Huge Anime Review Roundup with Beck Mongolian Chop Squad, Ergo Proxy and More
a bi-weekly column by Todd Douglass, Don Houston, John Sinnott, and Wen-Tsai
Hey there! Welcome back to Anime Talk! In the past couple of weeks we have been busier than you can imagine with all of the anime to watch! Our sofas have indentations where our butts were planted and I (Todd) can speak for myself when I say that random Japanese words have been slipping out of my mouth in daily conversations. I suppose we should do a "You know you've watched too much anime when..." column.
At any rate this week is exciting! With shows like Beck, Ergo Proxy, and My-Zhime - My-Otome on the table you know you're in for a treat. And of course WTK has some Anime Bargains for you if you're in the market for something new!
We lucked out recently to get almost the entire set for Ergo Proxy to review. The series is a futuristic drama where genetic research creates monsters in the dystopia where the haves and have-nots do not share equal footing with the elitist government. Detective Re’l Mayer seeks answers to a series of crimes that no one admits existed as she leaves the safety of her domed home to search not only for a man by the name of Vincent Law but also the truth that seems so evasive as the pair decide to team up and figure out why so many are so willing to do anything to stop them.
Another series for fans of female assassins to enjoy would be the recently released Madlax: Complete Collection. Madlax is a secret operative working in a war torn country in Europe. The civil war has lasted as long as she can remember and someone hires her to protect a man seeking a very special book. When things sour on her, she ends up meeting Margaret Burton, a gal that seems to have come from nowhere about the same time as Madlax, the pair linked together throughout the series before actually meeting face to face. If you liked Noir, Gunslinger Girl, or the mainstream hit La Femme Nikita, you are bound to appreciate all 26 episodes of this action packed series that proves there is more to meet the eye than a pretty face.
A recent favorite in the form of Bleach 5 also made it our way as hero Ichigo Kurosaki found himself desperate and in need of training when he nearly died at the hands of Soul Reapers trying to reclaim Rukia. The only problem is that his training might be worst than death given how hard he is pushed in order to save him from a fight he could not hope to win. Now, in order to take on the entire Soul Society, he and his friends prepare for the fight of their young lives with a little help from their friends; the deadline to save Rukia from execution quickly approaching.
Fafner: Complete Collection is the latest boxed series set where teenagers are pressured to save the Earth from the forces of evil by means of advanced technological weapons that only they can pilot. We liked the series as it came out and seeing the entire show in one glorious sitting might prove to tax even the most dedicated otaku but Kazuki and his fellow pilots are determined to stop any foe out to get them as they unleash the powers of nature residing within them.
Heat Guy J: Complete Collection was one of our favorites years ago as the volumes came out so it makes sense that the entire eight discs together in two shiny boxes would be a lot of fun to handle. The futuristic city of Judoh finds itself protected from harm by two very special cops, human Daisuke Aurora and his android partner J as they fight the mod, hidden conspiracies, and a horde of double dealing foes ramped up with unique abilities all their own as the team seeks to figure out exactly what is going on at the top of the city bureaucracy. As old as this may be, the levels of fun were exceptional for this fan as Dice and J topple the enemies so willing to harm the status quo in favor of a power grab.
The sheer volume of series that were sent to us threatened to overwhelm our reviewers but Stellvia: Complete Series managed to show the high school in space idea a bit differently as Shima Katase makes it in and shows the world what a little determination and a lot of hard work can do as she prepares to take on a challenge to save Earth from a disastrous energy pulse emitted from twenty light years away. Much like a version of the director’s previous efforts in Shingu, this one showed the personal side of teenage life while Shima and her friends readied their efforts to stop the menace and life happily ever after.
Tide Line Blue v2 gave us another futuristic version of Earth where a manmade cataclysm wiped out the majority of people and flooded the land masses of the planet. The survivors are only now reaching the point where they are forming secure alliances in an effort to restore stability throughout the globe, a plan resisted by Captain Gould; a man heading up the most powerful submarine left on Earth as he sails the seven seas in search of his goal. Along the way, a young troublemaker by the name of Keel tries to use his wits to keep himself and his girlfriend alive, resulting in a series of mishaps that strand him with a woman he’d rather be choking. Will they find their way back to the safety of the submarine or will they be stranded too becomes the question of the day.
Desert Punk: Complete Series showed an even harsher Earth that has all but dried up as our rascally anti-hero schemes and plots to win a life of luxury from those who would deny him his due. Complete with a series of pictures to illustrate the stunning visuals, our review showed the survival of the fittest dynamic to the max as Kanta Mizuno showed that even a punk could win out of properly equipped in the grueling Kanto Desert. His enemies attempt to take him down and they appear to succeed for awhile but Kanta is as ruthless as they come and always in search of the hotties so his motivations allow him to make it where others fail.
The Wings of Rean V3 concludes the short visit to the hallows of Byston Wells as Aesap Suzuki winds up fighting for people he doesn’t even know exist when a dimensional portal swallows him and some local military forces to bring back to a distant land. This time, the forces of evil are intent on conquering Japan and only our hero is properly equipped to show them that might does not make right. With tragedy and losses all around him, his only chance to save the day might rely on a trip to the past with Lord Sakomizu as they see the generations of destruction inflicted on the people of Japan.
Kashimashi: Girl Meets Girl V2 is another story about gender bending aliens that intervene when an accident nearly claims the life of a young teenager. Forced to rely on a blueprint of the female, Hazumu finds his life changed in ways that hurt to think about as he becomes a female by their choice. This sets in motion a series of events placing him firmly in a love triangle with two of his best friends, each finding him irresistible now that he isn’t a he any longer.
Iria: Zeram The Animation Collection was a re-release of a popular six episode OVA where a futuristic bounty hunter battles an indestructible biological weapon engineered by corporate big shots in search of a means to take over the galaxy. If you haven’t seen this one, you should know that all six episodes and a full disc of extras were provided to make the three disc extravaganza as appealing as possible. Saving lives while fighting evil is all part of the job to Iria as she and Bob find themselves embroiled in a mess they tried to stop in time but to no avail. The classic anime has long been a favorite on both sides of the Pacific Ocean so check this one out of you get the chance.
Ayakashi: Samurai Horror Tales was also in this week’s screener pile with two completely distinctive tales of horror and gruesome action as Japan’s rich cultural heritage is mined fro classics that would frighten Steven King and Edgar Allen Poe out of their shorts. In one tale, a forgotten goddess falls in love with a human that reciprocates her affections; resulting in a dreaded finale for both of them while the other shows what happens to samurai that dispose of their wives a bit too soon as she haunts him to horrific measure while enacting her bloody revenge.
One of those rare anime shows that is based on a series of novels rather than a manga serial Shonen Onmyouji is a fun and engaging story of a young man who is trying to live up to his grandfather's expectations while also fighting demons. It has a good story, some interesting characters, a solid mystery and enough action and comedy to make sure that it doesn't grow dull. An all around fun show, Shonen Onmyouji gets a strong recommendation.
Like many otaku, the thing that got me interesting in anime was the giant robots. Robotech is still a favorite of mine, the various Gundam hold a special place in my heart, and I get a lump in my throat every time I think about how amazing Neon Genesis is (well, except for the last two episodes...) Over the last few years however, the genre has grown tired and stale. It seems like every series is just like the previous one with young kids battling monsters to no real end. Shows like Divergence Eve and Gravion have worn me down so when I hear that a new mecha series is coming out I no longer get excited. One show that puts a lot of the fun back into giant robots however is Godannar. The series was previously released over seven volumes and now the series has been collected in thinpack and is available at a bargain price when compared to the original releases. While the extras have been stripped off, this is still a great way to watch this solid series.
After all of the volumes of Laws of Ueki that were reviewed in the last column, you would have thought that reviewer John Sinnott was tired of the series. Nope, not quite. This week he has a review of volume eight in which the second round of competition gets underway. There are twenty seven power users still standing and they've banded together into teams. The next round is a group battle with teams fighting teams. The action gets faster and the powers a bit more bizarre and creative as people start cooperating and finding different ways to combine their abilities. This is another fun volume.
Eerie, scary, dark, and grim; When They Cry Volume 2 is all that and more. This disc wraps up the second story line in a particularly shocking way and starts on the next tale that may end up being even more disturbing. One of the better anime shows to be released in 2007; the second volume has all of the intensity of the first, if not more. This is a show that has been slipping under a lot of people's radar, and that's too bad because it's awfully good.
One girl. One tank. No problem. That's the tag for the first volume of The Third: The Girl with the Blue Eye and that's a pretty good description of the show. It's a series that has a fair amount of action but one that doesn't take itself too seriously. Surprisingly entertaining, the show centers on Honoka, girl-for-hire in a post apocalyptic world. She's an excellent swordsman and can handle herself in a fight, but in case she can't she has a sentient tank as backup. This is one of those shows that are hard not to like. It has a sentient giant tank, a girl who can kick ass, a post apocalyptic setting, and mysterious seemingly all-powerful aliens. Oh yeah, and there's a mecha suit that the heroine wears too. The program has a good sense of humor, plenty of action, and just enough mystery to make viewers pine for the next volume. Make sure you check this one out.
Bandai has just started to release a new anime series, My-Zhime - My-Otome. This is a show that may confuse some people at first. It is a sequel to My-Hime, except that it isn't. It uses many of the same characters as My-Hime and has the same background except that the personalities have changed and this doesn't continue the same story. It's sort of like an alternate version of the My-Hime world with its own unique tale to tell. While the personality alterations and differences may throw off some fans of the earlier series, My-Zhime is an energetic series with a lot of fun and excitement to it.
Over the course of two and a half years Geneon released all 76 episodes of Fighting Spirit (Hajime no Ippo in Japanese) in 15 volumes. It was a great series, adapted from a manga of the same name, and one that didn't get nearly the fan reaction that it should have. When the TV series ended it was in a nice place but there was more of the story to tell so a TV movie was made: Champion Road. This 1½ hour feature plays a lot like an extended TV episode, which isn't a bad thing at all. In it we get to see Ippo defend his title for the first time, and finally try to get up the courage to tell his girl how he feels about her. If you’ve followed the series this far, you won’t want to miss this special.
Boobs and robots go together a little more conveniently than you might imagine. How many shows have come out that prominently featured busty babes and mechanized monsters? Well, whatever you come up with make sure you save room on the list for Gravion. If you appreciate generic characters, predictable plots, gratuitous fan service, and a complete and utter lack of innovation you may get into this series. ADV has just released the first and second season in one boxed set; though the first is arguably the better of the two. Unless you're a diehard robot and boob kind of guy this show merely deserves a light rental if you're bored.
When Hibiki wants to get a teaching job at a very prestigious school run by a feminist he does what any self respecting guy would do; he puts on a dress. I My Me Strawberry Eggs has a peculiar name for sure but its premise is very original even if it is a little "out there" at times. Characters will win you over with their charm and the sense of humor is off the beaten path. There are some awkward bits that involve his love with a younger student but if you can get past that (and the cross-dressing thing) there's plenty of stuff to enjoy here.
Tenchi in Tokyo may not have been as successful as Muyo! or Universe but it certainly stood its own ground. This oddball for the Tenchi franchise reworked everything from the ground up. Tenchi isn't a descendent of Jurai, a new love interest is introduced, and the artwork is decidedly different. If you were a fan of Tenchi before you'll find something to love about this one but it's certainly a far cry from the galactic mayhem found in Universe.
Naruto's fourth uncut volume has recently hit store shelves and fans have something to look forward to. This particular arc of the Naruto saga involves the combat tournament phase of the Chunin Exam. Each of the kids still left in the test take to the ring and fight it out for the opportunity to graduate. The action is intense and a lot of the secondary characters are developed. Unfortunately some of flashbacks and familiar scenes are tossed in throughout each episode and it really bogs down the pacing.
With its second volume The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya solidifies itself as one of the best shows being released today. So many things happen in this volume and every inch of the show is handled with a certain degree of love. It's addictive, charming, well-written, and hilarious from beginning to end. If you have not seen this show then you're definitely missing out. Get off your butt and join the SOS Brigade!
Solty Rei comes to something of a quiet ending with its sixth volume. This series has been a rollercoaster of a ride from the moment it started with so many highs and many lows. Sadly this final installment embodies that. There are essentially two endings; one good and one bad, and two bonus episodes that feature a very weak story. Ultimately I'm left with a positive impression of Solty Rei but there were many frustrating bits during its run that made me question my feelings towards it.
Do you remember El-Hazard? This popular franchise got its start in the 90's and saw many renditions throughout the years. Geneon has been revisiting their catalog titles recently and fortunately El-Hazard's OVA is one of the latest releases. The first volume features four episodes and introduces the characters, world, and style that made up El-Hazard. Check it out if you want a classic blast from the past.
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by Todd Douglass
Beck is one of the biggest things to happen to anime since Cowboy Bebop. Few shows these days are as talked about as Beck and to be honest you can't go pass an anime crowd without hearing about it. Whether it's on a forum or in person at a convention this is a series that has captured the interest of otaku everywhere. From my own personal experiences at this year's Anime Boston when FUNimation previewed the show the entire room erupted with ear-shattering applause and cheers. That attention, adoration, and praise was well-deserved.
Originally published in manga form about seven years ago, Beck was created by Harold Sakuishi. The animated version was released in 2004 and features 26 episodes to fall in love with. It really is a shame that it took three years for us to see the show here in the States but the wait was worth it in my opinion.
When it comes right down to it Beck is successful on so many levels because it's unique. This is one of those rare shows that bring absolutely no clichés to the table and really it feels like it's in a realm all its own. Everything is inspired from the ground up with a heartfelt story, realistic characters, and an amazing sense of style. An expertly crafted labor of love is the best way to describe this series and it's something that every anime fan must watch. This is required viewing because, quite frankly, it's one of the best anime experiences to come along in ages.
The show begins simply enough and introduces a young boy (Tanaka Yukio, age 14) on the cusp of outgrowing his childhood. Known to his friends as Koyuki, Tanaka is a quiet lad who enjoys music, goes to school, likes girls, and largely feels misunderstood by those around him. Chances are very good that we were all like Koyuki at some point in our adolescence because there's always that awkward phase around that age.
By chance one day Koyuki is spotted by Izumi, a female friend who has a tendency to make him blush. The two are brought back together after a couple of years apart and their friendship is rekindled like it was never broken. They go out bowling and for drinks/eats with a group of friends but in one particular location Koyuki spots someone he had just met shortly before. It was when he was walking home from the arcade with one of his other friends. He spotted a funny looking dog being chased by some boys and he stepped in to help the pooch out. He got bit for his efforts but the dog's owner, a 16 year old boy named Ryusuke, showed his appreciation for helping Beck (the dog) out.
Despite his young age it turns out that Ryusuke has actually spent plenty of time in America, speaks English very well, and was part of the band Dying Breed with Eddie Lee. Due to all of this, and his kind treatment after Beck bit him, Koyuki begins to idolize Ryusuke. The two become friends and along with Izumi, Koyuki goes to his first Live Club to watch a battle of the bands style concert.
Things don't turn out so well for Ryusuke's band and he actually splits with his partner in music Eiji. The two vowed to outdo the other by creating the ultimate band and thus Ryusuke begins his quest. He finds a bassist but is told he won't join unless Ryusuke's band has a good lead singer. Through this volume we see Ryusuke explore his options and eventually he goes for an eccentric guy named Chika who is hot-tempered and a little crass. During all of this Koyuki remains the central character and goes through many stages of development.
His appreciation for Ryusuke's music continues to grow and he even gets lightly involved with his friend's sister, Maho-chan. Things are going great for Koyuki and Ryusuke even gifts him one of his most prized possessions, a guitar given to him by Eddie. Through a series of events Koyuki winds up being careless with the instrument and his relationship with Ryusuke hits a sour note. He's told to never come around again and begins to wallow in self pity. When his swimming instructor discovers the broken guitar he promises to get it fixed and help Koyuki learn to play.
It's this journey of self-discovery that really propels Beck into another league as far as anime is concerned. Koyuki's character has so many levels and the writing is so tight that you can't help but feel what the kid is going through. This first volume is a rollercoaster of emotion and the five episodes offer a lot of subtleties to pick through. Sure the pacing was on the slower side and more development in the story would have been appreciated but as it stands I think this approach was appropriate. It gives time for things to sink in and offers you the opportunity to appreciate the little things.
Beck's second volume can't come quickly enough in my opinion. If the four episodes contained within that installment are anywhere near as good as these were then we're in for a real treat. I could go on about this volume all day to be quite honest but I want to leave something to be discovered for those of you interested in watching it. Let's just say that if you love anime, have an appreciation for music, and desire a great story with rich characters you have no further to look than Beck.
Beck is presented on DVD with a 1.33:1 full frame aspect ratio. Considering the show was produced in 2004 that's not very surprising considering anamorphic widescreen didn't become the norm until 2006. Stylishly speaking Beck isn't an animated powerhouse. The artwork, design, and world are functional and detailed but not to excess. This is especially true during singing sequences because the lips in no way match up with the lyrics but that's a very minor complaint in the grand scheme of things.
As far as the technical quality of this release is concerned the transfer here is decent but not stellar. The opening sequence fairs the worst with ghastly aliasing and jaunted animation. The actual show looks better by far but there are still many scenes that include gradient blocking, compression, and grain. I appreciate FUNimation's zeal with providing five episodes on the first volume but I would have preferred four episodes and more attention paid to the video.
Beck's audio comes with English and Japanese 2.0 tracks as well as an English 5.1 selection. Due to the inclusion of a lot of singing and musical selections the issue of dubbing is a make or break deal for a show like Beck. The original Japanese dub is fantastic with great emotion and natural voices. The English language offering is adequate and gets the job done but feels a little contrived at times. Each track here sounds like you'd expect they would. The 2.0 stereo tracks are relatively flat and the 5.1 features much more diversity on the soundstage. The rear channels pick up sound effects and music thanks to this being a dialogue driven series. Overall there were no flaws where the sound was concerned.
Speaking of the music in Beck I have to say I was blown away. Not since Cowboy Bebop has a series implemented music in such an impressive and important way. The opening track "Hit in the USA" by Beat Crusaders really gets the blood pumping and "Moon on the Water" is a heartfelt little ballad. The grunge music in between isn't really my cup of tea but there are many outstanding tracks available in this first volume alone. Once FUNimation completes this release I hope they can release a soundtrack here in the States.
This review is for Beck's Limited Edition release. The extra money you put down gets you a sheet of Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad stickers and a kick ass collectible box. This package is inspired to put it simply. Designed to look like an amp the box is heavy weight, attractive, unique, and so sturdy you could almost stand on it. If you like showing off your collection in fun ways it's definitely worth putting forth the additional money for Beck's LE.
As far as the special features on the first volume of Beck are concerned there are, once again, some unique inclusions. For starters there is a guitar pick attached to the inside of the DVD case with rubber cement. During Anime Boston, FUNimation had a conference where they announced that each volume will contain a pick. Hopefully they'll hold true and continue this trend.
Textless animations and trailers make their way onto this disc but so do a couple of fun items. There is a music video for "A Life on the Road" and Audio Commentary. The commentary track presented here is very similar to others that you'll find scattered throughout anime releases. Christopher Bevins and Taliesin Jaffe do their best to keep things interesting and light at the same time but it tends to get a little silly after a while. They do go into some detail about crafting an English dub from a show with Japanese music which is kind of interesting.
Beck is one of the best shows that I have seen in a very long time. Everything about this series from the ground up is engaging and feels inspired. From the very first frame to the last I was glued to my television, humming along with the songs, and constantly wondering what was going to happen next. I have seen a lot of anime in my day but few have grabbed me like Beck's first volume did. This show is something special; a gift from the gods if you will, and it deserves a place in any otaku's anime collection.
The Limited Edition packaging is quirky, unique, and attractive. The video quality on the disc suffers a bit but it maintains a seedy atmosphere which actually works for the series so it's easily acceptable. Highly Recommended
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January 2015 Edition
2013 Q4 Top Anime Titles from RightStuf.com, Part 1
Crunchy Roll, Lupin, and Bunny Drop