Samurai 7, Don's top and bottom five, Ninja Scroll the series
a bi-weekly column by Don Houston, John Sinnott, Chris Tribbey, and Todd Douglass
We have another interesting installment of Anime Talk for you this week. A lot of excellent anime, (along with some not so hot titles) have been released recently, and Anime Talk has capsule reviews of them all. From the exciting Ninja Scroll to the rather tepid Cybuster we'll help you decide which titles to snag and which ones to pass by. Don Houston has his Best and Worst list, and we also have a short notice about one of the most expensive anime titles ever produced, Samurai 7. Holly has her bargains, and we also have our list of upcoming anime DVDs. As always we welcome your comments. Just drop us an e-mail and let us know what your think.
One set that actually does live up to it's name is Ninja Scroll: The Series - Ultimate Collection. This set collects the three disc Ninja Scroll series in one boxed set, and adds a fourth disc filled with extras. This thirteen episode series is one of the better, and bloodier, samurai shows around. It is sure to please those anime fans who crave a lot of action and sword play. Though the extras disc doesn't warrant an upgrade, this is the set you want to get if this top notch series isn't in your collection yet.
The fifth volume of Fighting Spirit finishes up the first third of this long series. With the show being released over fifteen volumes, I was afraid that it would start dragging about this point but it happily it hasn't. Each new boxing bout presents new challenges for Ippo and the matches have not become routine; just the opposite. As the series progresses, I've become more and more enamored of Ippo and his dream of becoming a world class professional boxer. This continues to be a solidly entertaining show. Like an extended version of Rocky, they show an underdog who climbs up the ranks one match at a time, and there is a lot of drama in that. The program also has a lot of humor in it, including several running gags that add a lot to the show. It is surprising how easy it is to get into Ippo's corner and root for him. I'm already looking forward to the next volume. Highly Recommended.
Koi Kaze takes a weird and rather icky turn in the second volume. The first volume was a nice and quite story about a girl and her big brother getting to know each other after being separated from each other for most of their lives. Though it was hinted at in the first disc, they come right out and admit that the 27 year old salaryman has the hots for his 15 year old sister. He hides in the bathroom and sniffs her bra, and decides in a voice over that there's nothing wrong with thinking about your pubescent sister while masturbating. The show is still a quite and sedate show, but it's a little hard to relate to a character who is being portrayed as an incestuous pedophile.
Speed Racer, the edited and dubbed version of Mach Go Go Go, was the show that first introduced many impressionable American children to the world of Japanese Animation. Even though it first aired in the last '60's, the program still has a lot of energy and excitement, even after all these years. The third volume of episodes continues where the previous one left off, presenting the next 13 episodes in chronological order. There are some great episodes on this disc, including The Gang of Assassins where Speed thinks that the mysterious Racer X has joined a team of villains who are assassinating world leaders. Even though the extras are pretty skimpy, anyone who has fond memories of this program should definitely pick up this highly recommended disc.
The latest incarnation of a classic Go Nagai show continues in the second
volume of New
Getter Robo. The story takes a surprising turn as the three Getter
pilots travel back in time to battle the Oni. The series isn't the
greatest giant mecha series to come down the pike, but it's not bad either.
The biggest problem I have with it is that there really isn't a lot of
plot or intrigue to really drive the action. Now that the group is in the
past, it's a little more interesting and not a monster-of-the-week
Fan service will never be the same for you once you watch Hanaukyo Maid Team 3, as young Taro completes his quest to find the girl of his dreams, only to see her taken away from him after she slips into a coma. With the support of his horde of nubile servants, Taro mounts a rescue mission against the wishes of his grandfather, providing some comic relief along with the drama and secrets only this series could provide. It's light, silly, and often weird but it fun to watch nonetheless.
The third volume of Rumiko Takahashi Anthology presents another trio of comic and touching stories by one of Japan's greatest manga artists. This volume has a theme of sorts, with each of the tales centering around an elderly lady and the supernatural events that surrounds her. These stories, like the ones in the previous volumes, are filled with pleasing characters and amusing sequences. e stories are also elegant in their simplicity. The plots aren't complex, there's just as much story as is needed to create an entertaining tale. The sparse plots make these light comedies a pleasure to watch.
The penultimate volume of R.O.D. the TV really ratchets up the tension and suspense as the British Library comes close to achieving their goals. Though there are only three episodes contained on this disc, they are packed full of surprising revelations and unexpected plot twists. We learn more about Anita's past, the nature of the paper masters, and what Dokusensha is plotting. If you've followed the series this far, you've already ordered this disc. One of the better series to be released this year, R. O. D. the TV is just plain fun. Highly recommended.
Another series that comes highly recommended is Planetes Volume 1. This 2-disc special edition is a welcome change from some of the more fantastic SF anime that seem to populate the DVD shelves in stores. This show is firmly grounded in reality. Objects have inertia and mass, you have to be sure to apply a force through an object's center of mass if you don't want it spinning around, and there is no sound in space. It was actually fairly dramatic to see rockets fire and flames leap from them without a whisper of sound. The shows actually have a fair amount of tension in them too. The job is dangerous, and a moving arm on a satellite or a severed cable and be deadly if not handled correctly. The collection of the debris is more complicated than it sounds and brings a lot of suspense to the program. This is a series worth keeping your eye on.
One of the weaker titles we watched recently was Cybuster: Tokyo 2040 #4, a show that had initially displayed some solid potential but dove into the pits of generic mech-robot battle material in this release. A story about a future ecological disaster that results in the near destruction of Tokyo, has a group of freedom fighters taking on some corporate bad guys intent on some unknown evil plan. Hopefully, later volumes will have more to like since this one seemed almost paint by the numbers in how it approached the story.
Princess Nine was a sleeper hit a couple of years ago, and so is Fighting Spirit that's currently being released. Another sports based anime show that is surprisingly good is Hoop Days. This story of a basketball star who transfers to a high school without a functioning basketball team has a lot of drama and excitement. Even if you're not a fan of the sport (I'm not) this would be a good show to check out. The program is surprisingly engaging and you'll soon find yourself cheering for the good guys to win. While the animation isn't the greatest the story is so fun it's easy to over look that. A very high Recommendation.
With the series nearly coming to an end, Gungrave: Erosion, managed to provide the backdrop for protagonist Brandon Heat to attempt the utter destruction of his former allies in a mob war juiced up with the living dead providing the means of control. This is one of those series that plays up its strengths by keeping the viewer on the edge of his seat as Brandon, a reanimated corpse himself, fights against the newest weapons in the arsenal of evil, the Superiors; nearly unstoppable beings committed to one goal: The end of Brandon Heat! With a solid combination of writing, music, storyline, and character development, the series will provide you with some fast paced entertainment that I hardily recommend.
The second volume of Scrapped
Princess manages to avoid the sophomore slump that affects many anime
series. There are new characters that get introduced, more mystery surrounding
the Scrapped Princess, and a good amount of plot development. The
show also has an interesting premise which adds a lot of drama. The
fact that the main character may end up destroying the world makes for
some interesting reactions from the people in the story who discover who
she really is. The real reason that this program is highly
recommended though is because it has a great mix of humor, fantasy, and
a good amount of action. The shows don’t fall into a formula, and
every show on this disc has some interesting revelation or surprise that
really makes you want to see the next chapter.
Scheduled for release on July 12, 2005
Scheduled for release on July 19, 2005
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For more anime deals check out the Official - ANIME Bargains! - Thread. Updated daily by yours truly!
SOMETHING TO LOOK FORWARD TO:
Akira Kurosawa would be proud. Maybe a little confused, but most surely proud. FUNimation is releasing an expensive, gorgeous-looking homage to the 1954 Seven Samurai, appropriately named Samurai 7. Filmed entirely in HD, Samurai 7 was produced at a budget of $300,000 per episode, by studio Gonzo. That's 26 episodes at a reported cost of nearly $8 million. That's, well, insane. The money sure paid for something, though. Character designs? Awesome. CG animation? Awesome. Backgrounds? Awesome. Story? You guessed it. Set in a post-apocolpytic future, a group of villagers is fed up with the constant raids of half-man, half-machine bandits. But they're stealing rice, not treasure. One by one, the villagers' young priestess rounds up seven unique samurai forgotten after the war, each with their own quirks. It's almost (almost) just like Kurosawa's action masterpiece. I'm not quite ready to say Samurai 7 is better than The Dirty Dozen or The Magnificent Seven, the two most obvious Seven Samurai-inspired flicks. But it's the best anime action show I've seen so far this summer. And that's saying a lot.
1) Diversity of material these days: Once upon a time, if you enjoyed anime, you were limited to a handful of releases, typically those geared towards younger children. Nowadays, you can find science fiction, fighting, detective shows, and silly humor series that will appeal to different audiences without being locked into whatever the masses enjoy. I like watching Miyazaki movies as much as anyone else but there's a world of great titles out there that have nothing to do with this one particular genius.
2) Packed DVDs: In the days of taped shows, you'd be lucky to pay top dollar for two episodes but as the competition between companies like ADV Films, FUNimation, Bandai, Geneon and others increases, expect to see four or five episodes per disc without an increase in price. The companies that don't provide such value will find themselves left behind or prone to seeing their works pirated like crazy. If a show has an average price of over $7.50 an episode, it's prime material for pirates.
3) Liner notes and other extras: While a handful of sketches, trailers, and clean openings were a lot to the tape buyer, DVD fans have increased pressure on companies to add more and more unique material on releases. Although better extras aren't standard (yet!), the trend is there and the companies taking advantage of the DVD format are winning the favor of fans and critics alike. The multi-page booklets some series offer also seem to provide an extra that pirates can't copy as easily, lending this extra yet another reason for its existence.
4) Kinship among fans: For all the arguing anime fans seem to get involved in over silly topics like "which character is stronger than another", "what company is best", and "the physics of various science fiction shows", when all is said and done, anime fans tend to bond well with one another despite their differences in a day and age when mainstream snobs look down their noses on us.
5) Collector sets: After various titles have their individual disc releases, companies are binding them together in value oriented collector sets that are more affordable and encourage fans to pick them up since it's easier to keep up with entire season sets. If only every company would follow a logical plan that fans could count on, relying on selling entire sets instead of financing releases by releasing discs one at a time, we'd all be better off (it works well for mainstream television shows, yes?).
1) Subtitle snobs: Back in the day when subtitled releases were outsold nearly ten to one by dubs (and the dubs back then were inferior to what you'll find nowadays), only the most self important fans would suggest dubs had no place on the shelves. Calling themselves "purists", forgetting that many translations are still fast and loose, they'd belittle those who found some modicum of enjoyment in a decent English language dub. Both versions have their place and as the American dubbing industry matures, look for increasing numbers of dubs to outdo the original language tracks in terms of quality (some of the remastered audio tracks already significantly improve on the original Japanese versions; this would only be one more step in that trend).
2) Pricing: Far too many anime releases charge full price for limited amount of entertainment, with the worst offenders being companies routinely placing three (or less) episodes on a single DVD with no corresponding extras to make up for it. As collections grow, space limitations will become more of a problem as well but the sheer cheapness of wasting disc space without lowering the MSRP in exchange is quite frustrating.
3) Lack of extras: More quality extras have been appearing of late but the norm is still the annoyingly limited trailers, clean openings and handful of sketches that translate into fewer sales and more rentals. Bare bone releases in the mainstream world aren't met with much enthusiasm so why should the often fanatical anime lover be any less irritated by such releases?
4) Pirated anime: Let's face it, the biggest competition most companies have these days is the advances in copying technology, not each other. The largest audience of fans in anime seems to be college age and younger folks who embrace this technology without realizing the long term harm it does to the same companies that spend a lot of money bringing our favorite shows over from Japan. If you can make a perfect copy of a DVD, why spend the full price for shows legally? Forget that the Asian bootlegs have terrible subtitles and other technical flaws; forget that pirating is no longer something done for free to help spread the word about a title (fan subbing used to be the only way you could get most anime in the USA); and forget that fewer sales due to pirating leads to cancellations of further volumes and/or seeing fewer unique shows released; the bottom line is that it's wrong, no matter what your justification.
5) Shill reviews: We've all seen them, both online and in print; reviews that no sane person would believe to be honest. Sure, saying something glowing about every title probably ensures a continuous stream of product from the companies but don't such reviews end up being worthless when you're trying to figure out what's worth buying or renting? The companies that promote such ultra positive hype are equally to blame as those of us who continually buy into it; routinely getting burned by those who claim to be able to find something good to say about everything (thankfully, DVDTalk doesn't have this problem).
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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