Dragon Head, Kamichu, and Loveless
a bi-weekly column by Don Houston, John Sinnott, and Todd Douglass
Welcome to another installment of Anime Talk. This week we have capsule reviews of the first volume of the Hayao Miyazaki inspired Kamichu, the hilarious second installment of Desert Punk, and the final volume of the magical romance series Ultra Maniac. Holly has some more anime bargains, and this time she's dug through a host of web sites to find the best deals on series sets. There are some great deals on shows you might have missed, so be sure to check them out. We also have more manga reviews, including the dark and eerie Dragon Head and offbeat and unique Loveless. For all this and more, just read on...
Mercenary Kanta Mizuno was back in another hilarious episode where his futuristic survival skills were pitted not only against a superior force by a group of his customers that betray him in Desert Punk V2: The Desert Duo. FUNimation has been knocking the hits out of the park with a diverse line up of titles but this was a guilty pleasure that should piss off just about anyone without a sense of humor. See Kanta lose his reputation and then gain it back the hard way from a wary number of detractors with his exploitation of his young protégé Kosuna in tow for the second half of the show. Needless to say, she uses her own brand of cunning to turn the tables on his latest scheme but even the extras were a cut above the usual cyberpunk stories offered up here.
Henshin a go go baby! Viewtiful Joe is back for his second three episode volume and he's still out there looking for Silvia. This time around he picks up a sidekick in the form of Captain Blue Jr. and even gets a hold of Captain Blue's ship, the Mach Six. These episodes are just about as entertaining as the first batch, but you have to be able to accept the Americanized rendition. There is no original Japanese track available and some of the content appears to have been edited. It's a shame though because this is a series that probably could have gone somewhere special for fans if it was presented in the manner it was meant to be.
The violent and fanservice filled romp known as Tenjho Tenge is back for its sixth spin. Maya still finds herself kicked out of school but Souichiro and Bob go to the top to try to get her reinstated. What they find is a world of hurt and later on in the three episodes, yet another flashback. The constant jumping back and forth between present time and the past is kind of getting a little tiresome, but I do have to admit that I'm interested in seeing where it all leads to. Oh, and Aya gets her hands on the evil katana and goes out into the world on her own. Fun stuff especially when you consider that her Dragon Eye power is leading her down the same path as her brother.
Geneon is releasing another magical girl show, but this one has a difference. In Kamichu, young Yurie Hitotsubashi isn't just a girl who can do a few spells, she's a god. She's not sure what type of god she is, or what her actual powers are, or what she's supposed to do as Japan's youngest god, but she's a god none the less. This is the type of show that Hayao Miyazaki would make if he ever had the urge; charming and wonderfully engaging. This light comedy is not only funny and cheerful, but also creative and unique. Taking place in a world just like ours, only a bit more strange, this show is a lot of fun to watch.
Starship Operators is a great example of a show that sounds wonderful on paper, but falters in its execution. The concept of a science fiction war and reality TV news broadcast put together leads the way for a lot of interesting dilemmas. The only problem is that the characters are so generic, the dialogue is so boring, and there is precious little action. This leads to a poorly paced adventure that doesn't really go anywhere in its entire run. All is not lost though. The ending is surprisingly dramatic and the last couple of episodes come together better than the rest of the series had.
Young boy detective Shotaro Kaneda was back in the fourth volume of the series with Tetsujin 28 V4: Kyoto Burns. Fans of this retro-styled show will know that he is the son of a WWII Japanese weapons scientist who created a giant robot to protect Japan from the Allied forces. Like the previous volumes of the series, the message was loud and clear that war and weapons leave a lasting impact on the world and those who rely too heavily on them, tying up a few more loose ends but also marking a major turning point in Shotaro's life as all of those around him are ripped out of his life, one by one. Will he be able to stop the schemes of the evil madmen without the use of Tetsujin 28 or will he give up after finding some compelling evidence that suggests his father was a collaborator with the enemy.
Armored Trooper Votoms: Kummen Jungle Wars continued the adventures of Chirico Cuvie, a futuristic soldier who has found a post war mission to sustain him as he seeks out his lost love, the beautiful perfect soldier prototype Fyana with the help of long time friends Bruze Gotho, Vanilla Vartla, and Coconna. This time, he's fighting as a mercenary in a jungle setting with the two sides equally corrupted by the forces Chirico has dealt with in the past. Another perfect soldier makes it his own mission to eliminate Chirico as the corrupting influence on Fyana as the perils of warfare are once again explored. The series has been around for decades and still manages to showcase the kind of staying power few other anime series have shown so give this one serious consideration as a title to pick up.
Three teenagers play a pivotal role in an ancient prophecy in Kannazuki No Miko: Solar Princess, the first in a short series where modern technology is mixed with popular myth as Himeko, a girl about to enter womanhood on her 16th birthday that is afraid of her own shadow; Chikane, a wealthy young lady with the kind of self assurance and skill that comes only from within; and Souma, a boyfriend of Himeko and moody type who seems drawn towards a different path; are all found facing destiny. The two girls seem to have a very close relationship and their birthday's are just around the corner when all of a sudden, a demon appears out of the morning sky to wreak havoc. This demon dragon is named Orochi and when a solar eclipse appears, we find out that he has found a way to extricate himself from his resting spot on the moon. Generations ago, a group of powerful priests sealed him in there and such powers are handed down genetically. Exactly how they fight the fates to care for one another against all odds had some measure of intrigue although it suffered from borrowing too much from other popular sources.
World famous thief Lupin the third was back in Lupin the 3rd : Missed by a Dollar, the latest movie of his exploits to hit the USA. Unlike the smaller scale of the television shows, this one used the backdrop of global economic warfare as a wealthy oil baroness intent on finding the artifact and using it to further her own gains (be it war, weapons, or whatever other aspects would bring in the most profit. Needless to say, when Lupin and company get in her way, she wants them eliminated, using a former KGB operative that isn't known for his charm or social skills. As Lupin gets closer to cracking the code (in Mayan no less), his enemies get closer to him and time starts to quickly run out as each group tries to outmaneuver the other. Thankfully, no one is better at fixing things to work in his favor as Lupin so check out the movie for this latest title distributed by FUNimation.
The final volume of the magical romance series Ultra Maniac V7: Magical Ending is now out and aside from a few minor quirks, it followed through on the type of themes established from the very beginning as Nina combats Maya for the magical stones that have been acquired to this point in time. Few would argue that the series is designed to please anime reviewers so perhaps you know of a young girl with the kind of magical dreams this title would serve best. The lessons learned were crafted as straightforward as could be with the obvious sparkle of magic that shows the good guys might not always finish first but at least they stay true to their ideals no matter what the outcome.
With the release of The Saga of the Three Kings boxed set, the final story arc in the long running Yu Yu Hakusho anime is collected at last. Previously released on six individual DVDs, this collection gathers those releases together in an attractive box at a greatly reduced price. It's a 'complete your collection' set as Yusuke travels to the Demon Realm that's on the brink of war. If he can't stop the three rulers from fighting each other, the Human Realm will be in as much trouble as the Demon's world. This final story arc works very well and has a pretty good balance of fights to plot development (when compared to the rest of the series.) When all was said and done, it is a little bit sad that the show is over. It has been a great ride.
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(Click on covers to purchase from Amazon.com)
Loveless Volume 1:
Mysterious, intriguing, and awkward are the best ways to describe the Loveless manga. If you've been into anime and manga for a while then you no doubt already know a little bit about the series. Well, maybe "know" is the wrong word. I think "identify" would be more appropriate.
The art style is very unique and the design of the world and characters instantly separates this series apart from others. It may sound cliché but a big part of Loveless is the inclusion of cat people amidst the population of regular looking folk. The premise here is a little different though. All people are born with cat ears and a tail, but it's known as a sign of innocence more than anything. The feline extremities disappear when you engage in an act of sexual nature and thus you enter adulthood.
The main character in the manga is a twelve year old kid named Ritsuka who has just started at a new school. He's not your typical 6th grader though since he carries a heavy burden upon his shoulders. You see, he has lost his memory due to some mysterious events in his past. His brother was murdered and his parents want nothing to do with him. Ritsuka seems lost and adrift with no clue about life until he meets Soubi.
Not only is Soubi an adult with kitty body parts but he is also apparently a friend of Ritsuka's dead brother and something known as a "fighter". Another unique part of the Loveless franchise surrounds entities known as fighters and sacrifices. Now, it's not fighting in the way that you think. Soubi engages in combat almost immediately with a pair of fighters that shows up and battles them using words. Though in Ritsuka's case, the most powerful word that Soubi uses is "love".
Despite Soubi's age and the fact that Ritsuka is only twelve years old, he professes that he loves the child and it gets uncomfortably intimate at times. There's a certain level of Shota in just about every scene that involves the two, and I have to say I find it creepy. Granted the younger character gets ticked off every time the older one professes his love for him, but still, if you're not prepared for it you may find yourself distanced from the manga.
In the end, the first volume of Loveless provided enough intrigue and drama that I'll be back for the next installment. I personally am definitely interested in seeing where the whole fighters thing goes and learning more about that particular world. If you are looking for something to read that is offbeat and unique, look no further than this one.
DearS Volume 5
In the world of anime a show often gets created due to the success of the same concept in the illustrated form of manga. We've seen it countless times with countless series, so it should be no surprise with the rising popularity of manga that otaku are often jumping back and forth between the two art forms. If you've been reading our humble column for a while then you probably recall that I had the chance to check out the DearS animated series not too long ago. I found the anime to be a little rushed and lacking in realization due to the limited amount of episodes to pack everything in. I loved the idea behind the show though, and with that interest in mind I decided to check out the manga of the same name.
The premise behind the manga form of DearS is identical to the one found in the anime. A year prior to the start of the story a space ship crashed on Earth. The entities that lived in the ship were known as DearS and they basically exist to serve a master. During shipment of some DearS units there is kind of an accident and one is lost and activated prematurely. This fateful even is bound to change the life of Takeya (your average high school student) forever since he stumbles upon the DearS unit known as Ren.
Ren quickly moves into his house, calls him master, and causes him a lot of grief. Mostly his torment comes from the fact that he doesn't trust aliens, yet finds it a little too tempting because Ren likes shedding her clothing. Things get more interesting for Takeya as other DearS come into his life, though no quite as prominently as Ren. If you have been reading the manga up to this point (volume 5) then you already know what has transpired. In an effort to not spoil anything for newcomers I won't divulge information particularly to plot lines.
In this volume the gang heads to the beach for a little fun. Really though, it seems like a reason to get a few DearS together in bikinis and let them have at it; not that there's anything wrong with that. A strange alien creature crashes into Takeya's apartment and befriends Ren, even though it seems to enjoy latching itself to her head. Tidbits about the DearS society are also discussed such as the different classes of Dogs and Sheep.
Reading the manga up to this point has helped flesh out my understanding of the series and has really driven me to go back and check out the anime. It still doesn't really change the way that the show stands up on its own, though I can honestly say that I've been enjoying the manga much more. Check it out if you're looking for something with a lot of naughty jokes, alien mischief, great artwork, and a fun atmosphere.
The World Exists for Me Volumes
1 and 2
Created by Chiho Saitou and the Be-PaPas manga collective, the force behind the impressive and unique Revolutionary Girl Utena, The World Exists for Me has some talented people behind it and holds a lot of promise. While the images are appealing, the manga doesn't manage to come together and ends up as a muddled mess.
As is told in the introduction, the devil, known simply as "R", gets all of his massive powers from the "Book of S&M" (subtle huh?) One day the book is stolen by a boy who tears it up and makes a pair of dolls, which he names "S" and "M". These two dolls each have half of the unimaginable powers of the book.
Sekai Maihime is coming home from a school field trip when the train crashes and everyone is killed. She would have died too, except a mysterious boy, Sovieul, transports her back in time just before the disaster with the aide of his doll, "S". Now Sekai finds herself in 17th Century France, in the time of the Sun King, suspected of plotting against the king's life.
As if that wasn't enough of a problem, Machiavello turns up. He looks exactly like Sekai's childhood friend and secret love Midou, and he tries to seduce, and when that fails rape, the young girl. Machiavello has a jewel implanted into his chest, as does Sekai, and if they have sex he'll be able to gain her power. Whatever it is. So Sekai starts playing a game of hide-and-seek through time with Sovieul and S at her side, and with Machiavello pursing them.
Though I was looking forward to this series, I ended up being less than impressed. The art was solid with nice character designs and some lovely panel designs, but the story is a bit confusing and there's nothing that reels the reader in. Sekai is a passive heroine, she doesn't do much and only reacts to what's happening around her. On top of that, she doesn't really as if she's been flung hundreds of years into the past. Her main worry is getting back to Midou, and every time she encounters Machiavello she thinks he is her love, even though he's tried to rape her. The fact that Midou won't be born for another couple of hundred years apparently hasn't entered her brain yet.
With no characters that are sympathetic, a plot that is more confusing than it is engaging, and a story that has no real direction, this manga doesn't have a lot of drawing power. These first two volumes have set up the story nicely, and the plot is advancing at a nice pace but its just hard to care where it's going.
Dragon Head Volumes 1 and 2
Movies, and to a lesser extent manga, that fall into the horror category are often not very scary. Sure they have a lot of shock value and they're gross, but they don't really instill a deep-seated feeling of dread and dismay. Horror fans often have to look long and hard to get a chill to run down their spine, and readers searching for such a thrill have to look no further than Dragon Head.
Aoki Teru wakes up aching and in the dark. No one answers his calls, and when he lights a match, he discovers he's surrounded by dead bodies. The last thing he remembers is returning from a school field trip by train and going into a tunnel. While inside the tunnel, the train jumped the tracks, overturn\ed, and everyone was killed. Exploring a little, Teru finds that both ends of the tunnel have been caved in and are totally impassable.
Being alone and in the dark with dozens of dead bodies is bad enough, but things actually get worse when Teru discovers a pair of other survivors. He discovers a young girl, Seto, unconscious and bleeding, but Nobou Takashi is the main concern. This young boy is terrified of the dark, and their hopeless situation starts to effect him in very bad ways.
As the hours turn to days, and the days into weeks, the children start to run out of food. The temperature in the tunnel starts to rise too, leading the kids to think that something bad has happened in the outside world and the hope of rescue fades. The temperature also causes the dead bodies of the children's classmates to begin to rot, but Nobou doesn't leave the train like Teru and Seto. He likes staying with the bodies and has started painting his body with their blood.
This is not only one of the scariest manga I've ever read, it's also one of the best to come along in a long time. Psychologically dark and disturbing, this series is one that will keep you on the edge of your seat. The dark and cramped art helps give the manga a very claustrophobic feel which adds to the eeriness.
Owing more than a little to William Golding's Lord of the Flies, this story questions how civilized someone would be if removed from civilization and how fragile the human psyche is. A creepy, dreadful and haunting book, it is also very intriguing and will leave you wanting more. The third volume is due on July 11th, and I can't wait.
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