The end of Area 88 and Gantz and the start of Diamond Daydreams
a bi-weekly column by Don Houston, John Sinnott, Chris Tribbey, and Todd Douglass
Welcome to the latest installment of Anime Talk. This week in our capsle reviews we have the last volume of Area 88 that ends on a high note, and the concluding episodes of Gantz that doesn't. Case Closed wraps up its fifth season, and Mermaid Forest comes to a close too. We also look at a new series, Nickelodeon's Avatar and review the collected Zone of Enders boxed set. Holly's Anime Bargains returns, for those looking to stretch their anime dollars after the holidays, macho-man has Chris Tribbey a look at a new romance series that looks promising, Diamond Daydreams, and we have our table of upcoming releases.
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Area 88: Wings of the Wind brings one of our favorite series to a close with Shin finding out his beloved is about to marry his arch rival. Shin’s within a couple of targets of his goal to pay off his contract when the news comes in from photographer Shinjo but will he achieve his goal in time or simply defect and be hunted down for the rest of his life. Otherwise, the series went out with the same high quality production values and extras that fans have come to expect; making it one of the most requested titles for a follow up series to date.
In Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo V2, Albert learns more about the mysterious Count but his motives are still unclear. The privileged aristocracy has much to fear from the fabulously wealthy man yet the web of the series is still being weaved at a stately rate in order to truly flesh out the reasoning behind his dark scheming. Is the Count a villain or the victim in this futuristic version of the Alexandre Dumas classic? Continue to watch it and find out but keep in mind that the technical aspects of the series alone are worth a peek with the writing elevating it even higher in the opinion of many.
The fifth season of Detective Conan, known as Case Closed here in the States, wraps up with volume five. This DVD has only three stand alone episodes, but they are some of the best shows in the season involving some fun mysteries and good detective work. The disc starts off with a locked room puzzle, which is the best and closest to a traditional mystery story, but the latter two epsides also feature some good plots. While the fact that Conan does want anyone to know that he's really solving the mysteries is pretty dumb and often played for laughs, and some of the crimes are really stupid, this show comes up with its fair share of good mysteries.
With a blend of reality TV, live news and science fiction, Starship Operators is one unique little series. The only problem is that the first four episodes on the premier volume don’t do a lot to suck you in as a viewer. The characters are not well represented and the story is slow and plodding. The basic premise here is that a grand war is going on and the evil force known as The Kingdom forces the surrender of the Kibi nation. This doesn’t sit well with a group of military cadets who above all rhyme and reason take over their ship to wage a one vessel campaign to regain the dignity of their people. Sure it sounds interesting, but until more volumes come out and we learn more about what’s going on this one sits comfortably in rental territory.
The last episode of Gantz is pretty disappointing, and not only because the volume has a mere three episodes. After watching ten volumes of the show that were released over nearly a year, most viewers are probably hoping for some sort of resolution at the end. The answers to exactly who or what the Gantz is, how it picks its victims, why the games are played, and how the old lady who asked for directions fits into all of this would really wrap up this series nicely. Unfortunately, you don't find out any of that. The series just ends in a vague confusing way with almost nothing resolved. A real bummer.
Volume five of Kyo Kara Maoh is another solid installment in the series. First, the demon king Yuri has to save an endangered dragon from poachers, and then the series starts another multi-part story when a 10 year old girl attempts to assassinate the king. Managing to avoid a lot of the cliche's of fantasy anime while still having a familiar feel, this is show is worth checking out.
A little beyond the halfway point in the Fullmetal Alchemist series the show proves that it still has what it takes to keep going strong. The seventh volume takes a step back from the action and events of the past few in order to reflect upon things. We finally get to meet Ed and Al’s alchemy teacher in a display of hilarity and violence that is the source for many flashbacks. Getting some glimpses at the brother’s past helps to flesh out their characters even more, as if they really need it. The show offers just about everything that you could want from an anime and we’re still glued to the edge of our seat to see if Ed and Al get that Philosopher’s Stone.
The unedited version of the first Dragon Ball Z saga continues in Vegeta Saga Volume 7. The pace really picks up in these three episodes with Goku starting, and finishing, his training with King Kai, the Z Warriors go back to Earth and prepare for a fight, and the Saiyans finally arriving on Earth. There are some interesting extra scenes that weren't shown on US television too, appearing here for the first time in region 1. Well worth picking up for DBZ fans.
Working stiff James Links and his family of the future find themselves on the run after being set up for a fall in Zone of the Enders: Complete Collection. Derived from a videogame, the story follows them as they attempt to prevent an advanced orbital frame (mechanized robot of superior firepower and maneuverability) from falling into enemy hands. The only problem is that just about everyone seems to be the enemy as they are set up for a set of murders that didn’t commit. If you like chase series punctuated with numerous battles, this value-packed set will really hit the spot.
The fifth volume of Baki the Grappler has come along and this time the series is at a point that is five years later than the last installment. You see, after Baki lost to his father and after the subsequent death of his moth, he realized that he still needed more training. He left the country only to return and enter an underground combat arena known as the Holy Land of Fighting. All of the best fighters in the world gather there and for the time being Baki actually has remained champion. This volume introduces us to his new life and brings a slew of new warriors into the picture. The direction may be a little different than the previous volumes but this is the material that fans of the Baki OVA have been waiting to get to.
In the second season of the show, Girls Bravo 4 seemed to take a renewed look at the common factors of the show with lead male Yukinari still allergic to women but barely showing it as he dealt with the twisted Fukuyama’s schemes repeatedly. The fantastical elements of the show weren’t exactly written out of the episodes but they were downplayed to the point where they weren’t noticed nearly as much in favor of more fan service than the show has displayed previously. If you like seeing animated breasts popping out of clothes, nude anime chicks running around, and lots of panty shots, you might overlook the problems the show had.
Just as wild and wacky as the first three discs, the fourth volume of Kodocha is a lot of fun. This time Sana has a problem that she can't solve by being chipper and happy. It seems that there is a mystery in Sana's past, possibly involving her father, and her mother is going to use it as fodder for her next book. This is a really different show, a girls anime that's actually funny and entertianing. The English dub is really good too, and most of the credit for that goes to Laura Bailey. Her work as Sana really brings this show alive and makes it incredibly funny. Her voice just fits the 11 year old Sana well, and the many scenes where she's rattling off some mondo-bizzaro dialog is laugh-out-loud funny. This is a very entertaining show that really should be getting more press. Check it out, it is highly recommended.
In a show from Nickelodeon, Avatar: The Last Airbender 1 provided something in-between the usual anime and the Saturday morning cartoon with the adventures of a small group of kids destined to change the world. The world is at war with one of the four factions, the Fire Nation, nearly in control until Sokka and Katara come across an iceberg with a frozen boy inside. It quickly melts to unveil Aang, the last Airbender and Avatar, along with his faithful companion Appa. The team soon finds itself the most wanted group in the world as Zuko the Fire Prince hunts them down to prevent the prophecy from restoring balance to the four tribes, thereby weakening his own nation’s dominant stranglehold on the world.
More Mimetic Beasts continue to wage war against the humans near the close of the first season of Godannar. Mira is progressing quite nicely so that creates a rift between Goh and Anna that may very well drive them apart. A mysterious warrior known as Ken steps into the picture seeking vengeance for the death of a loved one. It’s difficult to tell whose side he’s really on, but Lou becomes infatuated with him and eventually gets taught how to be a pilot. The action and fanservice continues with the third volume as the show continues to be a guilty pleasure of sorts for mecha-freaks.
Mermaid Forest: Neverending Nightmare, the final volume of episodes where immortals Yuta and Mana walk the countryside in search of a cure for their having eaten the mystical flesh of mermaids was released recently. While not the best Japan has to offer, fans of the darker side of storytelling might appreciate how the couple continued to struggle against those who’d do them harm (apparently, everyone wants to live forever but these two). I saw some elements to enjoy in the series but the limitations were more readily apparent so check it out as a rental first.
Scheduled for release on Feb. 7, 2006
Scheduled for release on Feb. 14, 2006
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SOMETHING TO LOOK FORWARD TO
by Chris Tribbey
DIAMOND DAYDREAMS VOL. 1
It's hard to impress action anime fans with stories of romance. I'll take a mecha, a sword-slinger, or a magic-wielder over an anime love affair any day of the week, and twice on Sundays. After just one episode of Diamond Daydreams, though, I eagerly awaited the next chapter. I'll never admit it to friends, and I promised myself a Ninja Scroll binge afterward to remind myself I'm tough. But the stories and characters of Diamond Daydreams captured me fully and quickly, and (with the blinds closed) I'll watch volume two when it comes out.
In the first of two tales on this DVD, 20-year-old Atsuko helps her mom run a small food stand, working hard but feeling like life is passing her by. Mom is a no-nonsense woman, running her daughter hard, but lovingly, chastising Atsuko's friends for calling work, and prodding her daughter to marry that pompous (yet well-off) young gentleman, who can help get the store out of financial difficulty. After all, Atsuko is a plain girl, not unattractive, but surely a tomboy, who's lucky to have a suitor at all, in mom's estimation.
All plans - mom's, the suitor's, Atsuko's - are dashed aside when tall, dark and handsome enters the picture. He's engaging, humorous, and he wins Atsuko's eye and affections. A gentleman, this saxophone player begins a budding romance with Atsuko. But mom, and more pointedly, Atsuko's expectant husband won't allow this to happen without a fight. Not at all.
The second tale follows a bed-ridden beauty with an uncaring ass for a doctor. Two years in the hospital has left Karin forlorn and lonely. Her only solace is found in a laptop, where she writes her thoughts in a blog. Soon, she has a caring and intriguing pen pal, asking pointed questions and showing great affection for Karin. But will her dreams match reality when she comes face to face with her newfound friend?
Diamond Daydreams surprised me. While it moved at a snail's pace sometimes, I found the characters immediately engaging. Many romance anime give us immature, bumbling fools, feeling about blindly on their first road of love. You can spot the lacking ability of romantic storytelling in the creators of these shows when they revert to slapstick comedy and busty fan service. This anime features believable characters who've reached young adulthood, giving off mature emotions of tempered longing and troubled contemplation. Sure, every now and then Atsuko may trip and spill cartons of squid everywhere, but those few trips are forgiven in an anime that knows what it is, and doesn't stray too far. Some interesting direction, decent designs, and fitting music wrap around this above-average romance tale.
Recommended for fans of romance anime that don't try to be comedies
at the same time.
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