Bleach, Ghost in the Shell, DBZ
a semi-weekly column by Todd Douglass, Don Houston, John Sinnott, and Wen-Tsai
The holidays are upon and as is the case with anything there seems to be a rush to package and ship out titles to accompany the shopping season. With the recent Deep Discount Sale, Rightstuf's 35% off sale, and the various deals scattered around the internet I'm sure your wallets are crying out in agony. Well, my wallet is balling at the very least. Thankfully WTK has eased the burden as much as humanly possible!
So many shows, so little time! If you're wondering what else to spend money on or what series are worth your time then you've come to the right place! This week we look at Ghost in the Shell's complete second season along with Bleach, Dragon Ball Z Blu-ray, Venus Versus Virus, and several others. This is a fun time of year and with the snow fast approaching there's nothing better than planning time inside with a mug of hot cocoa and your favorite anime!
The anime company Tatsunko Productions (Speed Racer, Gatchaman) has been around for 40 years, and to mark this feat they decided to do something special: create a six-part OVA series that showcases just what they are capable of. The result is Karas, a present day tale of demons and demon hunters with some pretty decent 3D and 2D animation. The only problem is that here in the US, the release was broken up into two parts, with the first three OVA episodes being released as Karas: The Prophecy back in the early part of 2006. Now, a year and a half later, we finally get the conclusion of the story in Karas: The Revelation. While this second part actually plays out better than the first, many fans may find that they've forgotten the show and aren't that interested any more.
With the manga series having been published in Japan since 1994, and the anime broadcast on TV since 1996, Case Closed (or Detective Conan as it's known in most of the world), is an incredibly popular series. Each year at the beginning of May, a new theatrical movie based on the series is released, and they've all done rather well at the box office. Funimation has released the second movie in region one, The Fourteenth Target. While the film starts off with a good mystery and some interesting background information, it soon gets dull. Filled with various people relating their life stories, the pace is slow and really drags in parts. Unfortunately the exciting end isn't enough to make up for the rather slow show.
With only a few more volumes to go in this popular series, Eureka Seven #10: Collector’s Edition showed Renton and Eureka on center stage as the entire crew prepares a desperate gambit to push them past the Great Wall despite the efforts of the federation forces pursuing them. Along the way, Master Orb is reunited with a lost love and all sorts of secrets come spilling out about exactly what needs to happen to prevent the ultimate tragedy from consuming the entire world. The team pinned down by hostile gunfire on one side and the chaos of the latest Scrub Coral onslaught on the other, all looks hopeless as even Holland pits his wits against Anemone; sparking a deadly game of cat & mouse in the sky above.
In the final volume of the series, Tide-Line Blue #4: Nuclear Strike shows the New UN forces once again on the verge of trapping Captain Gould and the crew of the Ulysses but this time the stakes are much higher. The secret map detailing the new landscape of Earth is on the table and there are some that would do anything to stop its spread to the masses; prompting the captain to prepare his ultimate deterrent; a nuclear strike against the populated areas comprising the major players of the UN. Keel watches helplessly as his brother tries to dissuade the insane course of the war; knowing full well the consequenses of failure in this closer for a mediocre series.
Ladies and gentlemen, dark days are upon us. The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya is no more thanks to the release of the final volume. This amazing show came out of nowhere and otaku got caught up in a fervent storm of hype and praise. It's fun, irreverent, charming, witty, and hilarious the entire way through and it never once skipped a beat. Thankfully the last volume sends the series off with a bang though if you're familiar with Bandai's presentation of the show then you already know the episodes were never in order anyway. That doesn't matter at all; this show is simply one of the most endearing titles on the market today and tops my list of favorite anime of all time.
The fourth volume of Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad has hit stores and the show continues to be subtly compelling. The subdued atmosphere and slower pace wouldn't work with any other series but thanks to the writing and emotion present in Beck it absolutely shines. This time around Koyuki lays his eyes on a sweet little guitar that he wants, we learn a little about Lucille's history, and more relationship confusion is dropped on our laps. Watching this anime continues to be one of those things that I treasure most. It's such a well-executed series with a lot of heart and it transcends genres to create something completely fresh.
Venus Versus Virus is a new series being released by ADV though it doesn't have a lot of original content. The plot is relatively weak and features monsters called Viruses who are running around terrorizing people. Their goal is unknown but a group of Virus hunters is around, appropriately equipped to stop them. The first volume introduces an intriguing pair of characters but their chemistry and development fell short thanks to some uninspired storytelling. We'll see if the second volume irons out the rough patches but for the time being this one is merely a rental.
We all know that Bandai Visual has been working on cornering the anime market where Blu-ray is concerned. Their releases have been highly sought after yet very, very expensive for what you get as a product. Thankfully FUNimation has entered the high definition battle with their release of a Dragon Ball Z double feature of both Broly movies. Hopefully they'll continue to visit the rest of this franchise and others because the efforts they put forth to sprucing up the dated films was exemplary. If you're a DBZ fan and you support Blu-ray you'll definitely want to pick this release up!
And finally, what discussion about anime would be complete without Major Kusanagi? Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex – 2nd GIG has just received a seven disc complete collection. This series catalogs Section 9's battle against the Individual Eleven and a changing world full of societal and political issues. Few shows capture the scope and quality that Ghost in the Shell does and the 2nd GIG is a triumph. If you haven't watched Stand Alone Complex then you're missing out on one of the greatest shows of the modern era!
by John Sinnott
One of the most popular manga series, both in the US and Japan, is Bleach. The on-going comic has sold over 40 million copies (of the reprint volumes) in Japan alone. Here in the US, Viz has released over 20 volumes of the translated manga. The animated series has been making its way to DVD also, with individual volumes selling well. (For a more detailed look at the series, check out Don Houston's reviews of the individual releases here.) Now Viz has collected the first five discs in one nice package. Fans of supernatural anime are sure to gobble this up.
Ichigo Kurosaki is not your average kid. Sure, he goes to high
school like other kids his age, and he helps his father out at the medical
clinic that his family runs, but Ichigo can do something most people can't:
He can see ghosts. It isn't scary or freaky; it's just something
that he's learned to live with.
One day he spots a girl, Rukia Kuchiki, that he assumes is a ghost, but she isn't. She's a 'Soul Reaper', someone who helps dead people pass on to the other side. In addition to that, Soul Reapers fight Hollows, spirits that weren't been able to pass on and have subsequently turned into monsters who feed on people's souls.
While talking to Ichigo, Rukia is attacked by a Hollow and wounded badly. Knowing that Ichigo won't stand a chance against the evil monster, she transfers some of her power to the young man. At least that's what she tries to do. For some reason he absorbs all of her power. With his new-found abilities he's able to easily defeat the Hollow, but afterwards he's not able to give Rukia her powers back.
The next day at school, Ichigo is astounded to discover that the new transfer student is none other than Rukia. Without her Soul Reaper powers, she can't travel back to the Soul Society and is force to put her essence in a gigai, an artificial body. Living in the closet in Ichigo's bedroom, Rukia forces Ichigo to take over her job, fighting Hollows and defending humanity. The lad is a little hesitant at first, but Rukia can be quite persistant.
This first set of 20 episodes covers the first story arc which pretty much sets up the show for what's to come. We're introduced to the supporting characters, many of who will play important parts in the series. Orihime Inoue is a female classmate of Ichigo's who is an orphan. She was living with her brother until he died not too long ago. Unfortunately he wasn't able to pass over and comes back as a Hollow, which changes Orihime's life once again. Another friend of Ichigo's is Chad, a tall muscular student who looks intimidating but is meek and mild in temperament. Ichigo also goes to school with Ury? Ishida, a quiet studious person who is hiding a big secret. There's also Kon, a modified soul who inhabits Ichigo's body when he's in Soul Reaper form, and when he isn't lives in a stuffed Teddy Bear.
In this first story arc Ichigo fights a lot of Hollows, and viewers learn about his past, and are introduced to the supporting characters. The series starts off a little... well not slow, but unexciting. The early shows play out like a monster-of-the-week program, with Ichigo helping out one of his classmates and learning about their past. Just when I was about to write it off as an entertaining yet average show, things started coming together. The stories started building on what had happened earlier and they fleshed out the characters in a nice way. The pace quickens during the last 1/3 of these episodes and there are some unexpected twists and turns that makes the show very engaging. Things come to a head at the end of this set, but they aren't resolved... we'll have to wait for the next installment for that.
These first five volumes of the series, containing 20 episodes, come in a nice 'book' style case with a page for each DVD. The book itself is housed in an attractive slipcase. Inside the front cover is a pocket that contains a nice mini-poster. One side has an image of Ichigo while the other is covered with conceptual art.
The set comes with the original Japanese audio track as well as an English dub, both in stereo. I alternated between the two every episode for the first couple of discs, and finally settled on the Japanese track which was just a tad more natural sounding. The English actors did a good job, and managed to breathe live into the animated characters. While the show would have been enhanced by a multi-track audio option (especially during the fight with the Menos Grande), the stereo audio was fine. There was a little use made of the soundstage, though not as much as I was expecting.
There are optional English subtitles, though they don't translate signs or written text, which was a bit irritating at times.
This show is presented with a full frame image, which looks pretty good. The colors are nice and strong and the blacks are solid. There was a little banding in some scenes, but aliasing was largely absent, as were other video defects.
Each of these five discs comes with a series of production sketches and a clean opening or closing. The final DVD also has a featurette, Behind the Scenes of Bleach. This 19½-minute show has interviews with the English voice cast, who talk about their characters and the recording process. It was a nice look at the dubbing process.
This is a really fun show. Though it started off like an average anime series, in the later part of this set the program started bringing together some dangling story lines in a satisfactory manner. The show picks up speed as one of the main characters becomes endangered and the some unexpected things happen that makes the show much more interesting that I thought it would be at first. A solid show that deserves a lot of its hype. Highly Recommended.
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