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El Cazador de la Bruja and Spice and Wolf

AnimeTalk

January 2010 Edition

by Todd Douglass, John Sinnott, and Wen-Tsai

So what was your New Years resolution? Get in shape? Eat better? Save more money? Watch more anime? Okay, maybe that last one was one of mine. I'm ready to tackle 2010 and take whatever the anime industry has to throw at me. You hear that? Bring it on!

So for this column we're kicking things off a little on the quiet side, sadly. The amount of time John and I had for reviews during the holidays wasn't exactly abundant, but there wasn't much released either. This time around we look at such shows as El Cazador de la Bruja, Spice and Wolf, and Story of Saiunkoku. We've also got some manga reviews for those looking for something different to sink their otaku teeth into. For the collector in you we also took a look at some upcoming figure releases that are available for pre-order from your favorite importer.


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

FUNimation's latest release, El Cazador de la Bruja, has something of a solid background that anime lovers may, or may not, be aware of. Have you ever heard of Noir or Madlax? Well, Bruja is the spiritual successor to those two. It's the third part in a girls with guns trilogy, though in all honesty it stands on its own feet. The show is about a bounty hunter who is tracking down a rather unique target. Soon enough science fiction elements are introduced and there's a big mystery that develops and strings you along for its entirety. For more details check out the reviews of parts 1 and 2.

Politics and romance join hands in The Story of Saiunkoku. This title originally was released by Geneon, but recently received a second distribution from FUNimation. Taking place in a city named Saiunkoku this anime follows a young woman named Shurei as she gets involved with government and the royal family. What was supposed to be a simple job turns into a life-changing course of events that may forever shape her beloved city. It's a charming show with a different kind of atmosphere and fans of Fushigi Yugi will definitely want to check it out.

Spice and Wolf is a show I dare call epic. Nothing like it has ever come out before and from start to finish I found myself going from episode to episode simply glued to the screen. It all takes place in a world that is not entirely unlike Europe centuries ago. Well, one difference being there are animal gods who take human form, and one trader during this time period is about to find out that. He's visited by Holo the Wise Wolf and his life will never be the same. Spice and Wolf follows these two as they travel together and focuses on the economics of the day as well as their relationship. It's wholly engrossing and unlike anything you've ever seen before. Highly, highly recommended.

Gunslinger Girl was a hit the day it came out. The series popped in many ways and spawned a sequel, as well as an OVA. Never seen the series? Well, in a nutshell it follows the exploits of an Italian organization known as the Social Welfare Agency. The SWA has employed young girls to be cybernetic assassins and throughout the show they thwart various terrorist plots. All kinds of action works its way into this melodrama, but the OVA is a little bit of a change of pace. The two episodes here work on character development and fleshing out some of the people that may have slipped through the cracks during the show. Not necessary by any stretch of the imagination, but a welcome addition for fans of the show.

The second collection of Naruto episodes for Viz wraps up the big story arc that was just getting started at the end of the previous set: The Chunin Exams. With a bit more action and some interesting background information being revealed this is a fun and entertaining set of shows.

While Naruto is just getting underway (in the newest release at least) another Shonen Jump show comes to an abrupt end: Hunter X Hunter. Wrapping up the show with the fourth volume, these last episodes don't really wrap up the show in a very convincing way, they just tie up the current story arc in a very rushed fashion and leave all of the other plot lines, including Gon's search for his father, hanging. When all is said and done, this show doesn't quite hit the mark. It's trying to be a juvenile adventure show along the lines of One Piece or Bleach but it quickly splinters into several competing stories leaving the characters underdeveloped (even for a Shonen Jump series) and the plot hard to follow. The fact that it was cancelled before it's time isn't anything to lament.

Moving on to better show, the Straw Hat crew arrives in Alabasta in One Piece Season Two Voyage Four. The show keeps hitting new heights, with each collection topping the previous one in terms of story quality, and this set is no exception. With some great new characters and a well structured story this is an excellent set of shows.


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    Anime Talk's Manga Review:


    by Todd Douglass

    Starcraft: Ghost Academy

    While it's not manga from Japan we enjoy all forms of graphic novels, so when the opportunity arose to check out StarCraft: Ghost Academy from Tokyopop, I naturally took it. Based on the hyped and then dead game by Blizzard, Ghost Academy comes out next week and acts as a sequel to the novelization of StarCraft: Ghost. If you're unfamiliar with the game franchise then all you really need to know is that it's science fiction and features all kinds of ass-kicking and aliens. Ghost Academy focuses more on the human aspect, and more to the point, those with special psychic powers.

    Now, before I dig too far into the review of the material housed within the pages of this book I wanted to take a second to bring up the writing style and artwork. Keith R.A. Decandido penned the script here and fans of the franchise will recall his work on the Ghost novel, Nova. He does a nice job here and the dialogue flows and pops, imbuing characters with personality. Fernando Heinz Furukawa handles the visual side of things quite deftly with some great designs and loads of detail. With that being said I must admit that while his style is very nice, a lot of the faces look exactly alike, but I should digress from nitpicking. With that out of the way, on with the review!

    Much like the focus of the dead StarCraft Ghost game, Ghost Academy sees a Ghost cadet named Nova as its main protagonist. Nova is particularly promising in many regards. For starters she has a PI score of 10, which is literally off the charts by comparison to some of the other members in training. Another thing she has going for her is her quick reaction time which has saved her hide on more than one occasion. The only downside we see with Nova in this installment is the fact that she's not necessarily a team player.

    While Nova stands front and center in the graphic novel she's surrounded by a host of other characters who make up what's known as Team Blue. Tosh is their leader, Kath is another senior member, Lio is just kind of there, and Aal is the newest recruit. Each of the characters brings some type of dynamic to the story here. For instance Lio is addicted to a drug called Hab and just sucks all around, Aal is a cocky privileged kid, and Kath and Tosh have a relationship. There are some other characters that share some of the spotlight in this novel as well, but in all honesty the main events follow Nova and her development.

    After reading through this first installment I have to say that I truly hope the series is headed somewhere. Why do I say that? Well, nothing really happens here! It's all set up, introductions, and development of the characters, but there's really no concrete story. Sure there are little pieces of conversation that hint towards something that may be coming down the road, but the entire volume consists of Team Blue going through training courses. That's it. Even then we get badgered on the fact that Nova is better than everyone else and she'd be so much better if she would just display some teamwork.

    The story so far just doesn't feel balanced and there aren't many dramatic moments. Sure we get to see Nova blow some stuff up, Aal kick some butt with kung fu, and Lio have a bad reaction to hab (Drugs are bad okay? Just say no!), but that's pretty much it. Still, there are plenty of references to the rest of the franchise and diehards will appreciate the lingo and bits and pieces of information that pop up about other species. In the end this is one that is geared more towards StarCraft fans, and not necessarily something that newcomers will be able to appreciate. Even so the story here is kind of flat and the first volume doesn't exactly take off. Here's to hoping the next installment will push things to the next level!

    Tactics Volume 8

    Generally speaking those who love manga and anime generally check out the book form of a franchise before the animated one. I, however, did things backwards with Tactics. I had the opportunity to watch the 25 episode episode show from 2004 long before I actually read the ongoing manga. Both serve as fine representations of Sakura Kinoshita and Kazuko Higashiyama's original work, but I must admit that I enjoyed the manga version much, much more.

    In case you're unfamiliar of the franchise it basically takes place during the Taishou period in Japan and follows the exploits of Kantarou Ichinomiya. Kantarou possesses the ability to see demons, spirits, and other creatures regular humans cannot. Because of these powers he has become a folklorist and exorcist, working independently to help those in need bothered by things that lack explanation. Joining Kantarou is the oni-eating tengu known as Haruka and a fox-spirit named Yoko. The series follows their exploits as they take on various missions revolving around the exorcising theme.

    Tactics has been in circulation now in the States for some time and Tokyopop just released the eighth installment of the series. Fans will undoubtedly be dying to know how the bit with Minamoto winds up in this volume. Those who read the seventh installment undoubtedly recall it ended with Kantarou squaring off against Sakata. In the opening pages here we do indeed see Kantarou and Sakata in a heated dual, and things get worse for our hero when Minamoto shows up to help Sakata. Just as the tides turn, however, Haruka jumps in to save the day.

    What transpires next is a lot of fighting as Haruka shows just how cool he is. One thing leads to another and things get a bit darker for a few pages as the battle escalates. There are a few surprises in store for readers during this conflict and I appreciated the way things were resolved. It felt very appropriate given the tone of Tactics and what we've learned of its characters. Speaking of learning about the characters, there's a bit of development in the relationship between Haruka and Kantarou that transpires in the rest of the volume. It's very welcome and truly pushes their bond further than any of the previous installments.

    As the eighth volume continues there's a bit with Muu-chan and Sugino that is as entertaining as you'd think it would be, and Kantarou gets involved in the story as well. Shortly after there's another chapter about a kappa and a few others as the installment goes on to feature more tengu bedtime stories.

    As always, Higashiyama and Kinoshita have put together a fantastic volume of Tactics. The writing is superb, the stories here are engaging and suspenseful, and the artwork is certainly a cut above. Every page is full of detail and those that have enjoyed the seven prior volumes will undoubtedly feel right at home here.

    Tokyopop has another fine installment of Tactics on their hands with this eighth volume. The development that happens between Haruka and Kantarou here is about as rich as any we've seen so far, and the variety in content is solid as well. The different chapters all have something unique to offer and the conclusion to the conflict with Minamoto at the beginning definitely fits the bill for action. This volume is highly recommended!

    Maid Sama Volume 3

    The comedy-romance manga, Maid Sama!, began its lengthy run in Japan in 2005. The manga by Hiro Fujiwara has lasted for ten volumes overseas and is even in production to become an animated series at some point in 2010. Needless to say that speaks to some level of popularity, but how does the series resonate with American audiences? We've already seen the first two volumes of the series, but recently Tokyopop just sent the third to store shelves. Let's take a look, shall we?

    Just in case you're unfamiliar with the manga, you should know it's all about a girl named Misaki Ayuzawa who happens to be the student council president of her school. This may seem like nothing special at first, but considering Seika High used to be an all-boys school prior to becoming co-ed, it's fair to assume that girls typically don't rise to that level of power. Misaki is feared by many and respected by most. She uses her influence to make changes for the better and she thrives in the tough atmosphere. Imagine, if you will, what the male population's reaction would be if they found out she also had a part-time job as a maid at a café. One boy in particular, Usui, discovers her secret. Cue hilarious antics and the beginnings of a relationship.

    At the start of this installment Seika High is holding a Dress-Up Race. Students that are participating must dress up in costumes provided by the student body. It's a random grab and wouldn't you just know it? Misaki pulls out a maid costume that was put there totally by chance from her adoring fans. The events leading up to her discovery of the costume are pretty funny, and once she actually dons the maid outfit it gets even better. Usui's reaction to her is classic and when it comes time for the event there's some support from her friends as well.

    Moving forward there are more scenes that take place both in the school and café that develop Misaki's character and her relationship with some of her friends. One of the chapters also introduces the café manager's niece, Aoi, into the fold, and let's just say that she creates an interesting and beautiful dynamic. She's very dramatic and contrasts Misaki's character quite strongly I like the prospect of what her character offers the series, and it will be interesting to see what comes of Aoi in future installments. Another interesting development happens towards the end of this volume that involves some hypnotism. I'll leave it for fans of the manga to discover what happens during this bit, but let's just say that we see Usui and Misaki in a compromising situation.

    As was the case with the other volumes Hiro Fujiwara's manga looks fantastic. The characters are nicely detailed with attractive designs and wonderful expressions. I really enjoyed the maid-fetish design that was at play here and it's clear that Fujiwara has an affinity for it as well. Scattered throughout the book are omake and amusing little bits that aren't a part of the main story. It all comes together with the writing and translation to make a volume that absolutely pops and has a lot of personality.

    If you haven't read Maid Sama! before, then you should definitely add it to your list. The manga is full of humor, placates to otaku fetishes in some ways, and offers a fine balance with its dramatic moments. The third volume pushes the series forward and introduces some new things that should prove very interesting in the coming installments. Highly recommended!

    RE:Play Volume 3

    Prior to the third volume showing up at my doorstep I must admit that I never heard about RE:Play from Tokyopop. This American-based manga comes from creator Christy Lijewski, who also has some other works in publication. The series has been in circulation since 2006 and this installment marks the final volume, wrapping it all up as a trilogy.

    In case you're like me and weren't really sure what was going on here, let me fill you in on the book as best I can. Basically it's all about a punk band named Faust. They seem to be pretty popular as indie artists and play a lot of club gigs and whatnot. Cree is the vocalist, Rail is the guitarist, Izsak is the bassist, and Char is the Drummer. Now, there's some relationship mumbo-jumbo here as Rail wants Cree, but Cree is dating Izsak. This is something that pisses Rail off to no end and he lashes out at Cree and Izsak constantly, though he never really expresses how he feels. As far as Izsak is concerned he bears something of an air of mystery. Strange people keep following him and there are times where he behaves oddly. Fans of the book and newcomers should note that we find out why in this installment.

    The third volume of RE:Play starts out in a club with Izsak kissing some chick other than Cree, though she happens to witness the whole thing. Naturally her first reaction is to deck the girl who kissed her boyfriend. Her second reaction is to run away to the bathroom crying. Izsak, however, finds himself in a bit of a pickle. He has absolutely no idea who the girl that kissed him is, and now he has to make up with Cree. Something else was at work behind the situation though, and things are about to get a whole lot more interesting.

    Char sees one of her professors at the club and is introduced to his boyfriend, who happens to be an editor of a popular magazine. As luck would have it he wants to do a spread on Izsak and a subsequent feature on Faust, naming Izsak its lead man. Rail has a huge problem with that and puts an ultimatum on the table that could shake the very foundation of the band. That's not the biggest development that comes from this installment though.

    Cree is kidnapped in the aftermath of the dramatic events at the club, and the perpetrators lure Izsak to them. What's the catch? Well, I don't want to spoil the big reveal here, but let's just say it's very...interesting. Since I haven't read the other installments I'm not sure how this fits into the overall plot, but knowing what little I know of the series I must say it seems kind of out of place. Either way, it's handled quite deftly and the story makes it believable to an extent, so I went with it. This plot more of less takes over and defines who Izsak is as a person.

    Despite all that happens between Cree and Izsak in this installment, there's also quite a lot of focus on the villains of the show and on Rail. On the bad guy side of things the dynamic duo of Niji and Laurent are charmingly dangerous and I really appreciated where Lijewski went with them. Also, before the volume ends Rail gets into a rather awkward situation and there's a bit of a hint at a future place for his character as well.

    All in all the third, and final, volume of RE:Play was quite good. There was a bit of a supernatural spin here with felt out of place, but since I didn't know the rest of the series it might have already been introduced. Despite my lack of knowledge I truly enjoyed this manga. Lijewski's writing and art style are inviting and easy to appreciate, and the story and characters both feel well-developed. If you've been reading the series up until now then you'll be pleased with where this volume takes things, however, if you're new to the book (like me) then consider checking out the first two installments. It almost feels like a supernatural version of Beck, but with more of a focus on romance.


    Anime Talk Figures it out:


    by Todd Douglass

    Azumanga Daioh has been one of my absolutely favorite shows ever since it made its way to America. The sense of humor is unparalleled, the characters are lovable to a fault, and everything about the series just oozes charm. Though there are many characters to pick and choose from when it comes to crafting a PVC figure, Kotobukiya has announced a lovely duo that would make creepy Mr. Kimura's jaw drop.

    First up is Osaka:
    You can almost see her daydreaming and spacing out. Great pose in my opinion and truly fitting of the character! Osaka is 4 inches tall (1/7th scale) with an MSRP of $49.99

    Next is Sakaki:

    Being the athletic and, um, most mature of the girls Sakaki's figure certainly fits the bill for many otaku collectors! The only thing missing is a cut nekko walking by causing Sakaki to blush. Sakaki is 4 3/4 inches tall and 7 3/4 inches long (1/7th scale) with am MSRP of $59.99. The details on both of these figures looks very good from the high resolution pictures, but of course it's a picture and we do not have the figures in hand to review as of yet. If you're an Azumanga Daioh fan, such as I, then you'll definitely want to look into these figures when they are released in March.


    Sister Princess was a show that came out in Japan back in 2001 and was later released here in the States in 2006 by ADV. To say that the series was a bit obscure in America would be an understatement, but in Japan the series was popular enough to receive a game, some manga, a series of light novels, and a sequel. That's nothing to scoff at and there's even a toy line that has still proven to be successful enough to run even seven years after the sequel came off the airwaves. Kotobukiya has a pair of PVA figures on the way from their 4-Leaves Legends Girls lineup. Like the recently previewed Azumanga Daioh figures Sakuya is featured here in a bikini, despite the fact that it's winter! Kaho, however, features a more respectable school uniform that fans of the show may recognize.

    Sakuya:
    Sakuya stands 7 inches tall (1/8 scale) and is scheduled for release in March with an MSRP of $54.99.

    Kaho:
    Kaho stands 7 inches tall (1/7 scale) and is schedule for release in February with an MSRP of $54.99.



    With the recent release of Evangelion: You Are (Not) Alone on DVD (and Blu-ray soon) it's not surprising that Kotobukiya has some figures on the way. Rather than focus on the EVA units or individual characters, collectors can snag pairs of characters at a time. I found the poses for these two releases rather interesting and a bit different than what one would expect. Pictures are worth a thousand words though, so without further delay.
    Rei & Asuka - Plug Suit Version

    Rei and Asuka measure 8 inches in height and will see release this March with an SRP of $69.99.

    Shinji and Kaworu

    I do not have measurement details yet on Shinji and Kaworu (though they are 1/8 scale), but one would assume since it's a companion piece it should be roughly the same size as Rei & Asuka. This release hits in March as well with an SRP of $59.99.

    Needless to say if you're a Neon Genesis Evangelion fan these figures are right up your alley. Then again, if you're a diehard collector then you may recognize these from a couple of years ago. The original line was so popular that they were lined up for a re-release. Maybe they'll prove to be just as successful?



    More figure shelf filler! This time around Yamato Toys has announced a new addition to the King of Fighters lineup with their release of Vanessa. If you're a fan of the series then you'll know that this character debuted in King of Fighters 2000 and contrasted the young roster quite nicely. While most fighting game characters have rather shall we say, eclectic, origins, Vanessa takes the cake in some regards. She's basically an older housewife who doubles as a mercenary on the side.

    Yamato's new PVC figure faithfully represents the character and all her "assets". For those interested here are some preview pictures:

    Vanessa stands approximately 12" tall (1/6 scale) and comes with an MSRP of $112. She's set to release around April/May of 2010 and should fit nicely in any King of Fighters fan's collection.


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