Black Lagoon, Vol. 3 – Manga Review

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Review by: Edward Zacharias

Publisher: VIZ Media
Author: Rei Hiroe
Genre: Graphic Novel
MSRP: $12.99 US
Rating: M (Mature)
Release Date: Available Now

A pirate’s life is definitely not easy and certainly not pretty either.

Black Lagoon is the type of series that fires its twin guns in a no-holds-barred, over-the-top sort of way that makes this a fun action-series worth following. It’s also able to tell an almost heartbreaking tale even among the bullet-fueled action. Volume 3 of Black Lagoon is proof of that as the story continues the story arc of child assassins that have gone too far and a man who still doesn’t fully understand the criminal underworld as well as he thought.

Volume 2 introduced two Romanian twins that go by the handle Hansel and Gretel and, much like the characters from the Brothers Grimm tale, these children suffered through and survived a horrifying fate that has branched out into a surreally psychotic epilogue. As assassins hired to take out Balalaika, the head of Hotel Moscow, the twins even turn on their employers who happened to have been the Italian mob working in Roanpur. Having already slain two of Balalaika’s trusted men, the calm Russian Commander called in help from Moscow as well as formed an alliance with Mister Chang of the Chinese Triad. In addition to that, she even set up a reward to the local bounty hunters in town.

Of course, Revy isn’t one to pass up the chance of earning some cash thanks to word from Eda who works for the gun merchants that happen to be nuns (or posing as nuns). The manhunt for the twins leads to some gunfights when Mister Chang encounters the twins and takes them on with little success. Meanwhile, Revy and Eda do manage to catch up to Hansel and Gretel and they’re even less successful as well. It isn’t until the twins are separated that Balalaika shows that she’s more than capable of carrying out an intricate plan. She’s definitely one woman you do not want to get angry.

As one part of Balalaika’s plan goes through, Gretel takes Eda hostage in order to convince the Lagoon Traders to accept her as a client looking to get out of Roanpur. Of course, this puts the crew of the Black Lagoon in direct conflict with Balalaika’s agenda. As he did in the first volume, it is Rock that keeps a very different child company. His expression when Gretel tells him how she views the world breaks his heart but the truly heartbreaking moment comes during the end of the chapter.

In the next chapter, Mister Chang comes to the Lagoon Traders with a briefcase that has already caused him plenty of grief. It seems that a Bulgarian Intelligence operative was attempting to peddle arms in Mister Chan’s territory within Roanpur but when Chang threatens him the operative hands over a briefcase with highly sensitive documents connected to Hezbollah. The mission is to transport the documents to the CIA in an island nearby. Well, this is easier said than done when Hezbollah and a Japanese associate of theirs catches wind that the crew of the Black Lagoon have the briefcase.

Having attacked the Lagoon Traders’ headquarters, Dutch and the crew find themselves in a tight spot on the journey to the island. Fighting their way to land almost becomes impossible and once on the mainland it is up to Revy and Rock to make contact with a driver. The problem is that the Japanese associate is there to greet them. The chase is on to not only deliver the documents but also save Rock as an Irish driver and a female assassin named Shenhua decide to help out Revy. These chapters are by far one of the most action-packed chapters in the series so far with an outcome that will continue in Volume 4.

I said it once and I’ll say it again, manga doesn’t get as action-packed as Black Lagoon. It’s highly-explosive, high energy storytelling really does make this an exciting read and I have to say that I am definitely looking forward to the next volume. Rei Hiroe, you have done it again.

 

MANGA REVIEW BREAKDOWN

STORY: A
Balalaika’s problem with the assassin twins Hansel and Gretel comes to a startling and violent conclusion and Mister Change of the Chinese Triad turns out to be totally awesome in this volume. Meanwhile, a dangerous assignment pits the Lagoon Traders up against a dangerous terrorist faction within Hezbollah.

ART: A+
Rei Hiroe knows how to make his action scenes really stand out just as good as most of his characters. Then again, since this is the third volume, you probably already knew that.

OVERALL: A
On top of the stellar storytelling, Volume 3 of Black Lagoon is powerfully emotional yet outrageously crazy in the best way possible. Despite the sad Hansel and Gretel chapter, the bullets still fly and the blood still flows in this action-packed volume that just doesn’t disappoint on all fronts.

VIZ MEDIA ANNOUNCES ANIMATED DVD RELEASES FOR APRIL 2009

 

Logo from Viz Media

San Francisco, CA, January 28, 2009 – VIZ Media, LLC (VIZ Media), one of the entertainment industry’s most innovative and comprehensive publishing, animation and licensing companies, has announced their DVD lineup for April 2009, which include animated favorites such as HUNTER X HUNTER, DEATH NOTE, NARUTO, INUYASHA and POKÉMON. VIZ Media’s April releases include many hefty box set editions as well as some featuring special premium collectibles. VIZ Media DVD titles are distributed (in English) in U.S and Mexico by Warner Home Video and in Canada by Allegro.

HUNTER X HUNTER DVD Box Set Volume 2 • Rated “T+” for Older Teens • MSRP: $49.95 US / $64.99 CAN • Available April 7
Gon and his friends have passed the first two stages of the Hunter Exam, but they still have three more grueling phases to complete. The applicants must escape the maze-like Trick Tower and survive a free-for-all on an isolated island before they can battle it out in the final tournament. Will Gon and his friends prove their worth and earn the right to call themselves Hunters? Find out in this exciting new Box Set inspired by the popular HUNTER X HUNTER manga series created by Yoshihiro Togashi.

NARUTO UNCUT DVD Box Set Volume 13 Special Edition • Rated “T+” for Older Teens • MSRP: $69.97 US / $89.99 CAN • Available April 7

Naruto summons a couple of old amphibious pals – Gamakichi and Gamatatsu – to help him solve a mystery surrounding a mysterious Cursed Warrior. But back at home, there’s nothing more motivating for Choji and Naruto than a bowl of steaming hot Ichiraku ramen, and they’re really going to have to sing for their supper when the owner’s daughter is kidnapped! Can they get her back and save the restaurant’s secret recipes in time for dinner? Then, Anko must face the darkness in her past when she’s called to lead a mission to a place she once visited with her former sensei, Orochimaru! Will facing the truth save the mission – or break her forever? Special Edition Box Set includes Naruto playing cards plus a collectible Kakashi ninja figure.

NARUTO UNCUT DVD Box Set Volume 13 Standard Edition• Rated “T+” for Older Teens • MSRP: $49.95 US / $64.99 CAN • Available April 7
DVD-only collection featuring episodes from the hit series; no cards or collectible are figure is included.

DEATH NOTE DVD Box Set Volume 2 • Rated “T+” for Older Teens • MSRP: $69.97 US / $89.99 CAN • Available April 14
Through the power of the Death Note, Light Yagami is close to creating a world in which he holds ultimate authority over right and wrong. But many obstacles remain, including a second Death Note user who has his own nefarious goals, and the two brilliant protégés of L., the genius detective who once vowed to expose the identity of the Death Note’s owner. Light is confident that he can prevail, but as the surviving players in the game converge for a final showdown, whose name will be the last one written in the Death Note? This new Box Set features the exciting conclusion to the supernatural mystery crime thriller based on the popular DEATH NOTE manga series.

POKÉMON: ALL STARS Volume 19: TORCHIC
MSRP: $9.98 US / $12.99 CAN Each • Available April 21
POKÉMON: ALL STARS Volume 20: ONIX
MSRP: $9.98 US / $12.99 CAN Each • Available April 21

Following up with POKÉMON’s 10th Anniversary celebration set, the POKÉMON ALL STARS will have a total of twenty DVD releases each commemorating some of the most popular Pokémon characters. Each disc showcases a single character with three classic TV episodes featuring their adventures. Gotta Catch ‘em All!

INUYASHA SEASON 7 DVD Box Set Deluxe Edition • Rated “T” for Teens • MSRP: 119.89 US / $149.99 CAN • Available April 28
The story of the priestess Kikyo and half-demon Inuyasha ended in tragedy. Will Inuyasha and Kagome’s story have a happier ending? Each battle draws the group closer to their ultimate goal – the border of the afterlife and the final shard of the Shikon Jewel. But the last stage of their journey is the most difficult of all. In their final battle with Naraku, will the bond between Kagome and Inuyasha prove strong enough to vanquish him at last? Special Deluxe Box Set Edition comes with a Limited Edition collectible Inuyasha figure.

INUYASHA SEASON 7 DVD Box Set Standard Edition • Rated “T” for Teens • MSRP: $99.94 US / $129.99 CAN • Available April 28
DVD-only collection featuring episodes from the hit series; no collectible figure is included.

About VIZ Media, LLC

Contact


Headquartered in San Francisco, CA, VIZ Media, LLC (VIZ Media), is one of the most comprehensive and innovative companies in the field of manga (graphic novel) publishing, animation and entertainment licensing of Japanese content. Owned by three of Japan’s largest creators and licensors of manga and animation, Shueisha Inc., Shogakukan Inc., and Shogakukan-Shueisha Productions, Co., Ltd., VIZ Media is a leader in the publishing and distribution of Japanese manga for English speaking audiences in North America, the United Kingdom, Ireland, and South Africa and is a global ex-Asia licensor of Japanese manga and animation. The company offers an integrated product line including magazines such as SHONEN JUMP and SHOJO BEAT, graphic novels, and DVDs, and develops, markets, licenses, and distributes animated entertainment for audiences and consumers of all ages.

VIZ Media at 295 Bay Street, San Francisco, CA 94133; Phone (415) 546-7073; Fax (415) 546-7086; and web site at www.VIZ.com

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The Story of Saiunkoku, Season 1 Part 2 – DVD Review

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Review by: Sophie Stevens
Publisher: Geneon Entertainment (FUNimation)
MSRP: $59.98
Running Time: 300 minutes
Genre: Historical Fiction
Rating: 13 & Up
Release Date: Available Now

The long road to earning respect in a man’s political world.

If you’re like me, you’re probably cheering the FUNimation distributing deal with Geneon that is currently brining us a number of Geneon releases. Among my favorites is The Story of Saiunkoku, a series often compared to the Twelve Kingdoms. With Season 1 Part 1, we are introduced to Shurei Hong, a young princess from one of the eight noble houses who sets out to become the first female government official to aid the Emperor in a more formal capacity. Season 1 Part 2 continues the story as Shurei finds out that being an official in a predominantly male atmosphere isn’t as pleasant experience.

Having passed the National Exams with flying colors, Shurei and 13-year old Eigetsu To (who passed with the title of Jogen) find themselves as the outcast candidates in the royal palace. Pushed to do menial tasks such as cleaning up the toilets, shining shoes and filling out paperwork that Advisors are too lazy to touch have the young pair exhausted. Still, despite the fact that they are looked down upon by a good majority of the officials, they do have some support from Seiran Si and even fellow Initiate Heki who has given them problems in the past.

We see that Shurei isn’t one to give up, though, and her hard work even inspires Eigetsu to hang in there despite their hardships. As they take on more paperwork, the pair do discover a miscalculation in one of the budgetary reports for the Department of Protocol. Meanwhile, rumors are passed around that the National Exam results have been tampered with to let Shurei join the manly ranks of the official court. As a result, people are arrested and Secretary Sai is accused of corruption as well as stealing a most valuable ring. Immediately, it is Secretary Sai that points a finger at Shurei for setting up false charges against him.

Oh, but Shurei is a resourceful girl with proof of the corruption allegations as well as proof that she passed the National Exams on her own without help from any Advisor or even the Emperor himself. Yet on the evening before she was asked to defend herself and the corruption claims, she is called to Kocho’s place only to find her and Eigetsu captured by men hired to keep her locked up and thus arriving late to the trail. Is Kocho, the woman who helped Shurei, in league with bad men? I won’t say but there’s a battle here that also involves Eigetsu’s alternate persona, Yogetsu, that shows up when Eigetsu drinks wine.

Proving herself during the trail, Shurei – as well as Eigetsu – do manage to graduate from being Initiates. The Emperor not only offers them both a high position as co-governors of the Sa Provence (that happens to be in turmoil) but he also confesses his deep love for Shurei. Then again, we already knew he loves her but it’s clear that Shurei means to prove that she’s able to carry out the duties as an official. The Emperor also assigns Seiran and the loyal Ensei Ro who traveled to the city with Korin (who regrets having poisoned Shurei) to accompany them. He even grants Seiran the privilege of wielding the sword of a nobleman.

The road to Sa Provence isn’t an easy one and the group does encounter a number of dangers as a member of the Sa Clan sends a dangerous bandit clan called the Murderous Blades to capture the new co-governors before they reach their destination. When the group breaks up, it is Eigetsu and Korin who are captured while Shurei travels on with the aid of the Merchants Guild. Traveling undercover, she plays servant to a young Lord who constantly flirts with her and then suddenly falls in love with Shurei after hearing her play the erhu. Once they reach their destination within Sa Provence, however, the identity of the young Lord is revealed and the youngest member of the Sa Clan wants to right to wrong of his older brother.

There are a number of exciting moments in this second part of the first season as Seiran and Ensei face off against the Murderous Blades. In the first part, we find that there’s a secret concerning Seiran’s past and who he really is and in this second part we are finally revealed a big part of his life. Aside from some interesting revelations and more political intrigue, Ryuren comes back again to inject his brand of hilarity. Of course, once again there is no shortage of hot guys that fall for Shurei’s charming personality. Although, the fighting sequences leave much to be desired.

In the end, The Story of Saiunkoku, Season 1 Part 2, doesn’t disappoint in continuing a story that’s still a delightfully splendid and inspiring tale of a girl rising above old traditions. As the characters embark on a journey to show that they are capable of changing the history of their country for the better, we find ourselves drawn in by the intrigue that makes this an irresistible series you will want to check out.

 

DVD REVIEW BREAKDOWN

MOVIE/EPISODES: B+
Shurei and Eigetsu enter the world of Royal politics only to finds themselves being pushed around because of gender and age issues. Of course, Shurei’s determination wins the men over and when they are both assigned a post it becomes clear that there are still those that oppose the idea of having Sa Province run by a woman and a boy. The road to the Sa Province proves to be a dangerous journey in these 12-episodes.

VIDEO QUALITY: A-
The animation is simply adequate and the backgrounds are just decent with some generic-looking crowds. At least the guys that surround Shurei are rendered gorgeously. There’s definitely plenty of eye candy for us girls.

AUDIO QUALITY: A-
The English dub voices aren’t as strong as the Japanese voices, although there are some certain characters (I’m looking in your direction Sakujun) that sound so much better in English. The opening and closing theme songs are nice but it’s the original score that really stands out.

EXTRAS: C-
There are trailers on each of the three discs as well as a set of colorful postcards included in each slim disc case. It’s also great to see this series continue thanks to FUNimation.

OVERALL: B+
Still filled with intrigue, adventure and a healthy dose of shojo elements, Season 1 Part 2 of The Story of Saiunkoku remains to be a rich and rewarding anime experience. It does have a few weak spots here and there as far as the storytelling is concerned but these flaws are overshadowed by a good cast of characters and a captivating adventurous spirit.

Welcome to the N-H-K, Collection Part 2 DVD Review

welcomenhk2

Review by: Brenda Gregson
Publisher: FUNimation Entertainment
MSRP: $59.98 US
Running Time: 300 minutes
Genre: Romance/Comedy
Rating: TV MA
Release Date: Available Now

Things will proceed in a generally good direction.

Being a shut-in – or hikikomori as it’s called in Welcome to the NHK – is not fun.

It’s bad enough the people consider you a worthless freak that is sloppy and will probably die alone but what will happen when your funds dry up? This is the situation that Tatsuhiro Sato finds himself in as Collection Part 2 of Welcome to the NHK comes to its finale. Even after having failed to fool his mom when she came to town, Sato’s mother calls with word that his allowance will be cut in half. Oh, but there are more pressing things at hand seeing as, in Part 1, he is talked into joining his lovely Sempai, Hitomi Kashiwa, in an island where a suicide party is about to take place.

Thankfully, Hitomi’s boyfriend is concerned when Hitomi doesn’t answer her phone and as he retraces her steps he finds out that the woman he does love has left with Sato to an island. Figuring out what the party is all about, the boyfriend, Yamazaki and Misaki Nakahara head out to save Hitomi and Sato. Meanwhile, Sato attempts to befriend the island’s guests only to find that they are all eager to kill themselves. The plan is to toss themselves off a cliff and into the ocean. Searching his soul, Sato thinks suicide might just be the real cure to his hikikomori problem. Yet before they consider jumping, a member of the group has a change of heart, which in turn changes everyone else’s mind including Hitomi.

Still, Sato plans on jumping and it isn’t until Misaki and the others arrive that they try to convince him. Strangely enough, Misaki’s words to encourage Sato from not jumping comes off more as criticism and insults. In the end, Sato doesn’t jump but becomes upset with Misaki for reminding him how pathetic he really is and thinks it was better to jump anyway. Worst yet, the day he chose to join Hitomi on the island was the day he and Yamazaki were suppose to show off their game demo. Their first debut as game designers becomes something of a failure.

The youngest member of the group that had planned to kill himself gives Sato a demo for a Final Fantasy/World of Warcraft-styled MMORPG you play online with other gamers. He tells him that a shut-in like him could still make money by selling rare in-game items to other gamers for real cash. When Sato’s mother calls again telling him that doesn’t plan on sending any money at all, the young man turns to the game. Little does he know that MMORPG’s aren’t played alone but rather in groups with real players. He has trouble striking up a friendship until he meets a player with an avatar of a cute female feline character. Within days, Sato becomes obsessed with this online world where he’s actually somebody. Sato even ignores Misaki who sees the young man’s problems have become even worse than before.

Still, Sato is able to quit the game with the help of Yamazaki but is sucked into another trap by an old High school colleague named Megumi Kobayashi who talks him into buying unnecessary junk in a pyramid scheme. Megumi has financial troubles but on top of that she also has a brother who spends his days locked in his room playing the same MMORPG Sato got hooked on.

Collection Part 2 is actually a lot more funnier than the first part and there’s just something endearing about the way Misaki attempts to pluck Sato out of the darkness whether it’s dressing up as a cat-girl (because of his fondness for the “cat-like girl” he met online or help Sato get out of the pyramid scheme with Megumi. When Yamazaki is talked into moving back home with his family, Sato withdraws once again only to find some comfort hanging out with Misaki as well as Hitomi.

Strangely enough, things turn to the more dramatic when Misaki attempts to inject herself more fully into Sato’s life and revealing a part of her we only had a slight peek at in the first part of the series. There’s more to Misaki than meets the eye and there’s a good reason why she decided to come up with her project to help Sato. In the end, it isn’t Misaki that saves Sato … it’s Sato who saves Misaki. Sato has come a long way since we first see him and it’s strange but he actually does end up being something a lot more special than he himself could ever imagine.

The road to recovery is a strange but interesting one and I have to say that Collection Part 2 of Welcome to the NHK is, by far, the better part of this utterly strange yet wonderfully unique series. We watched Sato suffer through his problems with a smile but watching him obsess over a computer-generated world, cope with a close friend moving away and coming to terms with his feeling over a girl that is trying to save herself as well as him make this one of those rare anime treats.

 

DVD REVIEW BREAKDOWN

MOVIE/EPISODES: B+
Slowly but surely, Sato’s life begins to change for the better despite the fact that he joined a suicide party, was the victim of a pyramid scheme and has become addicted to a World of Warcraft-like MMORPG. There are funnier moments in Part 2 of the Collection.

VIDEO QUALITY: A-
The animation is really good and there’s definitely a lot more fan service in this one so if nudity bothers you then you’re out of luck. Still, you just have to love the funny nods to video games here.

AUDIO QUALITY: A-
The voice acting is still top notch whether you prefer the original Japanese voices or the English dub cast. Even the original score is good and the ending theme called “Modokashii Sekai no Ue de” by Yui Makino is a personal favorite.

EXTRAS: D
Once again, all we can look forward to are a few trailers and the cleaning opening and closing theme songs. I know it doesn’t count as an “Extra” but the cover art for each DVD is super cute.

OVERALL: B+
Welcome to the NHK, Collection Part 2, proves to be the better part of this original and unusual story. Sato has come a long way since the first 12-episodes of the series and his road to recovery – as far as this second part is concerned – one of the more amusing collection.

Welcome to the N-H-K, Collection Part 1 – DVD Review

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Review by: Brenda Gregson
Publisher: FUNimation Entertainment
MSRP: $59.98
Running Time: 300 minutes
Genre: Romance/Comedy
Rating: TV M
Release Date: Available Now

An occasionally funny, off-beat and likeable anime? It must be a conspiracy.

Tatsuhiro Sato thinks everyone is against him and laughs at him behind his back. He feels the eyes of people he doesn’t even know staring at him, ready to call him a freak and failure in life. The feeling is so strong that he has become a hikikomori or, as we know it, a shut-in. Oh but there’s a bright light the will shine through his dark little apartment and the anti-social young man will find that life can be better outside his door in Collection Part 1 of Welcome to the NHK.

A quirky little romantic comedy, Welcome to the NHK’s first collection part is told in 12 episodes on two DVDs. It is here that we meet the likeable yet tortured Sato who finds himself sleeping long hours, keeping a messy apartment and cursing out the neighbor who plays the theme song of a popular anime almost nonstop. One day, a young High school girl and her religious missionary aunt knock on his door, which starts a chain of events that might just lead to his recovery.

On one of his rare trips outside, he discovers that the young girl that came knocking on his door works at the local manga café and despite the fact that he runs away, it is the girl that comes looking for him with a proposal. You see, the young girl named Misaki Nakahara offers Sato a cure for his “hikikomori disease” in the form of nightly therapy sessions with her. She even came up with a contract that states if he was to miss a session he would have to pay an excessive fine. Reluctant to take her up on that offer, Sato finally does give in partly because Misaki is cute and because a part of him doesn’t want to live out his life as a shut-in anymore.

When Sato finally summons the courage to tell his neighbor to turn off that music, he finds out that the young man living next to him is actually an underclassman from his old High school he once helped out. It turns out that Yamazaki is not only a friend but he’s also a self-proclaimed Otaku and a student of a video game design school. One evening he lends Sato a number of “gal games” (or hentai games) and is suddenly inspired to create a gal game of their own with Sato as the game’s scenario writer.

Meanwhile, Sato continues his off-and-on-again therapy with Misaki. He just isn’t able to stick with the guidelines of the therapy and begins to think that Misaki sees him as a truly miserable waste of a human being. Sato’s mind often drifts back to his High school days when his sempai named Hitomi Kashiwa who talked him into joining the literature club and convinced him that all of life’s problems can be attributed to an unseen force or a conspiracy. Sato even has a name of it … the NHK.

Slacking off on the game that he and Yamazaki are working on, they take a trip to the “holy land” where Sato discovers what it’s like to be an Otaku. He avoids Misaki and even runs into Hitomi who hasn’t really changed her theory about conspiracies and seems more depressed than before. She reveals she has a boyfriend but he seems to put work before her.

While each episode isn’t laugh-out-loud funny, the series has a number of genuinely amusing scenes and there’s a sick pleasure in watching Sato start to break down in his hikikiomori state such as the time he tries to find out if Yamazaki has a girlfriend only to attend one of his game design classes and falling apart in the classroom. There are times when he envisions that his appliances talk to him and tell him that his problems are the fault of the NHK. His problems even put a damper on the gal game project that Yamazaki had planned on taking to a comic book convention. When he meets up with Hitomi again, he decides to run away with her to an island with people that set up and “Off” meeting. What that is I won’t tell you but the 12-episode set ends with a cliffhanger.

Welcome to the NHK, Collection Part 1, is an amusingly offbeat anime series that is every bit as enjoyable as the manga itself. That said, it might not be as funny as it was meant to be but there are scenes that really won’t fail to make you chuckle at a young man that’s too messed but darn does it feel good to see Sato slowly see the light to recovery. If you’re looking for something different and way out there, definitely give Welcome to the NHK a try.

 

DVD REVIEW BREAKDOWN

MOVIE/EPISODES: B+
Sato is a shut-in whose life changes as a result of meeting a young girl on a mission to cure him and a hardcore Otaku who pushes Sato into creating their own computer game. Of course, suffering from panic attacks and believing in wild conspiracy theories doesn’t help.

VIDEO QUALITY: A-
The video transfer is excellent and the animation is delightfully colorful. Collection Part 1 doesn’t feature as much fan service as expected.

AUDIO QUALITY: A-
Once again, I find myself happy to see a series that does the Japanese and English dub really well with some standout performances featured for both options. The original score is lovely and – while the opening theme isn’t my cup of tea – the closing theme for Part 1 is Ok.

EXTRAS: D
Clean opening and closing theme song and a small handful of trailers can be found on the discs and that’s about it.

OVERALL: B+
While it’s not as funny as it should have been, there’s a lot to like about this quirky and wonderfully written series. Welcome to the NHK strays from the typical romantic comedy trappings and does its own thing to bring us a strange story that won’t fail to put a smile on your face.

Black Lagoon, Vol. 2 – Manga Review

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Review by: Edward Zacharias

Publisher: VIZ Media
Author: Rei Hiroe
Genre: Graphic Novel (VIZ Media)
MSRP: $12.99 US
Rating: M (Mature)
Release Date: Now Available

Nazis, gangsters, arms dealing nuns and psychotic children … just another day for the Lagoon Traders.

It’s a cutthroat world out there whether you’re a suit working for a greedy corporation or a crewmember aboard a U-boat filled with armed thugs looking to make a cool buck. This is what Rokuro Okajima – who is now just known as Rock – just figured out when he was left to die by the hands of the company he worked for and abandoned to work for the crew of the Black Lagoon. As it turns out, his new job isn’t any safer either.

Volume 2 of Black Lagoon finds Rock continuing his role as the “new guy” who finds himself performing random tasks for the Black Lagoon Traders when Dutch calls him over for an interesting task. You see, several years ago during World War II, a German U-boat set sail transporting a Japanese officer as well as a loyal SS officer carrying a rare painting. Unfortunately, for them, the Germans encountered an American ship that managed to pounce the U-boat to the point that is sunk like a rock to the bottom of the sea. Hired to retrieve the painting years later, Dutch picks Rock and Revy to dive down to the U-boat and bring back the painting.

When they do manage to breach the old relic, it’s Revy that decides to go scavenging for Nazi-related trinkets she could sell to Nazi memorabilia lovers. Rock, on the other hands, feels differently and tells Revy that even though the corpses belong to German Naval officers fighting on the side of the Reich it is wrong to desecrate this tomb. Unknown to them, a boat comes into view and to Dutch and Benny’s surprise they can see a group of neo-Nazi’s that have come for the painting as well. Sending a dive team below, Revy and Rock find themselves in a firefight as the group makes off with the painting.

Oh but Revy’s the type of girl that really lets loose but when she and Dutch board the neo-Nazi boat it is Dutch who is surprised by Revy’s excessive and ruthless killing spree. It’s clear that Revy is worked up about something and, to Dutch; it becomes clear that her behavior might have something to do with something Rock might have said to her. Revy even admits that Rock really doesn’t belong in their world.

When they manage to wrap up their business on the boat, Dutch sends Rock and Revy on a few routine errands that include hitting up a pair of nuns (or are they simply posing as nuns?) who also are Roanapur’s resident arms dealers. When things get ugly in there with a young “Sister” named Eda, it is Rock that calmly defuses the situation. In the middle of the marketplace, Rock and Revy get into a massive argument that says a lot about the type of person Revy is as well as how Rock feels about her. In the same chapter, when the odd pair is arrested, the two share a surprisingly intimate moment while lighting up a cigarette. We learn a few other things about Revy in this volume and she’s beginning to flesh out nicely, so to speak.

When a few Russian gangsters are killed in the most horrible way, Balalaika calls a meeting with the other rival gangsters that range form the Italians, the Chinese triad and even the Colombian drug cartel that has made Roanapur their home base of operations. The only clues behind the deaths are a pair of twins that just so happen to be children with a mean sadistic streak. No, wait, scratch that. They’re downright psychotic and creepy. Why they continue to go on a killing spree or what Balalaika will do to them knowing they are children is left up for the next chapter.

Volume 2 of Black Lagoon is still an action-packed, out of control and exciting manga that is actually way too much fun to want to put down. There’s a lot in this volume, including a little more insight about how Revy operates and what she thinks about Rock. The bullets fly in this volume as well so action fans aren’t left out but believe me when I say that the series still doesn’t continue to exchange action for solid storytelling. It offers an equal balance of both and this makes the series a rare gem indeed.

 

MANGA REVIEW BREAKDOWN

STORY: A
During a mission that takes them deep inside the remains of an old WWII German U-boat, Rock says something that puts Revy on the edge until she explodes later in the chapter. There are neo-Nazis in this one and we are introduced to a pair of creepy twins that set off events that will turn Roanapur red with blood.

ART: A+
Rei Hiroe’s art is still easy on the eyes and the action flows just as beautifully as it does on the anime. It’s great work that makes this one impressive-looking manga.

OVERALL: A
Internal problems as well as a new threat puts the Lagoon Traders smack in the middle of an explosive situation. Ah, but Black Lagoon, Volume 2, continues to bring us more of that straight-up, bullet-fueled action that makes this manga a fun read for action junkies.

Red Garden, Collection 2 – DVD Review

red-garden-c2

Review by: Faith McAdams
Publisher: FUNimation Entertainment
MSRP: $49.98
Running Time: 300 minutes
Genre: Supernatural/Action
Rating: TV MA
Release Date: Available Now

The last stand of the living dead.

Kate, Rose, Claire and Rachel are dead.

The woman in the sharp black suit named Lula had told them that but she also told them something else that gave these four girls hope. Yes, they are dead and living in borrowed bodies that look similar to their old ones but there is a chance they can reclaim their old bodies and go back living a normal life. With this news, the girls that were once strangers have found a reason to fight against an enemy that has finally revealed itself to them.

Collection 2 spans the final 10 episodes as well as includes the OVA entitled “Dead Girls” (that I will go into later) and it picks up directly after the events seen in Episode 12 of the last collection. Discovering that they can get their bodies back, another discovery is made by the girls during another battle with two monsters. Just as Rachel had did in the early episode, Kate discovers that she can jump a great distance. In fact, she can even run up walls. This leads to Kate training with Rose who – during a battle – failed to help Rachel out when she was in trouble. Being the weakest member of the group, Rose starts working out and training in hopes the she would not fail her friends again.

On top of that, Kate’s sister is dating a man that just so happens to be a close friend of Harve. Upset that the doctors in the pharmaceutical company can’t come to the aid of his “cursed” cousins, Harve discovers that his friend’s fiancée happens to be the sister of one of his enemies. Dating Harve, Kate is unaware of his intentions until Harve lies about going to a birthday party at a closed restaurant. Something is definitely up.

As I mentioned in my review of Collection 1, half the fun of Red Garden is that the anime not only focuses on the main characters’ new nightly occupation but it also touches on their personal lives that is deteriorating right before their eyes. We witness as Rose searches for his father who decided to leave the family when he lost his job. Rachel finds some platonic comfort with a teacher when she realizes that she doesn’t want to lie to Luke, the boy she likes. Even Claire begins to withdraw from her only male friend. The best moments in the series are also the bond the girls form with each another.

The series also continues to surprise with its twists as Detectives Claude and Neil find out that Lise – the girl that started these chain of events – might not be dead. The best parts come towards the end with Kate and Harve facing off and a final showdown takes place near their school where the secret of the curse finally comes into light as well as the fate that awaits the girls. While the last 12 episodes aren’t as jam-packed with action scenes, the final battle more than makes up for it.

I won’t spoil any of the other surprises the 12 episodes throws at the viewer but expect the same smart and intriguing storytelling of the early episodes. As a whole, the series is memorable and utterly brilliant at times. I also enjoyed the OVA “Dead Girls” that feels like a sort of continuation of the main story despite the fact that familiar characters show up (some of them in different roles like Luke as a thief) in a futuristic setting that also includes huge robots. It’s weird, alright, but a fun addition to the collection.

What we have here in Red Garden is a wonderfully original story that reminds us that quality animation like this is the reason we love anime so much. Red Garden, Collection 2, is the perfect finish to an otherwise smart, dark and compelling series the more mature crowd will certainly appreciate. Packed with the original OVA, I don’t see any reason not to include this one in your growing library.

 

DVD REVIEW BREAKDOWN

MOVIE/EPISODES: A
The girls come closer to the truth behind the so-called curse as well as others like them. Harve’s real intentions become clearer as the girls decide to make a final stand outside the school grounds in one of the most exciting moments of this series.

VIDEO QUALITY: A
The animation is handled beautifully in this series as well as in the OVA and that the series as a whole looks amazing on DVD.

AUDIO QUALITY: A+
Once again, the voice acting in this series is top notch and the powerful performances just don’t apply to the English dub either. While there’s no singing like some of the episodes in the first collection, the original score is simply gorgeous. We also thank God that iTunes carries the closing theme songs by LM.C like “Oh My Juliet.”

EXTRAS: B-
There are a few trailers and clean opening and closing theme songs but the real bonus comes in the “Dead Girls” OVA that is just so downright strange that it’s good

OVERALL: A
In the end, Red Garden turned out to be one of the more original and surprisingly smart supernatural tales to come along in a long time and Collection 2 is a fitting ending that definitely should not be missed if you picked up the first collection.