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The Dragon Box, Nabari no Ou and manga reviews

AnimeTalk

December 2009 Edition

by Todd Douglass, John Sinnott, and Wen-Tsai

Christmas is almost upon us and the holiday season is winding down. Anime Talk hopes everyone had a happy holiday with friends and family, and that you all are able to stay warm during these winter months.

Despite being busy for the holidays John and myself have been scrambling to get reviews done. Trust me when I tell you it has been a challenge! There are so many releases this time of year and neither of our piles has dissipated during the past month or so. Some awesome stuff has come out, but then again there has been some not-so-awesome stuff as well. This month we're also featuring some manga reviews as we try to expand our coverage! WTK comes by with some more bargains as well! Without further delay let's get on with it!


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

Once again FUNimation is releasing the Dragon Ball Z series, and this time it looks like they've gotten everything right. The Dragon Box contains the first 42 episodes of the series, uncut, with the restored video that their last releases boasted. The big difference this time is that the show is presented in its original aspect ratio, not the faux widescreen that the earlier season sets were marred with. In addition this set come with a nice 48-page hardcover book that includes episode synopsizes, character designs and trivia. If you've been holding off on buying Dragon Ball Z, this is the set to get.

Fullmetal Alchemist is easily in the top ten anime series of of all time. Probably in the top five. The series had a lot of action, some real heart-felt drama, and a unique and creative 'world' that was brought to life over the course of 51 episodes. Even so, John was a bit hesitant about watching the move that acts as a sequel to the show, Fullmetal Alchemist the Movie: Conqueror of Shamballa. Could the creative team capture lightning in a bottle a second time? Would the movie have all of the fun, humor, and excitement as the show, or was it just a chance to cash in on a successful show? Luckily his fears were ungrounded. This movie is able to bring together all of the things that made the series so good in a nice tight package.

Once Originally scheduled for early 2009, FUNimation may have been a little late releasing Season One of Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle on Blu-ray, but it was worth the wait. Created by Clamp, a studio that has produced several well-received series including X, Magic Knight Rayearth, and Chobits, the show features a few inside jokes that fans of their work will enjoy as well as a sprawling dimension travel story that's both interesting and exciting. The HD presentation is an improvement over the earlier releases, though the lack of a lossless Japanese soundtrack is an unfortunate omission.

One of the shows that have surprised me the most recently has been Sgt. Frog. It looks like typical kiddie fare, but it's actually an outrageously funny comedy along the lines of Excel Saga. This second set includes 13 more shows that will keep fans laughing. There's more outrageous invasion plans, some unexpected problems for the Keron invasion force, and even a couple of new characters pop up.

After releasing Naruto in individual (and edited) volumes and then in three-disc unedited sets for $50 a pop (MSRP) Viz has gone back and started releasing the series again, this time in attractively priced 6-disc collections. Based on the wildly popular manga by Masashi Kishimoto, this action adventure series has a lot of laughs and some endearing characters. It's a fun show, and definitely worth checking out for fans of Shonen Jump-based shows.

Viz has released the second set of Nana episodes, and this collection is just as good as the first. I'm usually not a fan of dramedy series, especially when there's a good dose of romance included, but this show manages to avoid all of the pitfalls that other shows fall into. The show is never sappy or maudlin, and the situations the characters find themselves in are rooted in reality and easy to relate to. Most of all, the show is populated with enjoyable characters that really drag you into their lives.

Entering its fourth season, Bleach takes a small dip in quality. The show is still fun, but the 16 episodes that make up Season Four Part One don't have quite the intensity that the earlier seasons did. That's not to say the show has lost its way or is bad, it's not. There are still some exciting action scenes and the series expands nicely with the introduction of a new class of villains, the Bounts. In any case this is a set that fans of the show will want to pick up.

Evangelion fans finally have something to cheer about after such a long time. The release of the re-imagination of the franchise, You are (Not) Alone has come out after a long agonizing wait! This effort is a attempt to reignite the franchise and tell the tale as it was originally intended to be told. There are few surprises here, but rather improvements all around with better production values and a more cohesive story. Granted the first part of this planned series is mostly all about action as Shinji gets his feet wet, but the coming installments should be just as engaging!

Clannad struck me in a way that few other shows have done before. This latest effort from Key is mysterious, captivating, endearing, and it packs on the charm in ways that few other shows can. It's really nothing more than a slice of life deal about some high school kids, but the quality of the writing is unparalleled and the characters feel so realistic. We had the chance to check out the complete first and second volumes of the original series as well as the first and second release of the sequel, After Story.

Bamboo Blade is a fun show about kendo and the antics of a high school teacher just looking for a tasty meal. This unassuming show features some vivid characters who find themselves in a straightforward concept. Basically Kojiro, a down on his luck kendo instructor, is offered a challenge to build a team and beat his rival. Should he win he eats free for a year, so naturally he selflessly assembles a squad and does his best to train them. This is a unique show with a load of laughs and it's something that's really worth checking out!

Speaking of shows with a lot of laughs, To Loveru is a harem-comedy of epic proportions. This show is hilarious from start to finish and the first installment packs quite the punch. It's all about an alien princess who becomes accidentally proposed to a meek earthling, and all hell breaks loose. Boobs, panty shots, and slapstick humor abound in To Loveru, but it feels entirely fresh and pops in every episode. I can't wait for the second release!

The first half of Nabari no Ou really grabbed my attention. The story was interesting, the characters were unique, and all around the tone was unlike any other. Unfortunately the follow up installment that brings the series to a close isn't quite as smooth a ride. There are questions left unanswered here and the focus of the series shifts somewhat so other things get lost in the shuffle. It's still interesting, and the ending was adequate, but it could have been so much better.

A couple of Naruto releases came about in this last month and we got the chance to check out the second volume of Shippuden as well as the movie. On the show side of things the four episodes that were included here offered some great moments once again as Gaara continues his fight and the Konoha village ninja are brought into the fold. The movie features a rather bland story about an ancient evil being resurrected and of course only Naruto can stop it. Both will please fans enough and come recommended.

And finally, fantasy anime gets a new entry in the form of Tears to Tiara. This latest release from Sentai Filmworks tells a tale about a demon king brought back into the world of mortals. Through a series of mishaps he becomes betrothed to a priestess and winds up engaging himself into the role of chieftain of the Gael clan. A holy empire and impending war drive a lot of the story, but the real heart of the show focuses on the characters and mysterious past of its main protagonist. This first collection was a nice way to be introduced to the show, but it leaves one curious about where the second installment will go.


WTK's Anime Bargains
Presented by Wen-Tsai King

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    Anime Talk's Manga Review:


    by Todd Douglass

    V.B. Rose Volume 7

    Banri Hidaka's V.B. Rose began running in 2004, and in Japan the series has made it to 14 volumes. Here in the States, however, we're still working our way through the romance series and today we're looking at the seventh installment. In case you're unfamiliar with this series all you really need to know is that it's a romance about a girl named Ageha and a bridal shop owner named Arisaka. This has been a slow burn from the beginning and it's one of those romances that is taking its sweet time coming about. You get a snippet here and there, but major developments are often few and far between. This installment pushes things forward somewhat, but in a direction that's a little different than readers may expect.

    Volume seven opens with Arisaka and Ageha celebrating their birthday together. It's a cute enough scene as the two get to know each other better and watch fireworks, but nothing big comes about. It's evident that they care for each other though neither takes the next step and spills their guts about their feelings. As a reader this is kind of frustrating, but I'm sure Hidaka intended for it to be that way for the characters as well. It leaves Ageha questioning their relationship and she even has to go to her schoolmates for advice in how to approach things or handle situations. Meanwhile Arisaka gets grief from his friends and business partner as well.

    Complicating matters this time around Kana Hirose shows up to the show. She's introduced as a corsage maker, but she's actually more than that to Arisaka. Let's just say that her appearance is enough to make Ageha uncomfortable. More than Kana's past with Arisaka leaves her character standing out because she has quite the attitude and contrasts the characters we've come to know. How the two could have had a relationship is beyond me, but it's enough to make Ageha's head spin and thoughts drift, so it's entertaining enough.

    The questioning about their relationship goes on for a while as both Ageha and Arisaka lose themselves in their own thoughts. Just as the volume begins to wind down and come to a close, however, something happens that turns the story on its head. I don't want to give it away since it's such a big turnabout, but let's just say that someone steps forward and expresses feelings. Maybe it's who you think, and maybe it's not. All I know is I wasn't expecting it and the next installment should be very interesting because of it.

    As always Hidaka's artwork is top notch. Each panel is full of detail with nice backgrounds when necessary and solid character designs. I must say that Arisaka's appearance still confounds me though. He's almost too girlish for his own good, though I suppose the manager of a bridal boutique should be somewhat.

    All around the seventh installment of V.B. Rose will keep fans happy. There are enough developments between Ageha and Arisaka here to string you along, the appearance of Kana is welcome, and the surprise at the end brings about an interesting climax. We'll see how things resolve themselves in the eighth volume, but for now consider this one easily recommended if you enjoyed any of the previous releases.


    SGT. Frog Volume 18

    Mine Yoshizaki's Sgt. Frog is arguably one of the cutest, funniest franchises to come along in quite some time. To be fair though, the manga has been around for the better part of a decade so it's not exactly like this amphibian is the new kid on the block. The anime was recently released in the States, but for some time now the manga bas been translated by Tokyopop. The 17th installment came out earlier this year, and the 18th is to be released just around the corner.

    In case you're unfamiliar with Sgt. Frog, all you really need to know is that it's about a platoon of alien frogs who come down from space to conquer our world. Unfortunately for them, and their leader Keroro, things don't go quite as planned. They are more or less marooned here on Earth (known to them as Pokopen) and become domicile, living with humans and doing house chores. There's still the desire to rule the world though, and the schemes Keroro and his kind hatch are truly hilarious, if not a little harebrained.

    For the 18th volume of Sgt. Frog we have ten new chapters that catalogue the misadventures of Keroro and his cohorts.

    The first chapter is a back-story about how Momoka Nishizawa actually met Tamama. If you've been following the manga then you already know Momoka is loaded and Tamama is something of a goof. In this origin story we find out that the two met with Tamama crashed Momoka's birthday party. Another alien decided to join in the festivities as well and beat the snot out of the frog. In true heroine fashion Momoka came to Tamama's aide and claimed that his life was now hers. There are some great bits in this chapter and I really appreciated the introduction between Momoka and Fuyuki. Let's just say that there's much ado when they bump into each other.

    The follow-up chapter isn't quite as good, but it's enjoyable nonetheless. In the second one Keroro and his squad get it in their head that the mosquito is a feared adversary of the Pokopenians. They decide to shrink down and basically become mosquitoes, attacking Natsumi. Things don't exactly go as planned and we'll leave it at that. After the mosquito incident Giroro takes over and training Keroro's platoon, and trust me when I tell you that he goes over the top. He basically constructs a giant underground simulation room and puts the frogs through some rigorous things indeed. Sharks, missiles, and giant waves are really only just the beginning (think something big, squishy, and smells like bacon).

    From here the volume goes on to feature a couple of smaller chapters, including a favorite of mine with Fuyuki traveling to the moon to stay at a Keronian hotel. There are some other good ones after this as well, though I'll leave those for fans of the series to discover. I will say that this volume ends on an interesting note and will leave you eagerly anticipating the 19th installment to see what happens.

    From start to finish Sgt. Frog's 18th volume is highly entertaining. The chapters here are fantastic for the most part, though there are a couple clunkers mixed in. Even so there are plenty of laughs and even a few bits of fan service as Yoshizaki caters to some of his audience. The artwork is as awesome as ever, the writing is witty, and the stories are very creative. Sgt. Frog is a winner and this volume is just another fine installment!


    Happy Café Volume 1

    Originally released in Japan in 2005, Happy Café finds itself nestled firmly in the shoujo genre. The manga has apparently gone on to receive other volumes overseas, though here in the States Tokyopop has just released the first one. It should be said that the first volume of a manga is much like the first episode of an anime series, or anything else for that matter. One typically gets a general idea of what it's going to be about, but it's rare when something grabs and hooks you right out of the gate. Kou Matsuzuki's Happy Café is such a release that is kind of hard to gauge from its opening volume.

    Happy Café doesn't offer many surprises. You see a happy looking girl on the cover with a couple of metro boys, and that's pretty much what this manga presents. The story centers around a bakery named Café Bonheur, where its patrons seem to leave happy. This entices 16 year old Uru Takamura to the point she enters the café and offers to work there for free after frequently seeing customers leaving with a smile on their face. She's a spirited little girl with a somewhat troubled past and wants nothing more than to bring happiness to other people. Once she enters the café, however, she notices that some things aren't quite what they seem to be.

    For starters the baker in the café, Shindo, doesn't appear to be the kind of guy who would instill good feelings in others. He's kind of sullen and violent, frequently hitting people and saying what's on his mind regardless of other's feelings. Be that as it may though, Shindo-san is a remarkable baker and Uru notices that he's quite a different person when he's in the kitchen. He smiles and looks pleasant, which is a far cry from his outward appearance the rest of the time. Joining Shindo at Bonheur is Ichiro, who is well-mannered, but something of a narcoleptic who falls asleep constantly. The only way to revive him is by shoving food in his mouth. Odd, I know, but it's pretty funny and stands as one of the manga's running gags.

    Once the three main characters are introduced; which happens during the first couple of pages, Matsuzuki begins building on their relationships and personalities. Uru, Shindo, and Ichiro are interesting enough by themselves, but I must say that they do play off each other quite well in this volume. Uru seems to be smitten with Shindo, Shindo sees a little of himself in Uru, and Ichiro is almost too nonchalant for his own good. There are many amusing bits that stem from their interactions, but anything resembling an interesting, cohesive story is not really part of the equation.

    Happy Café seems almost too content to just keep things in neutral for this volume. Some stuff happens, but it's nothing that will really hook readers. There is plenty of potential for sure and the characters are fun enough so there may be some nice developments in the next volume. Now that the introductions are out of the way one would hope that Matsuzuki would take the plot to the next level.

    As far as the artwork is concerned, Matsuzuki's style is pretty attractive and detailed at times. There are many points in this volume where there are no backgrounds and at times characters are merely represented by outlines and simple shapes. Despite some of these shortcuts the manga looks quite nice and the art style is very enjoyable.

    If you're looking for a new manga to sink your teeth into Happy Café may be right up your alley. Then again, you really have to be looking for a shoujo comedy in order to appreciate anything that happens here, because there's not much else. The unfortunate part about this first installment is the fact that nothing really happens here. The story doesn't become interesting and the character development only goes so far. Hopefully the next volume will change that, but until then this one looks to have some promise.


     
     


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