Uta No Prince-sama: Maji Love 1000%, Season 1 Complete Collection – DVD Review

Utano Prince Sama Season One

Review by: Kylee Strutt

Publisher: Sentai Filmworks
MSRP: $49.98 US (DVD); $59.98 US (Blu-ray)
Running Time: 325 minutes
Genre: Romance/Comedy
Rating: TV 14
Release Date: January 7, 2014

Welcome to Saotome Academy of Performing Arts, a school where musical prodigies come to prove themselves and pop idols are born from the music they help create. It’s no wonder that a girl named Haruka Nanami wants to enroll so badly and who can blame her since the place is home to some gorgeous guys who were born to be idols.

If all of this sounds familiar, it’s because Uta no Prince-sama: Majii Love 1000% is your typical romance-comedy anime series with all the familiar requisites of the genre including the cute noble girl and a collection of hot guys who have taken an interest in her. Sentai Filmworks brings us the first season that introduces us to the cast of characters and a school where the love of music reigns supreme.

When we first meet Haruka Nanami, she is desperately trying to get through the guards outside Saotome Academy in order to take the entrance exam. Since she was delayed after helping a lost child, said guards wouldn’t let her in even when two hunky guys (the hot redhead Ittoki Otoya and the longhaired hottie Jinguji Ren) come to her rescue. As luck would have it, however, a mystery man is watching and tells the guards to let her in and she passes the exam with flying colors.

As Haruka quickly finds out, the school is a most unusual one with the Principal, a former pop idol called Shining Saotome, makes a flashy pop-star-like entrance. On top of that, the faculty is made up of either actors like the studly Hyuga Ryuya or pop idols like Tsukimiya Ringo (a young male who dresses like a girl). It’s a most unusual school indeed and, thankfully enough, Haruka finds herself surrounded by people who genuinely like her such as her roommate, Shibuya Tomochika, as well as her two hot saviors.

In fact, Otoya and Ren aren’t the only ones who have taken a liking to Haruka as she meets the other attractive guys working to become idols themselves. There’s the sullen Hijirikawa Masato who shares a similarity to Ren as head of his family’s business and then there’s Shinomiya Natsuki who, interestingly enough, suffers from a split-personality disorder he calls “Gemini Syndrome” that involves his glasses. Then there’s Kurusu Syo, a stylish blonde cutie who always ends up the target of Natsuki’s love for all things cute.

There’s yet another attractive fellow student named Ichinose Tokiya that attends the school and when Haruka meets him, she immediately thinks he’s her favorite pop idol named HAYATO. As it turns out, Tokiya turns out to be somebody else but it is through this meeting that we come to learn why Haruka wanted to enroll in Saotome Academy in the first place. You see, Haruka grew up with her grandmother and learned to play the piano but it isn’t until the frail girl encountered the music of HAYATO that she finds strength and the inspiration to create music for her favorite idol.

Of course, the music business is tough business and not everyone has the chops or natural talent to make it. We come to discover that Haruka can’t even read a music sheet and there are times when she chokes in front of her class when she’s asked to play a piece of music.

Still, Haruka finds that she has help from her friends and it is through them that Haruka gains the confidence to help create music. While those around her are not helping her, Haruka’s presence in the lives of the school’s “princes” begins to change the boys as well. For instance, the faculty threatens to kick Ren out of school if he doesn’t write a song as part of his class assignment and, while he didn’t plan on doing it, he does it because Haruka is determined to help him stay. She even gives Syo a hand when he tries his best to audition for a role in Ryuya-sensei’s new action film.

Meanwhile, the class assignments intensify as the students are asked to partner up according to their composer or idol track. In order for the composer and the idol to concentrate on their assignment, the school implements a “no dating” rule. Of course, this doesn’t stop the young men in Haruka’s life to show their affection towards her. In fact, a rivalry between two of Haruka’s circle of admirers becomes apparent early in the series.

Incidentally, the romance in this comedic romance anime is extremely light on the romance and heavy on the drama and goofiness. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing but those expecting a sweeping romance between Haruka and one of the hot students will be greatly disappointed. Instead, the drama keeps the story interesting, especially when things start becoming clear about the identity of one of the students as well as coming to learn the little quirks and strengths of the male cast of characters.

Also, half the fun of the series is the comedy that, as I mentioned, is on the goofy side. It’s a blast watching Haruka try to make sense of the behavior between her circle of male friends and the effect she has on them to the point that – because of her – the boys form an sort of boy band group called ST*RISH that Haruka composes music for to complete the main assignment.

The animation in the series works perfectly and looks damn good when it comes to the dancing and the goofy humor. Of course, the men in the series are the main eye candy and Uta no Prince-sama does not disappoint in the very least. My biggest complaint is Haruka herself who looks cute enough but the yellow hue in her eyes makes her appear blind. It’s no big deal, really, but it makes it seems as if she were always in a state of shock. That said, though, the music is the real highlight here with a great selection of J-pop songs that range from cheesy to very catchy.

As I said in the beginning of this review, the story feels familiar and that’s because Uta no Prince-sama doesn’t stray from the usual formula that makes up the genre. That’s not necessarily a bad thing since the first season of this series hits all the right notes when it comes to writing. For every cheesy scene there are memorable moment involving Haruka or the school’s princes that make the series sincerely entertaining.

Then there’s the music in the series that punctuates nearly every episode. Most of the songs come from the male characters (including one sung by Haruna herself) and the majority of the songs are actually catchy albeit some come off as too sugary sweet. Still, it’s hard to complain when the voices are superb thanks to the talented voice-acting cast and an excellent score by Elements Garden.

Season 1 of Uta no Prince-sama doesn’t strive to be anything different and that’s perfectly fine since it does manage to deliver a J-pop-flavored comedy-romance series that is loads of fun to watch and even more so for fans of this genre. While Haruka isn’t exactly the most memorable heroines in anime, the rest of the cast is actually charming enough to make the lively first season a genuine joy to watch. Here’s hoping the second half is just as entertaining.

DVD REVIEW BREAKDOWN

MOVIE/EPISODES: B
A kind-hearted girl named Haruka Nanami enrolls in Saotome Academy in hopes of making it as a music composer that will compose music for her favorite idol that changed her life. The music business is not easy but, as it turns out, Haruna gets some help from a collection of handsome “princes” who want to see her succeed.

VIDEO QUALITY: B+
Saotome Academy is a colorful and imaginative-looking place that is far from realistic but, then again, this is a school run by an eccentric principal that makes flashy entrances. However, the nitpicky viewer in me wishes Haruka’s eyes didn’t have that yellow hue. Other than that, this series looks good on DVD.

AUDIO QUALITY: A+
The voice acting in this series is pitch perfect with the likes of Takuma Terashima and Junichi Suwabe but the highlight here is not only the score but also the oftentimes-catchy J-pop tunes that come from each prince. The boy band-like closing theme song is fun but it’s the opening theme song, “Orpheus” that is a highlight.

EXTRAS: C+
The set includes all 13-episodes in three DVDs and the only extras you’ll find are the clean opening and closing theme songs as well as a few Sentai Filmworks trailers. I wish the third disc at least included all the songs heard throughout this first season episodes.

OVERALL: B
The first season of Uta no Prince-sama follows a familiar pattern in the reverse harem genre but that doesn’t make this genuinely charming series any less fun to watch. In fact, there are enough memorable moments that keep the comedic and romantic elements fresh enough that you will find yourself enjoying the first half of this series and gladly await the second season.

Review copy provided by Sentai Filmworks

Say, “I Love You”, Complete Collection – DVD Review

Say I Love You CC Box1

Review by: Brenda Gregson

Publisher: Sentai Filmworks
MSRP: $59.98 US (DVD); $69.98 US (Blu-ray)
Running Time: 325 minutes
Genre: Romance/Drama
Rating: TV 14
Release Date: Available Now

You’ve heard the story a thousand times, shoujo fans. A girl with a troubled past meets the kind-hearted boy. The girl, not wanting to risk being hurt, isn’t open to the idea of dating said boy even though he is clearly interested in her and slowly but surely she starts opening her heart enough to let in the boy and together they find happiness.

This is certainly not a new plot element for the genre but the Complete Collection of Say, “I Love You” manages to bring us a romance story that is as warm and as inviting as it is a cute slice of shoujo bliss. If that sounds like high praise for a series that doesn’t bring anything new to the table and will probably end predictably then I should add that sometimes it’s not the destination that matters but rather how you get there that does.

The 13-episode series introduces us to Mei Tachibana, a 16-year old student at Toumei Public High School who keeps to herself because of an unfortunate event in middle school that makes Mei realize that friendship will eventually lead to betray. Since then Mei has not made a single friend in her high school and that’s perfectly fine with her. Of course, this way of thinking has transformed an otherwise sweet girl into a gloomy loner who spends her lunch break seeing to a cute cat.

In the same school is a charming, chivalrous and kind-hearted boy named Yamato Kurosawa who is – of course – extremely popular with all the girls because he’s an absolute hottie. This boy who seems to have nothing in common with Mei Tachibana finds himself interested in her after a misunderstanding has the girl kicking Yamato. While every girl in the school hates Mei for kicking their school idol, Yamato sees the girl in a romantic light to the point that he gives Mei his phone number.

Yet Mei is the stubborn kind who is not willing to give friendship a chance let alone romance. In fact, the thought of having a boyfriend wasn’t an option and she had no intention of even calling Yamato until a creepy stalker forces Mei to call the only male she knows … Yamato. When he scares off the stalker by kissing Mei right in front of him, an awkward relationship is born as the girl who doesn’t want friends suddenly finds that she now has somebody in her life.

Awkward is definitely the right word to describe the relationship between Mei and Yamato. While she tries to come to terms with her growing feelings for a boy who has only the noblest of intentions, romance is still a relatively new deal for her. However, Yamato is never pushy and is actually patient enough to give her a chance to realize that he has fallen for her. Believe me when I say that half the fun of watching this series is that awkwardness as the pair try to transition from strangers to boyfriend and girlfriend roles.

While Mei can’t quite summon the courage to tell Yamato how she feels about him, it becomes clear that Mei is changing to the point that she allows herself to become a part of Yamato’s small circle of friends that includes his pervy buddy Kenji Nakanishi and his crush, the busty Asami Oikawa. Suddenly, the girl who intentionally turned to solitude as a defense mechanism is now becoming sociable and it feels good albeit strange.

However, not everything about her new social life and romance is all roses because there are obstacles that fall in front of the girl and it threatens her relationship with Yamato. There’s Aiko Muto, a girl who has a past with Yamato and despite the fact that she’s dating somebody it becomes apparent that she still has strong feeling for Yamato and will not give up on having him as her boyfriend. Aiko attempts to separate Mei from Yamato, not realizing that it is Yamato who loves being by Mei’s side … a fact that not only angers the girl but also pushes her to the edge in a very dramatic manner.

Then there’s Kai Takemura, a boy who had befriended Yamato during middle school only to feel abandoned by Yamato when Kai was mercilessly bullied in a violent confrontation. As a result, Kai has not only missed a year of high school but has exercised to the point that he no longer resembles the wimpy boy Yamato knew. However, Kai has turned his attention on Mei and attempts to woo her out of both revenge against Yamato but also because he identifies with Mei. Kai’s insistence on winning over Mei causes Yamato to see him as a rival.

While both Kai and Aiko cause problems in the relationship, it is a popular and very attractive model named Megumi Kitagawa who poses the biggest threat for Mei. She immediately sets her sights on Yamato and, despite her sweet exterior; she’s malicious and determined to drive a wedge between the couple in order to have Yamato for herself. Megumi even gets Yamato a gig as a male model, a job that he accept reluctantly and not knowing that it makes Mei insecure about their relationship. I mean, how can an awkward girl like her be dating a male model?

However, even with the obstacles that test a relationship between two young people who are new to this courtship, both Mei and Yamato show us that love can bloom for even the most unlikely couples. The series just doesn’t concentrate on Mei and Yamato’s romance but also that of characters like Asami, Kenji and even Aiko who change because of Mei.

The trouble with Say, “I Love You” is that it follows the usual shoujo trapping that we have seen countless times before and even the ending offers no surprise. The show’s real strength comes in the fact that the writing is still fresh enough to make Mei’s plight seem realistic enough that you will not only be drawn in by awkwardness towards love and friendship but you’ll be rooting for her. Sure, there are some overly dramatic moments scattered throughout but they are often overshadowed by the cute moments that make the characters actually quite endearing.

On top of the great storytelling, the series features some gorgeous animation that makes each character stand out in the best way possible. There’s also a solid voice-acting cast with the original Japanese seiyuu being the best way to enjoy the series thanks to the strong performances by the two main leads. However, the English dub isn’t bad either with the likes of Monica Rial, Greg Ayres and David Matranga joining a good cast of voice actors.

While never really offering anything new to the romance genre, Say, “I Love You” is tremendously charming and endearing enough to make this Complete Collection set a genuinely satisfying treat well worth savoring. Filled with an assortment of likeable and interesting characters, the series’ major highlight is the blooming romance between Mei and Yamato that is so touching and cute that you will not be able to take your eyes off the screen. Now that’s how you do good shoujo.

DVD REVIEW BREAKDOWN

MOVIE/EPISODES: A
Mei Tachibana had decided to abandon all hope in terms of making friends to the point that it has made her a sullen loner. Then, the handsome and very popular Yamato takes an interest in her after Mei kicks him on accident. It isn’t until an incident pushes the girl who is closely guarding her heart to find friendship once again as well as romance. Sure, there are rivals that pop up but the biggest obstacle for Mei is learning to trust again and make sense of her growing feeling for a boy who clearly likes her.

VIDEO QUALITY: A
The animation in this series is top-notch and gorgeous even on DVD as the backgrounds and character models are delightfully colorful. Sure, Yamato’s hair is atrocious but he certainly makes for some pleasant eye candy.

AUDIO QUALITY: A-
The original Japanese voice acting is definitely the way to enjoy this series especially with outstanding performances by Ai Kayano and Takahiro Sakurai. Still, the English dub cast isn’t bad at all thanks to the talents of Monica Rial, Greg Ayres and Brittney Karbowski just to name a few. Another plus is the score that is as delightful as the animation and the opening and closing theme songs are new favorites of mine.

EXTRAS: A
The Complete Collection set comes in a three-disc set with the first disc including the clean opening and closing animation plus the original Japanese promo videos as well as a few Sentai Filmworks previews. On the third disc, there are the Mei & Marshmallow 6-episode 3D animated shorts that you find at the very end of the closing credits. These are short yet cute and worth watching since both Mei and her chubby cat, Marshmallow, are funny.

OVERALL: A
Like most shoujo anime series you have seen before, Say, “I Love You” is a romance story that ends the way you expect it to end but the real magic here is in how this romance unfolds. Genuinely earnest, engaging and downright cute, this series will not fail in drawing you into its warm and inviting light from beginning to end.

Review copy provided by Sentai Filmworks

The Garden of Words – Blu-ray Review

GardenWordsBox1

Review by: Felicia Day

Publisher: FUNimation Entertainment
MSRP: $34.98 US (Blu-ray)/$24.98 US (DVD)
Running Time: 46 minutes
Genre: Drama
Rating: TV 14
Release Date: August 6, 2013

As the first cold drops of rain drizzle over the lush green gardens two very different people take notice of each another under the cover of the same roof. Both take an interest in each another and despite their difference in age, a relationship will be born mainly out of the fact that both seem to be stuck by the obstacles that life places in one’s path. Welcome to The Garden of Words, where these two souls might just help each another get back on the right path.

Those familiar with director Makoto Shinkai knows that he excels in telling a story about characters living in two different worlds – the real one and the one of their own making and The Garden of Words is no different. In this feature film, we are introduced to a high school student named Takao Akizuki who lives in the Kanto region. Getting off at the Shinjuku Station, however, the boy notices the first drops of rain announces the rainy season in the area so instead of going to school he heads to the gorgeous and seemingly lonely gardens that make up the region’s biggest park.

Takao isn’t just ditching class but rather using the time away from school to sketch shoe designs in his notebook. You see, Takao aspires to design ladies shoes – a dream he wishes to make a reality one day despite the fact that he doesn’t have the support of his older brother or his always-absent mother. So on that particularly rainy day, he finds a covered bench area where he sees a beautiful older woman sitting on the opposite bench drinking beer and eating chocolate.

Her name is Yukari Yukino and her very presence seems to haunt Takao who believes this lovely woman in her late-twenties seems to be running away from something. She also seems familiar to him, although he doesn’t know where exactly but this begins a conversation between the two. While Takao doesn’t find out much about her, Yukino discovers that he only skips class on rainy days, which will are plentiful during this season.

So the two start meeting in the same spot as the rain pelts the garden. Takao shares with Yukari his dream of designing shoes and the young woman even poses for him as the young man finally feels that somebody has taken an interest in his life’s goal. However, despite the fact that Takao has shared an intimate part of his life, Yukino has yet to reveal why she is avoiding going to work and why she is drowning her worries with beer and chocolate.

Suddenly, the rainy season comes to an end and Takao gets wrapped up in the summer’s offering of work and his studies. Since it stopped raining he doesn’t show up at the garden where Yukino continues to hang out. Despite the fact that he is living an active life, Takao feels the sting of loneliness that Yukari is feeling. Even when they’re not together the pair thinks about the other … even more so with Takao who makes use of an expensive book that Yukino has given him as a gift.

It isn’t until he goes back to school that Takao makes a shocking discovery about the identity of Yukari Yukino as well as finds out why she had been avoiding work since he had met her. This discovery leads to a dramatic turn of events that will either destroy them both or make them realize that there is hope for them both.

The Garden of Words goes for a big emotional finale that speaks volumes about the human condition. Sometimes it’s the most unlikely of people that could help you move on and sometimes it’s that quirky individual who drinks beer and chocolate in a park that could help inspire you to pursue your life’s ambition.

Then there’s the relationship between Takao and Yukari itself that will raise some eyebrows. Although she doesn’t cross the line between acquaintance and lover (or perhaps she does after one key scene but that’s for the viewer to decide), you can’t help but feel that the spark between the pair is romantic enough to seem inappropriate if but for the age difference. Sure, Takao is the most mature 15-year old you’ll meet but Yukari is in her mid-twenties.

Secondly, there’s the garden itself, which a feature in the extras points out was inspired by the Shijuko Gyoen National Park, that is like another character. The garden itself represents another world that Takao and Yukari share in order to escape the real world. It is in that garden that Takao can concentrate on his dream. It is in the lush green haven that Yukari doesn’t have to deal with an ex-boyfriend or the stressful situation that arose in her job.

Makoto Shinkai is a master at telling a story using a character’s expressions rather than filling his work with an abundance of dialogue. There are scenes that say a lot about the characters and their world with the subtle use of background noise (in this case the rain) and the beautiful piano score. Then there’s the animation that, thanks to some very talented animators and Hiroshi Tukituki (who serves as Art Director), is actually quite stunning. I’ve seen the DVD version and loved it but you really do have to see this on Blu-ray to truly appreciate the animation.

On top of that masterful score, there’s the voice acting that is quite stellar if you prefer the original Japanese language track. I think Miyu Irino (as Takao) and Kana Honiara (as Yukari) are absolutely brilliant in their portrayal of these two character but I cannot possibly dismiss the fact that Maggie Flecknoe managed to pull off an unforgettable performance in the English dub in a cast that includes Patrick Poole, Hilary Haag, Brittany Karbowski and Blake Shepard just to name a few.

The Garden of Words is a beautifully told and richly emotional story that finds two very different people finding each another and, in turn, learns to confront the things that are holding them back from happiness. That said, however, the story also has a familiar seen-this-before-way-too-many-times vibe to it as well as awkward romantic tension between the characters that will seem completely inappropriate considering the age differences between the two characters. In the end, however, you cannot ignore the fact that The Garden of Words will not fail to draw you into its world from the very start down to its emotional finale.


BLU-RAY REVIEW BREAKDOWN

MOVIE/EPISODES: B+
A rainy day in the Kanto region’s most beautiful garden brings together two very different souls. One is a high school student who aspires to be a shoe designer and the other is an older woman who is escaping from her job. Together they build a relationship that might just set them on the right path to happiness or to something else altogether.

VIDEO QUALITY: A+
Without a doubt, the Blu-ray version is quite simply the best way to enjoy this visually stunning feature film. Like most Makoto Shinkai films, the setting itself is like a living, breathing character and sometimes more is said with a single glance than with a short line of dialogue.

AUDIO QUALITY: A-
Personally speaking, the original Japanese voice cast makes for a perfect viewing experience but it is impossible to ignore Maggie Flecknoe’s breath-taking performance as Yukari that matches that of Kana Hanazawa’s stellar voice acting. On top of that, the score by KASHIWA Daisuke is beautiful and so is the ending theme song, “Rain.”

EXTRAS: B+
You’ll find the original Japanese trailer for the film in the extras feature as well as a number of Sentai Filmworks’ trailers for their Blu-ray releases. You’ll even find a feature called The Works of Makoto Shinkai that includes a list of his animated features such as “The Place Promised in our Early Days” just to name a few.

Also includes is an extended version of the Interviews feature that includes interviews with the crew as well as members of the Japanese cast like Hanazawa and Miyu Irino who voices Takao. Then there’s the English Production Stills with pictures of the English dub voice cast at work in a booth decorated to simulate the garden and rain. Finally, there’s Story Boards that allows you to see the film through its storyboard artwork.

OVERALL: B+
While you can’t help but feel like you’ve seen this kind of story before, The Garden of Words sets itself apart with its stunning animation and character-driven drama that makes this a moving tale about salvation. Sure, there are romantic elements that feel inappropriate at times but it is overshadowed by its scenes of two people who inspires each another to move forward.

Review copy provided by Sentai Filmworks

Puella Magi Madoka Magica The Movie –Rebellion- Coming to Theaters this Winter!

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SANTA MONICA, CA (July 20, 2013) – Aniplex of America and ELEVEN ARTS are proud to announce they are bringing the highly anticipated feature length film, Puella Magi Madoka Magica the Movie -Rebellion-, to the big screen across the US this Winter. Aniplex of America and ELEVEN ARTS have brought several popular movie titles to theaters across the U.S. and Canada including the Puella Magi Madoka Magica Movies Part 1 -Beginnings- and Part 2 -Eternal-. Most Recently Aniplex of America and ELEVEN ARTS also announced they are bringing Blue Exorcist The Movie to U.S. theaters.

Theater locations and scheduled show times for Puella Magi Madoka Magica the Movie –Rebellion will be announced at a later date. For Further information about the Puella Magi Madoka Magica movie, please visit MadokaMagicaUSA.com.

About Puella Magi Madoka Magica
Originally airing in Japan in the beginning of 2011, Puella Magi Madoka Magica is an original story developed into TV series by Gen Urobuchi (Fate/Zero and Psycho Pass) of Nitroplus, directed by Akiyuki Shimbou (Goodbye Zetsubo Sensei, Bakemonogatari, Arakawa under the Bridge) and produced by Aniplex’s Atsuhiro Iwakami (the Garden of sinners, Bakemonogatari, Oreimo, and recent project Fate/Zero). Puella Magi Madoka Magica follows the story of a 14-year-old girl named Madoka Kaname. Madoka is offered the opportunity of gaining magical powers if she agrees to make a contract with a
strange little being named Kyubey. Kyubey will also grant Madoka one wish, but in exchange she shall risk her life by accepting the responsibilities of fighting witches. Little does Madoka know what the real risks of making a contract has in-store for her.

www.MadokaMagicaUSA.com

About Aniplex of America Inc.
Aniplex of America Inc. (Santa Monica, California) is a subsidiary of Aniplex Inc. (headquartered in Tokyo, Japan), a group of Sony Music Entertainment (Japan) Inc. and a leading provider of anime content and music production and distribution in Japan. Aniplex of America has launched fan-favorite DVD and Blu-Ray releases such as Bakemonogatari, Durarara!!, Puella Magi Madoka Magica, the Garden of Sinners, Sword Art Online, Blue Exorcist, and Blast of Tempest. The company’s ever-growing line-up of shows includes our most recent titles Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic, Oreshura, Oreimo 2, Fate/Zero, VALVRAVE the Liberator, and Vividred Operation.
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www.AniplexUSA.com
www.Youtube.com/AniplexUS

About ELEVEN ARTS
ELEVEN ARTS is the Los Angeles based film distribution company that has brought many acclaimed Japanese films, live-action and animation, to North American audiences. ELEVEN ARTS’s major live-action titles include Japan Academy Awards winner Memories of Tomorrow (starring Ken Watanabe) and Oscar nominated director (with The Twilight Samurai in 2004) Yoji Yamada’s samurai film Love and Honor. ELEVEN ARTS is also a respected distributor of popular animation titles such as the Evangelion franchise, Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos, and Puella Magi Madoka Magica The Movie Part 1: Beginnings/ Part 2: Eternal.

Official Website:
www.elevenarts.net

Durarara!!, Volume 4 – Manga Review

Durarara, Vol4

Review by: Kylee Strutt

Publisher: Yen Press
Author: Ryohgo Narita
Artist: Akiyo Satorigi
Character Design: Suzuhito Yasuda, Masayuki Sato (Cover)
Genre: Graphic Novel
MSRP: $11.99 US
Rating: OT (Older Teen)
Release Date: Available Now

AN Ed Choice Award1
I said it once and I’ll say it one more time: admittedly I am not an easy girl to please or surprise.

A magician would have to do more than pull a rabbit out of a hat to get a reaction from me and yes, Chris Angel, I have seen people levitate before. I can say the same thing about manga but, so far, I have found myself surprised by many works and even pleased by others that did not disappoint in spinning a yarn that had me hooked from the very start. Durarara!! is that kind of story … the kind that surprises and pleases as the fourth volume closes the chapter on a most unusual tale.

In Volume 3 of the series, we learn that the old saying about not judging a book by its cover is true as we discover that that is more to Mikado Ryuugamine than one would expect from a skittish and shy young boy. In fact, he turns out to have a secret that makes him seem like a young Japanese version of Tyler Durden from “Fight Club.”

As a matter fact, Volume 4 touches on a little social experiment that Mikado participated in with a group of school friends via their computers. Suddenly this little project came to life on its own as more people began to spread the word that a fake organization known as the Dollars is growing exponentially in Ikebukuro. When Mikado’s classmates leave the project that began as something of a joke, the young man realizes that somebody must take control of this group because a lack of leadership could be dangerous.

I will say no more but you can imagine the surprise when Mikado shows us he is more than capable of carrying out a plan to bring Namie Yagiri – head of Yagiri Pharmaceuticals – down on her knees. Along with the help of Celty Sturluson and Izaya Orihara, Mikado manages to learn a lot from Namie including revealing her sick love for her brother who Mikado connects to the disappearance of one Mika Harima.

With Namie Yagiri defeated and Celty taking down the rest of her thugs, we learn the fate of the mystery girl who is unhurt and brought to the scene in time for Celty to finally get a chance to talk to her. However, Seiji Yagiri also shows up and offers the girl his hand and together they walk off like soul mates that have finally found each another.

However, Mikado wants to know the truth about what had happened to Mika Harima … causing Seiji to reveal his dark and dangerous side as he attacks Mikado. The truth about the mystery girl is finally revealed and let’s just say that it’s an unexpected twist you will not see coming. I will say no more but the outcome of that event forces Celty to confront Shinra Kishitani about his role in all of this. The result is a memorable confrontation between these two characters.

Speaking of memorable confrontations, there’s one between Orihara and Namie Yagiri who comes to discover that Izaya Orihara, who playfully walks the line between good guy and villain, really leans towards the latter in a most disturbing manner. Meanwhile, Mikado returns to school as he witnesses the even more twisted sight of Seiji and his girl together … and happy?

Certainly, the final chapters of this volume end on a sort of happy note with characters like Celty and Mikado accepting who and what they are in this world. Ikebukuro is certainly an odd place but it fits both these characters perfectly. This is actually quite unexpected but, then again, this is a series that excelled in successfully springing surprises on their readers.

While the series ends here, those of us who know the story via the light novels know that this is but the first half of the series. Of course, whether or not Narita-sensei will bring the rest of the story in manga form remains to be seen but, as a fan, I would definitely love to see their interpretation. I, for one, would love to see Narita and Satorigi collaborate again by telling the rest of this story.

Volume 4 of Durarara!! reaches a most unusual yet satisfying finale as secrets are revealed and characters come to terms with their true nature. In short, it’s exactly the bizarre outcome you would expect from a story that includes a Dullahan, a cute stalker, twisted siblings and a character who turns out to be the leader of a gang that includes half the city. There was never a shortage of surprises in this series and that alone makes Durarara!! an interesting read you will want to check out.


MANGA REVIEW BREAKDOWN

STORY: A+
Having confronted the head of Yagiri Pharmaceuticals, Mikado’s big secret is out as he closes the book the mystery behind the girl with the scar on her neck and Namie Yagiri’s role in protecting her twisted brother, Seiji. Meanwhile, Celty comes to terms with her own existence as well as discovering the identity of the person involved with the mystery girl.

ART: A-
Visually, the series has been handled more than decently enough with recognizable characters and, of course, the city of Ikebukuro itself that manages to stand out as well. Akiyo Satorigi is good at what he does and it shows in every panel of this series.

OVERALL: A+
A worthy final chapter to this series, Volume 4 closes on a strangely positive note with a beginning that only gets more interesting as the story progresses. Narita and Satorigi-sensei has managed to surprise us every step of the way and this last volume is no different as secrets are revealed and the fate of each character becomes known.

COMPLETE SERIES GRADE: A+
An acquired taste to be sure, Durarara!! is not only an offbeat series but also a brilliant one that does not disappoint when it comes to the twists and turns the story offers. Filled with complex and mysterious characters, Ikebukuro is an interesting place because of it and the result is a tale well worth reading even if you already know the story. Here’s hoping we get to see the other half of this story straight out of the other chapters from the light novels.

Review copy provided by Yen Press

Durarara!!, Volume 3 – Manga Review

Durarara, Vol3

Review by: Kylee Strutt

Publisher: Yen Press
Author: Ryohgo Narita
Artist: Akiyo Satorigi
Character Design: Suzuhito Yasuda, Masayuki Sato (Cover)
Genre: Graphic Novel
MSRP: $11.99 US
Rating: OT (Older Teen)
Release Date: Available Now

AN Ed Choice Award1

Durarara!! is the type of series that doesn’t disappoint when it comes to surprises as the story slowly, yet deliciously, unravels right before you until you find yourself impressed with Narita-sensei’s brilliance. So far in this manga version of his work, he introduced us to a real city that is home to a cast of twisted and interesting resident but now, with Volume 3, Ikebukuro gets even more fascinating … and dangerous.

In the second volume, the seemingly meek Mikado Ryuugamine encounters a strange girl with a hideous scar on her neck who pleads for his help. You see, she is being chased by the Black Rider but the reason was unknown … until now. You see, in the opening chapter of Volume 3 we find the this mythical headless being who calls herself Celty Sturluson tracking the location of her missing head that she feels is somewhere in Ikebukuro.

On one of her rides around town she runs into Shizuo Heiwajima who wonders why his nemesis, Izaya Orihara, is hanging around his city. It’s clear that both men hate each another but that’s not important to Celty who suddenly encounters the girl with the scar on her neck. You see, the girl’s face is very familiar to Celty who identifies it as hers. Thus, the chase for the girl begins but then the mystery girl runs into Mikado who grabs the girl by the hand and flees from Celty.

Meanwhile, Seiji Yagiri is a witness to the events. He recognizes the girl’s face again as the very thing he has fallen in love with as he tries to stop Celty. Of course, Shizuo grabs a hold of the young man and discovers that Seiji is a little more twisted than we had all expected as he attacks Shizuo for getting in the way of the one he loves.

So now Mikado ends up with a pretty girl in his room and, while his good friend Masaomi Kida makes wild speculation of who she might be, this girl is still the biggest mystery that has made Mikado’s life a lot more interesting. Meanwhile, Celty consults with Shinra Kishitani who is still very much in love with the Irish Dullahan. Not too far away, Shinji is still hurting from his encounter with Shizuo and the fact that his “soul mate” escaped with fellow classmate Mikado. Once again, his sister – Namie Yagiri is willing to do anything for her beloved. She promises to get the girl back … but she has her own twisted agenda.

With no choice but the leave the mystery girl in his apartment, Mikado goes to school only to encounter both Izaya Orihara and the Black Rider waiting for him near the school gates. Orihara has taken a keen interest in the younger boy but it is Celty who wants a word with him. In a comical scene, a very nervous Mikado tries to sneak away from this little encounter only to find them following close behind so he has no choice but to confront them.

It is then that everything will change for Mikado as we discover something about the boy that we could not see coming. At last, Mikado has a “conversation” with Celty who reveals the truth about herself to him and the reason she was chasing the girl. While he still doesn’t trust Orihara, he turns to him for help when they discover that the girl in his apartment is missing and men who rush out and getaway in a Yagiri Pharmaceuticals van.

Suddenly, it is Mikado who continues to prove himself as a character who is stronger than he seems as he shows us his true colors. It is Mikado who organizes and executes a plan to meet with the head of Yagiri Pharmaceuticals who just so happens to be Namie who accepts Mikado’s invitation. Hatching a plan to take the boy down, Mikado quickly turns the tables in the most surprising way.

No, I’m not going to reveal what he does because you really should read it for yourself. Just trust me when I say that you will not see it coming. Again, Narita-sensei proves that he is capable pushing his talents to the limit and producing results that will not fail to impress as he does with this volume. That said, Ikebukuro continues to be a very interesting place with characters who can be twisted yet fascinating while other characters show us there’s more to them than what’s on the surface. This is what makes Durarara!! such an enjoyable read.

Volume 3 of Durarara not only pushes the story forward in the most fascinating of ways but it just keeps getting better with each chapter as we learn more about the residents of this unusual city. The Yagiri sibling’s twisted love lives aside, it is Mikado who proves to be one of the most interesting characters as he shows us who he really is in these chapters. You will not be disappointed by this volume, manga fans.


MANGA REVIEW BREAKDOWN

STORY: A+
While he manages to escape with the mysterious girl with the face that interests the Black Rider, Mikado’s life changes in a flash to the point that he shows us his true colors … and something else as well. Meanwhile, Celty decides to come clean to Mikado in hopes that he will understand his plight as they – along with the help of Orihara – decides to take on Namie Yagiri who is desperate to get the girl back.

ART: A-
Visually speaking, the final pages of the last chapter of this volume are nothing short of impressive and even more so since Mikado is involved. Other than that, the artwork continues to be a delight.

OVERALL: A+
One of the more powerful and impressively astonishing volumes of this series, Volume 3 will leave you on the edge of your seat and realizing how brilliant this story is as a main character shows us he is more than just a scared kid. As things get even more twisted and dangerous, it is clear that the story can only get even better making Durarara!! a manga worth reading.

Review copy provided by Yen Press

Kingyo Used Books, Volume 2 – Manga Review

Kingyo Used Books, Vol2

Review by: Eden Zacarias

Publisher: VIZ Media
Author: Seimu Yoshizaki
Genre: Graphic Novel (VIZ Signature/Ikki Comix)
MSRP: $12.99 US
Rating: T+ (Older Teen)
Release Date: Available Now

A brilliant (and very famous) manga-ka once told me that art contains a power that is far more intense than any weapon of mass destruction and that power is the ability to invoke emotions. She pointed to a favorite classic manga series of hers that she still turns to every now and then because the series brings forth precious memories and even finds inspiration in the actions of key characters. I don’t have to tell you, our readers, that manga contains this power as well because we all have favorites that have touched us in some way and – maybe – even inspired you.

This fact is what made me pick up the first volume of Kingyo Used Books, a manga series about the emotions manga can evoke. Through its characters that are introduced in each short story, we witness how manga (Kingyo uses real manga series as examples) has the ability to inspire through its pages and stories.

Once again, the Kingyo Used Books store is the focal point of eight short stories as Volume 2 introduces more characters whose lives are about to be touched by the power of manga. In the first story, we meet Sekiguchi, a high school student who is not only the Student Council’s Vice President but also a meek young man who cannot stand up against the President who is a jerk who takes what he wants from others. It isn’t until Sekiguchi discovers a manga series by manga legend, Osamu Tezuka, called “Adolph ni Tsugu.” As it turns out, the characters in that particular manga series (each called Adolph, including Hitler himself) inspire Sekiguchi to finally take a stand against the abusive President once and for all.

In another story, a familiar character from Volume 1 named Okadome shows up again as he – as a Sedori – is contracted by a mega book store called Manga Empire to find a genius bookseller named Naoaki Shiba and bring him to their main office. To sweeten the deal, Okadome is offered the rare classic, “Bara to Yubiwa” in exchange. Well, as it turns out, Okadome finds Shiba who is the same offbeat young manga fanatic who is sleeping in the cellar of Kingyo Used Books. We discover that both these characters have a lot more in common than they both think.

In another story, a young hostess named Anzu who works at a local hostess club discovers a little girl in the backroom where she often goes to take a nap. A bratty girl who comically insults Anzu, the child demands her to read an Osamu Tezuka children’s tale to her. As Anzu tries to unravel the mystery that is the little girl, she comes to discover the joys of the child’s favorite stories from the classic. Perhaps a trip to Kingyo will have a manga that will appeal to the little girl.

Natsuki takes center stage in this volume as we find that the beautiful young employee of Kingyo Used Books decides to participate in a shopping center’s big event by setting up a booth that will represent Kingyo. The task is not as easy as she thought but she gets help from a few returning characters, one of which is Shiba who is still head over heels for the attractive shopkeeper. Meanwhile, Natsuki’s father makes another appearance as he is hiding out from a gorgeous woman who happens to be connected to Natsuki.

We learn a lot more about Natsuki from these two short stories, mainly her relationship with her father and the fact that she’s not as crazy about manga as her grandfather or her cousin Billy.

In another story we meet Captain Ikaruga of Nishi High who is, by appearances, a huge manly student who is respected by all the members of his yelling squad but also the entire school. Despite his tough guy exterior, however, the young man is a closet fan of the shoujo manga classic, “Chiisana Koi no Monogatari.” Unfortunately for him, Ikaruga can’t even bring himself to even ask a bookstore vendor if the latest volume came out.

However, when he hears an older salary man ask for the same manga, a friendship blossoms between the big guy and the older man who inspires Ikaruga to not be embarrassed about his love for a manga about romance. After all, since when does manga have to be solely for one specific gender when it is meant to be enjoyed by everyone?

In the final story, Kawai, the son of the crowned “Manga King” is asked to bring manga from his father’s collection. When asked what kind of manga to bring, a fellow classmate named Tokizane asks for a manga series that will take him far away. So Kawai’s father recommends the classic, “Galaxy Express 999” (great choice, by the way). It inspires the kid to take a train ride someplace far and Kawai, sensing something wrong with his friend, decides to go with him.

As it turns out, the journey on the train turns out to be a personal quest for Tokizane as Kawai comes to realize things about this classmate’s life that he never realized. An unexpected turn of events makes Tokizane come to realize a painful truth that leads to an emotional moment between the boy and a man in his life that he sees as something of a villain.

Finally, we get a short chapter involving Billy and Grandpa who discover the truth behind the spade mark on the spine of a particular manga publishing house. As Grandpa imagines a far more romantic reason for the placement of the symbol, Billy does some research that uncovers the real reason.

With the exception of the story involving a tough guy with a soft spot for a shoujo manga as well as the first introductory tale, Volume 2 just doesn’t make the same impact as the first volume. The first volume contained stories that served as true reminders of why we love manga so much. The majority of the stories here aren’t even inspirational and although we learn more about Natsuki she still isn’t an interesting character.

Failing to capture the emotional resonance that the first volume managed to display so easily in its storytelling and characters, Volume 2 of Kingyo Used Books feels more like an afterthought that misses the mark completely. This is too bad, really, since this manga is about real manga titles that serve to inspire the characters. Still, there are some interesting moments that make this volume worth a glance but if this is the direction the series is going you will find yourself wanting to skip this particular book store.

MANGA REVIEW BREAKDOWN


STORY: C-

The collection of stories includes a young host club waitress who turns to the manga version of a well-known children’s story to connect with a little girl that shows up in the club and, in another story, a manga series involving three characters named Adolph inspires a high school student to stand up against the class jerk. There are even stories involving returning cast of characters like Natsuki, Naoaki Shiba and the sedori characters.

ART: A
Yoshizaki-sensei’s artwork is topnotch and one of the highlights of this series to be sure. Personally, I’m not all that crazy about the covers for this series but this is just a minor gripe considering the fact that the characters look good and the backgrounds are striking.

OVERALL: C-
Volume 2 of Kingyo Used Books is a disappointing read that just falls flat in its storytelling or its main theme that manga has the power to inspire. Two of the stories do just that but the rest is just not endearing enough to make this a volume I would gladly recommend. Here’s hoping the next volume will remedy the flaws this volume introduces.

Review copy provided by VIZ Media