Gantz,Gungrave, and Sacred Blacksmith
February 2011 Edition by Todd
Douglass, John Sinnott, Neil Lumbard and Wen-Tsai
by Todd Douglass, John Sinnott, Neil Lumbard and Wen-Tsai
Well, the winter months are winding down...how are you holding up? With spring basically right around the corner we're looking forward to slightly longer days and warmer temperatures, however, winter doesn't really affect watching anime! We've been busy the past month or so and there's been plenty to watch and review. We also have some manga reviews and anime bargains thanks to WTK! Without further delay, let's get on with the column!
One show that is worth checking out, however, is Sacred Blacksmith. The series honestly isn't anything special. The protagonist is plucky and kind of dumb, but she's obnoxiously positive all the time and she's got a nice rack. The series boasts a fantasy setting with fan-service, action, and a surprisingly dark tone at times. This 12 episode series was a surprise and was quite entertaining.
Some oldies, but goodies, came our way this past month as FUNimation re-released some titles they recently got their hands on. Gungrave is a sci-fi romp that features a condiment loving protagonist who is a mean mech rider/gunslinger out for revenge. Think of the show as a slightly more modern Trigun meets Cowboy Bebop and you'd kind of be on the right track. The other show that FUNimation got the license for was Disgaea. This perennial RPG favorite takes fan-favorite characters from the game and creates a traveling buddy comedy, that's nothing deep, but it's a good ride for fans.
Gantz fans had two special treats of note recently. The anime series received a Classic Line DVD set release by Funimation Entertainment and it contained the entire action-packed show. It is a great genre series to discover with a lot of added depth that you wouldn't necessarily expect. It brings an interesting perspective to how bad (and occasionally good) the human psyche can be. Though the violence may be a turn on/off for some viewers it is still easily recommended to anyone with an open enough mind. We also recently saw the Live Action adaptation of Gantz, the second special treat for fans. While it doesn't quite capture all the essential elements of the series it offers new viewers and open-to-interpretation fans a fun and effective new exploration of the original story.
Kaleido Star: Season 2 also arrived from Funimation Entertainment, and was an exciting continuation of the first season of the show. While it might not have been an entirely perfect conclusion to this lovably optimistic show it was certainly an enjoyable journey, and one especially worth taking for those truly devoted fans who are interested in seeing the entire story. The included OVA's were both entertaining, and the never-before-released Layla Hamilton Story: Legend of Phoenix was worth the set's price-tag alone.
Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom is a hit or miss kind of show. The series has an interesting enough premise in the sense that it takes an ordinary guy and turns him into a killing machine. The dark tone helps and the action is good, for the most part. The use-amnesia-as-a-plot-device is rather tiresome and the characters are mostly wooden, but there's some redeeming quality to be found in the show. It's just not a homerun.
And speaking of shows that aren't a homerun, let's talk about Chrome Shelled Regios. Giant bugs? Check. Mysterious hero? Check. Wonky pacing, an off focus, and a confusing method of stringing the story together? Also check. Check out the review for more information, but let's just say that the series is merely mediocre at best. It's a bit of a chore to get through at times and the payoff isn't quite enough to make the trip worthwhile.
For more anime bargains, please check out the monthly Official- ANIME Bargains! - Thread, updated by yours truly!
*Please Note: Product Availability & Prices are Subjected to Change! Updated on 2/18/2011!
Dragon Girl: Volume 1 (Toru Fujieda)
Rinna Aizen is going to fight for her childhood dream: to become the captain of the cheering squad for Shoryu Senior High. What could possibly stand in her way? Perhaps the fact it is an all-boy school. You just never do know - that could be viewed as an issue for some females.
Luckily though, that rule was not to last. Likely the result of men at the school finally deciding they wanted to be surrounded by women (seriously: who wouldn't?!) the school becomes co-ed at last. Rinna can now purse her cheering squad dream! She has always dreamt of this day as her father was the 'legendary captain' of the team, and Rinna wanted to follow in his own huge footsteps. Rinna loves and appreciates her father's work (she describes him as an 'explorer!' in one comical moment) but he was barely around her as she was growing up so Rinna thought the Cheering Squad he once led could bring her closer to knowing him. Along the way she makes several new friends, and even a few enemies who don't seem to want her to succeed. The Squad is not even allowed to be considered an official club at the beginning of the book and it all seems to point to someone who wants her to fail. As the volume progresses a lot of romantic subplots begin to develop (for Rinna and her close friends). Challenges come and go towards bringing the Cheering Squad back to some semblance of recognizable success. I was a bit uncertain of whether or not I would be able to properly enjoy this manga when
I started the process of reading it. The pacing seemed somehow off with the introductions to the characters feeling rushed a bit at times: it was as though the author wanted to get through the introductions, rather than spend time letting us get to know each character a bit better at the start. The story itself also suffered as it felt a tad generic in its presentation even while it also seemed original with the idea behind it. The good news is that the storyteller (Fujieda) seemed to grow her artistic voice over the course of the volume and her immense efforts really started to shine through. The plotting becomes gradually more interesting - as do the characters that drive these plot elements home. The writing style does seem to be a little less refined than I am currently used to reading (and for the record - I don't think it's a result of the translation). Many moments feature little scribbles that work as notes on what characters are thinking. These often make some of the panels feel a bit cluttered, and I wish these moments would have been limited. The artwork helps to make up for this aspect for the most part as all of the characters are cutely drawn and have distinctive features that help to set them apart from one another quite nicely. The entire atmosphere and emotions created through the art was extremely effective and the sign of a storyteller who understands the power of visuals (which frequently outdid her own words).
No to sound too nitpicky, but I do have one minor complaint that should really be addressed - at the beginning of each chapter there is usually a small 'Character Intro: Four Panel Comic". While these are cute I was increasingly irritated by the placement. It's on the bottom of each page instead of on the top or side. Because of the nature of reading a graphic novel, I believe these interfere with the natural flow at the beginning of each chapter. Be careful to read these intros first - and then move to the top of the page to start reading the rest.
This is another one of those absolutely GIGANTIC graphic novel releases (it clocks it at around 500 pages). It seems this is a trend that is becoming more and more popular these days (and with good reason - you get a whole lot more reading material for your buck). While I had misgivings about the beginning of the story, I found that the artist really began to find her own voice over the course of the volume and I am eagerly looking forward to what will come next now. Who will wind up with whom? Will the squad be recognized? Can Rinna succeed at every huge task that lies in front of her to seemingly no end on her left or right? Those are all questions I was left wanting answers to. Dragon Girl: Volume 1 may have been a bit of a mixed bag at times, but it is also a frequently entertaining read that grows increasingly polished. It ended up being more than worthwhile and should be sought out by any manga fan who appreciates a good read in the comedy/romance genre!
Recommended. Grade: B+
Look for our review of Dragon Girl: Volume 2 (the final volume) in next month's Anime Talk column!
The Stellar Six of Gingacho (Yuuki Fujimoto)
The story begins by introducing us to a group of six young kids (the Stellar Six) who are all children of store owners throughout the shopping district of the Galaxy Street. They were the closest of friends at one point - so close that they did most everything together and cherished the moments that allowed them to be in each other's company. Unfortunately, as is mostly common, the children grew less connected to one another as they moved through school and became enrolled in different classes.
Time just kept on slipping by. The good news is that this routine was going to change. The friendship that truly bonded these kids together was still working unseen magic to unite them once more. There was an upcoming group contest that one of the kids had particular interest in and saw as an opportunity to bring them back together. Over the course of this first volume readers will get to know each likeable character, and see the events that surround their friendship becoming renewed and strengthened.
This manga is the perfect read for any otaku out there who have ever felt as though they lost touch with close friends from childhood. While that is not the base premise of the manga, it is certainly the main sensation I felt after closing this introductory volume and setting it down on my desk. I felt a calming sensation. It was as though I had relived a piece of my childhood, all through reading these gloriously heartfelt pages. In a nutshell: I seriously loved this graphic novel!
While Tokypop describes the manga as a comedy/romance on the back of the book, it is worth noting that this volume is mostly comedic and sweet-natured. There is very little 'romance' behind the story at this point and it will not the graphic novel to pick up if you are looking to only service those interests.
The artwork is striking, with good character designs, and a strong understanding of how to create an undercurrent of emotion. I noticed that the way Fujimoto decided to shade (or not shade) different panels often helped to dramatically contribute to my appreciation of either comedic or emotional moments. I was enthralled by her imagery throughout.
Highly Recommended. Grade: A
For my manga reviews feel free to follow the links to my blog, Anime Maki, for the full reviews.
AiON Volume 1 and 2 definitely set themselves apart. This series from the creator of Chibi Vampire features a mermaid coming to land and hunting parasites from the sea. She happens to be a masochistic tsundere and gets mixed up with a young high school student.
Neko Ramen Volume 3 continues the trend by offering the hilarious adventures of Taisho, the ramen making kitty. This yonkoma is awesome and totally worth picking up!
I loved the first installment of the series, and missed out on the second, but Hanako and the Terror of Allegory Volume 3 is awesome. It's a great, creative, and bizarre collection of stories that focus on Japanese urban myths.
Manhwa Wrap Up is a collection of manhwa reviews. Don't know what manhwa is? It's basically the Korean form of manga and there's A LOT of it.
More yonkoma adventures are in store for the girls in Ichiroh! Volume 4.
Like horror and supernatural stories? You'll probably want to check out Higurashi Volume 11 which opens up a new story arc for the franchise.
I loved the anime, I love the manga. Soul Eater Volume 5 is awesome. Read the review for details.
Sumomomo Momomo Volume 7, however, is not as awesome.
The pint-sized superhero is back in action in Ratman Volume 3. This series from Tokyopop is a blast through and through and each volume is better than the last.
Lives Volume 1 is an interesting new work, but it's dark and adult in content, and not entirely a smooth experience. I suppose we'll see what the second volume has in store soon enough!
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