Grave of the Fireflies and Dragonball Evolution(?)
Douglass, John Sinnott, and Wen-Tsai
by Todd Douglass, John Sinnott, and Wen-Tsai
Okay, so here we are... a month late. Sorry about that! My excuse? Life, work, and I was abducted by a militant group of cat-girls bent on world domination. I'm still getting the fur out of my black shirt! Anyways, so what's up!?
We've been busy, but not too busy here at DVD Talk. Some titles have come through since our last column, and there are still many reviews in the works. What we're featuring in this column is the wave of Blu-ray titles by FUNimation, the reemergence of ADV of late, and many other sets that were released recently. WTK has a nice collection of bargains, including some sweet deals from RightStuf, and we take a look at the tepid live-action Dragon Ball movie. I don't know why we're looking at that, but what the heck! With that being said this column is on like Donkey Kong and I promise that the next column will be timely (unless those pesky cat-girls come back again).
Viz has released the second and third volumes of Hunter X Hunter, an anime series based on a manga series created by Yoshiro Togashi, the man behind Yu Yu Hakusho. The third set brings the show up to the three quarters mark and it's hard to believe that there's only one more set of TV shows left. This anime is so much fun I'm surprised it didn't last longer. In these episodes Gon and his friends (well, most of them) have reached their goal of becoming licensed Hunters, but what to they do now? Just as fun and lively as the earlier sets, these shows enjoyable for otaku of all ages.
ADV is back! The one-time leader in the US anime market fell on hard times and it was looking that they might not survive. They sold many of the property rights they possessed to FUNimation and went a long time without releasing any anime. I was ready to right them off, but it looks like I was a bit premature. ADV has just released several boxed sets of earlier released series, all at bargain prices, and I for one couldn't be happier. The more companies that are releasing anime, the better for the US anime market and consumers. It's a win-win situation. One of their recent wave of series sets is Saiyuki, an amusing light tale of demons, magic, and the possible end of the world. Another is Orphen, or Sorcerous Stabber Orphen as it is known in Japan. This latest release includes both seasons of the show (labeled Orphen and Orphen Revenge,) a fun fantasy series will make a nice addition to any anime collection.
We're happy to see that Funimation has jumped on the Blu-ray bandwagon! They have previously released some Dragon Ball Z feature films, the series Shigurui, as well as some assorted other titles on Blu-ray, but now they're going through their back catalog and have scheduled several series for release in HD. The first of these is Full Metal Panic!: The Second Raid. Though some might be surprised that they release the third season of a series before the first two1 it's not such a bad choice. The show stands by itself rather well, looks great in HD, and is an excellent program to boot.
While there are a lot of mecha, fantasy, and harem anime programs available in the US, there are only a handful of sports shows. That's too bad, because most of them are pretty good. While I'm not a sports fan, I really enjoyed shows like Princess Nine and Fighting Spirit, so I was looking forward to FUNimation's new release, Big Windup. The first set contains the first 13 episodes, half of the series, but the irritating main character makes this show a lot less enjoyable that it could have been.
FUNimation has rescued another ADV series from oblivion: Welcome to the NHK. The series was first released in individual volumes by ADV (and finished by FUNimation) then FUNi put out the show in two half season sets. Now they've combined those into a nice full series collection. That's good because this is an excellent show that's different from most anime that I've seen (and I've seen a lot) and deserves more attention. Welcome to the NHK is a slice-of-life drama that peeks into the life of a recluse, known in Japan as a hikikomori. Sato spends all of his life in his apartment, supported by his parents and only going out late at night for groceries. That is until Misaki knocks on his door one day. She wants to try to cure him of his problems and tries to get him to meet her every night at the nearby park for counseling. It's a simple story filled with genuine people who have real problems. The best aspect however is that it offers up no simple solutions.
We've talked about how FUNimation has resurrected so many shows from the grave. Both ADV and Geneon lost their pants, but thankfully they fit FUNimation just fine enough. One of the dead-now-back-to-life shows we've seen recently is ironically Gungrave, an anime about a guy who comes back from the dead. This one is based on an older video game license by SEGA and actually breaks the rule of game-to-anime projects sucking. Gungrave is rather straightforward, but there are some nice twists along the way to keep you on your toes. The action is pretty solid all around, and some of the characters are nicely developed. If you were a fan of the original game on the PlayStation 2 or are just looking for a decent anime, definitely give this one a spin.
Like Fullmetal Alchemist? Yeah, me too. Unfortunately the Premium OVA Collection isn't exactly as interesting as one might think. This disc contains a few short (very short) animated clips totaling about half an hour in runtime. They are entertaining for what they are, but what they are is bonus content that was only recently produced. It doesn't really deserve its own disc and probably should have been stored for a future release, or re-release of the series. If you're a diehard fan and find it for dirt cheap then you could do worse. Otherwise consider this one a rental.
Romeo x Juliet Collection Part 2 came out about a month ago, and this one saw the conclusion to the fascinating retelling of Shakespeare's beloved tale of tragic love. If you missed out on the first part, then you should know that this show puts its own spin on the story and houses plenty of surprises for you. Sure there are plenty of things that are still the same, but in the end it's a quality show that proved to be more refreshing than I thought it would. There were some things about the ending that I didn't particularly care for, though I suppose not every anime is perfect. Ultimately I'd highly recommend this series.
Another series that FUNimation rescued from ADV's licensing issues is Moeyo Ken: The Complete TV Series. In all fairness this is a show that has all the right components to be successful. It has a decent brand of humor, the premise is endearing enough, and the characters are fun and boisterous. Unfortunately it just doesn't all come together by the time all is said and done. Within its 13 episode run Moeyo Ken doesn't really get going until it's almost over and that's really a shame.
I must admit that when Grave of the Fireflies showed up on my doorstep I was kind of surprised. I wasn't expecting a re-release of this film and it was something I've always wanted to see. I always knew it was out there, but I never went out of my way to watch it for whatever reason. Wow, am I glad I did! Grave of the Fireflies is a masterpiece in almost every sense of the word. From the animation quality right down to the storytelling, everything comes together so perfectly and hauntingly that it will stick with you for a long, long time. This ADV release is highly recommended and should be in everyone's collection!
FUNimation continues their dominance of the Blu-ray market with their release of Devil May Cry's complete series. This is another one of those game-to-anime endeavors that didn't totally suck. While DMC is definitely not as sharp as Gungrave, it's definitely stylish, has balls, and loves to overload you on action. It's worth checking out if you're a fan of the game, and if you want to see some nice hi-def anime this is a great starter. Consider the set recommended, though the show isn't exactly a homerun.
If you're looking for a show that really does knock it out of the park, then look no further than Irresponsible Captain Tylor. This show released by RightStuf is awesome in just about every sense of the word. It's old-school anime with a great sense of personality, a lot of humor, plenty of action, and nice dramatic elements. In case you're unfamiliar with the show it's basically all about a guy named Tylor who is about as lazy as you can get. Deep down he's really a tactical genius who just wants to coast through life, and this show is all about his rise in rank to captain a starship and save humanity from its enemies. It's an unexpected show that will totally win you over.
by John Sinnott
As many of you know, Dragon Ball started out as a comic
Unfortunately, there is someone else who knows about the dragon balls and their power, the evil alien Piccolo. He attacked Earth 2000 years ago and was only defeated when 7 mystics sacrificed their lives to seal the alien away. Now he's escaped (they never say how) and he wants to use the seven balls to become ruler of the world. Somehow knowing that Gohan has a dragon ball (again, it's never made clear how he knows. Magic I guess.) Piccolo attacks and kills Goku's grandfather, only to discover that the ball is not with the old man. (Goku took it to a party of all things....)
When Goku gets back home, he discovers his father dying. With his last breath, he tells Goku to seek out Master Roshi (Chow Yun-Fat) for more training and then to find the dragon balls, since their wish is the only thing that will stop Piccolo.
Along the way Goku teams up with an assortment of friends including Bulma (Emmy Rossum), an electronic genius who wants to use the dragon balls as a source of energy, Chi Chi (Jamie Chung), a hot high school babe who dates the biggest bully in the school and is secretly a martial arts expert, but has trouble opening her locker at school, and Yamcha (Joon Park) a common thief. Together this rag-tag band has to stop the evil alien from taking over the world.
Where to start? There is so much wrong with this film that it's hard to get all the complaints organized. For the Dragon Ball novice, this film will be rather hard to follow. They establish at the beginning that the story takes place on Earth in the present day, but Earth they show is nothing like the one we inhabit. With futuristic machines and strange cities, the planet doesn't look like Earth, and what about Piccolo attacking at the time of Christ? Surely someone would have noted that.
For fans of the series this movie is just a huge disappointment. Not because the story has been changed, that was just dumb since they couldn't come up with something more entertaining, but because they changed nearly everyone's personalities. Goku is the biggest offender. Dragon Ball is a character driven piece and the star is Goku. In this movie he's not the happy, upbeat, inhumanly strong person he was in the manga. In this movie he's awkward, afraid to talk to girls (Goku, afraid of something??), wants to be accepted by his peers at
Okay, so how about we forget that this is based on Dragon Ball and look at it just as an action movie? It still sucks. From the opening shot of a close up of Goku's face, with sweat dripping off and cannon-like sound effect dubbed over it, you know this is going to be a painful affair. Every thing is overdone: The sound effects, the visuals, and especially the acting. Most of the main characters need to turn it down a notch or two, especially Justin Chatwin. (He should take some Karate lessons too.) Chow Yun-Fat, normally an excellent actor, phoned this one in and looked embarrassed to be in the film at all.
The dialog is horrible, laughable at times. I mean really, really, bad. Here are a few of the choice lines from the film, you can judge for yourself: "In order to defeat you, I must be one with myself.", "With this Dragon Ball, I take my vengeance... upon the Earth." and my favorite "Prepare punk, for your clock is going to be cleaned!" Wow, what is that, straight out of a 80's cop show??
One of the biggest offenses is that the fight scenes, something that you'd think they'd put a lot of time into, are very lame. They are really, incredibly bad for a major
While the film itself left a lot to be desired, the presentation was pretty good. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix was very nice which made good use of the entire soundstage. The rears got a lot of action, especially during the fight scenes. The dialog was clean and clear and the sound effects were crisp. Over all this audio track did a fine job.
The MPEG-4 AVC 1080p disc preserves the original aspect ratio of 2.4:1 and looks pretty good, I have to admit. The colors are bright and warm and the level of detail is excellent. There are several scenes that pop well, such as when Piccolo is watching the glowing orange Dragon Balls float just before he attempts to summon the dragon. There was a bit of digital noise in some night scenes, like when Goku is going to the party at Chi Chi's house. There was some barely noticeable banding too, but aside from these minor quibbles the disc looks great.
Since I didn't like the movie, I was excited about wading through the bonus features. Luckily there aren't that many. We start off with Goku's Quest Game is a very simplistic game (you press a button whenever a dragon ball appears) that has no entertainment value. There are 11-minutes worth of deleted scenes, none of which really add much to the story. I can understand why they were cut. That is followed by the five-minute Goku's Workout which illustrates some of the moves from the movie.
The Fox Movie Channel was kind enough to plaster their name over the next two featurettes: Fox Movie Channel Presents: Making a Scene and Fox Movie Channel Presents: Life After Film School with Justin Chatwin. The former is a nine-minute look at how they shot the fight scene in which Chi Chi battles a doppelganger. Eh. The latter is a nearly half-hour discussion between some film students and star Justin Chatwin.
The disc wraps up with a music video and a fairly lame gag reel. There is also a second disc that contains a digital copy of the movie.
Incredibly predictable (with a final scene stolen from Rocky III), poorly written, badly acted, and nothing like the anime or manga that it was taken from, this movie is just a waste of time. There wasn't any aspect that I thought was well done. Even if you're a fan of the original material, stay away.
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