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Manga, an Art Book, and Anime

AnimeTalk

July 2010 Edition

by Todd Douglass, John Sinnott, Bobby Cooper, and Wen-Tsai

Welcome to the July edition of Anime Talk! Though we're attempting to stay as cool as possible on these hot summer days, we still find time to suck up the electricity to watch and review anime. This time around John, Bobby, and I have a few titles, and we also have some manga, a figure, and an art book to feature. Once again WTK also supplies some of the best anime bargains around!


The Latest Anime Reviews:
(Click on the links to read the full review.)

Vandread: The Ultimate Collection is a surprisingly good, action-packed, sci-fi/comedy series. The all-male planet of Tarak is at war with the all-female planet of Mejale. Three guys aboard a Tarak vessel are taken prisoner by some Mejale space pirates and are eventually integrated with the crew. They also discover that the Tarak space fighter ships, Vanguards, can combine with the Mejale fighters, Dreads, to form a Vandread. This uber powerful fighter is the only thing capable of defeating the mysterious enemy ships that constantly attack them. What begins as a formulaic, monster-of-the-week, sci-fi series takes a few unanticipated turns and becomes a show you can't stop watching. The early uneven art style and mismatched CGI come together by the second half of the series. While the 26 episode series is worthwhile, the two OVA's are merely clips shows and difficult to follow. With an intriguing storyline and great character development, Vandread will appeal to anime fans that typically do not like mecha.

Slayers Evolution-R picks up right where Slayers Revolution left off in the fourth season of the slapstick, comedy/fantasy series. In the first 13 episodes, most of the loose ends were tied up except one: Lina and the gang had to find and destroy a jar containing the spirit of Red Priest Rezo. Two members of her gang, Pokota and Zelgadiss, have their own motivations for getting their hands on the jar. Unfortunately, there are a lot of filler episodes that plague the beginning of this set--even by Slayers' standards. However, if you can make it through the first block of filler, then the rest of the series is the same zany, but always good storyline that Slayers fans expect.

If you have not yet seen Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, you are missing what may be one of the best anime releases to come out in years. Brotherhood is a complete reset of the original Fullmetal Alchemist series and more closely follows the manga. The story follows two young, prodigal alchemists, Edward and Alphonse Elric, and their quest to find the Philosopher's Stone. For those unfamiliar with the Fullmetal Alchemist franchise, the first episode is off-putting and not at all representative of what this series is like. Just stick it out, the rest of the series is incredible featuring a perfect mix of plot, action, and comedy. These first 13 episodes merely scratch the surface of what promises to be an awesome journey.

Nearly two years ago Guyver: The BioBoosted Armor hit DVD and came our way for review. Now that FUNimation's support of Blu-ray is in full swing we had the opportunity to check the series out in an up-converted, high definition transfer. What's the difference? Much better picture quality and somewhat improved audio. Oh, and the show still kicks lots of ass! If you missed it the first time around you'll definitely want to check this one out, and if you own the DVD set it's worth noting that this collection is a solid upgrade.

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 remastered boxed set. The content on the discs is mostly the same though the presentation of the series has been cleaned up a bit. The end result is a show that succeeds in offering Full Metal Panic fans a sequel, but also steps up its game in the A/V department.

The third Dragon Box presents an impressive 42 episodes of one of the most influential anime shows of all time, Dragon Ball Z. This time around we finish up the Freiza Saga and dive straight into the next big story arc, the Android Saga. This is probably my favorite Dragon Box so far. It has some great action and a couple of my all time favorite anime episodes.

Monkey D. Luffy and his band of eclectic pirates continue to sail the waters of the Grand Line in FUNimation's release of One Piece Season Three Voyage One. This time the Straw Hat pirates run into a problem when their navigation device says that the nearest island is straight up. It's never wrong, so there must be an island in the sky! Once the idea of sailing through the sky gets into Luffy's mind, there's no turning back. He and his crew start searching for a way and if there is one, you know the rubber boy will find it.

FUNimation wraps up the latest Initial D TV series with Initial D - Fourth Stage Part Two. These final 12 episodes don't quite wrap up the story but brings a nice close to the TV series. (There's also a compilation special and a one-shot that aired on PPV in Japan that haven't been released in the US.) This time around Project D battles two other schools, one with some of the best non-pro drivers in the country and another that isn't nearly as skilled. The latter team makes up for lack of driving acumen with an impressive arsenal of dirty tricks and out and out cheating. Unfortunately the show still has the same video problems that the last set had, making it a marginal buy.


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For more anime bargains, please check out the monthly Official- ANIME Bargains! - Thread, updated by yours truly!
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Art Book Review:
by Todd Douglass

Publisher BNN released 100 Masters of Bishojo Painting earlier this year. In terms of art books, this one is a collection of four or five works of the best known bishoujo artists in Japan. From anime to manga, light novels, doujinshi, and designs for other medium, the artists included here could be considered the most recognizable and the best of the best. If you're a fan of art books, or the female form in general, you'll definitely want to pick this one up!

Clocking in at 215 pages, 100 Masters of Bishojo Painting comes presented with Japanese and English text, so nothing is really lost in translation. The book reads from left to right, instead of right to left, and in that sense this edition breaks from tradition. It begins with a preface that introduces readers to the world of digital illustration and really sets up what the book is all about. From there it goes on to present an index of artists and some translation notes.

Each artist is given two pages, and of those two pages there are anywhere from four to five works of their art. The pages are broken down with one page offering contact information and often a little blurb from the artist, accompanied by a selection of smaller sketches, and on the opposite page there is a much larger piece of work that takes up the full page. This presentation is kept in line for each artist and each of the distinctive works really stands out thanks to the quality printing (as you can see in some of these images).

Who can you expect to find here? Quite honestly I don't want to get into listing all 100, as many of these artists are recognized more from their artwork than their names, but instantly identifiable artists abound. Range Murata, Yasu, Eiji Usatsuka, Noizi Ito, and Iyuu Ayakura are prominently featured here, just to name a few. The content ranges from innocently cute to ecchi, and each artist definitely brings their unique sense of style to this book. Sure several of the artworks featured here can be found in other publications or searches on the web, but BNN really outdid themselves with the quality printing in 100 Masters of Bishojo Painting.

The book is bound with a soft glossy cover and the size of the book is large so that each print offers eye-popping detail in most cases. The variety of the artists doesn't really allow the book to carry a tone or theme, but rather it's a nice compendium for collectors and art lovers alike. If you're looking for a new art book to add to your shelf or coffee table, this is definitely the one to get. Variety, a comprehensive translation, and an impeccable list of artists make this book feel like something special. 100 masters of Bishojo Painting can be purchased from Amazon.com.


Anime Talk Figures it Out:
by Todd Douglass

Kotobukiya has released yet another figure in their popular Shining Wind lineup. This time around it's Princess/Priestess Clalaclan Philias. As you might have already guessed from the thumbnail she's certainly not shy, and not entirely noble-like either. Dressed up as a made, this version of Clalaclan comes from the Shining Wind Fan Festa - St. Luminous Gakuen Koufuusai Soudouk. Not familiar with what that is? Don't worry about it. All you need to know is that if you appreciate awesome anime figures and enjoy maid outfits, Clalaclan will be right up your alley.

Based on an illustration by Tony Taka, this latest figure comes in two versions. Originally Kotobukiya released an edition that featured Clalaclan dressed up as a maid, but her outfit was a vibrant shade of sky blue. It was cute, and fit the character's personality quite well, but this follow-up "Noir" version is the far better of the two in my opinion. There's just something about the black and white maid outfit that is far more striking and visually appealing. She's still in the same mid-curtsy pose, but the sheen of the black and the stark contrast really make some of the finer details stand out...such as the two big details just below her neckline.

As you can tell by my photographs, Clalaclan is wearing an innocent expression that is very regal. She seems happy to serve and the body language of this pose is very feminine and submissive. I really like the wide-eyed look she has and there's just something serene about the overall look of the character.

Details on the figure are plenty from the ruffles on the skirt, apron, and top to her long blond hair and ribbons. The version of the figure I received had nary a flaw on her with all painting being spot on and nothing chipped, so the production quality is quite high.

With regards to the design of the figure, I must say that some awkward positioning of the hands leaves the curtsy not looking quite right from some angles. Since she's not actually holding on to the apron her hands kind of hover above the skirt. From the front it's not as blatant, but from the sides and closeup it's quite obvious. The view from her back is rather bland as well, and it's clear the attention to detail was all on the front (which more than makes up for these nitpicks).

Like other Shining Wind figures there's a fair amount of customization to Clalaclan as well. Her top section can be removed and from there it's possible to take off her apron, which leaves her midriff exposed, or you can remove the skirt entirely. She's wearing some accompanying black panties and leggings, so it's quite nice. It's just a shame that her hands are stuck in the curtsy pose and look extremely awkward with the skirt removed. This was a nice addition for some, though personally I felt the figure displayed best as it was intended to be.

Measuring 1/8 in scale this PVC of Clalaclan the Noir version is available at KotoUS for $70. Any fans of Shining Wind figures should definitely add her to their collection. Even if you're not a Shining Wind fanatic, as long as you appreciate detailed anime figures and like maids Clalaclan will find a happy home on your shelf.


Manga Reviews:
by Todd Douglass

The Darker than Black has been around for a while now. There was a sequel animated series as well, and to be quite honest that speaks to the quality, and popularity, of the franchise. The anime series was so successful that a manga was published and here in the States Yen Press has just released a large edition of the whole shebang.

In many ways Darker than Black the nearly 400 page manga has several similarities to anime, but there are some differences. Before I get into what's been altered for the printed adaptation of the franchise, what's it all about?

Darker than Black takes place in a future where something known as Hell's Gate covers Japan. Along with Hell's Gate came Contractors, who are basically people devoid of human emotion that have been bestowed with superpowers. In addition to Contractors there are Dolls, who are essentially empty shells with abilities, though they do not have the individualism or personality of the latter. Various governing agencies and groups have been using Contractors for their own devices, and in order to hide Hell's Gate from the world it has been covered up with a fake sky. To say the concept is a little convoluted would be an understatement, and if you haven't seen the anime you'll probably be lost a little. There're inadequate explanations of everything here, and one never quite gets a good sense of what's going on, but I digress.

The story in this manga sees Hei, a Contractor and the main star of the show, attempting to find information about his sister, Pai. He's joined by Mao the cat, and is working for an syndicate whose goals are kept mysterious here. Caught in the middle of events in the manga is a young girl named Kana, whose father turns out to be a Contractor and cold-blooded murderer. Soon enough there's a plot about another mysterious organization of Contractors that surfaces and Kana becomes their ticket to get to Hei.

In all fairness, the plot isn't exactly this book's strongest element. The characters stand out the most, and the action comes in a close second. Darker than Black really develops the characters more than anything else, and with Kana taking the center stage her relationship with her father and with Hei really take control of events. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, mind you, but it does leave things feeling a little lopsided in the end. The story kind of just fits in around their interactions and the different action scenes presented here. I wasn't compelled in that sense to keep reading, though ultimately it's the mystery of the concept and strength of the character designs that really draw you into this book.

In addition to the main storyline that spans across nine chapters, or "nights", there are also random 4koma scattered throughout the book. It's advised that you finish reading the main story before checking these out, but since they are spread out it's kind of difficult to avoid. A larger section of these funny bits is included at the end of the book along with a glossary of terms and final thoughts on the manga.

As far as the artwork is concerned, this book features some fantastic style and a great sense of action. The characters really stand out and the world is full of wonderful detail. There isn't a bad panel in the bunch and quite honestly this is one of the most attractive manga I've read in a while. I loved some of the designs for the superpowers of the Contractors. One of the greatest examples of this is Hei's electric powers against the water manipulator. There's just so much detail there that it's daunting to take it all in. The translation and editing for this book is solid as well and it's a very easy read.

Ultimately Darker than Black is a book that appeal will to anyone looking for a solid action piece that doesn't require much investment. With that being said I'd caution that the experience is far better for those that have seen the animated series. This is a solid companion piece and serves as a nice side story to the episodes from the show. Sure the plot isn't the most engaging, but it's the characters and action that really stand out. In the end I'd consider this release strongly recommended.


In 2007 Romeo x Juliet the anime was released in Japan. The 24 episode series sought to twist the classic Shakespearian tale with a Japanese spin, fantasy setting, and other changes to characters and the like. The end result was an effort that was totally worth checking out (seriously, you should watch it) and ultimately the series was enjoyable. After the show was aired a manga was put into print as well, and for the most part it mirrors the anime to the letter. Yen Press has recently translated the book and released the entire collection as an omnibus. Is it worth checking out?

As stated, the plot in the manga follows the anime quite closely, however, if you haven't seen the show then you probably don't know what's going on. Basically in this take on Shakespeare's original tale there are flying horses, a magic tree, and the Capulet bloodline was killed off 14 years prior to the start of the series. The liberties taken here are great for sure, but at its core Romeo x Juliet is an engaging tale of forbidden love with interesting characters and an even more fascinating world.

Taking place in the kingdom of Neo Verona, Romeo x Juliet begins with bloodshed. The attack comes from the Montague family line as they overthrow and eliminate just about every person with Capulet blood, not to mention their supporters as well. This event sets the stage for everything in the show and thrusts Leontes Montague into the role of Prince of Neo Verona. With this position of power he sees fit to rule the land unchallenged, and with the rival Capulet family toast there's little that stands in his way. After this set up the manga fast-forwards 14 years so introduce us to some familiar characters.

This Neo Verona is somewhat different than it was under Capulet rule. The citizens aren't quite as free and every day they are oppressed by law enforcement and tax burdens established by Montague. Times are tough, but making things even more difficult is the fact that after 14 years of spreading lies about Prince Capulet being a butcher, the people have begun to believe. Rumor of a surviving Capulet child has been surfacing and we see the military trolling the streets looking for her. Innocent people are suffering in this day and age, but thankfully that's where the Red Whirlwind steps in.

The Red Whirlwind is basically the Robin Hood of Neo Verona. With a flourish of the blade the Whirlwind does whatever possible to free the citizens from oppression. Naturally this character becomes a thorn in the side for Montague and there are some nice bits that play off from this. Come to find out his secret identity of the Red Whirlwind is a boy named Odin, though that's not entirely true. Odin is actually an alias for Juliet Fiamatta Asto Capulet, who has been in hiding for the past 14 years. It's understandable since Montague is tracking girls with her description down, but up to this point Juliet knows nothing about her heritage. All this information has been kept from her by her retainers, though now that she's 16 the cat's out of the bag.

It's not long until Juliet meets Romeo Candolebonte Montague, and the two fall in love. From this point the manga really goes through the motions of pushing them closer together. Drama involving Juliet's alter-ego arises, rumors of her existence persist, and there's plenty of fighting as Montague's forces close in on the remaining Capulet. Towards the end of the book the story gets a little silly with the magical tree bit. It doesn't feel any better here than it did in the anime, but as they say it's the journey, not the destination, that holds the most value. In that sense this book is rich thanks to wonderful character development and the feeling of real emotion.

The book looks identical to the anime and there're plenty of similarities in terms of design of characters, creatures, and locations. The art here is clean, detailed, and attractive. Similar quality comes with the translation, which is smooth and easy to read. I'm pleased that Yen Press didn't opt for FUNimation's English dub style, and use an abundance of Shakespearian language. To be quite honest I didn't think it flowed well in the anime, and it would have been a disaster here.

Whether or not you watched the anime Romeo x Juliet is a solid shoujo manga that's worth picking up. The story is fascinating, the twist on Shakespeare's classic is captivating, and all around the characters are well developed. The book weighs in at nearly 400 pages too, so it should last longer than most, and the balance between story and action is handled nicely to keep the pacing in check. This book is highly recommended.


When Bandai released The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya in the States, the franchise hit the anime community like a tsunami. Haruhi-mania quickly spread across the country and soon enough you couldn't go to an anime convention without coming across a gaggle of dancers, cosplayers, or members of the SOS Brigade. On the printed side of things Yen Press has been handling the release of the manga in America, and it's everything a fan of the anime could have wanted (even though it did come first). The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya has been out for some time now, but today I'm looking at the second volume.

What's this series all about? Frankly, it's rather complex to summarize quickly, so all I'll say is it's about a girl named Haruhi who wants to believe in something fantastical. She wants to meet aliens, espers, and time travelers, but she's stuck in a rut in high school. That is, at least, until she meets Kyon and forms the SOS Brigade. Soon enough members are kidnapped and forced into joining the Brigade. The series follows their exploits as they appease Haruhi's whims, but there's more to this peculiar beauty than meets the eye.

In this installment we get to see more of what poor Kyon has to deal with. Shortly in the aftermath of the bunny outfit debacle, Haruhi gets it into her head that she'll find a supernatural or interesting thing if its photographed. The group is tasked with taking an interesting picture, and Kyon finds himself in a rather twisted situation. He's ushered off to a closed off section of the world similar to another dimension. Here giant blue beings are destroying buildings and the world is complete devoid of life. It's soon revealed that this is essentially what happens when Haruhi gets bored, and it's surmised that the world is really only three years old. Think of it like a dream, and Haruhi is the dreamer.

This only scratches the surface of what happens in this volume, however. Asahina reveals herself to Kyon as a time traveler, Yuki is introduced to a library, and Kyon inexplicably reveals some of his feelings towards Haruhi. There's even a little tender moment towards the end that leaves the door open for more content down the road.

If you've seen the anime then you already know what to expect; and that's pure awesomeness. I love Haruhi and this manga form is every bit as entertaining, whacky, and engaging. The story in this series is just so strange and wonderful that it's really hard to describe. The characters are strong, the plot is stronger, and all around the sense of humor and tone endears itself to the reader. To put it bluntly, this series is a hit and if you haven't picked it up yet then you're missing out.

The artwork in this book is simply stunning as well. From top to bottom the characters are attractive, each panel is brimming with detail, and the series just maintains a marvelous sense of personality. The translation and writing is top notch as well and there's nary a spot in this volume that leaves that to question.

If you've already read the first volume of the series, then picking this second installment up would be a no-brainer. I don't want to give too many details away, but let's just say that it's awesome from start to finish. The manga is engaging, fascinating, and endearing. Consider it highly recommended and a must buy.


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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