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Top Ten Anime DVDs of 2005


a bi-weekly column by Don Houston, John Sinnott, Chris Tribbey, and Todd Douglass

Welcome to the last Anime Talk of 2005.  It's been a very good year for anime, and we start off this installment with a look at the Top Ten Anime discs of 2005.  There were a lot of good titles that didn't quite make the cut, and editor Sinnott was sorely tempted to play with the results so that Cromartie High School earned a spot, but in the end he resisted.  There are some titles you'd expect to see, as well as a few surprises.  We also have reviews of the 1982 Astro Boy series, a collection of Makoto Shinkai's work, and the R2 version of Howl's Moving Castle, the newest Hayao Miyazaki film.  Holly has some more bargains to help stretch you anime dollar this holiday season, and Chris Tribbey has an early look at Viewtiful Joe, another video game that's been turned into an anime series.

All of us at Anime Talk would like to wish our readers a happy and safe holiday season.  See you next year!

The Top Ten Anime DVDs of 2005

It's been a great year for anime, with a lot of excellent shows being released and many older shows getting second lives with bargain priced boxed sets.  It was hard narrowing the field down to just 10 titles that deserved recognition, but eventually we all reached consensus on these titles.  We did have a few ground rules to help us out though.  Any show that was on last year's list was ineligible, as were re-releases (including boxed sets).  This way we'd focus on the new titles that were released.  So, without any further ado, here's the Top Ten Anime Titles of 2005, as selected by the staff of Anime Talk:

1)  Samurai 7:  Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai from 1954 has inspired many story tellers with its tale of courage, honor and sacrifice. The most recent incarnation of this concept is FUNimation and Gonzo's Samurai 7. With a run of 26 episodes and each costing roughly $300,000 a pop, this is one of the most expensive series to date. While only three volumes may have been released so far, you can tell that this show is a labor of love because every detail has been painstakingly covered. The animation and sound quality is second to none and the overall style, sense of adventure and outlandish characters bring the anime to life. If you haven't been sucked in by Samurai 7 yet, you owe it to yourself to be. This is undoubtedly the best new series to be released in 2005 and may very well be the best title in FUNimation's catalog.

2)  Ghost in the Shell: SAC (2nd Gig):  The first season of Ghost in the Shell:  Stand Alone Complex made our top ten list for 2004, and the second season is just as good.  Like the first series, there is a good amount of action in this season, but the story gets more complex and textured too.  Exploring the politics of the future Japan 2nd Gig is filled with a myriad of sub-plots, many of which seem to be related.  But then again, maybe they aren't.  The intracate story has a good mixture of humor and drama too.  With the excellent animation and stellar sound that fans have come to expect from this show, this is a not-to-be-missed series.

3)  Fullmetal Alchemist: With every volume that has been released, Fullmetal Alchemist keeps proving itself to be a highly entertaining, well thought out and action-oriented anime. Everything from the animation production to presentation and voice work all impress with the feeling that the team behind the show loved their product. You may have seen the anime on Cartoon Network or even played the PlayStation 2 games, but sitting down to watch batches of episodes is the best way to experience it. The adventures of the Elric brothers should be on your "must have" list and if you haven't started already, what are you waiting for?

4)  Planetes:  Space based anime shows are nothing new.  From Robotech to Gundam, many very good anime programs deal with life in space, but not many of them deal with it in a realistic fashion.  They often blatantly ignore the rules of physics in order to make the show more exciting.  Planetes is an anime show that doesn't bend the rules though.  As a matter of fact, a lot of the tension and suspense comes from the fact that physics does still work in space.  Dealing with the lives of blue collar workers who are charged with cleaning up the seemingly endless debris that orbits the Earth, this show not only explores the difficulties of working in space, but also how people may live and thrive there.  With excellent animation and extra packed discs, Planetes is a very welcome relief from the mecha battles and buxom babes that usually fills space based anime. 

5)  Samurai Champloo:  If you don't know Mugen, Jin and Fuu by now, you're really missing out.  Samurai Champloo may be lower on the DVDTalk Top 10 Anime list, but for many fans it's the No. 1 samurai anime of 2005. Mixing action, humor, a touch of romance and sadness, and a whole lot of hip-hop (yes, hip-hop), Samurai Champloo is a unique and well-written road trip anime, following two rogue swordsmen as they uphold their vow to help a cute girl find a "samurai who smells of sunflowers." Along their road, our always hungry trio finds adventure, laughs, and more than one attractive member of the opposite sex. When they aren't looking for the mysterious samurai, they're searching for inventive ways to earn money, often pitting themselves against one another. Furious animation, a killer soundtrack, and a whole heap of attitude combine for one of the best anime series ever released by Geneon.

6)  Hayao Miyazaki films - Porco Rosso and Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind:  A fitting (and totally random) tie at No. 6 on DVDTalk's Top 10 Anime List, Porco (Italian, womanizing, airplane-flying pig learns how to care) and Nausicaa (adventurous girl headlines epic, high-flying, post-apocolyptic adventure) were wonderful DVDs, some of the best yet to come out of the Disney-Studio Ghibli partnership. Both are Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away) offerings, and both represent some of his best work. Porco Rosso is a light-hearted tale of a freelance air pilot in the post-World War I Mediterranean. This pig with wings story is cute and touching as Porco is fundamentally changed by the love and fierceness of a young girl.

A thousand years after mankind has been nearly exterminated is the setting for Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, a grand and thoughtful journey of discovery and sadness. Mother Nature is reclaiming Earth, as a deadly poisinous forest threatens the last remnants of society, but mankind still hasn't learned the error of its ways: instead of banding together, the different factions are still killing each other. It's up to a young, feisty girl to save us from the world, and ourselves.
Both of these two-DVD sets were technically solid, and the second DVD for each includes a feature-length storyboard presentation of the film. Michael Keeton, Patrick Stewart, Edward James Olmos, and Cary Elwes all contributed to outstanding English dubs.

These DVDs were some of the best anime had to offer in 2005, and should be among the first shown to people who are on the fence about anime.

7)  Appleseed:  So often we snicker at style over substance, but where would anime fans be without Final Fantasy 7, Place Promised in our Early Days, and Malice@Doll? Appleseed wins the 2005 "woah" award for an anime feature that didn't have the greatest story, but sure had awesome visuals. Done completely in 3D CGI, Appleseed was an incredible visual feat, with impressive detail, wonderful settings, fantastic mecha, and jaw-dropping character designs. Action is ever-present in a so-so tale about a beautiful World War III veteran, who suddenly finds the war over for her. Taken to the last, greatest human civilization on Earth, she's forced back into action when the builders of the city - a human clone race called bioroids - are threatened with extinction. Soon the entire human race is in jeapordy. She finds help and hope in the form of her former lover, one of the most distinct robot-human characters in anime, Briareos. Appleseed is a remake of an (ugly) 1988 manga-based anime of the same name, and this feature has inspired John Woo to do a sequel for 2006. Any one of the three DVD editions makes an excellent addition to your collection.

8)  Gankutsuou -The Count of Monte Cristo:  In an update to the classic novel by Alexandre Dumas, director Mahiro Maeda sets the story in the far flung future at a time when young Albert is just spreading his wings to get out from under his wealthy family. Befriended by a mysterious nobleman known as the Count of Monte Cristo, he soon finds himself involved in the middle of intrigue that his newfound acquaintance provides, all handled with some of the most interesting visuals that modern animation has to offer. For an attention to quality on all levels, Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo is one of our favorites for the year for more than just the great story, standing head and shoulders above most offerings of the year.

9)  Gunslinger Girl:  Although one of the most controversial of this year’s picks, Gunslinger Girl was more than just a combination of The Six Million Dollar Man and La Femme Nikita as it focused on a young girl named Henrietta, given a second chance at life after a tragic accident, only to find her life measured in how well she can learn to kill for her adoptive organization; The Social Welfare Agency. The series looks at her fellow assassins, their handlers, and herself as they face numerous challenges in the unforgiving world of espionage. The music and visuals were so well handled that even the critics upset over the idea of killer kids were forced to admit the series was something special.

10)  Area 88Area 88 is almost over but has developed quite a following based on the buzz it has generated. The story is about a group of fighter jockey mercenaries, Shin Kazama in particular, who risk their lives acting as mercenaries to protect a Middle Eastern kingdom from rebel forces. While most are there voluntarily, Shin is the victim of treachery and survives each day in order to return home to the woman he loves. There have been other attempts at bringing this manga to life over the years but this version is superior and pays great homage to the quality of the source material about the horrors of war.

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

Proving that you can't keep a good robot down, Rhino has released the second Astro Boy series.  Originally airing in 1982 and the first series in color, this series tells the story of a boy-shaped robot who comes equiped with some powerful weapons and a pacifist personality.  Not that he won't open up a can of whoop-ass if he has to though, and he usually does.  This is a kid's show, but it still has a lot of charm.  When watching three or four episodes in one sitting, as I did, the show does start to feel a little formalistic and tiresome, but I'm sure this wouldn't be the case if you spread the series out over more time.

Creator Makoto Shinkai has only been working in anime for a short time but has built up a small but impressive body of work.  Now the previously released DVD that contain all of his work have been collect into a two disc set:  The Shinkai Collection.  In addition to his early short She and Her Cat, it has the featurette Voices of a Distant Star and the full length movie The Place Promised in Our Early Days.  Overall, this is a mixed bag.  Voices, though short, is a powerful comment on early love, isolation and loneliness.  It works quite well and quickly ensnares the viewers in the relationship between the two middle school students who are separated but circumstance.  The Place Promised in Our Early Days has the same themes and treats them in much the same way, but this movie doesn't work nearly as well.  While Voices was a simple and touching story, Early Days tries to be deep and meaningful but just comes across as being pretentious.  In both cases though, the images are beautiful and striking and there is no doubt that Makoto Shinkai is a major talent.  This set comes recommended on the strength of the first movie and the images of the second.

Another recommended title is the boxed set of D. N. Angel: Complete Collection. The story is about a teenager, Daisuke Niwa, who finds himself the victim of a family curse on the eve of his 14th birthday that forces him to share his body with a master thief called, appropriately enough, Phantom Dark. The only way to cure the affliction is to find true happiness with the one he loves but of course she develops a crush for his alter ego, further complicating matters as the two set forth to protect their interests from an opposing family with a similar set of circumstances. The price was right and the quality of the show was better than I expected for this type of show, making this version of the show a solid value.

Animeigo has released the five episode Oh My Goddess OVA on two DVDs.  (Reviews of Volume One and Volume Two.)  Released in 2001, the video quality on these discs leaves a little to be desired, but the content is very good.  The story involves Morisato Keiichi a college freshman who one day accidently dials the Goddess Hotline while trying to order some dinner. The next thing he knows a beautiful girl, Belldandy, is standing in his room and offers him a wish.  Keiichi is sure that this is a joke that his dorm mates are playing on him, so he tells the apparition that his deepest desire is to have her as his girlfriend forever.  Belldandy's not a joke of course, but a real goddess.  The 'ultimate force' lets her grant his wish, and he becomes stuck with her, like it or not.  This show has a lot of humor in it and the romance never gets sappy, making it a nice show for guys and gals to watch.

One of the better series of the year has a new volume out this week with Daphne in the Brilliant Blue 5. The background is a future where the ice caps have melted and humanity relies on limited government to solve its problems, using the assistance of companies like the Nereides when the official branch of the government, the Ocean Agency, cannot provide help in a timely manner. This leads protagonist Maia into a new career as something of a bounty hunter as she seeks out her lost past, hoping to find clues about her memory loss and eventually get hired by the prestigious governmental agency before she ends up a victim of her own coworkers excessive violence.

FUNimation continues with their releases of the unedited versions of the first Dragon Ball Z storyline with the Vegetta Saga Volume 6. Though it's not a bad volume, this is one where not a lot happens, and the stories just aren't as engaging as they usually are.  The first two episodes are stand alone stories that, while entertaining, don't advance the plot much.  In the final episode on this disc though, Goku finally makes it to the end of Snake Way and meets King Kai.  While this disc is still recommended, it is one of the weaker ones in the series.

Almost finding its stride in the second volume of the series, Yumeria: Tossing and Turning, showed that Tomokazu Mikuri could be more than a slacker surrounded by a group of adoring women, he could also lead the charge to save Earth from the powerful Faydooms threatening to destroy the planet once they cross over from the dream world into his plane of existence. Getting a glimpse into an uncertain future by one of his team helps in this regard but he finds himself at a crossroads with few choices left to make as they begin attacking en masse. With a little bit of tweaking, this one could work out after all.

People who are region free will definitely want to check out the latest film from Studio Ghibli and director Hayao Miyazaki, the amazing Howl's Moving Castle.  This region 2 DVD presents the film with the original soundtrack and an English dub that is very good.  On par with Spirited Away, this magical film is about a young girl who is turned into an old woman by a curse.  Looking for a cure she encounters the magicain Howl, and gets trapped between two sides in a war.  Filled with Miyazaki's creative images and a having a touching story, this is shows that "Japan's Walt Disney" hasn't lost his touch.

Be sure to take a look at recommendations by DVDTalk’s twisted cast of reviewers in their Best Of Anime 2003 and Best Of Anime 2004 articles.

Upcoming Releases

Scheduled for release on Dec. 27, 2005
Title (click on the title to purchase at Amazon.) MSRP Studio
Starship Operators Vol. 1 $29.98 Geneon
Dan Doh!! Vol. 1 $29.95 Bandai
Dirty Pair OVA Collection $24.98 ADV Films
Galaxy Angel A Collection $34.95 Bandai
Gilgamesh Vol. 4 $29.98 ADV Films
Hikaru no Go Vol. 1 $24.99 VIZ
Knight Hunters Eternity Collection $29.98 Media Blasters
Melody of Oblivion Vol. 4 $29.98 Geneon
Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam Vol. 3 $34.95 Bandai
Panda-Z Vol. 3 $14.98 Bandai
Saiyuki Reload Vol. 6 $29.98 Geneon
Sakura Wars TV Collection $49.98 ADV Films

Scheduled for release on Jan. 3, 2006
Title (click on the title to purchase at Amazon.) MSRP Studio
Divergence Eve Misaki Chronicles Vol. 1 $29.99 ADV Films
Galaxy Railways Vol. 4 $29.98 FUNimation
Girls Bravo Vol. 4 $24.98 Geneon
Kiddy Grade Set 3 $29.98 FUNimation
Kiddy Grade Set 4 $29.98 FUNimation
Kyo Kara Maoh! Vol. 5 $24.98 Geneon
Lupin the 3rd TV Vol. 13 $24.98 Geneon
Mars Daybreak Vol. 3 $29.98 Bandai
Mermaid Forest Vol. 4 $29.98 Geneon
Tenchi Muyo GXP Set 3 $29.98 FUNimation
Tenchi Muyo GXP Set 4 $29.98 FUNimation
Tokyo Underground Vol. 6 $29.98 Geneon
Yumeria Vol. 3 $29.98 ADV Films
Zone of Enders Collection $49.98 ADV Films 

Holly's Anime Bargains - Presented by Holly Beeman

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Right Stuf New Weekly Specials:
City Hunter TV Season 2 Collection 2 DVD Set (S): $24.99, retail price $89.98 - nearly 73% off!
Comic Party DVD Box Set (Hyb): $39.99, retail price $99.95 - 60% off!
Demon Lord Dante DVD Box Set (Hyb) [Limited]: $29.99, [review] retail price $99.99 - 70% off!
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Heat Guy J DVD 4-Pack Box (Discs 4-7) DVD (Hyb): $35.99, [review] retail price $64.99 - nearly 45% off!
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Mospeada, Genesis Climber DVD Box Set (S): $24.99, retail price $89.98 - nearly 73% off!
RahXephon Theatrical Movie DVD (Hyb) Limited Edition: $9.99, [review] retail price $44.98 - nearly 78% off!
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Sugar, A Little Snow Fairy DVD Box Set (Hyb) [Limited]: $59.99, retail price $179.99 - nearly 66% off!

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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
by Chris Tribbey

Viewtiful Joe

A fat old hero, a cocky new one, and an assortment of strange villains make up Geneon's lunatic anime Viewtiful Joe, where a young boy and his girlfriend are transported into the movies.

Joe is a selfish and annoying young man, who convinces his adoring girl Silvia to watch a classic movie featuring Joe's favorite hero, Captain Blue. But while alone in the theater, Blue is unbelievably defeated, a big bad guy reaches into the real world and kidnaps the girl, and Joe rides a giant mecha into the screen to rescue her.

From there, it's one battle after another, as Joe takes advice from the overweight Blue, and goes after the bad guys in search of his girl. No rules exist in this celluloid world, as Joe makes up powers as he goes along ("Super Slow!" "Mach Speed!"). Running a predictable course, the bad guys turn out to be little match for Joe.

Joe is a pretty sad hero, oblivious to his girlfriend's advances and focused solely on his own selfish interests. Even when he's thrown into the middle of danger, he's using Gen. X sayings and asking for his hero's autograph. Joe just isn't that bright and is hard to root for. Heck, the big, green dragon fighter he runs up against has a less vile personality ("You talk so much, you should call yourself Super Mouth!"). Joe is like a "duh" talking surfer boy you want to bonk upside the head.

Character designs are just strange: in most cases, the giant heads of "normal" characters are disproportional to their bulbous, out-of-whack bodies. The more odd characters (a bat-man, a shark-dude, etc.) are really original and strange. Comic book style (and almost lazy) backgrounds are used to highlight comic book style characters. All that's missing is the bubbles for dialogue.

Anime's version of The Last Action Hero is a little funny, a little adventurous, and, thanks to a carefree English dub, really, really moronic. Viewtiful Joe earns a Rent It rating for this first volume, and let's hope it evolves into something closer to Sonic the Hedgehog and not Megaman NT Warrior.

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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