Genshiken, Shingu, and Maburaho, oh my!
a bi-weekly column by Todd Douglass, Don Houston, John Sinnott, and Wen-Tsai
Alright boys and girls it's that time of the month! Gather around the campfire and get ready to sing some J-Pop! Ok, maybe not. At any rate we're back again with some capsule reviews, bargains, and more. Glad to have you with us and we hope you're enjoying your convention season wherever you may be!
Maburaho: Complete Collection is the finally released, barebones set containing all the episodes of the series we described for you in great detail a few years back. The harem show focused on an Earth where magic was commonplace but like money, not evenly distributed; the lead character being Kazuki Shikimori, a student with incredible potential in his genetic background being chased by three beautiful ladies all in need of his seed. Given that he can only use his magic 8 times before dying (compared to the average student at school possessing the power to use it 8000 times), it does not take long before his attempts to save his friends from minor problems leads to his untimely demise yet they still manage to try and revive him for his gifts.
In another light hearted harem send up, UFO Ultramaiden Valkyrie: S3, V1, the third season began with new princesses getting in the way and otherwise wreaking havoc with Kazuto Tokino finding them a bit much to handle. If you have not seen any of the past volumes of the series yet, keep in mind that the fan service angle was fairly common as a kiss from the lad restores the beauty of a gal that gave up half her life force to save him after he rescued her in the first season.
The folks at Mithril have a dilemma on their hands in Full Metal Panic! The Second Raid: V4, the final volume of the show, as Sergeant Sousuke Sagara tries to restore the balance between his ideals that led him into honorable service and protecting the people he has come to love. The organization has leaks and former members using the latest gear to cause international turmoil, all leading to a deadly ending for the show as Sousuke is sidelined by his own self doubts. People die and others are gravely wounded while waiting for him to make up his mind, leading to several confrontations as to his place in the scheme of things, marking another fine release to look for.
Every good series has plenty of plot twists and turns so the combined might of Moon Phase: Phase 5 and Moon Phase: Phase 6 proved to invoke laughs and chills as Kouhei and Hazuki go up against their latest batch of assassins sent by a powerful overlord intent on capturing her against her will. A surprise foe from her past is also present and ready to finish her off but as the series ends, so does the roller coaster ride the series has presented so enjoy it while you can because it is done.
If you have followed another vampire story, this one set 500 years into the future as detailed in Trinity Blood: Chapter 6, you will know that even the best anime must end sometime. Family ties in each of the three warring factions of society have led Earth once again to the brink of destruction, Abel fighting against his brother as he attempts to burn the world clean of all life. The darker side of things is that Abel considers his brother to be more powerful and the surprising death of a major character makes it clear that this is one quality show that has said all it will be saying as it wrapped up the final episode. When you look at the classics of anime, there are only a handful that stand out for us old timers so it was with a great deal of skepticism that we watched Gun Buster 2: V1, Gun Buster 2: V2, and Gun Buster 2: V3 with our early sneak peek recently. The show picks up where the original left off, a war torn Earth defending itself against deadly space monsters with a grudge against it. The dynamic is similar as a seemingly hapless gal named Nono trying to leave her small town on Mars in order to sign up in the elite military organization known simply as The Fraternity. In no time, she impresses her peers as having abilities that seem impossible, yet will that be enough to combat so many powerful attackers in the depths of space?
The third season of Case Closed (or Detective Conan as it's known in most of the world) starts strong with some good mysteries, some heart-breaking revelations, and the apparent reappearance of the gang that poisoned Kudo at the beginning of the series. While some of the earlier volumes were feeling a little stale, this disc has some really fun mysteries. Can Conan discover who is killing people at the birthday party for a rich industrialist? And how could the lead singer of a pop band be killed just by singing a song in a Karaoke bar? These mysteries and more await in the first volume of season three.
Sana Kurata, elementary school TV star, falls in love with an older man (again) in the 12th volume of Kodocha. While this comedy show has lost a little steam, and is found to be repeating itself a bit, there are still enough laughs and amusing bits to pick up the series. The show has such a wonderful sense of irreverence that it’s hard not to enjoy it.
Fans of Ah! My Goddes once again have something to be thankful for. ADV has recently released the first volume of the second season chronicling the adventures of Belldandy and Keiichi. This volume features four episodes that keep the ball rolling and this time around there are some Christmas stories in the mix. The real treat for fans here is that ADV has signed the first season's voice cast so there is a greater deal of continuity than you'd expect.
If you have been following Black Cat then you already know just how fun this little show can be. With a cast of eclectic characters and a world that fits them perfectly the series has settled into its comfort zone. The risk-taking from the earlier volumes may have disappeared by the kinetic energy continues to be a thrill. This installment introduces some interesting developments and really focuses on the development of its characters. Chalk it up as another great series by FUNimation!
Cross-dressers unit! Princess Princess volume one has come out and it's just about as, um, interesting as you'd imagine. When a young boy gets into a prestigious school he is drafted into an elite group of morale officers known as the Princesses. They are basically a squad of guys that dress up like girls to give all of the other guys something to desire. This is an all-boy's school after all so there are no females lingering around. Princess Princess has its funny moments and the characters are each interesting in their own way but you really need to enjoy the subject matter to appreciate the show.
When you're a smaller publisher you really need to pick and choose your titles. The Right Stuf International has done phenomenally with shows like Ninja Nonsense and Boys Be... Now that Shingu: Secret of the Stellar Wars Complete Collection has been released it's safe to say that's a trend that is still going strong. This entry into the science fiction genre is powerful in just about every way you could imagine. The characters, plot, and concept are so well developed and so packed with personality that you'll fall in love. I can't recommend this series enough!
It's always a sad thing when a good show comes to an end. Coyote Ragtime Show was a fast-paced, white-knuckled ride that didn't stop until the credits rolled in episode 13. The spoofy sci-fi romp offers an Ocean's 11 plotline with Cowboy Bebop-like attitude. If you're in the market for a guilty pleasure anime definitely give this one a spin.
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by John Sinnott
Otaku, fans of anime, manga and video games, are often ridiculed in Japanese (and American) culture. These geeky guys get no respect just because they have a deep affection for things that are often considered childish. Now there is an anime series that accurately portrays otaku, without making them into heroes or ridiculing them: Genshiken. This show is a lot of fun for anime fans. It contains a good amount of in-jokes, some hilarious moments, and it's easy to relate to the members of this small club. Media Blasters has released the entire 12 episode series (previously available in individual volumes and in an expensive set) in attractive affordably priced boxed set that includes as a bonus the three episode OVA series Kujibiki Unbalance which is equally enjoyable.
Kanji Sasahara has just started attending Suioh University, and he has a tough decision to make: which school club should he join? He likes manga, but the manga club seems a little too pushy for him, and the anime club just doesn't seem right either. Then he notices a bulletin for The Society for the Study of Modern Visual Culture, Genshiken for short. This small club with the long, fancy sounding name is for otaku. They don't limit themselves to only video games or anime, they enjoy it all. From cosplay to model building they embrace all aspects of fandom. Sasahara is thinking about joining, but when he discovers the clubs large collection of Dojinshi (erotic manga books) he realizes that he's found the club for him.
Joining at the same time is Makoto Kousaka, an excellent videogame player, who specializes in fighting games. Kousaka's a bit different from the average otaku however; he's handsome and pleasant to be around. When he runs into a friend from elementary school, Saki Kasukabe, they start dating even though Saki has no interest in any aspect of fandom. Of course Makoto doesn't let his love life get in the way of his love for pop culture. When his favorite anime show comes on while having sex, he lets Saki get on top so he can still watch it. (This happens off camera of course.)
The other members of the club include Madarame, a hardcore otaku who spends all of his cash on dojinshi, Tanaka, who loves to create cosplay costumes, Kugayama, the artist, and Ono, the first female member.
The series is light hearted but never makes fun of the members of Genshiken. It shows what life is like for a fan, and examines a lot of aspects of otaku culture. A lot of the plots involve Saki, who reluctantly joins the club to spend time with her boyfriend but just doesn't get the otaku lifestyle. She's always around to ask what the big deal is about going to a comic convention or assembling a Gundam model.
This is a great show and accurately captures what it's like to be a fan. In the show Genshiken is shunned by the other clubs, especially the manga club. The members are socially awkward and a bit obsessive, but they are still nice guys who just don't fit into mainstream society. A good example of this is the episode where Madarame enters the club's room to discover Saki sitting by herself. It's one of the highlights of the series. The poor spends most of the episode trying desperately to come up with something to say to this attractive girl. Every time he comes up with something he imagines that he's in a dating video game and wonders what would happen in the game if he said what he was thinking. After several disastrous results, he bemoans the fact that in games there's only two or three choices (one of which is 'correct'), while in real life the choices are almost infinite.
There's also episodes involving going to a comic convention, with Sasahara feeling a little bit geeky and out of place until he realizes that everyone there is just like himself. Another strong episode has the student council shutting down Genshiken. When the male members of the group don't even want to protest the closure, Saki takes matters into her own hands.
This show has a lot of appeal for anime fans, but it's not really for the uninitiated. There are a lot of in jokes about anime in general, and if this is you're first series you will end up missing a lot. The other members of Genshiken get turned on when they find out that Kousaka and Saki are childhood friends that have been separated for years, for example, which is a common theme in anime. Their description of the perfect girl was also filled with anime themes; a childhood friend who is also a cat-girl, who wears a maid's uniform and a member of the student council, who is stern but also clumsy so she's often covered in bandages. That had me laughing out loud.
The entire series comes on three DVDs which are housed in three standard sized keepcases. These are packaged into a thin pressboard slipcase.
This series comes with both the original Japanese soundtrack and an English dub, both in stereo. I alternated between audio tracks and found them both very good. The English voice actors did a great job with their characters though I enjoyed the original track just a bit more. The audio quality was good and the dialog was easy to understand. There weren't any defects worth noting. There are optional subtitles in English for the dialog or signs only.
The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen image looked very good. There was a bit of aliasing in the background, but otherwise the show looked fine. The colors were bright and solid and the level of detail was good. This is a nice looking show.
There are a good number of extras included with this set. The most exciting of these are three episodes of Kujibiki Unbalance, an anime show that the Genshiken members are particularly fond of. This is a fictional, and 'anime within an anime' show that originated with Genshiken, and only these three were made (as OVAs). The 25 minute long shows include episode one, which introduces the characters, episode 21, the recap show that show the trials and tribulations the main characters have been going through, and episode 25, the penultimate installment where the team threatens to break up just before their final challenge. This show was a lot of fun and gently poked fun at anime conventions, but in a nice way. If you've seen even a moderate amount of anime, you'll be able to watch these three shows and understand exactly what's going on, even though they skip the bulk of the story. They are great fun.
In addition to that, these three discs also have some other goodies. Disc one has an interview with two of the Japanese voice actresses at a 2004 comic convention in Japan, a video of the duo Under 17 performing the opening song from Kujibiki Unbalance at the (presumably) same convention, and a textless opening and closing. There is an interview with the two directors on the second disc, and volume three has another interview with two of the Japanese actresses. Overall this set has a nice selection of bonus material.
This is a great show. It's funny but in a kind way to otaku. It's about time someone created a show where the main characters revel in their geeky fandom lifestyle. If you've seen a good amount of anime, even if you don't consider yourself a hard core otaku, you owe it to check this series out. Highly Recommended.
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