Black Cat, xxxHolic, Witchblade
a semi-weekly column by Todd Douglass, Don Houston, John Sinnott, and Wen-Tsai
With a couple of weeks gone by some new stuff came into our office but not as much as a year ago I'm afraid. That's ok though! It gives us all plenty of time to catch up on older series that can most likely be found on the cheap. That's why this week we've introduced Anime Talk Rewind to hopefully open your eyes to shows you may have missed along the way!
Rewind doesn't mean you're missing out on new reviews. Don't worry; the anime world hasn't gotten to that point yet! This week we look at the third season of Slayers, the final volume of Witchblade, the first volume of xxxHolic, and a couple of over-priced Bandai Visual discs. Of course you could always upset the cost by shopping with our buddy WTK.
With the fifth volume of Super Robot Wars the Noah-class battleship Hagwane takes to the stars and battles the Earth Federation's foes in orbit. With some spectacular-looking action sequences and fun mecha designs this is a great show in a lot of ways. There's so much action that it's almost possible to overlook the thin plot that isn't developing as much as it could.
Reviewer John Sinnott here. I was a little nervous when the Boys Be... boxed set arrived. Though I enjoy harem anime, and I like fantasy/romance shows like Fushigi Yugi and The Twelve Kingdoms, I didn't really like Suzuka which was more of a straight boy-meets-girl story. Becasue of that I was a bit hesitant when Boys Be... showed up on my doorstep. A romantic show about three high school boys? I was prepared not to like it, but ended up really being pulled in. This is a show that starts off slow but really grows into its own by the end. This realistic look at high school romance won't be for everybody. There are not wacky comedy scenes (though there is some humor) and the conflict is almost always internal. If you're looking for a heart-felt show that has characters develop and grow however, this would be a great series to pick up. In the end, I was sorry it was only 13 episodes long.
Bandai-Visual's newest series is Haruka: Beyond the Stream of Time. This fantasy series concerns a young girl with special powers who is whisked to an alternate reality (how original!) Once she's there she discovers that she's the only one who can save a kingdom from certain doom. The first volume only contains a pair of episodes (for a $30 MSRP) so it's hard to tell if this show is going to be significantly different (or better) than all of the other 'girl has to save the world' fantasy series. As it is, the show is okay, but not worth the steep cash outlay.
Speaking of dropping a lot of cash, that's what you'll have to do if you want to own Yukikaze on Blu-ray. The three disc collection will set you back nearly $150 (MSRP)! This five episode OVA series is an interesting choice to release in HD too because, while the animation is dynamic and very impressive, the show itself was created in 480p. Still it is a visually interesting show and while the story itself is nothing new the aerial dog-fights between high-tech planes are exciting and fun to watch. Still it will be a hard sell to get Otaku to sell out that kind of money for a 480p upgrade.
Some times it's nice to go back to older shows and see classic series that you may have missed or long forgot. FUNimation's Slayers has been a fun trip down memory lane but it's not one without some bumps. The first season of this show was brilliant and the second followed suit with much the same style. For the third season some things were altered slightly and it didn't quite pop as well as the others did. Even so the funny fantasy tale about a ragtag group of heroes trying to save the world comes recommended. This is a season that will be most enjoyed by viewers who caught the first two and for the low price of admission there's no reason not to!
About a month ago we had the chance to check out the first taste of xxxHolic in the form of a CLAMP double feature. Stemming from the illustrious CLAMP universe, xxxHolic has many ties to Tsubasa and some of their other works. This particular show features a hapless teenager who finds himself constantly dogged by spirits. He wishes nothing more than to rid his life of this power and it's that desire that brings him to Yuko. With mystic powers and shrewd business practices Yuko employs Watanuke and sends him out to do various things for her. Along the way we are introduced to some other people in Watanuke's life and it seems that future volumes will push these characters together. If you're a CLAMP fan then xxxHolic is a no-brain purchase and it's probably one that you've made already.
The final installment of Witchblade has come along and it closes out the series on a relatively appropriate note. If you have been watching this one since the beginning then you probably already have some idea how things end. With that being said Witchblade stays entertaining in a popcorn-munching-T&A-fest kind of way. That's not necessarily a bad thing but it does mean an involved plot and thought-provoking developments are non-existent. Check it out if you're looking for a mindless action-packed series with Western influences.
Wow, talk about a series we forgot! FUNimation has just released the second boxed set for Baki the Grappler which means that this one is comprised of volumes seven through twelve. In my opinion this is the weakest section of the show and all you're going to get this time around is six DVDs of muscular guys beating the crap out of each other. Granted that's what you got from the first six DVDs but at least at that point there was interesting character development. If you absolutely must have your Baki then you'll want to pick this up but if you haven't seen the show then it's probably a rental at best.
by John Sinnott
Funimation originally released Black Cat on six individual volumes from December 2006 through July of 2007. Now, about 9 months later, they've collected the series in a nice boxed set that can be had for significantly less than the original releases. Just what I was waiting for. This show, based on a manga that was printed in Shonen Jump (the Japanese version) has all the trappings you would expect from a 'Jump' title; lots of action, unique and creative powers, and just a touch of comedy. While at first glance the show appears to be a run-of-the-mill good guy loner vs. an evil empire, the program is actually better than that and has some interesting surprises up its sleeve.
The Chronos Corporation is the underground power behind governments and industries. They are the single most powerful organization in the world. To protect themselves, and to further their interests, Chronos has an elite team of assassins known as "The Numbers." No assassin was more feared than or as deadly as Number 13, Train Heartnet, also known as The Black Cat.
Between missions Train encounters a cheerful young girl, Saya Minatsuki. Saya is a sweeper, basically a bounty hunter, but she has a strict rule on never killing a target. Her upbeat out look and infectious good nature led Train to question his job and his duty to Chronos. Eventually he decides to leave the group and be a stray cat, like his name implies, wandering around as best suits him. Needless to say, Chronos doesn't like their elite assassins just leaving.
Train ends up teaming up with a couple of other sweepers, Sven Vollfied, a goofy sort of guy who's always short on money, and Eve, an escaped living weapon. Filled with nano-bots Eve can make her body into anything she desires. The people that created her are out looking for her and won't stop until they have her back.
While that's enough of a plot for most anime, there's an extra layer of trouble on to of all that. Another ex-Chronos assassin, Creed Diskenth, has created a team of super-powered beings. This group, The Apostles of the Stars, is dedicated to destroying Chronos, and thereby sending the world into chaos so they can remake it in their image. Creed is infatuated with Train, and desperately wants him to join the Apostles. In a battle between his hated ex-employers and someone who wants anarchy, where will The Black Cat stand?
There's a lot about this anime that's typical: the uber-powerful fighter traveling the world doing good deeds, the rather odd powers of the heroes and villains, and the message that friends are the most important thing. Inside that framework however the creators manage to do a lot. The battles are fun and exciting and the comedy works well, but the main thing is the constantly twisting plot. There are a lot of unexpected events that take place, some of them pretty shocking. Just when you think that you know where the show is going it takes an unexpected turn and heads off in a new direction. That makes for an enjoyable show. It always keeps the viewer guessing, and that's a good thing.
Having said that, the program does loose sight of the main story at times. There were a few places in the show where I thought they were using too many filler episodes and that the plot wasn't going anywhere. If you watch the whole series, things end up tying themselves together quite nicely.
This six disc set comes in a fold-out book with two overlapping DVDs on each page. The whole thing is housed in a very attractive slipcase that features images of all the main characters on a foil background. There is also a nice 24-page booklet that features character profiles and drawings.
Like many anime releases these days Black Cat comes with the original Japanese audio track, in stereo, as well as a pair of English dubs, in stereo and 5.1. I hate having to decide between a 5.1 track and the original language, and so I watched a few episodes with both. Eventually I settled on the Japanese track, but the dub was well done too. The surround effect on the 5.1 track really came to life during the fight scenes. The room really came alive with sound when Train did his thing. The rest of the time that track wasn't overly impressive, with some incidental music being thrown to the rears but not much else. All of the various audio options had good, clear sound and were free from defects.
The show comes with a nice 1.78:1 anamorphic image. Being a recent show the picture looks really good with tight lines, even colors and solid blacks. There was a bit of posterization in some scenes, most notably the sky, and some minor aliasing in the background. Aside from that the show looked fine.
This is the disappointing part: the only extras are clean opening and closings. I was hoping for a little more, but this seems to be all that was included on the stand alone volumes too.
This was a fun Shonen Jump-type of show. With lots of action and a wide variety of interesting characters, there are few dull moments in the series. While at times it looked like the plot wasn't going anywhere, some unexpected twists kept the show lively. This is a good solid anime series that's worth checking out. Recommended.
Maburaho: Complete Collection is the finally released, barebones set containing all the episodes of the series we described for you in great detail a few years back. The harem show focused on an Earth where magic was commonplace but like money, not evenly distributed; the lead character being Kazuki Shikimori, a student with incredible potential in his genetic background being chased by three beautiful ladies all in need of his seed. Given that he can only use his magic 8 times before dying (compared to the average student at school possessing the power to use it 8000 times), it does not take long before his attempts to save his friends from minor problems leads to his untimely demise yet they still manage to try and revive him for his gifts.
Cross-dressers unit! Princess Princess volume one has come out and it's just about as, um, interesting as you'd imagine. When a young boy gets into a prestigious school he is drafted into an elite group of morale officers known as the Princesses. They are basically a squad of guys that dress up like girls to give all of the other guys something to desire. This is an all-boy's school after all so there are no females lingering around. Princess Princess has its funny moments and the characters are each interesting in their own way but you really need to enjoy the subject matter to appreciate the show.
Goofy ninjas and fanservice apparently go together like peanut butter and chocolate. The hilarious Ninja Nonsense is just as nonsensical as its name implies. The series is about a young girl named Shinobu from a ninja village who befriends another girl known as Kaede from the normal world. Together they go on one insane adventure after another but the real insanity begins once the ninja are brought into the picture. This time around the heat of summer drives them crazy, they go into the mountains to pick some mushrooms and Onsokumaru dies and goes to hell. In just about every frame Ninja Nonsense tickled my funny bone and proved itself to be as irreverent as it was enjoyable.
When you're a smaller publisher you really need to pick and choose your titles. The Right Stuf International has done phenomenally with shows like Ninja Nonsense and Boys Be... Now that Shingu: Secret of the Stellar Wars Complete Collection has been released it's safe to say that's a trend that is still going strong. This entry into the science fiction genre is powerful in just about every way you could imagine. The characters, plot, and concept are so well developed and so packed with personality that you'll fall in love. I can't recommend this series enough!
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