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Steamboy, My Beautiful Girl Marie, and Ghost in the Shell Standalone Complex: 2nd Gig



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

We have a bumper crop of anime titles that were reviewed this time around.  From the opening volumes of Ultra Maniac and DearS to the concluding DVD for Ghost in the Shell:  Stand Alone Complex, we've got the recent anime releases covered.  Be sure to check out the highly recommended Madlax as well as all of FUNimations Dragon Ball Z discs.   Not only that, but Chris Tribbey has an advanced look at three anticipated discs:  Ghost in the Shell:  Stand Alone Complex 2nd Gig, Steamboy, and My Beautiful Girl Marie.

In addition, our fearless bargain hunter Holly has ferreted out some great deals, including a fantastic price for Real Bout High School.  All that and our list of upcoming discs in this week's column.

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

While Don reviewed it back in May, Todd decided to take a second look at the first volume in the Ultra Maniac series. The story that features magical transforming girls, gushy romantic plots and a ton of humor was appreciated by both reviewers. The show is rated for ages 7+ and features a lot of cute situations involving the two main girls Ayu and Nina. You see, Nina is a witch and casts magic through a mystic PDA, the catch is that she's not that great with her powers and ends up doing more harm than good. It's a situational comedy that has a lot of charm and interesting characters that stays true to its manga roots.

The second volume of Madlax builds nicely on the first. It continues to have a lot of action and excitement while slowly pulling back the curtain to reveal the underlying story.   Madlax is a bodyguard/assassin working in the country of Gazth-Sonika which is torn apart by civil war.  She's very good at what she does, and has a steady line of work.  There is also a little girl, Margaret, who lost her memory 12 years ago.  She's somehow connected to Madlax, but it's not clear exactly how.  The thing that sets Madlax above your average anime is the unique way the story is laid out. On the surface, it is a regular story about two women, but if you scratch down just a bit, there are mysterious machinations occurring in this series that draw the viewer in. This is a tightly plotted show, and small events turn out to have a great impact than they initially appear to.  One of the better series to start in 2005, this is shaping up to be a top ten show.  Highly Recommended.

ADV has been re-releasing the series Saiyuki, which they original started distributing in 2003, in double disc sets that retail for what the single DVDs originally sold for.  Appropriately titled Saiyuki: The Double Barrel Collection, this is a good way to view the series if you didn't pick it up the first time around.  This third Double Barrel Collection plays out a lot like the previous discs. These are mainly stand alone monster-of-the-week type shows, but they are entertaining and fun nonetheless.  The highlight of this volume is a three part story that showcases Goku as he has to take drastic steps to save the life of Sanzo.  Though the animation is cheap, and the plots fairly formalistic, the show is never boring though afterwards the episodes tend to blend together.

In the fifth volume of Peacemaker there are three episodes which continue the story of the Shinsengumi in ancient Japan. This program has really been having problems finding its voice. Though there are only seven volumes in this series, the fifth disc still doesn't reveal what the main story for the program is going to be.  Tetsunosuke, who was the main character in the first few volumes and clearly the focus of the show, is hardly seen in these three episodes. His journey to avenge his parents seems to have been forgotten.  The series started out with a lot of promise, but hasn't delivered yet.

The first season of Ghost in the Shell:  Stand Alone Complex wraps up with the seventh volume.   This is one of the best anime shows out there, and the last disc doesn't let you down.  Things look as bad as they can get for Section 9, with the organization being disbanded by the government and special forces teams looking for all the members.  The action is fast and furious up to the well done conclusion.  A great series that was solid all the way through. It has a complex story with a lot of plot twists and political intrigue, but in the end all the questions were answered in a satisfactory manner.

D. N. Angel is a series started out with a lot of promise, but hasn't delivered on it yet.  In the fifth volume the show starts to feel more like a shojo anime than a comedy adventure series. Instead of Phantom Dark attempting to steal mystical treasures, these episodes are devoted to people reciting soliloquies about their feelings and wondering who it is they really love.   Dark doesn't appear, and there isn't a robbery or even mystical object that's causing problems. The episodes in this disc are devoted to soap opera like romance plots between Risa, Riku and Diasuke.  The sudden change in tone and ignoring the main plot make this disc a rental.

The forth volume of The Get Backers continues the Limitless Fortress story line but doesn't bring it to a conclusion. Ban, Ginji, and their associates are in deep trouble as they try to navigate the halls of the fortress and find the mysterious and powerful Makubex. Will even the Get Backers power be enough to defeat this boy genius?  The Limitless Fortress arc is a good, but not as much fun as the earlier volumes. The story line is going on a little long, but it is still fairly interesting. Even if it's not as funny as the earliest volumes, there are still some light moments. The best part of these shows is where they examine the history of Ginji and the supporting characters. If you've followed the series so far, you'll be happy with this volume.

FUNimation is releasing the early volumes of Dragon Ball Z in uncut form, and they are just as exciting as ever.  The second and third volumes in the series have some great moments in them.  Volume two features the quick but deadly battle against Raditz, and the discovery that two more Saiyans are headed towards Earth.  Things slow down a bit in volume three, but a majority of the third episode on that disc is a story that was cut from the US releases, which makes this disc really worth the upgrade.  Two fun discs that are worth checking out.

Along with the early episodes, FUNimatiuon is also re-releasing some of the DBZ movies.  Dragon Ball Z:  Dead Zone is the first movie based on the characters in Dragon Ball Z. Originally released by Pioneer in an uncut form but with a different voice cast for the English dub, this version replaces the original music and has a slightly different English script, but is essentially the same as the Pioneer version.  The movie features Garlic Jr's plot to use the Dragon Balls to become immortal and then get revenge for his father's imprisonment.  Though it is short (one 41 minutes in all) the movie is a lot of fun.  It takes place outside regular DBZ continuity though, so if you miss it you can still understand the rest of the story.

If that's not enough Dragon Ball for you, there is also the second volume of Dragon Ball Z - Great Saiyman.  As it starts, Goku is in a tournament in the after world to determine who is the greatest fighter in the four kingdoms.  After the tournament and seeing the final fate of Goku, the narrative returns back to Earth, and Goku's son Gohan.  Gohan may have traveled across the universe and saved the Earth, but there is one great challenge he hasn't yet faced: high school.  He's about to go to a public school for the first time, and it's a little different than being taught by his mother.  This episode kicks off the next storyline in DBZ and it is the funniest episode in the entire series.  Everyone who ever enjoyed the show should make a point of seeing this disc.

The third volume of Cromartie High School starts the second half of the show which is just a bizarre and humorous and the first. This volume contains six more mini-episodes that are laugh-out-loud funny.  This show is rather hard to describe. It has a stream-of-conciseness feel to it with the narrative jumping from one subject to the next with no real segues. Just one laugh after the next.  This volume features the Boss of Japan Contest, a competition to decide which high school has the  most kick-ass-and-take-names leader to Tokyo.  Then there is the story of "other guy" a kid that goes to Cromartie, but no one knows his name.  Whenever he tries to introduce himself something happens.  Someone interrupts, a fight breaks out, a meter crashes into the school, aliens land...  The odd, off the wall humor had me laughing all the way though the disc.

We also saw the release of a new series named DearS, and quite frankly the term "new" is used lightly. The show borrows most of its key elements from other successful series and the first four episodes don't do a lot in providing unique material. A spaceship filled with beautiful aliens has crashed on Earth and they assimilate into our culture easily, thanks to their charm and improbable curves. The show features a ton of breast squeezing, sexual innuendos and many elements that made other series popular, so far though DearS just doesn't seem to have a voice of its own.

The fourth volume of Fighting Spirit continues the story of Ippo Makunouchi and his dream to become a proffesional boxer. This time around Ippo goes to the beach with his friends for an intensive training camp and his best friend, Takamura, fights for the championship.   Sports based series haven't received a lot of buzz in the various on-line communities, but this is one show that deserves a wider audience. You quickly get caught up in Ippo's dreams of becoming a good boxer, and his enthusiasm for the spot is infectious. Even if you aren't a boxing fan, this series deserves a look.

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 July 26, 2005

Title (click on the title to purchase at Amazon.)
Daphne in the Brilliant Blue Vol. 3 $29.98 Geneon 
Genshiken Vol. 1 $29.95 ($34.95 SE) Media Blasters
Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex Vol. 7  [review] $24.98 ($49.98 SE) Manga Entertainment
Koi Kaze Vol. 3 $29.98 Geneon 
Midori Days Vol. 3 $29.95 Media Blasters
Neon Genesis Evangelion Movie Box Set $49.95 Manga Entertainment
New Getter Robo Vol. 3 $29.98 Geneon 
Rumiko Takahashi Anthology Box Set $99.99 Geneon 
Samurai Champloo Vol. 4 $29.98 Geneon 
Shingu: Secret of the Stellar Wars Vol. 3 $29.95 Right Stuf 
Steamboy $26.96 ($49.95 SE) Columbia Tristar
Yugo the Negotiator Vol. 1 $29.98 ($39.98 SE) ADV Films
Zoids Chaotic Century Vol. 9 $14.99 VIZ Media

Scheduled for release on August 2, 2005

Title (click on the title to purchase at Amazon.)
Baki the Grappler Vol. 2 $29.98 FUNimation
Chrono Crusade Vol. 7 $29.98 ADV Films
DearS Vol. 1 $24.98 ($34.98 SE) Geneon 
Inu-yasha Vol. 32 $24.98 VIZ Media
Kodocha Vol. 1 $29.98 ($44.98) FUNimation 
Najica Blitz Tactics Collection $39.98 ADV Films
Sister Princess Vol. 7 $29.98 ADV Films 

Holly's Anime Bargains - Presented by Holly Beeman

Head over to Anime Liquidations for These Great Deals:

Captain Herlock: $6.99 each!  Volume 1 [review], Volume 2 [review], Volume 3 [review], Volume 4  retail price $29.98 - 77% off!
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Master Keaton: $6.99 each!  Volume 1, Volume 2, Volume 3 retail price $29.98 - 77% off!


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Mirage Of Blaze: Complete Collection: $26.99, retail price: $69.95 - nearly 62% off!
Moeyo Ken: $6.99, retail price: $29.98 - 76% off!
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Peacemaker Vol. 1: Innocence Lost (w/ Collector's Box): $6.99, [review] retail price: $39.98 - nearly 83% off!
Saber Marionette R: $5.99, [review] retail price: $19.95 - 70% off!
Sister Princess Vol. 3: Sisters & Sunshine: $6.99, retail price: $29.98 - 76% off!
Steel Angel Kurumi: Complete Collection: $22.99, [review] retail price: $59.98 - nearly 62% off!
Scorching Hot Deals from Deep Discount DVD:

Descendants of Darkness: Complete Collection:  $21.58, retail price $49.95 - you save $18.37!
DNA²: Complete Collection:  $26.98, retail price $49.95 - 46% off!
Real Bout High School: Complete Collection: $24.00, retail price $40.00 - 40% off!
Reign the Conqueror: Complete Collection: $24.00, [review] retail price $40.00 - 40% off!


Right Stuf New Weekly Specials:

Fushigi Yugi DVD Box Set 1 (Hyb): Suzaku (Episodes 1-26): $49.99, [review] retail price $198.99 - nearly 75% off!
Fushigi Yugi DVD Box Set 2 (Hyb): Seiryu (Episodes 27-52): $49.99, [review] retail price $198.98 - nearly 75% off!
Hand Maid May Box Set DVD (Hyb) + Extras CD-ROM [Limited]: $29.99, retail price $89.98 - you save $59.99!
Hellsing DVD Box Set (1-4) (Hyb): $49.99, [review] retail price $124.98 - 60% off!
Last Exile DVD Flight Pack Bundle (Hyb) (Discs 1-4) (w/box): $29.99, [review] retail price $89.98 - nearly 67% off!
Saber Marionette J - Ultimate Collection DVD Set (Hyb) (Limited Edition): $69.99, [review] retail price $199.98 - 65% off!
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Tenchi Muyo: Universe TV Series DVD Box Set (1-8) (Hyb): $74.99, retail price $199.98 - over 62% off!
Trigun DVD Box Set (1-8) (Hyb): $74.99, [review] retail price $199.98 - over 62% off!

BestPrices.com Sweet Deal:

Now and Then, Here and There: Complete Series: $7.57, retail price $9.95 - you save $2.37!


For more anime deals check out the Official - ANIME Bargains! - Thread.  Updated daily by yours truly!

by Chris Tribbey

Ghost in the Shell Standalone Complex: 2nd Gig

The job of anime company flack (aka "public information officers") is to hype their company's titles. It could be the worst anime on Earth, the most dreadful demon story Go Nagai could come up with, drawn with crayons by a staff of 12-year-olds, and still that poor company spokesman is forced to say "We expect wonderful things from it. The fans will love it. It won the Honorable Mention award at the French Canadian Late-Night Animation Festival." Often you can hear the bitter tears behind the facade.

Often they believe what they're saying as little as you do. But it's their job, and everyone in the domestic anime industry does their job well, keeping the worst titles interesting until you actually see the show. Sometimes it's just hype. Sometimes you find out they were telling the truth.

For the folks at Bandai and Manga, the tag-team behind Ghost in the Shell Standalone Complex, the job is too easy. They could take prolonged vacations, just give the retailers an order and street date, and sit back, throw back a cold one, watch sales skyrocket. No marketing, no hype needed. Because Ghost is that good.

The second season, 2nd Gig, starts much the same as the first: our opening mission for Section 9 is the infiltration of a hostage crisis (sound familiar?). Batou goes in using that creepy invisibility feature (sound familiar?). The Major falls backwards from a window into the depths of the city to avoid capture by the police (sound … too easy). But that's why this show is still awesome: the action is furious, the characters are brilliant, the stories are grand journeys into a world where man and machine are one. Showing the same wonderful pacing between stories that we saw in the first season, we go from a hot and heavy action episode to one that explores the mind, where Section 9 trails the would-be assassin of a high-profile businessman. Sure, it's a total Taxi Driver rip-off, but delving into the depths of this man's madness is a lot of fun. He's crazy, and he's the only one who doesn't know it.

2nd Gig is Highly Recommended, not because it's the last chapter in one of the greatest anime franchises of all time, not because it's our last chance to see the Major, Batou and the Tachikomas, not because you're just expected to buy anything with Ghost in the title. It belongs in the action anime fan's collection because it's something you'll love to watch when you get it, something you'll love to watch again a month later, something you'll miss when you realize there's nothing left after this.


It's been a long time since I've been this conflicted about an anime. Steamboy is Katsuhiro Otomo's first feature-length film in ten years (yes, his first since Akira) and because it's Otomo, you know it's going to look good. But I think Otomo was a bit rusty with his storytelling, the one obvious flaw in an otherwise good movie. Steamboy is an homage to the Victorian era of Britain and the industrial revolution, following the adventures of young Steam. When an invention of his father's – a powerful steam ball weapon – is sought by evil men, Steam must take to the skies over the London world fair, and defeat the bad guys. But the bad guys are backed by good old dad, and Steam will have to decide which side he's really on.

Pretty simple stuff, the kind of storytelling Americans digest easily. There's no obvious moral lesson in Steamboy, something you'd expect out of an anime epic, and there's a lot of action, both on the ground and in the air.

But between the action are these long, confusing stretches of dialogue, where the principals talk to each other, but not to us. By that I mean more than once I had no clue what Steam and company were talking about. Robert Louis Stevenson pops up out of nowhere and leads one faction against Steam's dad, with little foreplay. Steam has these long, strange conversations with the girl Scarlet and his grandfather. Anytime you aren't seeing explosions, you may find yourself ready to hit the fast forward button.

In a way, I'm pained to only offer a Rent It rating for Steamboy, because it's not something you'll be itching to watch over and over again. That said, if you do decide to buy Steamboy, buy the special edition packaged with Memories, an awesome collection of three excellent anime shorts.

My Beautiful Girl Marie

As the price to license Japanese animation continues to go up, more and more titles from Korea find their way onto DVD here in the states. My favorite: Doggy Poo the claymation story about a piece of dog shit that learns life lessons.

There is no poo in My Beautiful Girl Marie, the stunning animation ADV Films is putting out this month. When I say stunning, I mean visually. This show looks great, with bright, detailed backgrounds, sharp characters and fluid movement. Characters in Marie look pretty real, not like the striking, constantly vivid figures we're used to in anime. Imagine a completely Asian version of Waking Life without the philosophy, but with the trippy, surreal dream-like sequences. That's the closest comparison I could come up with.

But while Marie is a cool-looking feature, it's lightweight in the plot and action department. There's one funny moment about 20 minutes in where a cat has an awful time trying to catch a bird. Other than that, it's more than an hour of "what's going on here?" A young Korean boy is having conflicts in life, at home, with his friends, with his classmates. But then one day (shocking how many stories start that way) he's saved from the tediousness of life by a giant blowfish, which whisks him away to a dream world, where he encounters a pretty, angel-like girl. She's his escape from a life of boredom, and not in the way you're thinking, you sick little monkeys.

Marie starts off firmly grounded in the reality of a gorgeous Korean seaside town, and then bounces quickly into a Spirited Away type of world, without the cool spirits. There are a few strange creatures, a few awesome visuals, but there's very little interesting about the story or the characters. My Beautiful Girl Marie is worth a look for its looks, but I'd Rent It before thinking about adding it to the collection.

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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