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Columns



Blood the Last Vampire and What a Wonderful World

AnimeTalk

November 2009 Edition

by Todd Douglass, John Sinnott, and Wen-Tsai

Greetings everyone! It's hard to believe it, but Thanksgiving is next week. It truly feels like this year has flown by and the time for each Anime Talk column creeps up on me so fast it's not even funny.

For this column, John and I have dug through some fantastic stuff. Unfortunately there's also some not so great anime as well, but we'll let our reviews speak for themselves. We also have another round of fantastic bargains supplied by everyone's favorite anime shopper WTK. There's also a little tidbit at the bottom supplied to use by the good folks at VIZ. With that being said, let's get this column going before the turkey is done! (or tofurkey for the vegans out there)


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

A blue nosed reindeer, a 139 year old doctor with a bared midriff and navel ring, and a king who can eat anything (even himself). You'll find all these oddball characters and more in One Piece Season Two Voyage Three. The Straw Hats are on the Grand Line and they're getting into just as much trouble as ever. In this set Nami becomes deathly ill they head to the nearest island only to find that the ruler has exiled all of the physicians. That's not going to stop Luffy though. Still going strong, this series is full of wacky fun and excitement.

The first season of School Rumble is one of those fun school/romantic comedies that are really enjoyable. Very reminiscent of Azumanga Daioh, but with a bit more continuity, the show is filled with laughs and engaging characters. FUNimation has released the collection as part of their "Viridian Collection" of reasonably priced season sets. If you haven't picked this series up yet, take our advice and snag a copy quick!

At last it's here. Over a year and a half ago Sony released the first Blood+ set, which John reviewed at the time and really enjoyed. Individual volumes of the series were released after that but the second half of the series was no where to be found. Many otaku, those of us here at Anime Talk included, figured that they weren't ever going to release the final 25 episodes in a collected set, but we were wrong. Blood+ Collection 2 has finally come out, and the wait was worth it. This program about a young girl who is the only one in the world who can kill vampire-like monsters is very good. With multiple story lines going at the same time, first-rate animation, and some exciting plot twists, this is a show all otaku should at least check out.

I first encountered Nana as a manga series (by Ai Yazawa) and fell in love with the story. Apparently I wasn't the only one to be intrigued by this story of two totally different girls with the same first name who are determined to make it in the big city. The manga became an overnight sensation in Japan with the first twelve volumes selling an astounding 22 million copies. An award winning comic, it has inspired women's fashions, dolls, makeup, and even desert cakes. There is a CD of songs inspired by the series and two live action films, and this animated series which is being released in region one by VIZ. This first set collects the first 12 episodes on this fun and charming series.

Honey and Clover started out as an award-winning manga which was made into an anime series and even a live action film. The buzz for the anime show was very positive, so I was looking forward to this slice-of-life romantic comedy. Unfortunately the show didn't live up to my expectations. I had a hard time relating to any of the characters and the situations they found themselves in. Because of that I found the show rather emotionless and dull. This isn't a bad show. A lot of time and effort went into both the story and the animation and I'm sure I would have enjoyed it if I could have related to the characters on some level. Unfortunately I didn't. I found the main character to be whiny and spineless and I couldn't relate to the main love triangle.

Things pick up to a great extent with our next series, Claymore. Adapted from the manga series by written and illustrated by Norihiro Yagi, Claymore is a 26 episode anime show that faithfully translates the dark and intricate story to the small screen. Filled with engrossing characters that populate an intricate world, this series fires on all cylinders through most of its run. It is only at the end where the story dips just a bit, and that's mainly because they stray for the source material there.

The first volume of Ghost Hound made it our way and let me tell you, Production I.G.'s anniversary project is really damn good. Sure it starts out slowly, but the mystery surrounding the tragic life of Tarou grows and grows with each episode. Basically he's a youth who has the ability to step out of his body and visit the spirit world. He's joined by two other kids who have had similarly tragic experiences in their life. This supernatural and psychological show really grabbed my attention. I cannot wait until the next installment!

Sometimes the good shows just don't die. RahXephon is a perfect example of that. This one was under the ADV brand for quite some time and it survived the licensing debacle. Now under the roof of Section 23, RahXephon steps back into the limelight with a solid collection complete with the movie. In case you don't know about this show it's essentially a giant mecha series with some similarities to Evangelion, but make no mistake; this one stands out on its own merit.

One of the latest shows to be released by FUNimation is Blassreiter. This one proved to be one heck of a ride and showed how Gonzo can be when they're on the ball. Blassreiter takes place just a little ways into the future and sees cybernetic zombies wreaking havoc on the public. The recently deceased aren't the only thing to worry about, though, since people who are still alive can actually harness the power now. Cyborgs, transformations, and explosive battles ensue as the first part of this show blasts forward!

Another awesome show that came out recently is The Tower of Druaga: The Aegis of Uruk. A fantasy show firmly nestled within the genre, Tower of Druaga stands out with an incredible amount of personality and charm backing it. The sense of humor in this show combined with solid storytelling and well-developed characters make it an instant success. The second half of this one cannot come quickly enough!

On his thirteenth birthday Masahiro is about to decided the path his life is going to take. Unfortunately for him he does not possess the exorcizing powers his grandfather does, so he's about to pick something mundane. That is, at least, until a fox spirit drops into his lap and helps him to develop powers beyond his imagination. That's the premise backing Shoneon Onmyouji, and it's undoubtedly something you've heard before. This one came out under the Geneon brand, but was resurrected by FUNimation for this boxed set release. Check out the review, but all you really need to know is that it's a solid series that will stick with you for a while.

Dragon Ball Season Two has come out as well and Goku fans have yet another boxed set to add to their collection. This one offers 30 episodes on five DVDs and features the Red Ribbon and General Blue arcs. The real treat about this show is that we typically only think of Z when we're talking about Dragon Ball. Going back to the roots is awesome, nostalgic fun.

And finally, we have Dragonaut: The Resonance, which is another new title released by FUNimation. Unfortunately this one isn't exactly the bee's knees. Dragonaut is a loose story tied together by one-dimensional characters and ridonkulous amounts of cleavage. CGI dragon fights, explosions, and an overload of fan service aren't enough to save it from being dreadfully average. Still, the first part gets better towards the end and it leaves you with the impression that the second half will be more interesting.


WTK's Anime Bargains
Presented by Wen-Tsai King

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    Something Else to Watch

    Blood: The Last Vampire
    by Todd Douglass

    The Movie:

    Every once in a while a popular anime title makes its way to the big screen, but in not in an entirely familiar way. For quite a while anime fans everywhere have been watching live-action renditions of their favorite shows. Much like any type of crossover, these projects are often polarizing and typically not very good. Directors either try too hard to capture the essence of the anime in question, or they simply don't try hard enough. Blood: The Last Vampire is an example of the former.

    Originally, Blood: The Last Vampire was an animated film that was created by famed production house, Production I.G. The animated feature came out in 2000 and made waves among the throngs of otaku that clamored to see what it was all about. It was an instant hit and just a few years ago we saw a continuation of the franchise in the form of the series Blood+. Now, with all of that being said, just because the animated version of the franchise was solid and a success doesn't mean it translates to the live-action version. In Blood: The Last Vampire the plot closely mirrors its animated counterpart to a point. Rather than dissect the differences between the two, I'll just talk about what this live-action version brings to the table.

    The movie takes place in 1970 near an American military base in post WWII Japan. There's a lot of hostility all around, but the fact that the Americans are in the midst of a war with Vietnam helps set the timetable. In the opening scene we see a young Japanese girl named Saya (Gianna Jun) on a subway train, sitting relatively close to a business man reading a paper. He looks noticeably nervous and when the lights go out on the train he makes a break for it like a bat out of hell. Unfortunately for this guy he can't quite get away in time and Saya whips out a katana, slicing him in two. Queue up a secret group of American officers and we are quickly thrust into the world of Saya, the vampire hunter.

    You see, much like Blade, Saya is a hybrid of sorts. She's half-human, half-vampire, and she has vowed revenge against the queen vampire, Onigen, who killed her father more than 400 years ago. These vampires are different than what we typically see. They can mimic humans, walk in daylight, and it takes more than a cross and a stake to kill them. As a hybrid Saya possesses all of their strengths, but it's her human soul which keeps her in check. She has trained for centuries to hunt these creatures, and it's her quest for revenge that landed her in a partnership with an organization known as the Council (think the Watchers from Highlander).

    The Council sets her up with a cover on the American military base to get her into a school there in order to find some vampires that are killing people. While there she bumps into a young American girl named Alice, who is utterly useless as a character in this story. She's the deadweight of the plot and I think she's supposed to humanize Saya by becoming her friend. Unfortunately she winds up contrasting the character and is more of a distracting than anything else.

    Alice sticks with Saya right through to the end and the movie basically just flows one fight after another. There's a lack of solid direction and apart from the set up of the film, which I just told you about, there really isn't much in the way of plot to follow. That's a shame really, the character of Saya is truly interesting and very rich. If the story were more robust then Blood: The Last Vampire would have been immensely more enjoyable. As it stands the film is merely an escapade in violence with terrible special effects and tacky looking CGI blood splatters.

    In the end Blood: The Last Vampire is only mildly entertaining in the sense that fans of the animated film can appreciate it by leaving their brain at the door. The energy level remains the same throughout the film, there's a total lack of suspense, and the plot is paper thin at best. If you just want to see a girl in a Japanese school outfit slice people in half with a katana then you'll be fairly entertained. After all Ronny Yu produced the film, so there are some nice wire kung fu antics. Action only takes a movie so far though, and ultimately I'd say this one is a rental at best.

    The DVD:


    Video:

    Blood: The Last Vampire hits DVD with a letterboxed 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen aspect ratio. The 2009 film looks pretty sharp with some strong visuals, a crisp presentation, and an overall clean image. The resolution isn't quite up to par with the Blu-ray release, as I'm sure you'd already suspect, but the quality is very good for a standard definition DVD. My only beef with the film is that there's simply too much use of filters here. Colors are extremely oversaturated and there is a yellow tint to everything that can be very distracting.

    Audio:

    I have to admit when I saw that the film was presented with English 5.1 Dolby Digital as its only source I thought, "Great, there's no original language track." I can't tell you how surprised I was to find out the film was produced in English! After watching the film it makes sense really, since the majority of the dialogue takes place on an American base and with Americans. Technically speaking Blood: The Last Vampire is fairly decent as well. The presence on the front and rear channels is adequate for the action and there's some nice directionality employed here. Bass is also employed liberally here and there, and many of the fight sequences pack a lot of punch. Optional English and French subtitles are included.

    Extras:

    Aside from some previews for other Sony Picture releases, there are a couple of featurettes to go through.

    First and foremost there is a making of featurette (19:05), which is a nice collection of behind the scenes shots, pre-production clips, and interviews with the cast and crew. There's a nice bit of insight into what went on behind the camera and we even get to see some of the training the cast had to go through. It's not the most in depth featurette of this sort, but it's lengthy and there are a few bits that never made it into the final product. After the making of inclusion there is "Battling Demons: Behind the Stunts Featurette" (16:46). This one includes more behind the scenes material, but with a greater focus on Gianna's training and how some of the fight sequences were brought together. It's a little drier than the other featurette, but there are some interviews to help break up the monotony of watching wire practicing.

    Final Thoughts:

    Blood: The Last Vampire is not a horrible film, but it's not very good one either. The constant focus on fighting takes over the 89 minute runtime and pushes the story aside. Because of that there's really no suspense in the film and very little in terms of development. Saya is a strong character, that much is clear, but everyone else around here seems one-dimensional (Alice takes the award for most useless). The heavy use of CGI blood sprays, bad special effects, and wire antics leave this film feeling more like a cartoon than its animated predecessor. The movie is a guilty pleasure and something fans of the original anime version will find entertaining if they leave their brain and expectations at the door. The best Blood: The Last Vampire can achieve here is a rental recommendation.

    Manga Review:

    What a Wonderful World


    by Todd Douglass

    Viz Media's latest manga release, What a Wonderful World definitely makes its mark and will leave an impression upon you. The two volume series by Inio Asano is a collection of vignettes that are loosely connected to each other in some size, shape, or form. While each tale is decidedly different than the next, there's one common them running through them: Life sucks, but no matter how down you are you need to look at the positives in order to get ahead.

    What a Wonderful World is not necessarily a feel good kind of manga. The characters in each of the series' nineteen stories are going through some very rough times. Generally speaking there's some kind of resolution for the better here, but each tale is laced with metaphors and until you make your way to the conclusion the stories will undoubtedly have a profound effect on you.

    In the first volume, the opening tale, "Quick Like a Bunny", is about a girl named Toga who dropped out of college to be part of a band. She lives a listless existence and is haunted by the mistakes she made that brought her to this point. Rather than own up to them, she hides in her room and doesn't have anything to do with the people she once called friends. A fateful meeting reintroduces her to an old acquaintance and when her apartment goes down in a blaze she's left with no other alternative than to pursue her dream of being a rock star.

    As Toga's story ends the next story picks up as a familiar face walks by a girl on the street who is transfixed by a black crow she deems to be a shinigami. In this tale the girl is ostracized by the rest of her class and is picked on each and every day. It takes it to the point where the girl doesn't see much point in living any longer, but eventually the crow goads her into doing something reckless. She puts everything on the line and risks her life to achieve what she never thought possible. This story in particular showcases just how cruel kids can be, though I felt the next one was markedly better.

    At the end of the previous tale the lead character has a delivery truck zoom by her. That segues into the next tale about a criminal on the run who takes a young girl hostage. Realizing his time is drawing near he imparts whatever knowledge he can onto the girl and gets her to work for him. This one had some nice undertones and the characters developed in some impressive ways considering there were only 30 pages devoted to it.

    I really think that's one of the things I found most striking about What a Wonderful World. Each tale truly sticks with you, and that's largely due to the fact that Asano shows he's an expert at his craft. There's a certain slice of life feeling here, and though flowing from one story to the next can be rather disjointing at times, you really get the sense that each story is part of a larger picture. By the time you put down the second volume you'll feel uplifted, despite how down and depressing many of these tales are. It's almost formulaic how Asano gives you the worst of a situation and follows along as things get better. It feels realistic though, and that's a large part of this manga's charm.

    What a Wonderful World is presented in English and the translation truly feels flawless. Each line has meaning and the script that was transformed from the original Japanese really carries all the weight it was intended to. Likewise the artwork by Asano stands out. This is my first time experiencing the works of Asano, though several of his other projects are already on the market such as solanin, Hikari no Machi, and Uchuu kara Konnichiwa. I am definitely interested in checking out these other releases now, though I believe solanin is the only one translated and presently available through VIZ.

    The bottom line is if you love manga and are looking for something that marches to the beat of a different drummer then you should definitely check out What a Wonderful World. It leaves a lasting impression and each of the self-contained stories is a joy to revisit long after you put the book down. Add this one to your collection and you won't be disappointed. Highly Recommended!


    What do you think about the column?  Like what you see?  Don't like it?  Have a comment or suggestion?  Drop us an e-mail and let us know!
     
     

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