Gunslinger Girl, Area 88, Chris' Top and Bottom 5
a bi-weekly column by Don Houston, John Sinnott and Chris Tribbey
Some good information in this week's column. In addition to the latest reviews including Ultra Maniac, Gunsinger Girl, and the first volume of Full Metal Panic Fumoffu, we have an advance look at Yugo the Negotiator and Area 88. Long time fans will probably remember the latter's manga series that the Eclipse released in the 80's. Reviewer Chris Tribbey has his list of the top five and bottom five anime discs and events, as well as a trivia contest where he tests your knowledge of fan favorite anime Neon Genesis: Evangelion. Holly Beeman returns with some excellent anime bargains and we have our list of upcoming DVDs as well.
Sometimes, a series gets bogged down in the middle of a season's run but not Cyberteam in Akihabara 4. The show takes a look at a group of girls fighting the forces of evil using their mechanical pets that summon powerful women dressed up in skin-tight mechanized battle suits that should satisfy the perverts out there just enough to give the series a look. Will the gals defeat the villains of Rosenkreutz and their minion, The Black Prince, or will they be converted to the dark side?
Another title we recommend you give a look would be Ultra Maniac 1 as it shows the blossoming friendship between a high school student, Ayu Tetsushi, and a transfer student, Nina Sakura, that is more than she appears to be on the surface. Combining the usual high school setting with a playful sense of magic and wonder (not to mention comedy) like Magical Play, the story shows how not all witches are equally talented, and the trouble caused by those with a weaker grasp on their skills.
Fans of the excellent series Full Metal Panic will have cause to rejoice in the release of Full Metal Panic Fumoffu. The show takes the same characters of the original series but puts them in situations far more down to Earth as Sousuke and Kaname learn to deal with minor day to day problems in a fashion far unlike those they encountered when fighting in giant robots for Mithral. There was every bit as much action this time so don't think the domestic setting slowed these two down as they get into situation after situation when Sousuke protects his charge from all the unknown dangers posed by going to classes every day.
We were treated to a special release recently when Gunslinger Girl 1 came in to the office. Fans of Noir and La Femme Nikita will appreciate a semi-secret governmental organization, the Social Welfare Agency, that recruits young girls to handle the kind of missions anime viewers like to see (think death and mayhem). This opening volume introduces the concepts and main characters in such an involving manner that fans of animated violence as well as solid writing should consider it a must have, easily earning a rating of highly recommended. If the rest of the series is as well played as the five episodes included here, it's going to be a strong contender for an award at the end of the year.
A memorable show for at least one DVDTalk reviewer, the final eight episodes of Sorcerer Hunters has an Essential Anime release from ADV. Funny and sad at points, Sorcerer Hunters watches slap-happy, gangling Carrot choose between good and evil, all while dealing with the sometimes cautious, sometimes bold advances of his two female companions. All this sorcerer hunting and protecting the weak is finally comes to a close, as our gang of hunters meets the evil and bad-ass Zaha Torte, the top sorcerer, in a final showdown. The hunters' matriarch, Big Momma, hasn't been able to stop Zaha, and her knights were practically laid to waste, but there's still hope.
Go Nagai is at it again in Shuten Doji, a mindless gore-fest of demons and bad storytelling. A young man discovers his demon roots, and is joined by a gang of young Japanese ruffians while he constantly comes under attack by other demons. Some cool action sequences, crushed bodies and sporadic nudity are the only saving grace of this show, which is difficult to follow, has no interesting characters, and is chock full of muddled contrivances. This show is evil for evil's sake, and is neither interesting nor enjoyable. Whenever a Go Nagai demon tale is released on DVD, the world becomes a darker place. However, just in case Nagai really does have a contract with Satan, to cover our asses we will praise the nudity.
Another disc that contained little in the way of characterization and ended up as a confusing mess was Shadow Star Narutaru Volume 2. This program involves young teens who are psychically linked to baby dragons. Of course there are the good kids who love their dragons and the bad kids who want to control and use them to rule the world, something we've all seen before. With only three episodes on this disc, not a lot happens in the first half of the DVD, and when the action does start, it's rather uninspiring. In addition to a lame story, the animation was done on the cheap and is very limited. A rental at best.
Scheduled for release on Tuesday, June 14, 2005
Scheduled for release on Tuesday, June 21, 2005
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Two early screeners from ADV this week got popped in the DVD player, Area 88 and Yugo The Negotiator, and while both are filed under the action adventure category, they contrast in many ways.
Yugo was up first, and with everything going on in Iraq, I was eager to see what this one was about. Yugo is split into two parts over 13 episodes, with the first half taking place in Pakistan (second half takes place in Russia). No country has more people kidnapped overseas than Japan, so this title has garnered some interest, despite coming from little-known studios (Artland and G&G Direction) and a little-known director (Seiji Kishi). The show has a lot of heart, following Yugo, the top negotiator in Japan, who's hired by a desperate woman whose father is being held hostage by a zealous religious rebel group in the Middle East. This anime deals with the emotions of everyone involved in an overseas hostage negotiation and has a modern day appeal (it's actually a lot like Proof of Life, with Meg Ryan and Russell Crowe).
Yugo looks great, with solid character designs and excellent settings, but the first three episodes are missing an important element: action. There just isn't much of it in the first hour or so of this series, as we follow Yugo's infiltration of the country and journey to where the woman's father is being held. A few snippets of gunfire and the gruesome death of one of the rebels were the only notable events surrounding a very political plot filled with different warring factions, which Yugo details at length in one scene using balls on a pool table. C'mon, less talking, more killing. Still, this show has promise, with a well-developed lead character and a lot of current-event significance.
On the other side of the coin, we've got Area 88, a fast-paced, eye-catching series. It's anime's closest thing to Top Gun, with constant dog fights and an English dub filled with familiar lines like "Fox three!" and "Splash one!" The lead pilot even uses the brakes at one point to let the pursuing bogie fly in front of him. All that's missing is Goose, San Diego and homoerotic volleyball.
A photographer from Japan comes to the Middle East military base Area 88, a home to mercenary pilots who make a buck by destroying local enemies. I'm still not exactly sure who the enemy is, since we only get brief glances of them, but that's not why we're watching. We're watching awesome air battles and we're watching the photographer chronicle the life of Shin Kazama, the top pilot on the base and the only Japanese man other than the photographer for miles. He's an ace, for sure, taking down most every enemy pilot he's faced with. But there's something bothering him. We're sure to find out what that is at some point. For now, we get to guess which characters are coming back from various missions, because the body count starts out high, for our group of mercenaries and for the enemy. Planes fall to missiles and gunfire on a regular basis, in spectacular fashion. The dog fights range from furious one-on-one battles to chaotic, multi-jet free-for-alls, with every battle looking fantastic. ADV actually brought in a military advisor for this series, wanting to make sure they got terminology and planes correct. Other than the air battles, you've got a nice dynamic among the mercenaries: they're all under contract and can't leave until they've earned $1.5 million or served for three years. Some of these guys don't last three weeks, so making friends is a risky proposition. An all-around good first volume for a promising show.
Going by DVDTalk ratings, Yugo is surely worth a Rental, while the first volume of Area 88 is an easily Recommended purchase for the action anime fan.
NEXT TIME: Sony's release of Steamboy, Bandai/Manga's
first volume of Ghost in the Shell: Standalone Complex 2nd Gig,
and ADV's Korean animation, My Beautiful Girl Marie.
The Best and Worst
by Chris Tribbey
1. Paranoia Agent. I bow before Satoshi Kon's genius. Beginning to end, one of the most fascinating anime ever. Only two complaints: it ended too soon, and Geneon included few extras on the DVDs. Geneon is re-releasing the series in a complete collection. Maybe they'll include more.
2. Kira Vincent-Davis. She can voice boys, she can voice girls, she'll do bit parts and leads. Nearly 70 English dub works to her name in anime and still going strong.
3. Anime Expo in Anaheim. Hotel room is booked.
4. Ninja Scroll TV Complete Collection. With figurine. Goody. It won't do as well as Appleseed, but it's an awesome show that deserved the re-release. Shigure was cute as hell too.
5. Gatchaman. Sometimes they are five, sometimes they are one, and now they're on DVD uncut. Hannah-Barbara screwed it up with Battle of the Planets. ADV didn't. Famed comic artist Alex Ross does the cover art.
1. Slice of life anime. Stories about everyday life mostly suck when told in anime. Every slice of life show since Tokyo Godfathers (funny, dramatic, and it's only a show about smelly homeless people) has been a stinker, especially Human Crossing. I'd rather watch The Weather Channel.
2. The first volume of Piano. Yeah, yeah, girls need their anime too, but this show will put anyone to sleep. An excellent English dub can't save a yawner of a story. People-watching at your local mall is more entertaining. Buy a Cinnebon, mocha and cell phone cover with the $30 you saved.
3. Any DVD with less than an hour of material on it. OK, so Gantz is excellent, and it's a cliffhanger at the end of every DVD. The end of every SHORT DVD, damnit.
4. Dreamworks. Spring for an English dub, get the subtitles right, or leave anime alone.
5. Star Ocean EX Vol. 2. Awful. Horrid. If only DVDs could be used as kindling.
Trivia Contest: In how many episodes do we see Pen-Pen in Neon Genesis: Evangelion? List them. Ellsworth was the first person with the correct answer and will receive copies of Ghost in the Shell: Standalone Complex Vol. 6 and Chrono Crusade Vol. 5.
For those of you wondering, Pen-Pen was in 13 episodes 2, 5, 6, 7, 9, 10, 12, 15, 18, 22, 23, 24, and the finale. Thanks a lot to everyone who entered and stay tuned for more trivia questions with prizes!
Chris Tribbey is a DVDTalk contributor, an anime reviewer for Home Media Retailing Magazine, and anime editor for the DVD Release Report. He recently sent a disturbing love letter to Manga in Chicago after the company announced a DVD release date for the 1980's Astro Boy.
What do you think about the column? Like what you see? Don't like it? Have a comment or suggestion? Drop us an e-mail and let us know!
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