Blood+, Shuffle, and One Piece.
a semi-weekly column by Todd Douglass, Don Houston, John Sinnott, and Wen-Tsai
Ok, so here's the deal. It was kind of a slow week for us last time around so we decided to post-pone the AT column until we had a lot to talk about. That brewing time allowed many things to cultivate and thankfully there's plenty of stuff on the docket.
Before we get started with this column's pile of reviews and such I thought I'd take a second and bring you up to speed on the ADV thing we talked about a while ago. It would seem that their differences in licensing have been somewhat resolved and their releases are hitting stores, albeit a tad late. I suppose better late than never all things considered but there are a few notable exemptions from that announcement. We have yet to hear about Devil May Cry and Gurren Lagann which were two of their higher profile forthcoming acquisitions. I guess we'll see what the future holds but for the time being at least it's nice to know that the sky isn't falling...yet.
Back to the matter at hand this Anime Talk column we have several previews of some fantastic new shows that have hit the market. Blood+ for instance stands out foremost though our first taste of xxxHolic and FUNimation's One Piece are not far behind. Continuing series such as Naruto and Mushi-Shi as well as re-releases of Fullmetal Alchemist and Dragon Ball Z are eating up most of our time. While the market is thinning somewhat compared to where it was a few years ago there are still plenty of great titles available. As always you can also find what you're looking for on the cheap thanks to our buddy WTK!
FUNimation starts off a new anime series this month with the first volume of Shuffle. This is a romantic comedy harem series that uses all the usual trappings of the genre and adds a bit of a twist. In this show mind-mannered Rin just wants to get through high school but he has a problem: the princess of the gods and the princess of the demons both want to marry him...and they both live next door. Despite being based on a video game, this is a funny and entertaining show, this is sure to please fans of Love, Hina and Happy Lesson.
With volume six of Mushi-Shi the tale of traveling Mushi Master Ginko comes to a close. This show, while being low keyed and sedate, is actually one of the more interesting shows to be released of late. It paints an interesting world that is very much like ours, but with an added sense of mystery and wonder. It's a story driven show, but the tight story telling and unique plots make it a joy to watch.
One of the most popular anime series in the world is Akira Toriyama's Dragon Ball (and the follow-up Dragon Ball Z.) Unless you've been living under a rock for the last couple of decades or so you've probably encountered the story of Son-Goku and his friends and they search for mystical Dragon Balls, fight evil, and have all sorts of galaxy-spanning adventures. FUNimation has now released three of the Dragon Ball movies (Sleeping Princess in Devil's Castle, Mystical Adventure, and The Path to Power) in uncut form in a nice boxed set. These movies are a lot of fun, especially for fans of the show. While they basically retell (with some significant differences) earlier stories from the Dragon Ball series, they are filled with such humor and excitement that it's hard not to like them.
With the third volume of Super Robot Wars, the story really starts to get underway. Why Date was so desperately needed as a pilot is revealed as well as just who and what he'll be fighting. With more than a little bit of political intrigue and a good dose of action, this series is really starting to pick up the pace and is more interesting than its video game origins would lead one to believe. It's just too bad that Bandai Visual is pricing these discs so exorbitantly high. With only three episodes on the disc and no extras what so ever, $50 MSRP is just too much to ask.
Fullmetal Alchemist: Season 2, Part 1 brought a number of changes to the series as the Elric Brothers fought the military as much as the Homunculus and Scar; winding up on the verge of finding out the truth about the Ishbal revolt and the precious stone they sought. The series dynamic continued to present the idea that nothing comes for free and everything confronting them had no choice but to follow the universal doctrine of alchemy as much as they consciously did. With one more volume left to tie up the series (review coming soon), all roads lead to treachery at every turn which causes Ed and Alphonse to need to be especially aware of all that is going on around them.
Glass Fleet V2 and Glass Fleet V3 then came in with substantial changes to the series as Cleo and the People’s Army start out building massive alliances with powerful players in the bigger scheme of things but losing out to the selfish interests of a few well placed individuals. We have seen all of this before in a number of series over the years but there was enough various as secrets are unveiled and the pieces come into place to propel the fight to new heights. Vetti has a scheme to restore something from the past and endanger the order of life itself so the fact remains that Cleo has to fight his way out of a sticky situation without the benefit of his magnificent battleship, free his crew, and revitalize what remains of the resistance before all is lost.
FUNimation landed a one-two combination on Dragon Ball Z fans recently. Not only did the fourth uncut season of the show come out but an uncut double feature of films hit DVD as well. The History of Trunks and Bardock the Father of Goku were great additions to the series and stand as some fine special episodes. In particular History of Trunks has a lot to do with the fourth season as the Androids make an appearance to cause all kinds of grief. Whether you're looking at the fourth season of the show or the two-pack of special episodes there's a lot of Dragon Ball to love here.
VIZ's Naruto series is arguably one of the most popular franchises ever to hit anime (or manga for that matter). The sixth installment for the show turned out to be one of the best as the Hidden Leaf Village found itself under siege by Orochimaru and his cohorts. So much happens during this installment that it's hard to talk about here without giving much away. I will say that no matter what your personal tastes you definitely need to give this show a shot. Sure it may appeal mostly to kids but there are so many layers of depth working for the show older viewers will appreciate it as well.
One of FUNimation's biggest announcements from the past year is that they're going to be taking over the One Piece franchise. VIZ didn't handle the series properly (unlike with Naruto thankfully) and due to that the sales were pretty abysmal. Hopefully with FUNimation behind the helm and uncut, original content being all the rave we'll see the show for what it truly is. That being said the first chance for FUNimation's license is the eighth movie which follows the Alabasta story arc. The only problem with this release is that you basically must be a fan of the series and already know the Alabasta story in order to appreciate what's going on.
Another big acquisition for FUNimation is the xxxHolic franchise from the CLAMP universe. Tsubasa has been something of a success for them and hopefully xxxHolic will be as well. A double feature has been released with a movie from each of those programs and I have to say that xxxHolic's outshines Tsubasa's. The two stories are loosely intertwined as CLAMP fans might expect but the xxxHolic tale offers more background and serves as an introduction to the series. Here's looking forward to the release of the first volume in the coming months.
Re-releases are a popular thing these days and though it hasn't received the Viridian treatment quite yet, Peach Girl is a show that shojo lovers must check out. It's essentially a high school romance with some comedy thrown in for good measure. Fun characters and decent writing maintain a certain level of quality that usually doesn't find its way into the genre. It doesn't necessarily do anything new but what it does it handles very well.
by Todd Douglass
Everyone loves a good vampire story, right? I mean, with regards to anime Trinity Blood, Blood: the Last Vampire, Hellsing, and Moon Phase are some pretty popular series. 2005's Blood+ joins their illustrious ranks though with backing by Production I.G. and Aniplex it's fair to say that it has the potential to stand out amongst the crowd.
If you're familiar with Production I.G. then you'll know that they were put on the map thanks to their work with Ghost in the Shell. Aniplex has worked on numerous titles as well though in relation to Blood+ they had their hand in the making of Blood: the Last Vampire which actually inspired this series. To further the ties between all three projects is Junichi Fujisaku who was a writer for Ghost in the Shell and co-developer for Last Vampire. As you're coming into Blood+ it's safe to say that if you have an affinity for the two aforementioned titles you'll instantly feel a pull towards this new one.
Owned by Sony, Blood+ is receiving a somewhat interesting method of release which is significantly different than the rest of the anime market does. Rather than sending individual volumes to stores and then releasing a boxed set sometime down the road Sony has done both out of the gate. Not only can you walk into a shop and buy volume one today but if you're so inclined you could pick up the complete series just as easily. Sure you're going to pay for the boxed set but it's awesome to have that option if you want to experience the whole show at once rather than dispersed over months as the single discs come out. With that being said this review is only for the first volume (though fellow Anime Talk member John Sinnott will be reviewing the complete collection soon enough).
With five episodes on the first disc, the opening volume of Blood+ gives us a decent look into the series. If you watched Blood: the Last Vampire then you'll almost instantly recognize the character of Saya. She's an amnesiac school girl with short hair and a penchant for feeling déjà vu over things from her previous life. Her life seems to be relatively normal as she goes to classes, hangs out with friends, and lives with a seemingly loving adoptive family. The blissfulness doesn't last long and eventually a bloody curtain is drawn to unveil her true nature.
When vampiric beasts known as chiroptera appear Saya is sprung into action with a katana in hand and expression of bloodlust upon her face. It's a bloody duel that can end in only one way; Saya standing victoriously. At the beginning she doesn't completely understand things because it would appear that she was in hibernation for quite some time. She bears dual personalities and they seem to be at war with each other at first. One wants nothing more than to return to her "normal" life while the other desires to fight and rid the world of the chiroptera. Throw in a little bit of a military element and you have a plot lining the backburner that makes things very interesting early on.
As Saya's life is turned upside down what she knows as her family begins to crumble around her thanks to the darkness of the world. She's forced to choose between not only life and death but also loyalty and duty. Unable to escape her past it's fascinating to watch as she's brought back into the fold, or rather the fold drags her back in. It's a world filled with chiroptera, chevalier, queens, a military organization known as Red Shield, and ancient mysteries. In between all of that is a girl that stands on the cusp of learning her true history and trying to cling onto her fading regular life.
If you like shows that take time to brew then Blood+ is definitely one to check out. It's surreal, somewhat somber, and insane with action all at the same time. It's safe to say that the Blood franchise has been fully realized and the background for the show goes well beyond anything I could have imagined. Fans of series like Ghost in the Shell, Witch Hunter Robin, and the original Blood: The Last Vampire movie absolutely must watch this show. The supernatural spin is fantastic and the character development goes above and beyond. If you have the finances I'd say definitely pick up the complete series right now but if you're on a budget the individual volumes are worth every penny.
Ironically enough, even though Blood+ is a recent show with some high production values it is presented with a 1.33:1 full frame aspect ratio. Where is the anamorphic widescreen that this series called for? I have to say that I'm disappointed but when it comes to this program I suppose beggars can't be choosey.
Thankfully the video quality showcases all of the quality that I was hoping to see. The picture is brilliant and clean the entire way through with no compression artifacts whatsoever. There is some grain that appears here and there but those feel like moments that were designed that way for a reason. The contrast for this series is quite nice with a dynamic use of color and you'll notice that red dominates everything else once the blood starts to flow. Overall this is a gorgeous looking series with some fantastic designs that lend themselves well to the look of the show.
In some ways the audio for Blood+ also turns out to be kind of disappointing. A 2.0 stereo presentation for both English and Japanese languages does not offer the sense of immersion that an action-suspense series like this demands. The quality of what is here is very good thankfully and it's entirely free of flaws. The dubbings for both languages also stands out with the Japanese feeling only slightly more natural by comparison. In both tracks I do have to say that the music is phenomenal and it certainly left an impression.
There are no extra features available for the first volume of Blood+. That's a shame because some comparison to Blood: the Last Vampire would have gone a long way to tying the two projects together.
Blood+ was a series I had been eagerly anticipating for quite some time and I'm happy to report that it didn't let me down in the slightest. The first volume was as good as anyone could have asked for and though the series gets off to a somewhat slow start I have no doubt after watching the quality here that it only gets better. I can't wait for the next installments and find myself very tempted to pick up the series box set that is already available. I rather like being given the option to buy a whole series or only a few episodes at a time. Kudos to Sony for releasing the show in that manner and I hope it's something other publishers take interest in. Highly Recommended
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