a semi-weekly column by Todd Douglass, Don Houston, John Sinnott, and Wen-Tsai
With the recent shift in power it's nice to finally get back on track and check out some amazing new series. Shows like Hell Girl, Witchblade, Pumpkin Scissors, Glass Fleet, and FLAG are all healthy signs that good things are on the horizon. Each of these shows impressed us in some way and the upcoming volumes are definitely releases to pay attention to.
Then again some older series are being re-released in collections so if you're an otaku on a budget there's always something cooking. If you happen to be somewhat light in the wallet WTK has some great bargains for you and, of course, right now the DeepDiscount 20% sale is going on! Be sure to check all of our reviews for some great titles that require your attention!
Flag V1: Collector's Edition is the story of a journalist photographer named Shirasu Saeko assigned to cover a United Nations special operatives team. What is special about the story in the first volume is that it is told from the point of view of one of Shirasu's coworkers, the man reading back some of her written words and watching tapes of her footage in a slightly eerie manner as though she were dead (rather than merely missing). The special nature of the deployment team (the group called the SDC or Special Development Command) is that they use some mech robots as part of their advanced arsenal; the machines called HAVWC's (high agility versatile weapon carriers). Not just any old military mech show, Flag seems to offer an impressive take on human conflict so we hope to keep you apprised as later volumes come out but don't miss the opener.
Full Metal Alchemist: Season One, Part 1 reminds us of the terrific series that has been so slowly released in recent years, previously described by popular writer Todd Douglas as one of the best titles ever released. It details the beginning of a lengthy adventure of two young brothers who were on the wrong side of the something called Equivalent Exchange: "Humankind cannot gain anything without first giving something in return. To obtain, something of equal value must be lost." This exchange does not have to be voluntary but it must, and will, occur nonetheless. The brothers are Edward and Alphonse Elric, kids born of a loving mother and powerful alchemist father in an alternative world where technology is stifled at about the late 1800's level of USA. Making sacrifices and protecting the people of their small country, the brothers seek redemption as they unravel various plots by those that would seek to cheat the laws of the universe regardless of who pays the price.
009-1 V3 is the final chapter in the adventures of a secret agent by the name of Mylene Hoffman who uses her bionic body to thwart the enemies of freedom, both internal and external. This time, her past catches up to her and she must face the tough choices of continuing the spiral of violence or figure out a way to break free, regardless of the consequences. Making things more difficult than ever, her superiors give her an order that she finds unable to follow, placing her in their crosshairs next.
Le Chevalier D'Eon V5 is a story of limited success and betrayal as the team of French secret agents finally recover that which they had fought so long and hard to retrieve, only to find themselves under fire from trusted allies. The stakes are higher than ever as they seek to outwit and outlast those that would end their quest once and for all, including someone very close to them.
Eureka Seven V9 shows the Federation is intent on wiping out the Coralians by any means necessary, using tremendously damaging weapons that invoke the desired response; allowing the government to both play up the propaganda aspects of the situation in their favor as well as get rid of dissenters. The open internal revolt against the balance of power continues as well with Holland's old mentor on a spree of destruction the scale of which had never been known. With Master Norb's life in danger, the crew set out on a desperate plan to save him by attacking the heart of the capital; perhaps the most fortified location on the entire planet.
The Glass Fleet V1 is an epic story about civil war throughout a universe torn by endless conflict. The basic premise of the war is that various factions of royalty are trying to shape the destiny of the galaxy in their image. The old order was corrupt and feeble, with the one replacing it soon found to be equally as bad. Vetti Sforza, the self proclaimed Holy Emperor, made it clear that he wanted the absolute destruction of the old order as he sought to replace it with his own vision. To this end, his space fleet decimated the Allied Nobility forces in short order, using any means necessary and giving no quarter as his righteous will was followed. The hero of the hour is almost as dangerous as any of the other factions too, a space pirate with a heritage rooted deeply in the old ways.
Tide Line Blue V3 shows less territory covered than previous volumes as the series sets things up for the ending volume (to be reviewed soon); providing a wealth of clips from the major players in action. Gould and his crew on the Ulysses are still being hunted down by the UN forces, said group using their most accurate map to determine where he has to be headed. This puts a timeline on how quickly Gould must repair his ship as well as give Keel, his brother, and Josie a static rendezvous point for a limited time. The desperation of the UN forces becomes increasingly apparent too, some of the secrets regarding why Gould is so adamantly opposed to their rule coming out on the fringes as well.
Yugo the Negotiator: Complete Collection is the story about Yugo Beppo, a private citizen that gets contracted to make deals for people. By using his services, his clients avoid diplomatic indelicacies that could result from trying more formal channels; typically with militant factions of people not too keen on those of us in the developed countries. As with anything, the laws of supply and demand dictate his value to a client so he is generally considered more than a deal maker by people; generally coming across as a private investigator too. If you would like to watch something off the wall, this might suit you more than most.
Mecha shows have always been a popular genre within anime, and it's easy to see why: Giant robots are cool. From Robotech to the various Gundam series to Neon Genesis there have been a lot of excellent mecha programs to keep otaku happy. Unfortunately, like anything else, there's a good amount of lousy mecha programs too. Zegapain, a recent release from Sunrise, (the studio that brought up Gundam, Cowboy Bebop, Planetes, Inu Yasha, and many others) falls in between the two extremes. While it's not a bad show, this series about a young high school boy who finds out he can pilot mecha and has to save the world doesn't do a lot to separate it from all the other mecha shows out there.
Volume 4 of Galaxy Angel Rune brings the series to an end, and not a moment too soon. While there were a few laughs in this series, it doesn't live up to the humor found in the earlier incarnations. Added to that is the outrageous price that Bandai Visual is asking for the discs. At nearly $50 a pop, the laughs per dollar ratio is way too low.
Takumi Fujiwara is back and he's ready to race in the second season of the popular anime Initial D. In this set of episodes Takumi does a lot of racing, but he doesn't always win. He also finds out a secret about his girlfriend that he was happier not knowing about. With a new engine, new streets to race, and new opponents the only thing this series is lacking if length. Unfortunately there are only 12 episodes on this set with an additional 2 episode OVA series highlighting a pair of female racers.
The third volume of Mushi-Shi is just as strong as the earlier installments. Though there are only four episodes this time around, the shows are very good, delving into Ginko's past and fleshing out the enigmatic traveler's past. In these tales he encounters more unique and wondrous Mushi and tries to help the people he meets, though things don't always turn out as well as he hopes.
The third volume of My-Zhime - My-Otome keeps the show moving at a good pace while fleshing out some of the details of the world that it takes place in at the same time. This time around Arika and her roommate have to go on a survival hike and happen to run into a group of high-powered thieves. Then, when the queen runs off so she won't have to meet a possible mate, Arika is forced into pretending she's the monarch. This volume has a great quartet of shows that keeps the show lively and exciting.
Anyone piss you off lately? If you have a real grievance against someone there's a website you should visit that can only be accessed at the stroke of midnight. By entering your adversaries name you ensure them a one way ticket straight to hell but the catch is that you'll wind up next to them when you pass away. Is it worth it? Hell Girl is a compelling horrific new series from FUNimation which promotes that very question. Each episode is devoted to a particular character who finds they have no other alternative but to make that fateful call. At that point Hell Girl shows up and the rest is history. If you like darker shows with an edge this is definitely one to check out.
My friends, it's a sad, sad day. The final volume of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya has just been released. That's right, until the second season comes out the first season of Haruhi is completely available thanks to the wonderful folks at Bandai. If you have been following the reviews for the show you've undoubtedly noticed that I have a love affair with this series. It has hit me in a way that few shows ever have and from top to bottom I loved absolutely every minute of it; and I'm not the only one. Otaku all around have jumped on the Haruhi bandwagon and the bonus material provided with the show promotes the love felt by everyone for the series.
Comic book fans pay attention: Witchblade the anime has arrived. A little while ago we took a look at the first volume and FUNimation has just released the second one. The next round of episodes proves to be successful with a lot of boobs, action, and humor thrown into the mix. At this point I haven't felt the "hook" that makes this show better than others but there are snippets of clues that allude to developments in the future. This has turned into an interesting show but it's not the breakout success that it could have been.
by Todd Douglass
If you've been around anime for a while you've undoubtedly seen some shows come along with very peculiar names. Whether it's a matter of translation or simply a way to draw attention to themselves the fact remains that when it comes to anime there are some weird titles. The latest example of that is Pumpkin Scissors. Sure the name is kind of strange but like the old saying goes you can't just a book (er...anime) but its cover (um...title).
As it turns out Pumpkin Scissors is actually the name of a squadron of characters in Gonzo's latest effort. Created by Ryoutarou Iwanaga back in 2002, Pumpkin Scissors began airing in Japan last year and wrapped up in March with 24 episodes under its belt. After sitting down with the first volume I have to say that this looks like one of ADV's most promising new series. There is a strong Fullmetal Alchemist-like atmosphere and each character appears to have enough depth to keep you tuned in to find out what's going on.
The show begins three years in the past as a lengthy and bloody war ends abruptly with a cease fire agreement. What transpires after that is a period of adjustment as the ravages of war begin to surface all around the continent. Ex-soldiers have become bandits that prey on the weak, commoners everywhere are starving and living in squalor, and nobles have been abusing their influence and financial successes. In these dark times the term "war relief" is something of a misnomer but it's that ideal that the Pumpkin Scissors brigade is aspiring to obtain.
Lead by Lieutenant Alice Malvin, Pumpkin Scissors main duty is to travel around and restore order in whatever way they can. Sure they consist of only a few members and their essentially the laughing stock of the military but they have heart and they have purpose. With Alice's take charge attitude and penchant for jumping into the fray before rationalizing things out in her head the group tends to find themselves in more trouble than they should. Such is the case during the first episode when Alice single-handedly attempts to tackle a tank by herself with little more than a sword depicting her nobility.
The townsfolk stare blankly as Alice confronts the bandits and in their midst a large scarred man watches the Pumpkin Scissors' leader intently. Neither side really does much more than yell at each other but the bandits fire what is believed to be a blank artillery as they leave. Time yields the truth that the shell wasn't blank at all; it contained a chemical agent. Alice and her squad mates formulate a plan to get an antidote while the large onlooker from earlier offers to help. Feeling a ping of icy pain in the back of her neck Alice reluctantly agrees though the sensation has always been her Spidey Sense of sorts that trouble is brewing.
As the Pumpkin Scissors brigade assaults the tank bandits the quiet giant of a man that joined them shows his true colors. His name is Corporal Randel Oland and he was part of an elite and mysterious squadron of anti-tank personnel known as 901-ATT. While Alice sneaks into the bandit's base Randel goes after the massive tank by himself. He flicks a lantern on by his side and appears to lose himself in the battle. The tank blasts him but he still trudges on with no regard for his own life. In many ways he seemed to be a lumbering Frankenstein with a gun but in the end his scarred visage managed to destroy the tank with ease.
Following the events of the tank bandits Randel is inducted into the Pumpkin Scissor ranks and uses his strange power to aide in their war relief efforts. You see, Randel is a good natured bloke despite his bizarre abilities and battle ravaged body. He desires a peaceful existence but the lantern at his side keeps him on the brink of being a monster. Nicknamed Will 'o the Wisps the anti-tank personnel used the blue lamps to steal energy from their soul in order to gain abilities exceeding normal men during times of war. One of the biggest draws for Pumpkin Scissors is watching Randel adjust to life in the time of peace and it certainly adds some layers to his character.
As this introductory volume continues the Pumpkin Scissors squad takes on a couple of standalone missions. No overreaching plot has surfaced as of yet though the mystery surrounding Randel's past is certainly a big theme. Another character driven storyline comes from Alice's position as a noble and how it affects her relationship to the people she is trying to help. Does someone of noble blood really need to be a soldier? Do they need to help the common people? Alice asks herself these questions and more as the episodes continue and it certainly helps to flesh out her character.
After watching the first installment of Pumpkin Scissors I must admit that I'm impressed. The characters are extremely well-developed and the world they live in has a nice background story. The episodic nature of the program thus far feels at odds with the amount of development going on and hopefully we'll see a larger story begin to surface soon enough. For the time being though this is a series to keep an eye on and it's one of the better titles I have seen in ADV's catalog recently.
Pumpkin Scissors wrapped up its broadcast earlier this year and with product by Gonzo you should know going in that the series looks good. The anamorphic widescreen picture captures the detailed world and characters perfectly and the transfer for this first volume is definitely a cut above. Colors appear vibrant and natural with some earthy tones that really reflect upon the ravages of war. Grain is present but it's kept minimal enough so that it never becomes too distracting and flaws such as aliasing and compression are nonexistent. Overall this is a great looking show and ADV did a wonderful job with the transfer.
Like most shows now-a-days Pumpkin Scissors comes with the original Japanese 2.0 stereo track and a beefed up 5.1 English one. The dubbing quality for both is very good though I found the Japanese track felt slightly more natural when all was said and done. Technically speaking both tracks offer crystal clear dialogue, sharp sound effects, and a nicely presented soundtrack. The Japanese selection felt a little flatter than the English one thanks to the 2.0 limitations though the 5.1 English didn't really raise the bar of expectation. Some of the sound effects didn't have the impact that they should have and directionality was kept at a minimum.
If you like clean opening and closing animations then you're in luck; that's all that you're going to find on this disc. There are some ADV previews but that's not technically an extra feature.
The first volume of Pumpkin Scissors is a success. The world, characters, and story come to life with rich detail and a whole lot of development in between. The concept was intriguing and I wanted to see the next episode in order to know what happens next. I can't wait for the next installment though I must admit that the episodic content may wear thin if it keeps up. Hopefully that's not the case and the rest of the series will be as strong as this introductory volume was. Highly Recommended.
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January 2015 Edition
2013 Q4 Top Anime Titles from RightStuf.com, Part 1
Crunchy Roll, Lupin, and Bunny Drop