Pumpkin Scissors, Part 01 – DVD Review

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Review by: Faith McAdams
Publisher: FUNimation Entertainment
MSRP: $59.98
Running Time: 300 minutes
Genre: Action
Rating: TV 14
Release Date: November 25, 2008

Pumpkin Scissors is the reason we called in sick to work … it’s that addictively watch worthy.

Having been introduced to Pumpkin Scissors via the manga series by Ryotaro Iwanaga, I knew exactly what to expect from the Pumpkin Scissors anime series.

Well, maybe not.

What I didn’t expect was the thrill of seeing an excellent manga series come to life in a such a faithfully and extraordinary way that makes this a truly enjoyable and exciting anime series. It’s a rare treat when both the manga and the anime come together this nicely and even more if you like the source material in the first place. In the case of Pumpkin Scissors, it’s the kind of series that’s perfect to introduce to those just starting to discover anime for the first time. Part 01 of Pumpkin Scissor’s box set includes 12 episodes on two discs and it’s definitely worth checking out.

Pumpkin Scissors strays from a Japanese setting and theme to tell a sort of alternate reality the slightly mirrors Germany during post-World War II. Like Germany, the land has seen the brutality of war that has had a catastrophic effects on civilians and noble families alike. Even after the ceasefire between the two countries, the lingering presence of the Great War is felt with famine, rising crime and Imperial Army soldiers turned mercenaries. In short, its theme is an interesting one that is seldom touched upon by movies.

The series revolves around the Imperial Army’s Intelligence Section Three department that has been codenamed Pumpkin Scissor’s by the gung-ho 2nd Lieutenant Alice Malvin who turned the department from war intelligence gathering to one specializing in war relief efforts. During a routine mission to a quaint little town outside the city, Alice and her two subordinates, Martis and Oreldo discover rumors of a band of mercenaries preying on the townspeople. In a restaurant, though, Malvin notices a lone giant stranger with scars on his face and the obvious appearance of somebody who has seen much battle during the war. His name is Randel Oland and the lives of the Pumpkin Scissors will never be the same again because of him.

You see, this tall giant of a man is a mystery that joins the unit after having helped them take on a group of mercenaries that terrorize a town with a tank. The fact that Oland takes down the tank with nothing more than a strange-looking anti-tank pistol. Even more intriguing is the fact that he keeps a steel lamp on his hip that emits an eerie blue glow when he lifts a latch. Malvin and the others quickly come to see that when the lamp’s blue glow is shining them stay away because it leads to people dying a close-quarter’s death.

The series really gets started around the second episode of the twelve episodes on the two discs since it is here that Oland becomes an official member of the crew. We not only follow the Pumpkin Scissors crew that also includes the laid back Captain Hunks but also the spunky Sergeant Major Stecchin who takes care of office affairs and a big messenger dog named Mercury. One of the great things about the series is that the cast – although seemingly familiar (Martis is a bookworm and Oreldo is a ladies man) – have backgrounds that flesh them out. We come to know that Alice is a member of a royal family but we also come to know what the other royals in her family think about her as well as the two men that court her. We know Orledo loves to flirt with the ladies but is he capable of falling in love?

As interesting and fleshed out as the characters are in the series, it’s the stories the 12 episodes tell that will make you love Pumpkin Scissors. We follow the unit as they investigate a member of a royal family that is using an unusual new tank as part of a gruesome game of death he plays with peasants in one episode and then follow their war relief efforts as the crew tries to convince a town to repair a tunnel that could help the train pass and bring goods to their part of the country.

In the meantime, more about Oland as Martis investigates his new comrade’s past and coming back with rumors of a declassified unit called the 901 anti-tank unit or “Invisible 9.” How is it that a man is able to take down a tank at a close range or take damage like it was nothing? While the man does end up in the hospital a lot, it’s Alice who comes to realize that since he joined them the unit has seen more violent confrontations. It’s almost as if Oland is a magnet for shootouts and gunplay.

The action in the series is a real highlight, though. There are plenty of battles in the series and they’re handled perfectly throughout. In one episode, the unit is attempting to make an important delivery that takes them through the snowy countryside filled with hostiles as the unit attempts to survive in the cold. Yet even without the action-packed moments, there are some interesting episodes such as the one where Oland attempts to talk a jumper off the hospital roof. We also get to see Oreldo attempt to bring a smile on the face of a young girl waiting for her solider boy to come back to her.

The weakest entries is Episode 6 where the unit takes care of an abandoned baby. To me, abandoned baby episodes (found in just about every television show I know) are just as lame as those “very special episode” found in sitcoms. Although it’s worth watching just to see Oland bursting into the Section Three office cradling the baby and yelling “Breasts! I need breasts!”

Pumpkin Scissors, Part 01, is just one of those discs you simply can’t do without if you love good anime. Hell, I don’t think you even have to be an anime fan to enjoy the this series that touches on many interesting and often historical themes. While not every episode is amazing it’s also not bad whatsoever and you will find yourself watching this one from the first episode to the final one on the set. It’s a humorous, action-packed series that is quite possibly this month’s real Must Have package.

 

DVD REVIEW BREAKDOWN

MOVIE/EPISODES: A+
All 12 episodes offer interesting stories that are actually compelling while the rest are filled with thrilling action scenes that make this series such an addictive joy to watch. There are a great number of highlights here (the squad attempting to survive an attack in the snow) and very few clichéd moments (abandoned baby episode). Overall, though, it’s hard not to love a series this good.

VIDEO QUALITY: A+
It’s no surprise that the video quality is excellent throughout the discs and you’ll be happy it is since the animation is quite excellent. The action sequences are downright exciting to look at so expect some quality visuals.

AUDIO QUALITY: A
The Dolby Digital is put to good use in the two discs and that’s a great thing seeing as the score and voice acting is excellent no matter which option you chose. I like the opening theme while the closing theme is simply cute.

EXTRAS: D
A sprinkle of trailers here and Clean Opening and Clean Closing theme songs there make up the extras. It’s not a lot, I know, but it’s the content on the two discs that really matter here.

OVERALL: A+
Simply put, you must not miss Part 1 of Pumpkin Scissors if you like great animation and an even greater action anime series with a lot of heart. Aside from the solid cast of characters that are quite unforgettable, it’s the great stories that make this 12-episode set one of this year’s Must Have anime releases.

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Sasami: Magical Girls Club, Season 2 – DVD Review

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Review by: Ai Kano
Publisher: FUNimation Entertainment
MSRP: $39.98
Running Time: 320 minutes
Genre: Fantasy
Rating: TV PG
Release Date: November 25, 2008

Girl power to an even more dramatic and magical degree.

Fans of Tenchi Muyoi can tell you that the Sasami character has been reworked in a number of ways after the initial series ended. Even Sasami’s personality has changed from the various incarnations but it wasn’t until Magical Girls Club TV series that this cute girl with the cute voice was transformed into a bubbly fifth grader who still loves to cook and has an eye for magic.

If there’s one thing that can be said about Sasami: Magical Girls Club is that it’s never business as usual after each episode. The characters never have fun one moment, face a danger then go back to being their fun-loving self again until the next episode. In fact, the events they encounter seem to change them and force these grade school students to grow. While the first season was good fun, Season 2 of Sasami is the turning point in the lives of these adorably magical girls. This 2-disc collection covers episodes 14 through 26 and it’s already a step above the first season.

After having competed in a magical tournament, bubbly Sasami and her friends have made quite an impression on a powerful clan of witches that include the Sparkle Team. The Chief Sorceress was so impressed that she sent the girls a special invitation to attend a summer camp specifically gear towards young girls with an advanced knowledge of magic. Just about the only ones that don’t like the thought of the girls going to the Magic World is their feisty magic (and cooking) club advisor, Washu, and the loyal Daimon. There’s just something about the offer that doesn’t sit well with both of them.

Yet, against the wishes of their parents and Mrs. Washu, the five girls go to the other world anyway. It is there that they discover that their magic can do so much more and it is the often shy Misao who truly feels that she belongs among the number of magically gifted girls of this land. Meanwhile, Sasami’s father is in the very same land looking for the boy named Amitav he had befriended while roaming this land. Thinking the girls are in danger, Washu, Daimon and Washu’s loyal furry pet, Ryo-Ohki enter the Magical World in search of the girls.

Washu does manage to convince the girls to come back with her and thus sparking the fuse that would light a most interesting fire and set off a chain reaction of events that would change the girls’ lives. For starters, Misao felt that she was torn away from a place that felt comfortable for her. Since the start of the series, she was always sitting on the sidelines as Sasami was always receiving the bulk of the attention and even the admiration of the boy she had a crush on but only has eyes for Sasami. Secondly, she feels that nobody acknowledges her powerful magic that is visibly improving. The girl even becomes so depressed that she begins to withdraw from her circle of friends as well as the club.

Meanwhile, the Chief Sorceress felt she was cheating of having the girls in their realm that she plots to take them back … by force if necessary. She sends an ally to attack Washu and Daimon for interfering with her plans and traps the girls in the school building. When the girls mention that it might be the work of witches, it is Misao who refuses to believe it. In fact, she even runs away from her friends. It isn’t until Misao is visited by the young witches of the Sparkle Team that she considers their offer to join them back in the magical realm. She even lashes out at her friends when she comes to realize that the boy she likes will never see her the same way that he sees Sasami. Turning her back on her friends, Misao joins the Sparkle Team and takes off.

While Sasami and her friends are baffled by their friend’s disappearance, Misao becomes more powerful than she ever imagined. Her magic certainly has improved enough that she is appointed a very important role among the witches. She becomes a leader of witches even though she is still quite unsure of herself. Things get worst out there when the rumors of Sasami and the rest of the girls have come to the land in search of Misao.

While still keeping things very light and still overly sweet, there are some dark moments in this season and they’re mainly a result of Misao’s change that becomes more than just magical but also physical. Sasami even feels hurt to the point that she can’t believe something as pure as magic can cause so much pain. With a friendship at stake, Sasami pushes herself to try to understand the things that make no sense to her. In other words, Sasami and the girls grow up a little. Well, not enough that they don’t lose that overly sparkly, bubbly cuteness. Still, the confrontation between Misao and Sasami is definitely not sparkly.

Then there’s the business with Amitav. He helps the girls during the confrontation with the witches and it becomes clear that Sasami has a major crush on him. Amitav, on the other hand, feels a deeper connection with Sasami’s father, Ginji. Once again, the Chief Sorceress brings trouble to the human world where she brings in a final showdown.

The second season of Sasami is certainly a little darker in tone but it works well for the series that still remains overly cute and light when things slow down. It’s certainly good to see the characters grow with their magical abilities and Misao’s change strains their friendship but goes to show what the power of true friendship and loyalty is all about. For my money, Sasami: Magical Girls Club is still the best bet to introduce anime to young girls ready for something with a little more heart.

 

DVD REVIEW BREAKDOWN

MOVIE/EPISODES: B+
Just when we were enjoying the tournament story arc, the second season brings a touch of darkness to an otherwise lighthearted season. The girls up their magical skills as well and shy Misao no longer wants to be overshadowed by Sasami.

VIDEO QUALITY: A
It’s always great to see the video quality this pristine and even more so when the animation is this cute.

AUDIO QUALITY: A
The soundtrack and the Japanese voices (as well as the English dub voice acting) is top notch so it’s good to see that the audio has that Dolby Digital treatment that comes through nicely. Magical Sweets performs the opening and closing themes and they’re not bad but not great either.

EXTRAS: D
Trailers aplenty on the two DVDs but there’s very little else here in terms of extras. We would have loved audio commentary from the voice actors.

OVERALL: B+
Season 2 of Sasami still proves that this is series continues to be one of the most entertaining and ultra cute anime shows to come along. Young girls can definitely enjoy the fun stories that make up this season and watching the magical girls really shine in this one makes this the best season of the series yet.

Guyver: The Bioboosted Armor, The Complete Box Set – DVD Review

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Review by: Kiki Van De Kamp
Publisher: FUNimation Entertainment
MSRP: $69.98
Running Time: 600 minutes
Genre: Action
Rating: TV MA
Release Date: November 4, 2008

The Bioboosted Armor is back and better than ever!

Guyver: The Bioboosted Armor’s history is a lengthy one that spans a long running manga series, a classic anime series and a 1991 live-action movie that starred Mark Hamill. Say what you will about the series but it inspired a number of similar shows that go as far as Ultraman, the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers and even the most recent Cartoon Network show, Ben 10 Alien Force. Having been a fan of the manga, I was slightly disappointed with past DVD releases of the anime series … up until the newly released Guyver, The Complete Box Set brought to us by FUNimation.

Released with an improved voice acting cast, Guyver’s complete 26-episode run is packaged in four DVDs with the fifth DVD dedicated to the extras. It tells the tale of Sho Fukamachi and his high school chum Tetsuro Segawa who encounter a strange case (known as a Guyver unit) that was blasted in their general direction after an encounter with monstrous creature and a group of armed security officers. Sho somehow triggers something in the unusual cast that envelops him in an almost organic suit of armor. Unfortunately for them, they’re discovered by similar guards that transform into bio-creatures. Unleashing his new power given to him by the Guyver armor, he slays his monstrous attacker. Thus begins Sho’s battle to save his friends and the world.

If you’re familiar with the manga, you’ll clearly see that this Sho is definitely a lot moodier and way cooler than the dork that turns to a hero that the manga depicts. This Sho is slightly distant from his father who worries about his son ever since Sho’s mother passed away. On top of a different hair color, though, Sho’s crush on Tetsuro’s younger sister, Mizuki, remains the same as the manga. Together with Tetsuro, Sho manages to evade capture from other similar creatures he comes to learn are called Zoanoids that were sent by a mysterious organization called the Chronos Corporation.

The first few episodes of the series are similar in theme: a Zoanoid appears, Sho is enveloped in the Guyver’s armor and he kills said Zoanoid while Tetsuro watches in the background. However, things change not too long in the series as the Chronos Corporation focuses its attention of Sho who is considered Guyver I while Chronos honchos believe there’s a Guyver II and Guyver III out there. Suddenly, Mizuki becomes involved when she witnesses Sho transform into the Guyver form.

Meanwhile, Sho comes to realize that the girl he has had a crush on only has eyes for the President of the Student Council named Agito Makishima who has a huge secret of his own and a connection to the Chronos Corporation. It comes to Makishima’s attention that his foster father, the commander of the Japanese Chronos branch, means to do more than just recover the missing Guyver units but also harness the power for his own agenda. The truth is that there’s more to Makishima than meets the eye and in the coming episodes he becomes a key player in the fight to bring down the Chronos Corporation.

The plot thickens when Tetsuro, Mizuki and Sho’s father are kidnapped by Chronos thugs. The three come to meet Makishima’s foster parent, Richard Giyot, who wishes to use them as pawns to get Sho to come to their rescue. Yet it’s another Guyver that rescues them and his identity shocks Tetsura and – most of all – Mizuki. Meanwhile, a new ally presents himself in the form of an ex-journalist that had been looking into the affairs of the Chronos Corporation until he was discovered by the organization and experimented on like a lab rat. The result, however, wasn’t what the real masterminds behind Chronos has expected. A tragedy in Sho’s life pushes him and his new allies – that include Guyver III – to destroy Chronos from the inside and a major battle is staged that is actually the highlight of the series.

I’d be spoiling things if I went into the events that lead up to the finale but the final battle in the last episode actually isn’t as satisfying as it should have been since the final part of the story is the best part of the series. Still, having watched past DVDs of the series, I thoroughly enjoyed this “improved” version of the series. The third disc on the set includes a bonus feature that compares the anime with the manga version and we can see that this series retained many of the scenes faithfully. There are many notable changes that go beyond the change in Sho’s hair color but overall the feel of the manga is present. Even the dismemberments and gore are found in this series.

Another difference is that the voice work has been updated with the voice talents of some excellent voice actors. The problem, however, is that the voices come off as distant at times or sound as if they’re speaking in a tunnel at other times. This isn’t often the case, thankfully, seeing as this series does have an excellent score. The four discs contain good audio commentary as well that’s actually insightful and fun to hear. The animation is a bit on the rough side sometimes but it does look good in motion and the action sequences are great.

Overall, Guyver: The Complete Series box set is just what a boosted fan has been waiting for since the last DVDs failed to do justice to the series. It’s a neat package with a lots of goodies that should satisfy Guyver fans and the presentation is good enough to make this the absolute complete box set you will want to have if you love the material presented here.

 

DVD REVIEW BREAKDOWN

MOVIE/EPISODES: B
It’s boy versus a big evil corporation and while it starts getting a wee bit repetitive when it comes to the battles in the earlier episodes, it picks up the pace nicely later. This Sho is so much cooler than the manga version of the character and it’s good to see the gore hasn’t been cut.

VIDEO QUALITY: A
Visually, the animation still holds up nicely and it’s great to see that the transfer is far better than past releases. As I mentioned, this is a gory series but it’s never done to make the series seem cooler.

AUDIO QUALITY: C-
I don’t think there’s one Guyver fan out there that really appreciated the English dub that just doesn’t do the characters justice. The score is actually gorgeous throughout and despite the fact that the sound effects drown out the voices, it‘s handled with much detail. Plus, I still can’t get the horrible “Cotton Candy” end theme out of my head.

EXTRAS: B+
The four main discs come with audio commentary for key episodes and they’re actually insightful and fun to listen to while watching the episodes. The third disc is dedicated to the extras including production art, clean versions of the opening and closing theme songs and trailers. The highlight of the third disc, however, are the plentiful manga-to-anime comparisons that show that the series didn’t stray too far from the manga.

OVERALL: B
This is – bar none – the best complete version of the Guyver series and an overall great package fans of the series have been hoping for since its introduction long ago. While the story still holds up despite some dated themes, part of what made Guyver fun to watch (and inspire a number of similar shows like Power Rangers) was the fact that it’s good fun that never takes itself seriously.

Coyote Ragtime Show, The Complete Series Box Set – DVD Review

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Review by: Clive Owen
Publisher: FUNimation Entertainment
MSRP: $49.98
Running Time: 300 minutes
Genre: Action
Rating: TV 14
Release Date: November 18, 2008

Give me that old bullets and bank heists ragtime show.

“Toss in the line and if they’re not hooked in the first five minutes then this isn’t a fish worth reeling in, kids.”

This is something I once heard a cinema arts professor say to us in class and in Hollywood as well as any other art form this is gospel. In the first five minutes, a movie/show/anime series must capture the viewer’s attention and hold it long enough for them to want to see more. Coyote Ragtime Show manages to catch your attention and then hook you in the few minutes that make up the first episode of this action-packed sci-fi anime series with plenty of guns and madcap violence in all 12 episodes of The Complete Series Box Set.

Coyote Ragtime Show pushes the envelope from Episode 1 where we meet the lovely yet gluttonous Angelica Burns who happens to be an Inspector with Presidential orders to head to a desert city’s maximum security prison to bring back an inmate of great importance to her. Angelica – who is tough-as-nails and able to down a whole burger without touching it with her hands – has been chasing this criminal for four years and she believes that this inmate is the pirate (or Coyote) known only as Mister. It turns out she was right but at the same time, a prison break is staged by Mister’s old comrades, Bishop and Katana. If that wasn’t bad enough, an old foe named Madam Marciano sends her small army of female android assassins famously known as Marciano’s 12 Sisters to eliminate Mister.

Back in his old bar after having been away for a year, we meet Franca who Mister has been taking care of ever since her father’s murder by the hands of an old enemy. Franca is convinced Mister has kept her safe for all this time because of her necklace – a gift left behind by her father that also happens to be the key to a hidden treasure meant for her. You see, Franca’s father was known throughout the criminal underworld as the Pirate King Bruce who was responsible for one of the biggest heists known on any planet. Unfortunately, Franca and Mister aren’t the only ones that know about the hidden loot seeing as the mysterious Madam Marciano is closing in on Mister’s trail. Oh, and to make things even worst, is the fact that said hidden loot just so happens to be on a planet named Graceland that is about to be destroyed by a warring government in a few days.

The episodes follow the coyotes on the trail of Bruce’s hidden loot while Marciano’s motley crew of cute assassins that favor the Gothic Lolita look are close behind. Oh, and Angelica (along with her new cute bubbly partner named Chelsea and the still-working severed head of one of the 12 Sisters) is trailing behind but determined to capture Mister once and for all. With so much heat on them, Mister and his crew do a fine job of evading them but they know they can’t get very far without a man that was involved in the actual heist … a reformed coyote named Swamp Gordon who lives his life as a preacher.

We actually do get to see the heist via the crystal in Franca’s necklace that happens to have been a fragment of Bruce’s artificial eye that recorded the planning stage and execution of one of the biggest heists. Actually, the heist episode is one of many highlights of the 12 episodes on the box set. It makes the heist in the updated “Ocean’s Eleven” pale in comparison and knowing Mister and Franca will have to go through a similar vault makes it even more exciting.

In the later episodes, Mister and his crew infiltrate the “Big Pink” gateway that will lead to Graceland. With evacuations taking place, the crew finds it hard to get into Graceland while everyone is trying to get out. It also doesn’t help that the 12 Sisters have closed in on them and clashing with the coyotes. Yet when they do manage to pass through the gateway, the crew is confronted with a new dilemma … if you knew you could save a planet would you put aside your greed to do the right thing?

The conclusion leads to the best moments in the show, which is a final confrontation that reveals Marciano’s past and insistence on fighting Mister. We also come to know why Angelica is determined to find Mister and when they team up in the final episodes there’s a moment shared between the two that goes beyond mutual admiration. In the end, the crew becomes more than just selfish pirates but start acting like heroes.

Coyote Ragtime Show certainly doesn’t pull any punches in the action department and it’s one of the coolest ones that make the gunplay look fun rather than realistic. I mean, how can we take a show series when the troupe of villains (all named after the months in the Gregorian calendar) skydive in cute outfits and carrying big guns. With the exception of Franca, the rest of the cast of characters are great and a handful of them are actually unforgettable (like Angelica Burns). There are also moments that are a bit too silly such as a flashback, Mister is seen surfing a giant wave caused by a tsunami. Secondly, the dialogue is clichéd and the profanity just seems like it was sprinkled on to make it seem cooler. At least the English dub is done right and the score is good at times.

Still, Coyote Ragtime Show: The Complete Series is a box set that’s definitely doesn’t disappoint if you like a good action anime. It’s over-the-top, bullet-fueled action makes for a fun time that isn’t quite perfect but good enough to be one of those rare treats well worth reeling in right away.

 

DVD REVIEW BREAKDOWN

MOVIE/EPISODES: B+
Few anime series start things off with a big bang and end it the same way but Coyote Ragtime Show definitely pulls it off well but not perfectly. The action-packed moments scattered throughout the series are over-the-top fun and the finale is utterly satisfying. It’s one of those few series you wished lasted a little longer than 12 episodes.

VIDEO QUALITY: A-
We love video quality this good and the complete series box set doesn’t disappoint in bringing us a sharp and clear picture. It’s great news seeing as the animation is awesome and fluid throughout.

AUDIO QUALITY: B+
Thankfully, the audio quality is even better and this is thanks to a great score, excellent sound effects and a solid English dub cast that handles the clichéd dialogue well. The Japanese voice cast is also good and the opening and closing theme songs are still whistled around the office.

EXTRAS: C+
There’s not a lot in the extras department except for some Production Art, a few trailers and a Clean Open and Closing version of the intros and closing of the show. I wish I had a poster of the Complete Box Set cover.

OVERALL: B+
One of the coolest -if not silliest – action anime series to come along, Coyote Ragtime Show is a slick, action-packed joy ride you will definitely want to take. The Complete Box Set covers all 12 episodes of a series that has a great cast of characters, loads of action scenes and an overall enjoyable story. This is one Box Set you will definitely not want to miss.

Naruto, Vol. 32 – Manga Review

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Review by: Edward Zacharias

Publisher: VIZ Media
Author: Masashi Kishimoto
Genre: Graphic Novel (Shonen Jump)
MSRP: $7.95 US
Rating: T (Teen)
Release Date: Available Now

Something annoying this way comes.

I’ve admitted many a time that Sasuke Uchiha was one of my least favorite characters in Naruto and did not miss him one bit when he decided to run off to Orochimaru to become stronger. Like a new certain somebody in this second chapter in the Naruto saga has said, there’s nothing good about a traitor that turns his back on his friends … especially a friend who cried and asked him not to go. Yet Volume 32 of Naruto has shown me that putting up with moody Sasuke wasn’t so bad after all thanks to a new addition to Team Kakashi.

I’m getting ahead of myself here, though, so I’ll start from the beginning.

After having help saved Gaara, Team Kakashi and Team Guy find themselves in a most interesting situation. The Sand Village now consider them and the Leaf Village as friends and the once psychotically out of control kid that was Gaara offers Naruto his hand in friendship and thus closing a rather bitter chapter that was the past. I actually smiled when Naruto shook Gaara’s hand and loved the prospect of seeing these once rivals as close friends. It was also sad to see Sakura standing over the grave of the brave Granny Chiyo who told Naruto to be that one Hokage that would change everything for the better.

Of course, the Akatsuki is still very much a threat with the survivors such as Deidara collecting the remains of his fallen comrades. The tip that an Akatsuki spy will be showing up on the Tenchi Bridge is taken serious by Lady Tsunade who feels it’s important for Naruto and the remains of Team Kakashi be there. The plan is to capture the spy and have him tell them where Orochimaru is hiding and also rescuing Sasuke. Unfortunately, the battle with Deidara has left Kakashi-sensei temporarily disabled so the Leaf Village elders recommend a replacement that comes in the form of a Black Ops commander. The leader of the Black Ops order also wants another addition to the team onboard as well.

Impatiently, Naruto goes on a quest for a new young member of Team Kakashi and encounters characters we had yet to see since the two year time skip. He had already went on a mission with Team Guy and he already caught up with Shikamaru so as he wanders the streets he runs into none other than Shino and Kiba (with Akamaru who is not longer a small pup). It’s great to see these characters again with new uniforms but nothing tops the moment Naruto finds and older Hinata who still has the world’s biggest monster crush on him. This moment is gold, I tell you.

We also meet Kakashi’s replacement, Commander Yamato who is a respected member of the Black Ops. He’s an unusual guy and knows he has big shoes to fill and perhaps this is the reason I like him. Unfortunately, the other new member of Team Kakashi makes his introduction a threatening one when he brings his ink drawings to life to test Naruto’s skills. At that moment, Naruto has managed to catch up with the members of Team Asuma such as Choji and a far more attractive older Ino.

Naruto quickly comes to discover the identity of his attacker and it just so happens to be a mysterious young Sasuke-wannabe named Sai. So far, we can to learn a few things about this character, including his ability to use drawings and the fact that he’s connected to the Black Ops. Oh, and he’s also annoying to the point that you’ll dislike him from the moment he opens his mouth. We’re suppose to feel sorry for a guy who was trained not to show any emotions or know when to keep his mouth shut. Even Sakura knocks his face in when Sai insults Sasuke for having left the Village. As irritating as Sai is, though, the story becomes interesting as the new Team Kakashi reach their destination. The identity of the Akatsuki spy is revealed and it will certainly leave you surprised and hoping the next volume would arrive a lot sooner.

Naruto, Volume 32, isn’t short on surprises whether its catching up to other familiar faces and the pleasant scene between to old foes that ends in friendship. With a number memorable moments, however, comes the bitter aftertaste that is Sai. If you’re able to put with this major aggravation, there’s a great story here that ends in an intriguing cliffhanger.

 

MANGA REVIEW BREAKDOWN

STORY: B+
The Gaara rescue story arc comes to a very satisfying conclusion and its great to see older versions of other characters we haven’t seen since the time skip such as Kiba and Ino just to name a few. With a new replacement for their Master, Team Kakashi must deal with one of the most annoying characters to come along in a long time. Sasuke, I hate to admit it but I miss you, man.

ART: A+
Kishimoto’s art is definitely one of the many highlights the Naruto series has to offer and in this volume he is joined by some awesome artists providing original art throughout the volume. I like Takahashi Kazuhiro’s piece but Ohkubo Akira’s drawing of Naruto and Rock Lee charging into battle is my person favorite.

OVERALL: B+
There’s a lot to love about this volume and there are certainly a lot of standout moments as well (check out the scene where Naruto runs into and older Hinata) but the addition of Sai – I must say – is just as irritating as the character himself. Still, things are going to get really interesting in the coming chapters and we can’t wait.

When They Cry, Volume 5 DVD Review

whentheycry5

Review by: Brenda Gregson
Publisher: FUNimation Entertainment
MSRP: $29.98
Running Time: 100 minutes
Genre: Horror
Rating: 16 +
Release Date: November 11, 2008

Vengeance is not very pretty … or sane.

I should admit here that I’m a big fan of horror films but don’t consider slasher films high up their in my twisted love for the genre. Yes, slasher movies tend to build up on our fears because it does stay away from supernatural creatures and concentrates on a more realistic fear … that of a psycho on the loose with a love for driving a knife/axe/machete into anyone they come across. Then I encountered When They Cry, a horror suspense tale that offers up a witty tale of bloody revenge by the hands of a real twisted psycho. This is also one of the strangest and most smartly entertaining anime series to come along in a long time.

If anything, When They Cry doesn’t go for the usual horror-anime route by maintaining the same story line or mood but rather mixes things up a little. It’s not surprising to find cute moments mixed in with a brutal stabbing in this series. In Volume 5 of the series, this format doesn’t change at all. The Cotton Festival story arc introduced a family curse in a small town consumed with its rich traditions that have been instilled since the Feudal Era. The disappearance of Satoshi has made Shion come to suspect that they boy she so loves is dead … murdered by the hands of the ruling class of the village.

Shion’s quest for revenge has pushed her over the edge and what was once a buxom, fun girl is now a psychotic mastermind that already dispatched Takano and Tomitake in the last Volume. With Mion and Oryo on the case, it’s only a matter of time before fingers start pointing in Shion’s direction. She even imprisons her twin sister, torturing her psychologically by making her witness the brutal torture and murders of friends and family members like their grandmother.

In episode 20 of the four episode volume, Shion’s paranoia begins to consume her to the point that she rushes her attempt to avenge Satoshi. She even comes to believe that a devil has possessed her body and she even sees Satoshi’s spirit who tells her that she must forget revenge and just live. Of course, Shion is completely bonkers and continues her mission by starting with the village major. Meanwhile, she meets up with her classmates without registering any sign that she had just butchered a few people. She sets her sights on the youngest daughter of a respected clan in the village who surprised Shion by attempting to stop her.

The climax comes in the third episode on the disc and let me tell you that it’s quite a brilliant twist. Explaining more would ruin the ending of this story arc and the build up is worth sitting through the number of torture and stabbing scenes … especially the one scene in the episode that was – to me – almost unbearable to watch. Still, watching Shion’s attempt to escape is one of the most intriguing and entirely convincing. Believe me, its surprising end will have you wondering why Hollywood doesn’t make suspense movies this surprising anymore. As gruesome as the violence in this series gets it never loses sight of the witty plot and execution of its finale.

In Episode 22, however, the story changes gears to set up for another chapter that does a complete 360 degree turn from the last story arc. Here we find all of the characters – including Shion – cheerfully hunting each another down with squirt guns. The episode concentrates on young Rena who – on the surface – looks happy but actually hurting on the side because she’s caught in the middle of her parent’s ugly divorce. Choosing to stay with her father, Rena comes to suspect that the woman her father is seeing might be a con artist attempting to get to her father’s money. So what’s a good daughter to do but to trail this hussy and find out what she plans to do with her father. What she discovers can only be answered in the next volume of the series.

When They Cry is definitely an acquired taste but beyond the horrific events that unfold it is suspense at its most brilliant. It’s rare to finds a series that is this unusual yet still downright entertaining to the point of really anticipating the next chapter. If you’re not opposed to trying something new, picking this one up is definitely not a bad idea.

 

DVD REVIEW BREAKDOWN

MOVIE/EPISODES: B+
The conclusion of Shion’s quest for revenge is nothing short of surprising and watching her flip out throughout the three episodes is very disturbing. We don’t know where the “Atonement” chapter is heading yet but it already has my attention.

VIDEO QUALITY: A+
The DVD bring us a 16:9 Anamorphic Widescreen presentation that looks really sharp and it does the animation justice. In a anime with lots of blood, it’s strange to find some cute moments but everything seen here is handled well enough.

AUDIO QUALITY: B+
The English dub isn’t bad but it isn’t as great as the Japanese voice cast that suit the characters and dialogue better. This is DVD is even better with a good sound system hooked up.

EXTRAS: F
There’s nothing here in terms of extras … unless you count the three Geneon trailers found here as a good bonus.

OVERALL: B+
Revenge is a dish best served in the bloodiest way possible with an order of torture on the side. When They Cry plays up the horror and suspense rather well and in Volume 5 is closes with a bang not a whimper. It’s not an easy series to follow but trust me when I say that it is one that is full of surprises if you give it a chance.

Darker than Black, Volume 1 – DVD Review

darkerblack1

Review by: Clive Owen
Publisher: FUNimation Entertainment
MSRP: $29.98
Running Time: 120 minutes
Genre: Sci-fi Action
Rating: TV MA
Release Date: November 25, 2008

Black is really beginning to be my favorite color.

The Ghost in the Shell series is one of the many reasons I began truly loving all things anime and I must admit that at the time it wasn’t the easiest sci-fi series to follow but in the end I found myself drawn in by the great animation and sharp-as-a-tack writing. FUNimation, with the good folks at Aniplex, bring us a new breed of dark hero and sci-fi action with Darker than Black and I must say that this one has the makings of a true sci-fi classic.

Darker than Black, Volume 1, contains five episodes that barely scratch the surface of the events that changed all of Japan. You see, ten years ago a strange anomaly appeared, ripping the skies and landscape in such a way that it has quickly come to be known as Hell’s Gate. Strange heavenly bodies began to appear, replacing our own stars and constellations with fake ones. At the same time, people with unique abilities were discovered and kept a secret by the various governments around the globe. These individuals are connected with a fake star above and is compelled to kill in the name of the government that knows of their existence. These people are called Contractors.

In the first episode, a Contractor is being pursued by government agent when the Contractor is hunted down by yet another Contractor that has been assigned the designation number BK201. This slender, masked killer in black goes by another name and it is the Black Reaper. We are also introduced to a special task force called Division 4 that is tasked with handling all things Contractor and anything pertaining to the Hell’s Gate. Let by an all-business Section-Chief named Misaki Kirihara, the special division gets wind that the Black Reaper is starting to sound less like a myth and more like a reality.

We also meet Hei who has moves about under the guise of a young Chinese student named Li. The truth is – and I’m not giving anything away by revealing this – is that Hei is really the Black Reaper. As a member of a mysterious group called the Syndicate, Hei’s cover as a student makes it easier for him to move throughout the city looking for other Contractors but also Dolls – beings observe as well as take mimic a human form to act as a sort of free agent to do their bidding. In the first and second episode of the disc, Hei targets his lovely next door neighbor who works at a host club. The problem is that Division 4 is also looking for this woman that may or may not be a Doll. Oh, but there’s another group looking for this young woman as well and it’s Hei who helps her evade both groups.

In the third episode, we are introduced to a school girl named Mai who suddenly blanks out and ignites fires. After the first two episodes, we come to discover that as the Reaper, Hei is fed Intel via his fellow Syndicate members that include a young girl who works at a newsstand and a black cat that talks like BLEACH’s Mr. Yorouichi. The episode also shows what a proficient killer he is as Hei wields the power of electricity he injects into his fiber wire. We also come to see that Hei might be a heartless killer but he did try to help out his last target. The same can be said about the third and fourth episode as Hei tries to keep Mai safe from herself and those that wish to get to her physician father.

I won’t get into too much detail about how this two-part story arc ends but its clear that there are no happy endings in Darker than Black’s first four episodes and we come to see how detached and heartless Contractors are but also how mysterious they can be as well. In the fifth episode, we are introduces to three Contractors who claim to be sent on a mission by the United Kingdom’s MI6. One has the power to freeze his enemies while the other has the power to control weather while the boy is like a medium. The three are sent on a mission to escort a redheaded woman who is wanted by every government agency including the CIA. The mystery behind this woman has Division 4 interested and suspicious of the MI6 agents and as they escort the mystery woman to a safe house, the Section-Chief gets her first look at the Reaper who takes on the MI6 agents.

The storytelling in the series is intelligent and often not very easy to follow if you’re not accustomed to this type of sci-fi. If you are then you’ll know that no mystery is ever really revealed and the characters – although interesting – are not easy to read. It’s also refreshing to find great animation with a solid English dub voice cast and even better Japanese voice cast. The music, by the always amazing composer Yoko Kano, simply comes together to make this a great production.

Darker than Black’s first volume brings us five very intriguing and utterly watch worthy episodes that reveal a smart and fun series sci-fi and action anime fans can really sink their teeth into from Episode 1 down to the last episode on the disc. While the five episodes don’t explain a lot, half the fun of watching a show like this is watching the mystery unravel along the way. This is definitely a DVD I’m recommending very highly.

 

DVD REVIEW BREAKDOWN

MOVIE/EPISODES: A-
This is a great introduction to what looks to be yet another great sci-fi action series with plenty of depth and interesting characters. If you were slightly baffled by Ghost in the Shell‘s premise, Darker than Black will seem a tad confusing to the uninitiated. Still, there’s plenty of excitement and great moments in the first five episodes.

VIDEO QUALITY: A+
Sharp, crisp and fluid animation is just what you would expect from BONES and a studio that has a strong track record of releasing quality visuals. Darker than Black is a wonderfully visceral treat, indeed.

AUDIO QUALITY: A+
Aside from looking good, the sound quality is also excellent so this one really sounds good if you have a good sound system. Rare is the anime series where I’m comfortable with the English dub but this one handles the dialogue perfectly. Oh, and the music is beyond lovely.

EXTRAS: B
There’s a fun commentary track for Episode 2 from two English dub voice actors and the Cast Auditions section is interesting if you’re wondering what an audition is like for voice actors. Then there’s the usual assortment of trailers and the opening and closing songs sans the text.

OVERALL: A-
Darker than Black doesn’t raise the bar for the genre but it is one seriously enjoyable and exciting series that promises to be one of those fan favorite sci-fi shows worth watching. Nothing giving a lot away even in its five episodes, it’s great when solid writing and gorgeous animation come together this nicely. We’re definitely keeping a close eye on this series.