Lucky Star, One Piece, etc, etc.
a semi-weekly column by Todd Douglass, John Sinnott, and Wen-Tsai
Long time no see! It's been about a month since we had a new Anime Talk column and I'm sure many of you have been anxiously waiting for it. I know, I know, please keep down your applause. Anyways we held off for a bit so we could provide better updates and a larger supply of reviews though a large reason is the smaller release schedules by publishers.
It is June and the summer heat waves are just around the corner though there's plenty of stuff to keep you inside with the AC on high. Shows such as Lucky Star, One Piece, Blood+, xxxHolic, and Agent Aika all get some attention today. In all honesty though there are many others worth checking out such as Shuffle, Super Robot Wars, Hell Girl, and even the revered DBZ. WTK has graced us with another installment of his anime bargains which features sales from Rightstuf and many other retailers. The Deep Discount 20% is still going on for the next couple of days (ends 6/22) though so be sure you get those last minute orders in!
One of the most popular and longest running anime series (currently at over 350 episodes, based on a long-running manga series) finally gets an uncut and unedited release, thanks to FUNimation. Now otaku can watch One Piece the way it was meant to be seen in One Piece: Season One First Voyage. Unfortunately this isn't the entire first season, only the initial 13 episodes. While it would have been nice to get a larger chunk of the show, this two-disc release is still great. With a lot of adventure and action, this show never takes itself seriously and that's what makes it so enjoyable. While there aren't many laugh-out-loud sections, the whole attitude of the show will have you smiling all the way through. Just a down-right fun show, it is well worth picking up.
Things go from bad to worse in the penultimate volume of My-Zhime - My-Otome. With Arika and the Queen are hiding out with the desert people, but that doesn't mean that the Schwartz won't find them. Arika has to fight for her life against one of her old classmates, and on top of that, it looks like the true heir to the throne isn't Arika after all. The action revs up another notch as does the suspense in this sixth volume. A great series that hasn't disappointed yet.
In general, TV series are more satisfying than OVAs. Sure, the Original Video Animations have a larger budget and the time pressure isn't nearly as intense as a weekly TV show, but they usually don't have time to really develop a story the way a 26 episode TV show does. So instead they usually turn into a case of style over substance with some really cool art, but not much in the way of plot or characterization. One OVA that bucks this trend is the awkwardly named Baldr Force EXE. Based on a video game, this 4 episode series manages to create some interesting characters along with a plot containing multiple story lines that manage to merge satisfactorily at the end.
Galaxy Angels started off as an amusing, if a bit too silly and shallow, show that was fun to watch. Then came a second season, and a third, and a fourth and a sequel, and then another sequel, and soon it turned into one of those franchises that has overstayed its welcome. Now Bandai has released a one-shot OVA that is little more than a glorified ad for yet another upcoming Galaxy Angel series: Galaxy Angel S. While it's mildly amusing in some parts, the throw away stories that are not part of any continuity will likely leave viewers thinking "is that all there is?"
The third volume of Haruka: Beyond the Stream of Time plays out like the others have; introducing new heroes and having them fight a new demon to protect Akane. That's not to say it's a bad series just that it's stuck in a bit of a rut. Part of the reason is doubtlessly the way Bandai-Visual is releasing the show, with only three episodes on a full-priced disc. Still fans of fantasy anime will be pleased with the show. It has been trying to flesh out the characters and make the world that the heroine finds herself in deep and textured, as so far they're succeeding.
When the first volume of Oban Star Racers showed up, I wasn't that enthused. From reading the back cover blurbs it seemed like a kids show, an animated version of Donkey Kong Racing without the recognizable characters. After reading Todd Douglass' review however my interest was piqued and I decided to check it out. I'm glad I did, because this French/Japanese collaboration is much better than I was expecting. An exciting program with a solid plot, good animation, and fleshed out characters, this is a damn good show that deserves more attention.
The first story line comes to a close in Shuffle Volume 4, as Rin finds out some new information about Primula and decides what he must do. The episodes in this volume are a bit more serious in tone than the preceding volumes, and it feels as if the show is maturing in a way. More time is spent on the back story and the characters are fleshed out a bit more, but the program hasn't lost its sense of fun.
Thing start to heat up with volume seven of Super Robot Wars, but the show also jumps the shark. In this volume the Aerogaters launch their attack on Earth (finally!) and at the same time the remnants of the DC plan a counter attack against the Earth Defense Forces, putting them in a tight situation. While all this is going on however, the show still has very little substance and an insane number of main characters. There are so many people it's hard to keep them straight, much less care about them or their problems. That becomes very apparent in the first episodes on this disc. Everyone has a little time to relax, but there are so many people that viewers will have a hard time remembering who they all are.
One of the biggest anime franchises in the world is Dragon Ball (and it's continuation, Dragon Ball Z) so it's no surprise that some of the first anime to make it to Blu-ray comes from this show. FUNimation, who owns the US rights, has already released two of the later films on Blu-ray (read Todd Douglass' review here) and apparently sales warranted another Blu-ray release. This time they've gone back to the first two films that were released: Dead Zone and The World's Strongest. While these features aren't as appealing as the actual show, they're entertaining enough and the Blu-ray discs look fine, though not outstanding. For a standard definition review of this release go here. And keeping up with the Dragon Ball Z theme the fifth season has been released as well.
The final volume of Hell Girl's first season has arrived and it puts some nice closing touches on the adventures of Ai Enma. The exploits of Hell Girl come into focus and we finally see some revelations regarding her origin and what her connection is to Hajime and Tsugumi. While the ending doesn't completely satisfy or feel right it is very dramatic and keeps up with the theme of this series. Hopefully we won't have to wait long for the second season and who knows; maybe we'll eventually get the live action version as well?
Love Full Metal Panic? Well, you're not alone. This longstanding fan favorite entry into the mecha genre hasn't lost any amount of its popularity. Every re-release is gobbled up willingly by newcomers and those looking for upgrades so it should be no surprise that FUNimation has released The Second Raid in a new boxed set. The content on the discs is mostly the same though so if you're looking for a double dip you're only going to be conserving shelf space. If you haven't checked out this venerable show then you're missing out on a ruckus affair though there's little denying that The Second Raid is a direct continuation of events from the first Full Metal Panic. In other words you need to know what's going on in order to full appreciate everything.
The third volume of xxxHolic has hit the market and CLAMP fans can rejoice because it contains many of the same elements that made their other series successful. Deep character development, quality writing, and a unique concept are explored with this volume just like the prior two. Unfortunately the formulaic content of the four episodes doesn't leave as strong an impression. If you come for the characters then you'll appreciate this show more than if you are looking for continuity and memorable side stories.
Fans of School Rumble have something to be happy about as the first two OVAs have just been released. When they were originally released in Japan these two episodes served as a way to tide fans over until the second season of the show started. After sitting through the disc I must say that the content doesn't really hold a candle to the first season. It's such a haphazard collection of snippets from random points during the show that it is way too disorganized for its own good. If you appreciated the series you'll want to check it out but it's not something I would rush out and buy.
More Saya is a good thing. The second volume of Blood+ has been released and if you were one of the viewers that opted to pick up the individual discs instead of the boxed set you must run out and get this now. The five episodes included here are rock solid and there's plenty of action to go around. After the first volume I must admit that I REALLY wanted to pick up the full first season but pacing this show out has certainly paid off so far.
Cleavage, topless nudity, panty shots, girls with guns, and more panty shots are things that make fan service great. If you're a lover of everything I just mentioned then chances are very good that you proudly own Agent Aika already. It may interest you to know that the OVA Aika R-16: Virgin Mission has recently been released by Bandai. It features a story about Aika when she was younger and involves her in another twisted plot filled with action and more female underwear than you can shake a stick at (that's right, you're only allowed to shake a stick at it). It's mindlessly entertaining and fits well into the Aika universe but if you're not a fan of the franchise then chances are good it will be lost on you.
by Todd Douglass
When it comes to the comedy genre for anime, it's kind of a funny thing (pun intended). There are so many different shows out there with concepts and styles that are completely unalike and yet they invariably are compared with each other. How many times have you seen Excel Saga brought up in a conversation? Or even Azumanga Daioh for that matter? In all honesty there are way too many comedy anime to list when comparing so we always look for the main players and most popular points of reference. It's with that in mind that we look at Lucky Star; a show that draws direct comparisons to Azumanga Daioh.
One of the biggest trends in the comedy genre of anime over the past decade or so has been the emergence of four panel manga to anime transitions. So many shows got their start in this fashion and Lucky Star is only the latest example of that practice. Created by Kagami Yoshimizu, Lucky Star got its start in 2004 and garnered an instant fan base. A few years later an animated version was released with 24 episodes and Bandai was quick to pick up the license for an American release.
While I personally have never read the manga or knew much about the program prior to watching the first volume, I will say that seeing the preview on a volume of Haruhi was enough for me. The show appeared to have a wild sense of humor and I'm always in the mood for a good laugh. That anticipation grew as I saw the treatment Bandai was giving the release and I kept hearing good things about it. After sitting down with the first four episodes, I have to say that my bubble was deflated somewhat.
Lucky Star is a very low-key show despite its perky characters, attractive art style, and four panel origins. I almost felt like I was watching an anime about teenage girls set to the theme of Seinfeld. It's a show about nothing! Not that that's a bad thing.
Lucky Star follows the exploits of a core group of friends who all attend the same school. For the most part each of these characters fits one stereotypical mold or another within the four-panel genre. First of all you have Konata who is essentially the leader of the group and is good at just about everything she does. She's also a full-fledged otaku, gamer, and all around lover of "geek" material. The fact that Konata is so good at everything infuriates Kagami to the point that there's something of a rivalry between them. She often plays the straight man and winds up setting the stage for the joke to come through.
Kagami's sister, Tsukasa, is the useless character who is lazy and generally blunders through life. It's her cuteness and naiveté that adds to some of the charm in these episodes. And finally you have Miyuki who is the a-typical smart girl with glasses who is excessively polite to everyone including her friends. With this cast of characters in place the rest of the show just kind of falls into place around them.
Each of the four episodes here is broken up like most other four-panel shows and these mini-episodes sometimes have something to do with the other, but in most cases that's not so. For instance the opening half of the first episode features three of the girls sitting around talking about their favorite snacks and the best way to eat them while the second has the girls discussing the difference between a cold and flu. The comedic payoff isn't quite what you'd expect and each of the storylines winds up feeling stretched out beyond the point where it's relevant.
Fortunately the material does get better as the volume progresses and we get to know each of the characters. In the second episode the contrast between Konata and Kagami is put on display as the two study for a big time exam and Konata is forced to get a part time job in order to support her geeky habits. Other bits from these episodes include some funny moments with summer around the corner and the twins celebrate their birthday.
After watching the first volume I can't help but feel that aforementioned sense of disappointment. Somehow I was hoping for more than what I got, though that's not saying this is a bad show by any stretch of the imagination; it just doesn't "pop" quite as much as hype would have you believe. The characters are all very endearing and throughout the four episodes here there are many hilarious moments. With that being said there are also plenty of dry runs that simply don't carry over very well. If you loved Azumanga Daioh then Lucky Star is easily recommended but if you're picky about comedy shows this one should be regarded as a rental until we see more.
Lucky Star hits DVD with a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer and the video quality is definitely a feather in this disc's cap. This show absolutely shines thanks to its fantastic design and presentation values. There is no grain, compression, aliasing, or cross-coloration anywhere in these episodes and the bright art style allows for a very vivid display. Even if you're bored with a conversation about chocolate cornet you can at least marvel at the technical merits of the program.
Considering this isn't an action packed show with explosions, robots, and ninjas it doesn't need a boisterous audio presentation. With that fact in mind the 2.0 Dolby Digital presentation for both English and Japanese is decidedly appropriate for the material. While the lack of a sense of immersion is disappointing this show's dialogue driven content simply doesn't need it to be effective. The dubbing quality is decent all around as well though I personally felt that the Japanese track matched the content better.
The first DVD of Lucky Star lands with a few bonus features that are worth taking a few minutes to look through. For starters there are trailers, a textless opening, and promotional clip for the show. In addition to those offerings there is a pair of videos called Key Scenes Gallery which take stills and explain some things in more detail. Also somewhat in line with Haruhi there is a live action feature which is entitled "The Adventures of Minoru Shiraishi" and it features the voice actor and production crew being funny.
Lucky Star is a very appealing show in terms of design, characters, and potential. There is an extremely strong Azumanga vibe going on with this program and it can be quite funny in parts. Unfortunately the material in these four episodes keeps it from being a true success and it's not as sharp as it could be. Hopefully we'll see that change in the coming episodes because there is so much promise with this content. This title is recommended for lovers of four-panel comedies but until we see more, consider this a rental if you're selective with comedies. It is worth mentioning though that the director for this series changed after these episodes so we may see a complete turn around with the next installment.
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