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Rin, Sands of Destruction, and Manga reviews

AnimeTalk

February 2010 Edition

by Todd Douglass, John Sinnott, and Wen-Tsai

Hey everyone! Hope you're surviving the blizzards that have been tearing through the country (particularly if you're on the East Coast). Luckily these foot+ snowstorms have afforded us plenty of time to catch up on anime! There's just nothing better than curling up close to the TV with a mug of hot cocoa!

For this column we've got a couple of manga reviews and a figure review! There's also a decent supply of anime to peruse as stuff like Rin: Daughters of Mnemosyne, Sands of Destruction, Linebarrels of Iron, and D.Gray Man (Blu-ray) all landed on our doorstep. Oh, and a little title called Halo Legends (Blu-ray) is featured at the bottom. WTK brings a selection of the best bargains you'll find on the web as well, so if you find yourself with some extra income I'm sure he'll find a way for you to separate yourself from it. Enough of the introduction, let's get on with Anime Talk!


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

Let's kick this column off with one of the best damned shows to come along in recent memory. Rin: Daughters of Mnemosyne is almost entirely unlike anything you've seen before with loads of violence and an adult edge that borders hentai at times. This is a tale about female immortals living among us and the male angels who hunt them to devour them. It's a very sexual show in nature and there's some hardcore BDSM stuff, but it never becomes so graphic that it should be considered porn. This 45-minute six-episode series follows one such immortal named Rin through a series of about 60 years and it wraps a fascinating story around the character. It simply has to be seen to be appreciated and receives just about the highest recommendation I've given an anime in a very long time.

A pair of Case Closed animated films has come our way as well. The Last Wizard of the Century and Countdown to Heaven proved themselves to be quite entertaining and embodied what we have come to expect from the Case Closed franchise. Both films feel like much more than extended episodes of the show and they actually carry weighty murder mystery stories. They may be similar in theme (mysterious murders that only young Conan can solve) but they both bring unique qualities to the table. If you're a fan of the franchise then you'll definitely want to dig into these movies!

I'd like to state for the record that Linebarrels of Iron Part 1 is not a good show. In fact it's a series that received the dubious distinction of a "Skip It" recommendation from me. From start to finish Linebarrels is a series of missteps and flaws. The lead character is an unlikeable jackass, the giant mecha theme is entirely too generic, and the story has virtually no redeeming qualities. In fact that only good thing to come from watching this show is the eye-candy thanks to Gonzo's great animation style and designs. There has also been some fan-service shoehorned into the series for those of you that care. Maybe the second half will turn out to be better, but I'm not holding my breath for it.

After the sour taste left in my mouth from Linebarrels it was nice to sink my teeth into Blassreiter's second half. This was another Gonzo series, but found itself on the opposite end of the quality spectrum. Taking place in a futuristic world where cybernetic zombies are being used in a mysterious plot, Blassreiter packs a lot of character, story, and action into its 24 episodes. Check out the reviews and see if it's your cup of tea, or just take a blind "high recommendation" from me and go with it.

Two other series from FUNimation found themselves coming to a close recently as well. Dragonaut tried to mix more awkwardly big-breasted babes with science fiction in a mess of a conclusion. Some of the bits and pieces here were interesting and worth checking out, but ultimately it's a rental all the way through. Meanwhile, Bamboo Blade went the opposite direction. This series was a lot of fun and full of laughs from beginning to end and featured quite an upbeat energy and loads of personality.

Sands of Destruction from Production I.G. came our way as well. This series is based on a SEGA video game for the Nintendo DS and features a story about a mysterious fantasy world full of sand. This place is also split in population between the overpowering beastmen and tread upon humans. Caught in between is a group of people out to destroy the world called the World Destruction Committee. These anti-heroes are certainly a bit on the unique side and it's not often you root for someone who wants to end all life as its known. There are some entertaining bits to this show, but it's a series that needed more than 13 episodes in order to really become fleshed out.

FUNimation, the largest anime company in the US, continues to dominate the market with fairly frequent Bl-ray releases. Their latest one is D. Gray-Man Season One Part One, a 13 episode collection set in a mythical 19th Century world. It concerns a young man who becomes an exorcist, a secret soldier who fights Akuma, demon-like entities that are trying to take over the world. The show gets off to a good start but dub fans should note that there is a synch error in one episode that makes it impossible to watch that one installment in English. (See the full review for more details.)

Presenting the middle chunk of a great story, One Piece Season Two Set Five is a not to be missed collection. Luffy and his crew are trying valiantly to stop a civil war from erupting, but that's hard to do when the crime syndicate Baroque Works is manipulating events from behind the scenes. This is an epic story that ranks up there with some of the best Dragon Ball Z adventures. It's a lot of fun and sure to please anime fans.

FUNimation boldly rushes into the second season of Sgt. Frog with their third collection of episodes, aptly entitled Sgt. Frog Season Two Part One. Filled with more puns, quips, and jokes, this set is just as uproariously funny as the earlier ones. This is easily the best humor anime currently in release and deserves to be in everyone's anime collection.


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Presented by Wen-Tsai King

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    Anime Spotlight


    by Todd Douglass

    Halo Legends

    The Movie:

    When Microsoft unveiled Halo for the original Xbox it was a game-changer. I say that not in the sense of the video game itself, but with regards to the console market. It was literally the face that launched a thousand ships and helped make the Xbox a viable gaming console in the eyes of many gamers. The popularity of the franchise has grown over the years with Halo 2, Halo 3, Halo 3: ODST, and Halo Wars. Each has been lauded for their quality and all have become financial success stories. The franchise has spilled into other forms of media as well with books, graphic novels, and toys based on the universe and characters. It should be no surprise with that prolific a background that Halo Legends received a mountain's worth of hype.

    Much like releases such as The Animatrix and Batman: Gotham Knight, Halo Legends is a collection of short animated stories produced by some of the Japanese anime industry's greatest minds. The likes of Studio 4°C, Production I.G., Casio Entertainment, Studio Bones, and Toei Animation all come out to present their take on the Halo universe. As one might expect this leaves Legends a mixed bag in terms of art style, quality, and focus. It's not a cohesive effort by any means, but rather new adventures and a continuation of some storylines touched upon in the Halo games. Keep this in mind as you approach this release. If you are unfamiliar with the Halo universe then you're going to be lost from the get-go.

    The opening piece for Halo Legends is a Studio 4°C effort entitled "Origins Part 1 & 2". This fittingly titled piece begins with Cortana watching over Master Chief while he sleeps in hibernation following the events of Halo 3. Cortana goes on to narrate how much she's learned over the past seven years and discusses the origins of Halo, the Flood, and the Founders. Taking us back quite a ways we see the Founders' society flourishing amidst their technological superiority. Things seemed to be going well until one day the Flood came crashing down and decimated their planet.

    "Origins" moves forward to show how the Founders built the Halo rings to eradicate the Flood and press the reset button on life in the universe. When the cleansing was completed life was reseeded back onto each home-world and we see early man, elites, grunts, brutes, and jackals. We then get a diatribe about man's propensity for war and get to see how the war against the Covenant started. To say that "Origins" covers all the bases would be an understatement and for all intents and purposes the piece wraps up 100,000 years of galactic history within a very short span of time. It's condensed in a manner that leaves out a lot of details and the story comes across as interesting, but kind of dry.

    Moving on from "Origins" is "Duel" produced by Production I.G. "Duel" is without a doubt one of the most gorgeous pieces on this set and arguably one of the most dynamic pieces of animation I've seen in quite a long time. At its core this is a story about an Arbiter named Fal who does not wish to follow the teachings of the Prophets. His peers, enemies, and underlings all have their opinions of his religious revolt and dark times are ahead for the Arbiter in this piece.

    What stands out as the most impressive thing about "Duel" is the animation technique that was employed. Rather than use traditional animation, Production I.G. went with a style that made this piece look like a science fiction Money painting brought to life. It's stunning in so many ways and stands out as incredibly dynamic and unique. This piece isn't all about stellar visuals, though, since the actual story is engrossing as well.

    "Duel" was a tough act to follow, but the short entitled "Homecoming" packed enough punch to be worthwhile. This piece follows a Spartan-II recruit as they uncover an interesting part of their past. It's intriguing within the context of the universe, and ultimately the storyline builds a solid enough character, but it feels like it comes up short. Some of the directions Production I.G. took with this short worked and others didn't. I can't really give away the disappointing elements without spoiling the reveal, but it just didn't pack the punch it should have.

    The next short "Odd One Out" comes from Toei and is...well...interesting. This one is a slapstick bit completely outside of canon. It focuses on a misadventure with a Spartan known as 1337 who falls off a ship and onto a remote planet's surface. From here 1337 meets a couple of kids riding a dinosaur and eventually goes fist to fist Dragon Ball style with an electrified Brute. Making matters worse is the inclusion of super-powered kung fu fighting teenagers who live on this pre-historic rock with their AI mother. There are a few humorous moments in this story and some decent action but for the most part it's just too goofy for its own good.

    Thankfully the next part, "Prototype" gets back to some semblance of seriousness. Studio Bones produced this particular piece with some designs by Shinji Aramaki. At the center of everything here is a Marine known as Ghost who has just some of his humanity throughout the war. In his final moments he commandeers a prototype armored suit and uses it to ensure his squad gets off the planet safely. "Prototype" offers a load of action and some melodrama as it creates an interesting character, even if for only a few minutes.

    Moving towards the end of Halo Legends there's an episode called "The Babysitter" by Studio 4°C. One thing that stood out right at the start with this one was the fact that it focused on some ODST (Orbital Drop Shock Troopers) members, and even featured the character of Dutch (from Halo 3: ODST). This one follows a squad of ODST as they play a support role for a Spartan out on a sniping mission. "The Babysitter" offered loads of action and a solid story and really stood out as one of the more cohesive entries on this release.

    And finally, bringing this release to a close is none other than Spartan John-117 (Master Chief). "The Package" is a CGI masterpiece from Casio Entertainment and Shinji Aramaki that sees all sorts of space battling as well as Master Chief and a squad of SPARTANs tearing up the inside of a Covenant ship. There's plenty to love about this particular one, but I have to say that the whole thing feels rushed. The pacing is breakneck fast and there's little room for any actual story to come through. It's more eye-candy than anything, though it speaks volumes to how badass Master Chief is.

    From top to bottom Halo Legends is a lot of fun and something fans of the game franchise should definitely check out. Some pieces truly stand out such as "Duel", "The Babysitter", and "Prototype". These are the best of what's offered here, though "The Package" and "Homecoming" come in a close second. "Origins" is interesting, but boring, and "Odd One Out" is too silly for my taste. Despite the varying quality this release comes highly recommended based on the content.

    The Disc:

    Video:

    Halo Legends hits Blu-ray with a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen aspect ratio. The film is presented in 1080p high definition with VC-1 encoding. Each piece looks totally unique compared to the others, though the commonality they all share is some sharp quality. Colors are vibrant and bold all around, black levels are appropriately rich, and through and through there's no grain or artifacting to complain about. Episodes such as "The Package" and "Homecoming" pack quite a punch with their clean lines and impeccably detailed animations. However, "Odd One Out" has the dubious distinction of being plagued by aliasing and banding and "Origins" shares similar flaws. This may not be as prevalent on the standard definition release, but in 1080p it's quite glaring. Overall the picture quality in Halo Legends is quite solid, save for a few missteps and some of these pieces are drop-dead gorgeous.

    Audio:

    Now, before we get going with the audio section let it be said that Halo Legends caps out the sound output with a Dolby Digital 5.1 track at 640kbps. There's no lossless Master DTS-HD presentation or other suitable offering typically seen on Blu-ray releases. With that being said the Dolby Digital 5.1 still packs quite the punch from episode to episode. There's a great deal of diversification between the channels and most pieces fall into place where they should. Dialogue is crisp and clean, effects are boisterous and move well, and throughout the film Halo's iconic tunes are employed heavily. There are some points where the track falters with its channel use and sometimes the balance isn't quite up to par. A DTS-HD could have alleviated these concerns, but as it stands the Dolby track is more than serviceable.

    Extras:

    Halo Legends hits Blu-ray packed with a supply of supplemental content that should keep fans happy enough.

    For lighter fair there is trailer for Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths and a teaser for Halo: Reach. Moving on through the extras menu there's an Audio Commentary with franchise development director Frank O'Connor and Halo Legends producer Joseph Chou. To say these guys know Halo lore would be an understatement and along those lines their commentary track proves to be quite interesting. They discuss each story at length and look at how it relates to the franchise as a whole, the style of each, and what things stand out in their minds. It's definitely interesting and worth checking out once you finish watching all seven pieces.

    "The Story So Far" (23:56) is a narrated look at the Halo series in a nutshell. It covers most all of the basics and should serve as a nice refresher for fans that may have forgotten some things. It's not quite enough to help newcomers appreciate the material more, but it's definitely helpful. "Gaming Evolved" (21:46) gathers several people involved with the franchise and Microsoft to talk about the franchise and how it changed the scope of first-person shooters on gaming consoles.

    The real meat featured on the bonus menu is "The Making of Halo Legends" (54:49). This is a collection of eight mini documentaries that can be viewed individually or as a whole. The first part is an introduction to the project as a whole and from then on the feature is broken down by sequence as they appear on this disc. Each piece takes a relatively extensive look at the pitching process and initial discussions with the creative team and directors. Bits of rough animation and final product are interspersed throughout each segment and you really get a good sense of the background of each scene and how the directors approached the material.

    Final Thoughts:

    Halo Legends is something that fans of anime and the Halo game franchise absolutely must pick up. The majority of the seven animated shorts are downright awesome with several "geek-out" moments to be had. Whether you're watching Master Chief assault a Covenant ship with a squadron of Spartans or experiencing other pieces of Halo lore such as the creation of a Spartan, there's plenty to appreciate. Sure there are some weaker elements to this release and appreciation of the material will be up to personal taste, but the fact remains this is an awesome project that is highly recommended.

    As far as the Blu-ray is concerned the video quality is solid despite a couple of minor flaws and the audio comes through loud and clear (though the lack of a DTS-HD or similar track is a source of disappointment). Plenty of bonus features help seal the deal for this disc. I wouldn't say that it quite lives up to the hype that preceded it, but Halo Legends on Blu-ray is certainly something


    Anime Talk's Manga Review:


    by Todd Douglass

    Fate/Stay Night was one hell of a show. The series hit America a couple years ago as a Geneon licensed anime, but since then has fallen into FUNimation's hands for distribution. Thank goodness, because this is one franchise that absolutely should not fall into obscurity. While the animated line was a success, the book form has been doing well for itself too. Tokyopop has been translating and releasing the manga for a while now and recently the sixth installment hit store shelves.

    In case you're unfamiliar with the series it all follows the exploits of a young man named Shiro. He unwittingly comes to posses something known as a Magic Circuit and becomes embroiled in events far greater than he ever could have imagined. Basically there is magic out there and people with this skill can summon beings known as Servants, who fight for their masters in an effort to win the battle for the Holy Grail. There's more to it than that, but part of the joy of this series is uncovering some of the basics. All you really need to know is that Shiro doesn't want anyone to fight and die. He commands his servant, Saber, to spare life whenever possible and does what he can to ensure that he is able to take care of himself. In the sixth installment what he has learned and his ideals are put to the test.

    At the start of this volume Tosaka and Archer are locked in battle with Shinji and Rider. There's a big bad barrier up around the school and Shinji is up to some dark, demented things to he has to be stopped. While their battle wages on for some time, Shiro and Saber eventually step in to attempt a resolution to the fighting and make Shinji see the error of his ways. Naturally this doesn't happen. Rider and Saber battle it out while Tosaka feels betrayed by Shiro. The battle is put on the afterburner for some time when Rider and Shinji flee, but these events could have lasting ramifications on Shinji's relationship with Tosaka.

    Eventually the bits of action pick back up as Shinji makes a move to a much more populated area to cause more damage. Saber and Rider go at it again in a massive fight that sees a lot of destruction, but we get the chance to see Shiro show was he's learned against Shinji. He even gets to the point where he's doing well within the fight, but a surprise attack from Rider changes the tempo a bit. The whole thing ends with a big epic attack that will leave readers wanting to see the resolution in the next installment.

    Quite honestly there's not much else that happens in this volume apart from the battle between Shinji, Shiro, and their servants. Because of that it feels like there's very little development. The book also tends to be over before you know it. A few minutes with it will put you at or beyond the halfway point and that's a little disappointing. If you want to savor the book and take in more of the world you're going to have to wait because it's all action from the first page to the last. Not that there's anything wrong with that, really.

    Once again the artwork provided by Dat Nishiwaki is absolutely incredible on every single page. All of the character designs pop and you truly get a sense of the action that's taking place here. The backgrounds in particular stand out and there's a great deal of detail in their destruction. The translation is also solid, though in fairness this isn't a particularly wordy installment.

    Fate/Stay Night is one of my favorite anime series and the manga stands out at an equal level. Tokyopop has done a great job with the series with their English release, and I can't wait to see what comes in the following installments. With that being said this particular one is all about action and there's very little with regards to actual plot. It's a light read and it's a quick one, but fans of the series will appreciate every panel. This is yet another fine volume and if the book is anything like the anime then it only gets better from here!


    Created by Yu Minamoto, Samurai Harem: Asu no Yoichi originally came out in Japan in 2006. The manga became a success and went on to garner more than ten volumes and even found itself animated a couple years later. Tokyopop got a hold of the license for release here in the States and they recently released the third installment.

    True to its name Samurai Harem is basically a harem comedy. It features a nearly solitary male lead named Yoichi, who finds himself surrounded by beautiful girls everywhere he looks. Naturally awkward situations and fan-service rules apply, so if you have an affinity for dirty minded manga then by all means this is one for you. After all the book is rated Mature "Ages 18+" thanks to Moderate Sexuality, Non-Sexual Full-Body Nudity, Explicit Fanservice, and Mild Violence. In other words it's right up my alley!

    In the third volume of Samurai Harem Yoichi and the girls head to an island resort for an all expenses paid vacation. This gives ample time for bikini shots, breast groping, and other awkward situations that end with Yoichi getting punched, slapped, or beaten into oblivion. It's a standard use of the humor and there's more eye-candy than story at the beginning, but it's all in good fun. There's a bit of a mystery surrounding Kagome's character and she simply doesn't want to go into the water for two reasons: she can't swim and her breasts are much larger than anyone expected.

    In the second chapter of the book our heroes make their way to a hot-springs resort and find a place to relax. Unfortunately that's short-lived as a story about a haunted cave surfaces and Ukyo and Sakon reveal themselves as masterminds of a nefarious trap. There are some rather entertaining moments here and ultimately the villain's trap blows up in their face. Ukyo's desire for Ikaruga gets the better of him and Sakon's disguise fails to fool both Yoichi and Ikaruga, though it's quite a sneaky thing to do.

    After the bit that takes place in the cave it turns out that Ukyo and Sakon aren't quite done with the group. There're more traps to be sprung and a plot that involves Ryo making his way to the island to express his love for Ikaruga. Before this volume comes to a close it heads down some familiar territory with a traditional festival done in a way that only Samurai Harem could.

    If you've seen Samurai Harem before then you already know what to expect in terms of both story, sense of humor, and Minamoto's art style. In so many ways the designs of this book truly stand out and both the characters and backgrounds are simply drop dead gorgeous. The expressions of the characters, the sense of action, the detail in clothing, and even the larger-than-life female forms are quite eye catching. Who would have thought that young teenage girls would be this voluptuous? Apparently Minamoto did.

    From start to finish Samurai Harem: Asu no Yoichi volume three is full of laughs and plenty of action. The fan-service appeal, vibrant characters, and entertaining story stand out in many ways. If you read the first two books then this third installment should be a no-brainer. However, if you're new to the manga you'll definitely want to check out the first volume to see if it's your cup of tea. We've seen franchises like this before, and it's safe to say that they are an acquired taste.


    Anime Talk Figures it Out:


    by Todd Douglass

    Preview:

    Long before I was into anime and manga you could not separate me from my comic books. Spider-Man, Batman, and X-Men were among my most cherished possessions when I was younger. I went for anything having to do with any of anything regarding those comics and to this day I can't tell you how pleased I am that these franchises continue to be revisited. I am, however, surprised at the support from Kotobukiya for fans of American comics. For instance, they've branded a successful segment of figures/statues featuring some of Marvel's best female heroines entitled, Bishoujo (美少女 - beautiful young girl).

    While Rogue and Black Widow are already featured in the lineup two more femme fatales are up for pre-order.

    The first is Scarlet Witch:

    The Scarlet Witch stands 7 1/2 inches tall (1/8 scale) and was sculpted by Koei Matsumoto. Like other bishoujo statues she's made with PVC plastic and will be out in February with an SRP of $64.99.

    Next up is (my personal favorite) Psylocke:

    Psylocke stands 9 inches tall (1/8 scale) and was sculpted by Yu Ishii. She's also made of PVC plastic and will be available in June with an SRP of $59.99.

    Both of these figures are available for pre-order through the KotoUS store or your favorite importer.


    Review:

    The Shining series of video games has been quite popular for some time now. While not every installment of SEGA's venerable action-RPG series has made its way to the States, the fact that titles are still being released in Japan speaks volumes. Not only that, but Kotobukiya's lineup of figures from the series is quite popular as well. I mean, just look at how many figures they've released over the years.

    Primarily that line of figures is from Shining Wind, which was a 2007 title for the PlayStation 2. The latest release from Kotobukiya in this lineup is Celestia, who happens to be the elven queen of Astria - also known as "The Eternal Forest's Chanting". Her character plays a pivotal role within the story, and it's only fitting that a queen get the royal treatment when it comes to her figure, right?

    Sculpted by Shou Kojima, Celestia is made of PVC plastic and measures 1/8th scale. She retails for $59.99 and can be found on Kotobukiya's English store:

    http://store.kotous.com/shining-wind-celestia-anistatue.html

    The Packaging:

    As you can tell, Celestia comes in a window box with character artwork from Tony Taka gracing the front and back. Note the cutout of Lassi on the sides of the packaging. This package includes Celestia, Lassi, a book, and a felt stand for all three to sit on.

    The Figure:

    First off, I just want to mention how strikingly gorgeous this figure is. Kojima-san did one heck of a job on the details and it mirrors Taka-san's drawing in almost every detail. Being an elf queen, you'd expect Celestia to look very regal and this figure achieves just that. I found the pose to be quite appropriate and there is just something peaceful about the way she's sitting. One could almost picture her under a forest canopy reading her book with Lassi close to her.

    That's the figure as it's meant to be displayed out of the box, but there are some customizable elements to her. Unfortunately the pose is not one of the things you can change, but her torso separates from her bottom half to all access to her green dress and white skirt. Both can be removed easily and hidden beneath are some white panties, should you prefer to display her that way.

    No matter how you choose to display Celestia, she's going to look great on your shelf of figures. Apart from the overall appearance of the figure, some of the details that stand out are the light tattoo on her forehead, the etchings on her outfit, and the tranquil colors that were used in the design. The greens from her dress smoothly transition into the yellows of her top and golden hair. This makes the eyes contrast nicely and stand out even more.

    The overall build is quite solid and there were only a couple of chips here and there (one on a strand of Celestia's hair and another on Lassi's right ear). Neither was glaring by any means and overall the quality control department at Kotobukiya gets a big thumbs up! This figure is a major bargain for the asking price and it's definitely one fans of Shining Wind simply must buy!


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