Witchblade, Wings of Honnaemise, and the death of Geneon
a (hopefully) bi-weekly column by Todd Douglass, Don Houston, John Sinnott, and Wen-Tsai
I know, I know, our column is late. To be quite honest this whole Geneon thing has us thrown for a loop like most of you. I'm sure by now you have heard about Geneon going belly up so rather than bore you with details let's just say that collections may soon be incomplete. Want Hellsing Ultimate? Looking forward to future releases of Black Lagoon? Well, they aren't happening; at least not for a while. It has been rumored that some publishers are interested in certain titles but more obscure ones like the fantastic Story of Saiunkoku may slip beneath the radar. Keep your fingers crossed and just be thankful you have finished the Geneon series that you have.
As far as what else is going in the anime market publishers like ADV, FUNimation, Bandai Visual, Bandai Entertainment, Manga, VIZ, and Media Blasters are still pumping out quality titles. The market seems stable and the releases are doing well, but (gets on soap box) it needs support especially with the loss of a big publisher. Don't download pirated shows because it's free; the rest of us want our anime collections to be complete. Just look at some of the shows we're reviewing for this column and you see why otaku "need" these anime publishers!
Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honneamine (HD DVD) by director Hiroyuki Yamaga is a story of hope and greater purpose that sometimes came across as overtly moralistic but pioneered certain movie elements in anime form better than most of its contemporary releases of the time. The historical value of the movie aside, it was far from perfect but was an excellent choice for Bandai to release on HD DVD and Blu-Ray. Perhaps a successful release in the newer high definition formats will show them it can be profitable to release other shows as well. The movie offered an alternative look at man's reach for the sky and the need for sacrificing to a higher cause, weighed against our universal push to control others using force; not the cleverest parable but better than expected. In short, Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honneamise proved that companies like Bandai can "get it right" compared to some of their competitors they have once again left in the dust.
Burst Angel was re-released recently and we picked up the first four volumes of the series to take a second look at. The story of a small group of female mercenaries in a futuristic Tokyo was a lot of fun for the fan service crowd, the giant mech lovers, and those who enjoy action packed anime in general. Don reserves his final judgment until he sees the last two volumes but he agreed with John who found a lot to enjoy too; declaring the newly priced versions (that maintained all their former extras) as something to consider picking up.
Welcome to the NHK 1 then hit a little close to home in the story about a guy who spends all day looking for porn online and all the rest of his few waking hours thinking up conspiracies involving everyone under the sun. Will Tatsuhiro Sato be convinced to follow the plan laid out by cutie Misaki Nakahara or will he continue his fruitless pursuit of developing a videogame for picking up anime girls? Only the future volumes will tell us for sure but we know a lot of otaku will be fidgeting while pondering his fate as something a bit too close to home.
We then ended a lackluster series with Tokko 3; a horrific future where demons plot and scheme to conquer the Earth though opposed by a dedicated but small group of genetically gifted police officers in Tokyo. Some of the questions from previous volumes were answered and some new questions came up but ultimately this mature manga based anime seemed rushed and you may not appreciate what corners were cut.
One of the most popular anime series we have come across this year had another chapter come out with Bleach 6 as Ichigo and a small band of friends take a one way trip to the Soul Society to rescue Rukia before she is executed for high crimes. Facing giant guards, powerful captains, and meeting a crazy friend of Yoruichi are just some of the misadventures they went through this time; Ichigo’s newfound control of his powers amazing even skeptic Uryu as the powerful substitute soul reaper shows his recent training was not in vain.
Everyone's favorite un-vampire is back in Karin volume three. This volume has the young girl who comes from a family of vampires worrying about her grades, having to go on a date with a vampire hunter, and wondering if the boy she likes, Kenta, is drifting away from her. If that wasn't enough she also has to figure out a way to keep her brother from biting Kenta's mother. That would certainly put a damper on their relationship. This disc has four entertaining episodes that are sure to please fans of the show.
We weren’t sure what to make of Girl's High when we first put the disc in. It seemed to be a shojo show at first glance involving a bunch of girls starting high school. Then frequent panty shots and bawdy humor turned it into an ecchi anime. Those aspects are toned down a bit in the later half of the disc making it seem like a situational comedy. However you want to categorize it, Girl's High is a fairly funny show that has a few good laughs in it.
Though it got off to a mediocre start, with volume three Suzuka turned into a pretty good show. That installment built on the strengths of the second volume and advanced the story nicely. Too bad it didn’t last. In volume four of the series the characters start acting stupid again which makes them hard to relate to. Instead of a romantic drama it’s turning into a soap opera, with all of the illogical acts and contrived plots which that genre is famous for. That’s too bad, for one brief volume it was very entertaining.
Ginko, a wanderer who travels Japan looking for rare and unusual Mushi (a sort of elemental spirit) returns in the second volume of Mushi-Shi. This time around the enigmatic traveler encounters five more unique situations that only his expertise and skill can unravel. This show, while being low keyed and sedate, is actually one of the more interesting shows to be release of late. It paints an interesting world that is very much like ours, but with an added sense of mystery and wonder.
The first season of Kaleido Star burst on the anime scene unexpectedly in 2004 and was quite a critical success. The story of a young girl who wanted to be a circus star wasn't necessarily new, but the strong characters, detailed animation, and entertaining plot made it a very enjoyable show. ADV has now released the entire second season of this show in thin pack cases under the name Kaleido Star: New Wings True Star Collection. Unfortunately this season doesn't come close to capturing the magic and fun of the first season and is a pale imitation of the original. It’s too bad that the creators weren't able to capture the excitement a second time, as they ended up with a fairly poor show.
Bandai Visual continues their experiment with Japanese pricing with Galaxy Angel Rune volume 3. This four episode disc is being released with a MSRP of nearly $50! While this is standard practice in Japan where rabid otaku are willing to fork over that much for their beloved anime, the same isn't necessarily true in the US. To make matters even worse, this show is only mediocre. While the original Galaxy Angel series were funny and enjoyable, this show feels like its trying too hard and comes across as inferior to its predecessors.
Say what you will about Bandai Visual's pricing for regular series but when I saw the price tag for Wings of Honnaemise I nearly fell over. $80 gets you an upgraded version of the film presented on Blu-ray and a Standard Edition DVD. I share many sentiments with Don regarding this film though I have to admit that it touched me somehow on a personal level. The movie spent most of its time preaching about humanity and how we're all going to wind up destroying ourselves but the message is heartfelt and memorable. The disc treatment itself is decent as well but with the limited bonus material and the fact that the picture isn't "that" much better, the $80 price tag doesn't necessarily match.
Recently FUNimation has revisited several of their more popular series with cheaper releases. Two such shows are Gunslinger Girl and Fruits Basket; both are enjoyable in their own right and definitely make their way onto the "must see" list for otaku. In Gunslinger Girl the series focuses on a group of orphaned girls who enter a program run by the Italian government. It turns them into cybernetic assassins and the show plays heavily on the heartstrings with a melodramatic atmosphere and memorable characters. On the opposite side of the coin is Fruits Basket; an irreverent show with wild characters and a zany concept. Basically there is this cursed family whose members turn into animals of the zodiac whenever they are hugged by a member of the opposite sex. Both shows deserve to be revisited and I personally appreciate the lower pricing structure by FUNimation (even if it is just clearing inventory).
The third volume of Beck has come along and it's good, and I mean damn good. In this installment there is a lot that happens and while it becomes a tad slower towards the end of the disc the content is fantastic. Dying Breed is set to come to Japan and that means we finally get to meet the famous Eddy. It also means that Koyuki gets his time in the spotlight and Beck gains some notoriety. There are a few more subtle things that happen here that I don't want to spoil in this summary so let's just say this show is great. Check it out now!
Naruto fans have yet something else to be thankful to VIZ for. The first movie, Ninja Clash in the Land of Snow has been released and it embodies everything that people love about the show. Sure it's essentially an extended episode and the story is a tad on the weak side but it's solid Naruto from start to finish. Basically Naruto and company have to escort an actress to this place called the land of snow and along the way they get involved in a big plot to take the actress into custody. There aren't many big developments here though we do get a nice little look into Kakashi's past during one flashback.
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by Todd Douglass
To the masses Top Cow may not be a well known juggernaut like DC or Marvel but comic book fans know the company intimately. I remember when the publisher began releasing its first line of titles and spawned from Image. Operated by Marc Silvestri, Top Cow launched its most popular comic, Witchblade, in 1995. The series went on to be very successful with a continued release, a short-lived TV series, and rumored film in the works. About a year ago the franchise quietly jumped across the ocean and landed in Japan.
Last year GONZO worked with director Yoshimitsu Ohashi and designer Uno Makoto to produce an anime series based upon the Witchblade universe. If you were ever a fan of the comic book then you should know going in that this Witchblade is very different. Sarah Pezzini is nowhere to be found and the show takes place in a dilapidated Tokyo rather than New York City. This change in venue and focus may be jarring at first for fans but like many other franchise if you look at this anime as simply an alternate continuity then it's easy enough to accept.
The show seemingly takes place in the future judging by some of the available technology, though they never really discuss a time period. When the series begins we are introduced to a mother and daughter who are on their way to Tokyo. Masane Amaha and her child, Rihoko appear to be two peas in a pod though Masane isn't particularly motherly. With a penchant for behaving in an immature fashion it's safe to say that where Masane lacks some maturity her daughter Rihoko picks up the slack. The two need each other in order to survive but when Child Welfare Services comes to separate them things turn ugly.
As Rihoko is carted away Masane steals a police car and chases after them, which results in her crashing the car and winding up in a detention center. Rihoko manages to escape and bumps into a nosey reporter who begrudgingly becomes her babysitter. While all of this is going on a rash of violent murders it taking place all over the city. Bodies are being literally grinded into hamburger and the police remain baffled as to what the cause is. When we visit Masane in the detention center we soon see what monstrosity is actually perpetrating these crimes.
This guy in a cell near Masane turns into a giant monster with a drill bit attached to his head that also is equipped with a blade. He makes minced meat out of a guard but when his attention is turned to Masane he bites off a little more than he can chew. Out of nowhere Masane's wrist glows red and her body is transformed into a voluptuous warrior whose armor leaves little room for the imagination. She launches herself at the monster and rips him in two with a blade attached to her arm. I'm sure by now you've realized that Masane is not only an anime MILF but the wielder of the Witchblade as well.
Throughout the rest of this volume there really is nothing that gives way to her origins or how she came across the weapon. She has no prior records of any kind and the fact that she has no memory prior to six years ago doesn't help matters. As most of Japan resides under water thanks to a disaster from six years ago it seems strange that Masane was discovered at the epicenter of it all with baby Rihoko in her arms. Hopefully as the show progresses we'll learn more about her past and find out what has really gone on.
At any rate Masane is inevitably captured by a corporation known as Douji who has their hands in weapons manufacturing and knows more than a thing or two about the Witchblade. In their company Masane is forced to be a sub-contractor of sorts and is employed as a weapon to destroy the monsters known as X-Cons. Naturally this gives way to a lot more fighting, fan service, and questions about the new wielder of the Witchblade. Before this volume ends we are also introduced to other women who apparently use weapons similar to the Witchblade which adds more to the mystery.
The four episodes in this introductory volume do a very good job of setting the mood for the series. Its edgy, sexy, and cool demeanor separates it from the American comic book, though to be fair that particular continuity was all of those things and more. So far this looks like a great direction for Witchblade to be headed and I'm eager to see what the future holds for Masane and her daughter Rihoko. Fans of the comic and newcomers alike will appreciate what this show has to offer; boobs, blood, and all.
If you have read any of my reviews then you already know that I love GONZO productions. They have a way of rendering a show with cool designs, slick animation, and higher than average video quality. Witchblade fortunately does not break from GONZO's tradition of excellence.
The character designs for the show by Uno Makoto come to life with a great level of detail and presence in most every scene. Considering Makoto lent his designing talents to other shows like Gravion and Love Hina I'm sure you can ascertain just how, um, "developed" the female characters are. The action and animation is also top of the line though I do have to share some of my disappointment with a couple scenes during this volume. There were some times where the movement of the characters just didn't feel as fluid as it should have though I suppose some of this could be attributed to Masane's speed while she's using the Witchblade.
Technically speaking the video quality on this disc is fine enough but it's nothing entirely stellar. FUNimation has included four episodes here though the compression rate is slightly higher than average and you're going to see blocking and artifacts nestled in darker sections of the image. Some slight grain was also present in scenes where lighting wasn't designed to be the best and I spotted a few instance of aliasing here and there. There are plenty of moments where Witchblade looks brilliant though and on the whole the transfer here is better than most. I just wish FUNimation hammered some of the nitpicky flaws out of this release.
Like most recent series released here in America Witchblade comes with three audio tracks. On the lighter side of things is a pair of 2.0 stereo tracks for English and Japanese languages. The audio quality in both is exemplary with precise and flawless sound but it unfortunately doesn't pack the wallop on the soundstage that you'd hope it would. That's where the English 5.1 track comes into play. Once each channel kicks in you'll notice an improved sense of immersion in almost every regard. Dialogue and music filters through to the rear channels though neither really matches the presence that the sound effects have. With all of the fighting going on in this volume the track does breath plenty of life into the release but it's not nearly as much as you'd expect. I've heard more prominent tracks before but this one is quite capable.
With regards to the dubbing quality both the English and Japanese languages offer an enjoyable experience though I feel that the English dub has a little more fun with the "sexy" part of Witchblade. Sometimes it sounds like Masane is having an orgasm when things really heat up. Sure it's kind of silly but it does play into the way the character was designed.
The first volume of Witchblade offers a two minute promotional video for the show as well as textless opening and closing animations. A little booklet has been tossed into the DVD case as well with staff interviews and some production artwork. Also included for this release is a 14 minute tour of the Top Cow studios. I found this to be particularly interesting because, as a fan, I've always wanted to see what the comic office looks like.
The Top Cow office was a little small than I imagined it to be though since it's cluttered with comics, toys, and artwork I'm sure it's probably larger than it appears to be. Silvestri guides the tour and talks a little about the company, Witchblade, and himself. He is personable enough to keep the feature entertaining and fills us in on his creative process as he goes along. Hopefully in future volumes we'll get a commentary with him with thoughts about the anime series. It's wishful thinking probably but who knows!
Also included with this first volume is an interview with Masane Amaha's Japanese voice actor, Mamiko Noto. For the most part she answers simple questions such as what she likes about it and whatnot. There's nothing here that really provides information about the series but it does tell some of the background from Mamiko's experience which is nice to have. As we usually see with interview segments such as this most of the content is kind of fluffy.
After four episodes of Witchblade I have admit that I'm intrigued by the series. Masane's character was interesting to see develop and watching the Witchblade in action provided the necessary thrills that I thought it would. A lot of questions regarding the history of the Witchblade, involvement of the various organizations, and Masane's past. These mysteries kind of leave the first volume of Witchblade unbalanced though hints are dropped about potential answers in the coming installments.
I found these episodes to be entertaining and I'm hooked enough that I would definitely recommend it to anyone; fans of the comic book in particular. I just haven't seen that spark or thing that sets this show apart from others. Sure it's Witchblade and yes that's cool enough on its own but let's see where the rest of the series goes before we get too excited. For now Witchblade comes strongly recommended.
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