Suzuka, To Heart, and Naruto
a bi-weekly column by Todd Douglass, Don Houston, John Sinnott, and Wen-Tsai
Welcome back otaku! It's time once again for our little slice of the DVD Talk pie known as Anime Talk! This week we take a look at some great new titles like To Heart and Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle. Of course there's always room for more and we strive to keep up with the ever changing anime world. As always our pal Wen-Tsai also helps with your collection on a budget.
The Right Stuf International isn't only an e-tailer famous for their weekly anime sales (for more info check out Wen-Tsai's Anime Bargains section) they also release anime on DVDs. Their latest project is a series that falls into the "cute" genre of anime, To Heart. Volumes one and two have been released so far. The show revolves around Akari, a young quiet girl who has been secretly in love with Hiroyuki ever since they were in kindergarten together. She doesn’t tell him this of course, but decides to pine quietly while she, Hiroyuki, and their friends go through life. This is one of those shows were everything is relaxed and the biggest problem facing the protagonists is if they'll get to school on time. I wouldn't want to be limited to watching only this type of program, but To Heart makes a nice change of pace after watching a lot of mecha shows.
With an amazing seven episodes on one disc, the next volume of Case Closed (or Detective Conan as it's known in most of the world), season 3 volume 2 for those who are keeping score, offers a lot for fans of the show. Not only are there a lot of episodes, but this volume also contains some entertaining mysteries and a two-part story where Conan at long last changes back into Shin'ichi Kudo (if only temporarily.)
Kodocha Volume 13, accurately titled That's a Wrap, is the final volume that FUNimation is releasing in region one. One of the reasons that this is so sad is because this isn't the end of the series. There are still 51 episodes left to go, but presumably because of poor sales the series is being truncated in the US. This disc represents the conclusion of the first season, which ends with a pair of serious episodes that are more sedate and somber than the rest of the series. They are good shows never the less. It's too bad that FUNimation can't see there way to release the second season, but even so the disc wraps things up pretty well. Kodocha is a fun series that really deserved more attention from US anime fans.
Anime Works has released the second volume of their shonen-ai (boy's love) series Gakuen Heaven. Containing only a mere three episodes, the show has a rather slow pace and isn't very remarkable. Aside from the homosexual undertones, there isn't much to separate this from any other school based anime. In other words viewers won’t find it terribly interesting. The show doesn't really grab you with the slow pace and bland characters. Add to that the low budget animation and that fact that there are only three episodes on this volume, and that makes this disc a good rental.
Fans of super powered, secret spies will probably adore 009-1 as a fusion of retro anime combined with modern day sensibilities. The story centers on Mylene Hoffman, a cyborg agent dedicated to maintaining fighting enemies of the Zero Zero Organization, who routinely faces numerically superior forces but comes out ahead thanks to her quick mind and various enhancements. While only the first volume of the series, it was clear that this tribute to one of the original anime classics was going to be something special so give it a look and let us know what you think.
Director Yoshiyuki Tomino has been around anime and manga for longer than many of us have been alive so his return to his roots with The Wings of Rean V1 will certainly appeal to fans of the twenty year old series you may remember as Aura Battler Dunbine. This time, a young princess seeking a gifted youth crosses from Byston Wells in need of his abilities, the confused lad unaware of any such powers he may possess. The first of a three volume series, the opener provided some good extras to ease the sting of the costly two episode release as modern day war craft are brought back to the medieval kingdom to wage war against those who would attack the upper realm.
Tide-Line Blue: The Hammer of Eden V1 is a post apocalyptic tale about an Earth where a tragedy called The Hammer of Eden wipes out 6 billion people and sees the remaining survivors cling to the limited island nations they call home 14 years later. Starring a 14 year old boy named Keel as he saves his girlfriend and baby by boarding the last nuclear submarine; helmed by a Captain that seems intent on finishing the job as he attacks a peaceful settlement. The pacing did not provide enough background to tell us exactly what was going on but join us as we uncover the series one volume at a time.
Gender bending anime is nothing new from Japan but the uneasy mix of Kashimashi: Girl Meets Girl V1: Role Reversal sure struck up by surprise as a mishap at the hands of aliens leaves young high school student Hazumu reassembled in the body of a female. Told the effects are irreversible, his already nonexistent love life gets even more interesting as his tomboy protector, Tomari, and true love Yasuna both see him as a viable option now that he is devoid of the remaining vestiges of maleness the effeminate guy had to offer. The silly antics continue with the aliens setting up shop in his family home to continue their observations of Earth cause more havoc as time goes by, making this a title decidedly off the beaten path.
The latest volume of Le Chevalier D’Eon V3: Danse Macabre shows another gender bending circumstance as D’Eon continues his quest to find his sister’s killer in the politically turbulent Russia as the Empress works with his crew to uncover the killer who also happens to have strings connected to treacherous countrymen trying to overthrow her reign. Lia takes over her brother once more as she attempts to gain vengeance on her restless soul but the information the man possesses forces D’Eon to fight her overwhelmingly powerful control in order to get to the one ordering her death; not just the flunky responsible. The chase continues though and powerful forces will stop at nothing to end his mission, including royalty and opportunists bearing allegiance to no one.
Ichigo Kurosaki used to have an easy going life as he occasionally fought off bullies in his small suburb but Bleach V4 shows him pitted against a fellow student with the drive and abilities to match his own as the two settle their contest endangering the rest of the population. The presence of the Menos Grande serves to force them into joining forces but ultimately the day is saved when they each try a different approach. That gets followed up with Rukia getting ready to pay the price for her complicity in Ichigo’s current status as a substitute soul reaper, leaving another cliffhanger for the next volume in the series.
One of our favorite series hits lucky number 7 with Eureka Seven V7; a story set on another world where an ecological disaster is brewing with epic proportions. Facing governmental spies set to end the chase that previously befriended him, Renton must take matters into his own hands to save the day, and the life of the leader he has a lot of doubts about these days. Some of the secondary plots show advancement too but Renton must come to terms that his gifts have to be used in a way he feels is right and proper; not just the result of following orders as he has done until now.
The seemingly endless struggle between the Naturals and the Coordinators continues in Mobile Suit Gundam Seed Destiny V8 where Shinn does what he thinks is right and the results are nothing short of disastrous to folks living in Europe as the largest Gundam to date, The Destroyer, starts tearing apart cities thought to be disloyal to the cause. The resulting carnage forces Chairman Durandal to finally lash out at the warmongers that keep instigating the various factions but his ability to bring them to justice is questionable considering how connected and powerful each of them appears to be.
Gilgamesh is a downright powerful and original show. Taking place in a dark apocalyptic future the series focuses on a pair of siblings as they try to survive in this messed up world. Demons and children run around with powers, clones are a part of science, and the sky is blanketed by a bizarre mirror-like veil. Nothing is what it seems and throughout the show the level of intrigue escalates as information trickles from episode to episode. With unique artwork and a great sense of style this series stands out in ADV's catalog as a "must see".
CLAMP is a group of female manga artists that has taken the anime world by storm. Their series are memorable and with names like Chobits and Cardcaptor Sakura on their resume it's easy to see why. Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle is essentially an homage paid to fans of their works. With characters from many CLAMP series taking part in a story about dimensional travel, love, and discovery the show is well on its way to being another favorite. This first volume offers plenty of entertainment and gives a nice glimpse at what is possibly to come.
Dragon Ball Z fans looking for a complete experience have something to be happy about once again. FUNimation has released the second season of the show which includes the Namek and Captain Ginyu Sagas. While many will complain about the widescreen presentation the show remains as good as ever, though this batch of episodes feels poorly paced. Our heroes travel to Piccolo's planet to uncover the Namekian Dragon Balls but Vegeta and the sinister Freeza have the same idea. These episodes spend a little too much time traveling around the planet and dragging things out but the payoff at the end is worth the trip.
Solty Rei's fourth volume comes along and furthers the lives of its characters. Unfortunately the story doesn't really go anywhere with this installment and it feels like it's merely coasting along. Solty's development feels dry, Rose's resurrection is a little too convenient, and the potential felt with Roy's emotional feels squashed. There were a few moments that saved this installment but sadly things aren't looking very bright for the future of this show.
VIZ gives Naruto fans two reasons to be happy! For starters they have released an OVA in the uncut format which features a decent story about a Hidden Waterfall Village. The other reason to be pleased is the fact that the third collection of episodes has finally been released. Covering the Forest of Death part of the Chunin Exam these episodes chronicle the introduction of Orochimaru, cursing of Sasuke, and progress of Kakeshi's Team 7. In my opinion this was the best part of Naruto's early story.
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by John Sinnott
Based on the manga series by Kouji Seo, Suzuka is a show that mixes two popular styles of anime: sports shows and the harem series. While it doesn't fall squarely in either camp, the program has a lot of aspects of each. A young boy living in an all girls dorm owned by his aunt (Holy Love, Hina Batman!) falls for a girl. In order to get her to pay attention to him though, he has to excel in track events like she does. This first volume gets off to a good start, and while it does have its problems that show has a lot of potential.
Yamato Akitsuki has traveled to Tokyo from his home town of Hiroshima in order to attend a prestigious high school. The day before classes begin he's checking out the campus when he sees Suzuka Asahina practicing the high jump. She's graceful and elegant, and the shy Yamato instantly becomes enamored of the athlete, even though he knows he'll probably never see her again.
While staying in Tokyo, Yamato is living in an all girl's dorm that is owned and operated by his aunt. Also living in the dorm are Yuka Saotome, a gorgeous college student who loves to drink until she passes out, and Megumi Matsumoto, a grad student who tries to contain Yuka but usually ends up drunk herself. While Yuka becomes amorous (usually towards Yamato) while inebriated, Megumi becomes surly and rants about how men are pigs and that all they want to do is look at her ample breasts. Another lady living in the dorm turns out to be (you'll never believe this) Suzaka. She's in the room right next to Yamato's in fact. Unfortunately he gets off to a bad start by accidently walking into her room on his first day, and having an embarrassing mishap in the bathroom where he ends up on the floor laying on Yuka. This convinces Suzuka that Yamato is a grade-A jerk.
Also going to Aoba High are Yamato's friend and experienced lady's man Yasunobu Hattori, and a quiet, lovely young lady, Honoka Sakurai. Yamato and Honoka met years ago, when they were kids, and the meeting left quite an impression on the young girl. When she sees Yamato again, she instantly falls for him. The only problem is that Yamato's too blinded by Suzuka to notice that Honoka's always hitting on him.
This series has a lot of potential. There's the sports aspect, Yamato turns out to be great at sprinting and Suzuka is always trying to jump just a little higher, and then harem shows are always a lot of fun. The odd thing about this program is that they play down the comedy aspects, something that never happens in harem shows. While there's nothing wrong with that, the show doesn't succeed as a straight drama, at least not based on the five episodes on this disc. The biggest problem is that Suzuka is a real bitch. If this was a comedy, it would be easy to over look that, but with this show viewers will constantly be wondering what Yamato sees in this miserable girl. A good example is when Suzuka asks Yamato to help her with some shopping after school. They don't arrange a meeting place, so Yamato waits for five hours (!) outside in the cold for the woman of his dreams. This causes him to get sick and miss the second day of school. Suzuka's response to this? She yells at him for waiting outside and then doesn't want to visit him after school. After all she can't afford to come down with what he has.
While she is nice to him on occasion, more often than not Suzuka treats Yamato like crap. (When he breaks a school track record and everyone is ecxited for him the only thing that Suzuka can say to him is "Eh, I've seen faster.") It's hard to get totally involved in a show where the main character's motivations are mysterious. I have a feeling that Suzuka will become a little more tolerable soon, but if she doesn't it bodes ill for this series.
The animation was good, but not great. The backgrounds were a little plain,
The first five episodes are contained on this disc which comes in a clear keepcase with a reversible cover. There is no insert. The limited edition version also has a thick cardboard slipcase to store the entire series in.
Ya know what the hardest part of writing a review is? Coming up with a new and different way of saying that the audio (or video) was okay but nothing to write home about. That's the case with this disc. There are stereo soundtracks in English and Japanese, and while I enjoyed the Japanese a bit more they are both fine. (Some of the English female voices were a bit whiney for my tastes.) There were no dropouts or distortion. Sutitles are available in English.
This show comes with a 4:3 image that is solid. There is some aliasing, mainly in the background, but the lines are tight and the colors are bright and even. Like the audio, this is an average looking disc that doesn't really wow the viewer but doesn't do anything wrong either.
Also included on this disc are a textless opening and closing and the Aoda High School Year Book. This last feature is a reel of stills from the show that lasts slightly less than a minute.
Though I had some problems with Yamato being so thick and Suzuka being such a witch, I did enjoy these episodes. There are some fun moments and the story has a lot of potential. While there isn't as much humor as I'd like, there is some. I'm going to cautiously recommend this series. I think it will end up being rather memorable.
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