Initial D, FMA, and Manga
June 2010 Edition by Todd
Douglass, John Sinnott, Bobby Cooper, and Wen-Tsai
by Todd Douglass, John Sinnott, Bobby Cooper, and Wen-Tsai
Since we last had a column, the American anime industry has seen an exciting selection of titles hit its shores. The likes of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood and Dragon Ball Z: Kai have been released, and for the most part they live up to expectations. Other Blu-ray titles such as Appleseed and Tsubasa passed through our hands, and of course there's a fine selection of manga as well. The summer months have only just begun, but things are getting hot already. Kick back, relax, and take a look at some of our recent anime reviews and WTK's bargains!
After the long, and very exciting, Alabasta Saga the Straw Hat Pirates take a bit of a break and have some fun, short adventures in One Piece: Season Two, the Seventh Voyage. It's a nice break from the huge multi-episode story arc that they just finished, and this set has some interesting tales that are short and sweet.
The animated stories of Nana Komatsu and Nana Osaki come to a conclusion in Nana Set Four from Viz. The series takes a few interesting turns as Blast gets closer to the release of their debut album, a media circus erupts, and the two Nanas have somewhat of a falling out. Unfortunately the show doesn't end on a satisfying note, with the last episode raising more questions than it answers.
Well it's been a while, but Initial D is finally back on US shores. The first two seasons of the series were originally released in by Tokyopop (who changed the names of the characters and replaced a lot of the music), way back in 2003. When the original company ran into financial difficulties they partnered with FUNimation and released season sets in late 2007. Tokyopop went belly up and FUNimation ended up with the rights, but they didn't do anything with the series. Until now. At long last Initial D: Third Stage (a 100 min movie) and Initial D: Fourth Stage Part One (12 episodes from the next season) have been released. Takumi Fujiwara is back behind the wheel of his old Trueno 'eight-six' wiping up the competition at long last. With the original music left in tact and the names reverting to their original Japanese versions, FUNimation has done this series right at last. It's only disappointing that the video quality isn't better.
Eyeshield 21: Collection 1 presents the first 13 episodes of this comedic sports anime franchise. Watch how Sena, your typical, nice-guy loser, becomes the star football player on the high school football club. While wearing a tinted eye shield to conceal his identity, Sena slowly builds excitement for the American football club while concurring his own scaredy-cat tendencies. Hiruma, the quarterback and leader of the club, helps guide Sena in a demonic coach meets major mobster sort of way. The episodes move at a quick clip and can teach football newbies a thing or two about the game.
Dragon Ball Z Kai: Season One Part One is classic anime at its finest! Toei Animation spliced Dragon Ball Z Kai together by removing much of the filler that plagued the original series keeping the story fast-paced. FUNimation added to the improvement with a fantastic new, English dub. Per the Dragon Ball reputation, this series contains a lot of fighting and some truly epic battles. In this first volume, Goku and his old nemesis Piccolo team up to take on the Saiyan, Raditz. After the battle, Raditz' revelation leads Earth's warriors to train for the ultimate final battle with Vegeta and Nappa. Bound to entertain old fans, Dragon Ball Z Kai: Season One Part One is the perfect jumping in point for Dragon Ball newbies. In the spirit of Kai, Todd also had a chance to review the Blu-ray version as well.
Dragon Ball Z, Bardock: Father of Goku looks fantastic for an anime that is 20 years old and was made for television. However, the story is nothing more than boring filler. The English dub is unwatchable--even for laughs. Goku's origin story, as presented in this movie, lifts heavily from Superman's origin story. The tale of Goku's father, Bardock, is not fleshed out very well. Bardock is a low-class Saiyan soldier doing what Saiyans do: annihilate intelligent life on other planets. After obtaining precognition, Bardock learns that Freeza is going to attempt to destroy his home planet, Vegeta, and eventually tries to stop him. Before partaking in Vegeta's last stand, Bardock hastily sends his baby son to Earth with a mission to someday avenge the Saiyans and kill Freeza.
Hell Girl has proven to be a very popular series in Japan with all manner of releases. Three seasons of animation, a successful manga, and a live-action series have been around since 2005. In America the original season was licensed and released by FUNimation, however, the second "Two Mirrors" recently hit store shelves thanks to Sentai Filmworks. For the most part this second time around is faithful to the original season. Episodic content abounds in these 13 episodes, but there's something to be said for the quality of some of the stories here.
Masamune Shirow's "other" futuristic franchise, Appleseed, never quite made the big time like "Ghost in the Shell" did, but it has done well enough for itself over the years. In case you missed it, the original animated feature was recently released on Blu-ray. If you're unfamiliar with Appleseed all you need to know is that it takes place well into the future where humanity has created a group of synthetic humans to quell the desire for war. The movie follows the exploits of a soldier as she attempts to uncover pieces of the past in order to save humanity from annihilation.
Kenichi the Mightiest Disciple is a goofy show with a fun atmosphere that never really lets up. In this final installment the show doesn't really pull any punches, though one would be hard-pressed to say there's much that goes on. It's more of the same with one fight after the next, but the sense of humor and charm persists.
FUNimation has released two CLAMP titles on Blu-ray recently. The CLAMP Double Feature included a Tsubasa and an xxxHolic film. The taste of both worlds was worth digging into and they give a nice smattering of CLAMP for fans of both shows. The other release was the complete series of Tsubasa. This gorgeous boxed set includes the animated series in its entirety and the film that comes with the double feature. If you buy into both beware of the double dip.
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood has finally come ladies and gentlemen. Perhaps you've heard of Fullmetal Alchemist before? Well, Brotherhood is more or less a reboot for the series. It retells the story in a format that's closer to the original manga, and FUNimation's first release includes the first 13 episodes. It kicks ass.
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 05/21/2010!
by Todd Douglass
If you've followed my reviews at all here at DVDTalk, then you know I LOVE Evangelion. The animated series has been a favorite of mine since the day it was released, and now that they are remaking the show into movies, it's even better. I also have been looking for a figure to sink my teeth into, and Yamato Toys latest pre-order is really tempting me like no other.
Artist Shunya Yamashita has taken a liberal approach on the design of Rei Ayanami for the latest in the Creators Labo series. Sculpted by Mitsumasa Yoshizawa, this newer more mature Rei stands nearly 10 inches tall and includes a multitude of options. She'll support two heads (one bandaged and one not), a display base, and an illustrated postcard.
As you can see from this early model the details on this figure are really stunning. She carries a hefty MSRP however and will set you back about $125, but anyone looking for a unique piece for their collection won't be left wanting I'm sure (and some retailers are selling it for a lower price). Rei will be released later this year around October or November and will be constructed of PVC material.
Kotobukiya has recently announced a new figure from a show we haven't seen here in the States quite yet. This latest effort comes from the series Bakemonogatari, which is actually a series of light novels dating back to 2006. An animated adaptation has been produced as well and that launched in 2009 in Japan, with an OVA shortly thereafter.
The series focuses on a high school student named Koyomi Araragi who was recently turned into a vampire. He was cured of this affliction and is trying to get back to something resembling a normal life. Normal that is until he bumps into Senjogahara Hitagi one day. He notices that Hitagi is virtually wieghtless, and from there his world spins out of control. Spirits and apparitions of all sorts start coming around, and each of them is somehow connected to a girl in his school. In the case of Hitagi she's related to a crab spirit and has a penchant for office supplies. Strange, I know, but then again the show is about someone who used to be a vampire.
Posed atop a translucent "omoshigani" monster-inspired base Kotobukiya's Hitagi figure was sculpted by Shiketaudonko. She appears to have some grace about her, and it seems as though the character is floating, which fits her weightlessness quite well. Adding to the mystique of the character is a stapler and claw as you can see in these images.
Hitagi stands 8 1/2 inches tall (1/8th scale) and is made out of PVC plastic. Look for her to be released later this year with an SRP of $69.99. Though my exposure to Bakemonogatari is rather limited, this figure certainly piques my interest!
by Todd Douglass and Bobby Cooper
Would you eat ramen noodles if they were prepared for you by a cat? Inevitable hairballs and potential health risks would lead me to think "probably not", but Tokyopop's latest release serves up a very tasty dish indeed. Neko Ramen was originally released in 2006 and is the brain child of Kenji Sonishi. Four volumes and a flash animated series have come out in Japan to date, but us English speaking folk are finally able to get our hands on the first volume.
Neko Ramen is a 4-koma, which basically means it's a four-panel comic that reads from top to bottom. The manga is set up to include a series of such comics and throughout this first installment we see some progression in story and episodic adventures alike.
What's the book all about? Quite simply, it is about a cat that makes ramen. Taisho is the preposterous feline running his own ramen noodle shop. His only customer is a guy named Tanaka-san who happens to wander into the shop only to be greeted by a cat. The ramen is horrible at first, but it gradually gets better, and Tanaka-san becomes a regular at the shop.
The manga basically follows Taisho and Tanaka-san as they interact with each other in the shop. It's hilarious how Taisho uses his guest as a guinea pig to practice his cooking techniques as he experiments with the cuisine. Tanaka's reactions to sushi full of cat hair and Taisho's failed attempts at ramen are quite charming. Further characters are added to the story to broaden the comedic value such as a multitude of assistants that Taisho hires to Tanaka's boss. There's even a restaurant critic that pops up at some point during the book.
The origin of Taisho comes later and it's revealed that he used to be a cat model. Something went awry with his career and he wound up on the street attempting other careers as a doctor, athlete, and driving instructor. Just when all hope seemed lost a ramen noodle stand owner served him up a delicious bowl and won Taisho over. He apprenticed and eventually took over the business when his skills were complete.
From the first page to the last Neko Ramen is a treat to read. Not every comic within hits it out of the park, but the manga is a charmer through and through. It's clear that Sonishi is a cat lover because he gets some of the cat behaviors down to the letter. Add to that the fact that this cat is cooking up meals for the public and you have a recipe for something unique. Sonishi's art style adds a lot of personality to the book as well and some of Taisho's reactions are downright adorable. Some references in the book will be lost on some English readers, but there's nothing too outlandish.
If you're looking for a new comedy manga, Tokyopop has you covered with Neko Ramen. The first volume, "Hey! Order Up!", is a fun read that lasts a while and offers plenty of reasons to go back once you hit the last page. I'm really looking forward to the next installment! Highly recommended!
Nightschool: The Weirn Books, by Svetlana Chmakova , is a fantasy/mystery series that is currently being published in the pages of Yen Plus. The main setting of the series is a nightschool that's a normal human school by day, but at night, it becomes a public school where witches, vampires, and demons all learn to perfec t their abilities. Volume 3 continues to build on several story threads from the previous volumes such as Alex's search to find her lost sister, Sarah, as well as Daemon and his hunters' continuing battle against the night things.
Nightschool follows the life of Alex Treveney. She's a Weirn, which is type of a witch, and is homeschooled by her older sister Sarah. For Alex's age, she has exceptional control over her Astral--a pet-like apparition that is always around her and seems to be her protector.
The story up to Volume 3 follows the mystery behind the disappearance of Sarah. While Alex was homeschooled, Sarah worked at the nightschool as a nightkeeper. One night, Sarah is walking through a closed part of the school halls and comes across a magical temporary portal. Thinking that students are in the portal, Sarah enters to tell them to go back to the open halls. The doors of the portal close behind her and Sarah vanishes without a trace. Everyone completely forgets who she is except for Alex, and as Volume 3 reveals, a few select others. Alex begins to investigate the disappearance of her sister when she finds that getting into the nightschool is impossible without a student pass. So, she registers as student and begins taking classes there.
Meanwhile, a group of hunters, humans trained in magical fighting, rescue a Seer named Mar. Because Seers can see the future, hence the name, they are worth a lot of money to interested parties. Daemon, the leader of the hunters, meets with a gang of werewolves led by their alpha leader Gray. The second volume ends with three main cliffhangers. First, Gray expects Daemon to be accompanied by the prized Seer, Mar, who he wants to buy. When Daemon reveals that he has no intention of selling Mar, Gray attacks him with crossbow bolts dipped in Veres--a poison that kills hunters. In the other story thread, Alex finds a note that tells her to follow a strange symbol etched on the walls of an endless staircase. So she follows the cryptic instructions. Finally, in the third cliffhanger, back at the hunters' headquarters a mysterious man shows up at the gate knowing the password to get in and they let him in.
Volume 3 continues to reveal portions of the mystery surrounding Sarah's disappearance as well hint at the power that some characters have brewing inside them. Alex figures out the trick to the endless staircase and uncovers a secret room where Ronee is waiting for her. In the first two volumes of Nightschool, Ronee is nothing more than a mysterious character who seems to know more about Sarah's disappearance than she lets on; an observation that does not escape Alex. Ronee reveals that she does indeed remember Sarah and that she is not the only student to be erased from existence. Ronee gets Alex to agree to do a scrying--a ritual of sorts that will allow them to see what happened to Sarah on the night of her disappearance. The visions reveal some major surprises and the girls now have some questions about a certain teacher at the nightschool.
Meanwhile, the werewolves attack Daemon, mistaking his lackidasial demeanor as weakness--he defeats the entire gang without breaking a sweat. Daemon realizes the danger that his hunters back at the headquarters are in and races back to help them. He arrives to find his hunters decimated by Veres poison and rescues Mar from a man named Theo--the weird guy who appeared at the gate in Volume 2. Theo is apparently an angry former hunter who is resentful of the treaty with the night things--a treaty that requires proof before conducting raids against them. Theo believes all night things are guilty and should die.
After Daemon saves the day, he brings his hunters to a safe place since their headquarters was compromised. At this safe place, the reader learns what powers Mar and Alex may possess: that of a Sohrem. After being routed by night things earlier and watching some fellow hunters die, Daemon's remaining hunters take it upon themselves to find the mysterious Weirn girl whose spell apparently did the killing. Meanwhile, Alex and Ronee decide to attend Mr. Roi's class, but he does not show up to teach. During this class they discover another student who remembers Sarah and continue their investigation.
Upon reading the description of this series, the first thing that comes to mind is, "Harry Potter rip-off." While Nightschool does seem inspired by the writings of J.K. Rowling, to call it a knock-off is a severe injustice to fantastic world that Svetlana Chmakova is creating. Witches (or wizards) going to a special school is where the parallels between Harry Potter and Nightschool end. The characters in Volume 3 get much further developed. The reader finds out who the mysterious Ronee is when Alex follows her instructions to a secret room. Daemon's true power is put on full display as he easily disposes of a gang of werewolves and their leader Gray. This also leads to an interesting potential subplot since, technically, Daemon is now the alpha male of the werewolf clan. Finally, Mr. Roi is fleshed out as a very powerful, and very old, character who has some sort of past with Daemon.
The artwork by Svetlana Chmakova is a delight to look at. A few of the character designs are almost too similar and a little confusing at first. However, once you read the story and have a better feel for the characters, it's obvious who's who. The magical effects look phenomenal and exhibit the characters' powers very well. In particular, Daemon's fight sequence against the shifters in the opening pages looks spectacular. Svetlana Chmakova does a great job at communicating the awesome power that Daemon possesses and the ease at which he can unleash it. You can tell through Daemon's expressions and body language, that he is holding back. Svetlana Chmakova also handles multiple story threads with ease. Each group of characters has an interesting story to follow and you get the impression that everything beginning to tie together nicely.
In the first two volumes of Nightschool: The Weirn Books, Svetlana Chmakova ended the story on a huge cliffhanger that makes you eager to get your hands on the next book. Volume 3 is no exception. Svetlana Chmakova is crafting an amazingly deep universe in this series. The story is well laid out and the characters get more interesting with each volume. If you enjoyed stories like Harry Potter or Buffy the Vampire Slayer, then Nightschool: The Weirn Books is right up your alley.
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January 2015 Edition
2013 Q4 Top Anime Titles from RightStuf.com, Part 1
Crunchy Roll, Lupin, and Bunny Drop