginning, but understand that's a serious investment. You may just want to rent some stuff to see if it's your cup of tea before diving headfirst.

Keeping up with the FUNimation conversation is a list of titles that have come up which the publisher happened to pick up from its competition. ADV and Bandai both let licenses slide into the hands of FUNimation, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. From the ADV side of the coin we have Shattered Angels and 009-1. For my money 009-1 was by far the better of the two, since it felt more self-contained and had better structure (not to mention machine gun boobies). Shattered Angels was just a twisted amalgamation of ideas that just didn't gel well enough to get off the ground. As far as the title Bandai let go, Love Hina is one of the all-time classic harem series that should just be in everyone's collection.

Claymore continues to be a badass show, and thankfully its third volume helps to clear some things up as well as push the story forward a bit. This time around we get some more insight into Clare and learn a little more about the Claymore society, and how the world works. It's all incredibly cool and there's a high amount of action and violence as Awakened ones start appearing and the Yoma offer up their usual threats. If you enjoyed Berserk (which is also being re-released soon by the way), then you'll definitely want to check out Claymore if you haven't already. It's probably the best "new" show in FUNimation's lineup right now, and that's saying something.

Another FUNimation title that has been in the news is Darker Than Black. This futuristic show has plenty going for it as well, though it's not quite as polished, or interesting as Claymore. This has a lot to do with the lack of answers to several questions proposed by the series, and the fact that the protagonist is just too darned mysterious. It's hard to tell exactly what's going on behind the scenes here and what everyone's motivation is, but there's still plenty to take away from this show if you get into it. The second volume improved upon things, but I'm cautious to get too excited until I see more.

And finally, we once again have another FUNimation show to talk about. Glass Fleet has already been in circulation for quite some time, but the publisher just got around to releasing a complete collection of the 26 episode Gonzo series. It's basically an aristocratic rebellion in space with some funky art design and a seemingly androgynous lead character. There are many points during the show where most of its design and story work well, but these highlights are overshadowed by stiff pacing and ill-planned twist and focuses for the plot.


WTK's Anime Bargains
Presented by Wen-Tsai King

Amazon.com:

  • Bleach: Season 1 Uncut Boxset (Standard): $27.99,
    Retail Price: $49.95, 44% OFF!, [Review]
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    Retail Price: $99.94, 50% OFF!
  • InuYasha: Movies Boxset: $31.99,
    Retail Price: $59.90, 47% OFF!, [Review]
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    For more anime bargains, please check out the Official- ANIME Bargains! - Thread, updated daily by yours truly! Please Note: Product Availability & Prices are Subjected to Change! Updated on 3/2/09!
     


    Akira on Blu-ray

    by Jeffrey Kauffman

    The Movie:

    For friends who ask me where to start in the wide and sometimes wacky world of anime, I routinely point them to Akira. Katsuhiro Otomo's 1988 epic (based on his own equally epic 1,000 page-plus manga) has so many of the archetypal themes and techniques of contemporary anime that it's a virtual thesaurus of the idiom. Of course the fact is that Akira paved the way for these themes and techniques to a large degree, and all that has come after in the peculiar world of anime exists largely in Akira's formidable wake. This has been one of the most requested titles to get a Blu-ray upgrade, and the result is both good and bad. While the film looks and sounds stupendous, obviously better than it ever has, Blu-ray's incredible resolution does reveal some very occasional flaws and damage in the source elements which fans may have missed in the previous SD-DVD releases.

    Akira is such a potent prime example of anime for a some very good reasons. First of all, as so many classic animes do, it takes place in a dystopian future, in this case a post-apocalyptic Tokyo circa 2019 (30 years after World War III, which thankfully we seem to have missed). Akira also posits dysfunctional youth against an overly mechanized society, though in this case we have no transforming robots or other mecha. What we do have is roving gangs of motorcycle hooligans, all of whom speed their super-cool looking craft through the neon lit streets of "New Tokyo." Playing out against this gang warfare is a simultaneous story of the intellectual, spiritual, and ultimately physical mutation of mankind, as personified first by the title character, a supposedly now dead boy who, when alive, showed amazing psychic and telekinetic powers. Those same ubermenschian abilities are now showing up in various others, including a mysterious wizened child as well as Tetsuo, one of the motorcycle gang members.

    What proceeds over Akira's two hour or so running time is a forceful and at times surprisingly funny look at alienated youth (and "alienated" can be taken in any of its meanings in Akira). New Tokyo is shown to be a glittering paradise from a distance which, once the camera delves beneath the surface, is a gritty and foul collection of street people, roving gangs and drug abuse. While the motorcycle gangs are tough and violent, they also come off at times as comedians, a la "Gee Officer Krupke" in West Side Story, with an impish sense of humor underlying their disaffected youth stance.

    As the story begins, Tetsuo and his buddy Kaneda are involved in some motorcycle mayhem when Tetsuo has an accident. Kaneda arrives on the scene to see Tetsuo being spirited away, along with the mysterious old-looking child figure, by what appears to be governmental powers. We soon find out that the weird looking youngster and Tetsuo share the same psychic powers that the legendary Akira once possessed, powers which, it turns out, were what caused the nuclear holocaust that obliterated Tokyo. Kaneda then spends the bulk of the rest of the film attempting to infiltrate the secret government cabal that has captured his friend in order to free Tetsuo. Tetsuo, on the other hand, slowly becomes aware that with his newfound omnipotence, he doesn't really need rescuing all that badly, and he sets off to find Akira, who he is convinced is still alive and being kept at a "secret, undisclosed location" (yes, it occurs to me that Cheney may simply have been an extraordinarily lifelike anime character).

    For those more used to mind blowing CGI effects, Akira may seem, well, quaint at times with its more traditional cel animation techniques. And yet there is incredible artistry and depth to this animation, with fully developed characters and an incredible care taken with layout, color design and some very nice "special effects." When the boys zoom their motorcycles through the dense cityscapes, notice how a beautiful trail of multicolored lights follows them, weaving serpentine bands of hues behind them. At the climax of the piece, when Tetsuo's "evolution" suddenly explodes out of control, notice how his transmogrification literally spills over the edge of the frame, as if the film itself can't contain his monstrous transformation. The one thing that is definitely not quaint about Akira, and certainly one of the things that made it so instantly popular with teenaged boys I would imagine, is its at times extremely graphic violence. Scenes of sexual predation and blood, gore and various guts are scattered throughout the film; there's a reason it has its deserved "R' rating, so parents concerned about their kids' viewing choices should be strongly cautioned about previewing Akira before sharing with any children younger than teenagers (if even them).

    If the actual ending of Akira is a bit opaque, almost akin to 2001's iconic yet mysterious final images, the story leading up to that point is at once multidimensional while sustaining enough grounded elements to not be too hard to follow (a trap that some post-Akira animes fall into). The central issue of mutation and evolution, something that must haunt the Japanese soul post-Hiroshima, is well handled, if not exceptionally deeply so. But there's a wealth of other wonderful plot material here, some of it only in passing, including the aforementioned comedy elements, the friendship between Kaneda and Tetsuo, and the ultimate question of how those with newfound and potentially unfettered power choose to use it.

    There's a reason Akira tops not only my personal anime list, but most ardent followers of the genre. This is quite simply one of the towering achievements of Japanese animated artistry, something akin to the Citizen Kane of its idiom. Those new to anime will find it an intriguing and exciting entrée into a new and often very strange world. Longtime fans of anime probably are already well ensconced in Akira's many charms, and will welcome this exciting new BD with open arms.

    The Blu-ray

    Video:
    To state this as simply and succinctly as possible, Akira has never looked this good. With an AVC codec an 1.85:1 OAR, this BD offers an incredibly sharp and well defined picture. In fact, that's also about the only thing to complain about--the very sharpness and definition articulate occasional flaws in the source material. You'll notice very occasional registration issues and some very slight damage from time to time. Lower res VHS and DVD releases tended to bury these flaws in their lower quality reproductions, but everything is "out there," for better or worse, on this BD. Akira's handdrawn animation doesn't have the "gee whiz" awesomeness of some more recent anime's CGI, but, that said, there is extremely well defined color and contrast, with excellent black levels. Character outlines are always sharp with absolutely no artifacts.

    Sound:
    Both the original Japanese track, now in a stunning Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix, as well as the similarly excellent English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix, offer pretty close to reference quality audio. Akira is a riot of sound effects, from the opening nuclear explosion, to motorcycles roaring between channels, to Tetsuo's ultimate frightening transformation. Both of these soundtracks offer incredible separation and clarity, with a wealth of LFE and other ambient effect scattered throughout the channels. Dialogue is always clear and directionally placed. Also offered are Japanese tracks in PCM 2.0 and DD 5.1. English and Japanese subtitles are available.

    Extras:
    The one real disappointment in this BD release is the dearth of extras, especially when the special edition DVD contained so many excellent ones. Here there is an informative, if awfully technical at times, booklet included covering various production elements. As far as the BD itself goes, you get five trailers and some of Otomo's original storyboards. Pretty meager, if you ask me.

    Final Thoughts:
    Akira remains the apex of handdrawn anime. With a virtual checklist of anime tropes, most of which Akira itself premiered, the film is a lush, if sometimes ultraviolent, trip through a humankind on the brink of enormous evolutionary change. Though this BD skimps somewhat on the extras, the sterling visual and especially audio quality of this release, as well as the film's historical importance, make this an easy entry into the DVD Talk Collector Series pantheon.

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