Fullmetal Alchemist, One Piece,and D. Gray-Man
April 2009 Edition by Todd
Douglass, John Sinnott, and Wen-Tsai
by Todd Douglass, John Sinnott, and Wen-Tsai
Ok, so another month has come and gone. What has changed with the industry? Well, obviously there are still plenty of titles coming out. FUNimation, VIZ, Bandai, and even ADV have all been keeping otaku happy with plenty of releases to ring in the Spring. From individual volumes of ongoing series to new shows and complete collections, there have definitely been a lot of shows hitting the streets since our last column.
It's also interesting to note that FUNimation has been showing off current shows in Japan as well. Like Fullmetal Alchemist? Well, the remake "Brotherhood" just came out in Japan and FUNimation has been streaming it complete with English dubs. It's not even released on disc yet, but you can check them out http://www4.funimation.com/video/?page=show&b=280 here if you want. As far as what's been released in the States? Well, there's a big pile of words below that get into all of that. Just below those you'll find some anime bargains from our buddy WTK. Let's get on with the show!
Over the last year or so FUNimation has become the largest anime distributor in the US. It's easy to see why. They have a wide variety of titles, they're releasing anime in season and half season sets at a reasonable price, and they're still offering the choice of subtitles or dubs. A little over a year ago they started releasing the One Piece TV show, one of the most popular anime and manga (which the show is based on) titles in Japan. Released uncut in two disc, 13-episode sets John loved the first two sets and was excited to see that FUNimation was releasing one of the One Piece movies on Blu-ray. How cool is that? Well, not too cool actually. One Piece Movie 8: The Desert Princess and the Pirates: Adventures in Alabasta ends up being a confusing mess, and looses a lot of the fun and charm that makes the show so enjoyable. It's hard to understand if you've seen the FUNimation releases, and if you haven't just give it up.
When Samurai 7 was first released in the US the series was met with rave reviews and DVDTalk even voted it one of the best anime series of 2005. John Finally was able to see the series when it arrived on Blu-ray and found that it was not good as most critics thought. It is a good solid anime show. If he had never seen the original Seven Samurai, he'd be raving about the themes and enticing story. As it is, this series doesn't live up to the original. Some of the added subplots weaken the main thrust of the show, and there are some anime clichés that work their way in that make it difficult to suspend your disbelief. (Jumping up and cleaving a 30 foot tall mecha in half for example.) Even so, this is a classic story and told with good animation and a respect for the original. It's exciting and engrossing and well worth checking out.
As with movies, there are a few anime series that get a lot of buzz and popular acclaim. More times than not however, the reality doesn't live up to the buzz. Sure, these over-hyped shows are often good, but not as spectacular and groundbreaking as one would hope. It was with that mindset that I started watching Fullmetal Alchemist. I was expecting a good show, one that was definitely above average, but I wasn't prepared for the all around excellent show that I saw. Filled with exciting stories, heart-felt moments, and surprising twists as well as being set in a unique universe that's complex and interesting, Fullmetal Alchemist is one of the better anime series out there. If you've managed to miss it so far, FUNimation has released the first season in an attractive package that's well worth picking up.
Although the first volume of Nerima Daikon Brothers that ADV released received mixed reviews, I was interested in seeing the show because of the director, Shinichi Watanabe. He was behind one of my favorite comedy animes, Excel Saga, where he had a role in the show as the show's director. (You'd have to see Excel to understand.) That first show was so outrageous and off the wall, I had to see how this musical comedy would fare. (Yes, you read right, this is a musical.) Turns out it is hilarious. With all the irreverent and bizarre occurrences that you'd expect from a Watanabe show and some wonderful catchy songs this show is a must-see.
The first half of Ouran High School Host Club was a cute, light comedy that made fun of traditional shojo and harem shows. The stories weren't very deep and played for mild laughs and it was fun to watch. The second half of the series [reviewed here]however is a bit of a different creature. Not content to rest on their laurels and finish the show off in a predictable way, the creators raised the drama up a notch by delving into the backgrounds of the club members and making them three dimensional characters. They haven't forgotten the humor however and the show is still just as funny, but much more interesting.
What if you could easily get revenge on someone who wronged you? Not just even the score, but make sure that they paid for their transgressions for eternity by burning in Hell? Would you do it? What if you had to pay a price for this vengeance that's nearly as high as the price that your victim is paying? That's the premise of Hell Girl a creepy and mysterious anime that FUNimation has recently released in a complete first season set. While the show starts off strong, after three or four episodes it gets very repetitive and even the introduction of a couple of new characters 1/3 of the way through the show can bring it out of its rut.
It's hard to translate comedy across cultures and languages, especially in anime. For every hilarious Japanese cartoon that crosses the Pacific, there are three that just fall flat. That's why I approached Pani Poni Dash with a bit of hesitancy. Was this going to be one of those shows that just didn't work? Luckily the answer was "no." The program is constantly amusing and sometimes hilarious, and while some of the humor was lost on this westerner, overall the show is good for some solid laughs.
Let's face it; there is a lot of mediocre anime out there. It seems like you have to sit thought a handful of so-so shows in order to discover one good one. So why do we otaku do it? Answer: in the hopes of discovering a show like Fullmetal Alchemist. It's the great shows that make it all worth while, and Fullmetal is definitely one of them. Filled with exciting battles, a convoluted yet not confusing plot and some truly touching drama this show is one of the better shows to come along. While the first season was excellent, the second is even better. Building off the earlier episodes this season expands the world of the Elric brothers and alos answers a lot of lingering questions, though they're not always the answers we want.
Even among anime fans there are only a couple of directors of Japanese animation who are well known. Of course Hayao Miyazaki, known as the Disney of Japanese animation, is the most famous anime director but if pressed to name another one the most popular answer would likely be Shinichi Watanabe. The hand behind hilarious Excel Saga and almost equally funny Nerima Daikon Brothers, Watanabe often inserts himself as a character into his shows, something that only adds to the wackiness of the programs. So when I heard that Shinichi directed another comedy The Wallflower, and that FUNimation was releasing the show in two half-series sets (another of the shows they acquired from ADV,) I was stoked. My excitement was short-lived however as the program wasn't as funny, unique, or zany as I was hoping.
One of the more interesting and thought-provoking anime shows to come along in a while wraps up with Death Note Vol. 9. It is the final showdown between Light and N and the future of world lies in the balance. It's a little sad that the show has come to an end, but it ended at just the right time. The show was still intriguing up to the last, though the cat-and-mouse games were getting a little tiring at the end.
The second set of dubbed Gurren Lagann episodes is just as a fun, funny, and hyper-kinetic as the first. The series moves fast, with several unexpected twists and turns keeping the interest level up and the narrative flowing along. Filled with a lot of humor and some kick-ass mecha action this is one of the most enjoyable anime series to come around in a while.
Yet another show that FUNimation saved when ADV went through some hard times, Save Me Lollipop is a light, mindless comedy series that's aimed at kids. When a 12-year-old school girl finds that she's the prize in a contest among candidate magicians from another dimension, the poor girl has to run for her life. Luckily two hunks lads, who are also part of the contest, come to her aid and protect her. With a lot of cross-dressing and maniacal action, the show is short on plot but long on loud brash humor that will entertain the younger crowd.
FUNimation continues their release of One Piece with the third and fourth set of episodes, and even though these collection takes us through episode 53, we're still not done with the first season. That's okay, because One Piece is one of the most popular and longest running anime series (currently at over 390 episodes.) This show is an irreverent and fun filled romp that's sure to please young and old viewers alike. In these set Luffy finds a cook for his crew, and meets his first villain from the Grand Line, gets a bounty put on his head, and meets an old villain. Though the extras are slim its the show that brings people back time and time agian and releasing this show in 14 episode chunks is just the way to go.
Continuing the theme of defunct ADV shows that FUNimation picked up the licensing for, some more boxed sets were released within the past month or so. One such series was Utawarerumono, a show that was thankfully more fun to watch than it is to say ten times fast. This series is based on an adult RPG and some of those elements show in the designs and structure of the series. However, it's nice to know that this fantasy outing contains an entertaining story and memorable characters. It doesn't do a lot of original things and it never tries to break the genre mold, but then again it doesn't really have to do so in order to be successful.
Much like Utawarerumono, Kurau Phantom Memory is one of those licenses saved by FUNimation. In case you're unfamiliar with it, Kurau is a unique sci-fi show that focuses on the life of a girl who happens to come into contact with a symbiotic alien life form. Soon enough she gains new powers, a cloned alien sibling, and is hunted by the very police force she used to be employed by. It's a fascinating concept and the show explores many of the possibilities that are proposed by the set up of the show. If you like your science fiction anime on the original side definitely give this one a spin.
Do you like your anime dark? How about depressing? Maybe a little drab? If you said yes to any of those questions then let me introduce you to Ghost Slayers Ayashi.. This new series by Bandai takes place in the 1840's and focuses on the adventures of a middle-aged man who is caught between this world and another. He possess powers that help him fight off monsters from the Other World known as Youi, but a lot of the series focuses on his development and history as well. There's a certain pattern to the storylines here, and the depressing historical era don't help matters, but regardless of those facts there's still plenty of quality to keep us interested for the next part.
Baccano! is one of the latest shows from FUNimation to capture the attention of many an otaku. This series has been lauded since its release in Japan and the hype machine has been building for it, but does it life up to it? The simple answer is yes! Since our last column two volumes of this enigmatic show have been released. It all centers around a series of events set in the early 1930s and slowly, but surely, the show is bringing together a large group of characters for a big reveal. It's definitely a show that's going places and it maintains a fantastic amount of balance in its plot, character development, and timeline.
Str.A.In stands for Strategic Armored Infantry, but it's also the name of an interesting new sci-fi/mech show from FUNimation that fans of the genre will want to check out. While there's not much new here the series comes from the guys who put together Gunbuster and it pays homage to several mecha genre elements. Basically it's about a girl who heads off to space to find her brother who has changed sides during an alien war, but there are many layers of depth that appear throughout its 13 episodes.
Are you a CLAMP fan? If so then you've probably been feeling the lack of School Detectives in your life. Well Bandai finally revisited the show and has resurrected it from the days of VHS tapes. Don't know what it's all about? It's basically your average school detective show (go figure, huh?) and features a group of friends who are out to help women in distress. It's fun and lighthearted though it does tend to get repetitive after a few episodes. It's still a well-produced and loveable series despite any of its shortcomings and deserves a chance by CLAMP fans and newcomers alike.
The much hyped D.Gray-Man has finally been released by FUNimation. This series ran for over 100 episodes when it was on the air and it's the latest example of Shonen Jump's dominance over a segment of the industry. It's simply amazing how many shows have started with SJ and when you stack this one up next to Naruto, Bleach, and One Piece you definitely have a strong showing. This one skews things a bit with a more tragic main character who leads a cursed life full of fighting demons. Of course there's much more to that, but you should check out the first part with 13 episodes to see for yourself.
Nozomi/Rightstuf! has released another chunk of the Aria story, so if you're a fan you'll want to pay attention. The sequel season entitled "The Natural" just came out and has been split into two parts. This follow up offers more of the same with gondoliers traveling around a watery planet. Akari is back along with all of her friends and once again this franchise proves to be a soothing experience. It's one of the most unique shows to come along in a while and though its deliberately slow pacing isn't for everyone, those with an open mind should consider watching it. Oh, and speaking of Rightstuf! they also released the second installment of Emma: A Victoria Romance not too long ago. This one picks up where the first season left off and sees Emma off serving another while she and William long for each other. It's a fascinating tale of love set in the Victorian era that brings about a worthy close to the franchise.
Harem fans will want to pay attention to the complete series release of Shuffle by FUNimation. This show plays all of the harem cards right and features a male protagonist caught in the middle of a pile of girls all seeking his affection. The twist here is that a God Princess and Demon Princess come to Earth looking for his love as well. Stuck between them and his lifelong friend, Rin just can't seem to catch a break. Shuffle is a funny and entertaining show, and though it's recommended it's important to keep in mind that it plays on genre clichés quite strongly.
On March 31st Funimation closed out a couple of their newer properties with some part 2 boxed sets. The first is Negima!? which brought about the conclusion to the popular harem comedy by Ken Akamatsu. This remake followed the manga a little more closely than the original series did and ultimately I felt it was a little more successful. The second boxed set was the final chapter of Tokyo Majin. The first season of this show was a fun action series with a group of kids out to save the world, but the second season messes things up. It throws a lot of leftfield twists into the show and just doesn't gel quite as well as the first part did.
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