Case Closed, Season Four – DVD Review

casecloseds4

Review by: Edward Zacharias
Publisher: FUNimation Entertainment
MSRP: $29.98
Running Time: 635 minutes
Genre: Mystery
Rating: TV PG
Release Date: Available Now

Who are you, Conan?

For three complete seasons we have watched a boy who calls himself Conan Edogawa stick his nose into every crime investigation headed by the dim-witted private investigator Richard Moore and solve the crime thanks to some rather nifty gadgets and the fact that’s he’s really the genius detective Jimmy Kudo that was transformed into the pint-sized Conan by criminals using an experimental drug. While he was sly enough to solve the crimes by using other people and a bow tie that can mimic any voice, Season Four of Case Closed comes close to revealing the one truth about Jimmy/Conan to the person most close to him.

That’s right, you read that correctly. Season Four not only comes close to Conan’s secret spilling out but this is the first season where other characters come to question the fact that Conan, Richard and his daughter Rachael always seem to coincidentally become a part of a murder investigation. In other words, there’s a lot to this season than meets the eye.

There are also 26 episodes filled to the brim with inventive mysteries that put the criminals of CSI look like nitwits. In the first case of the season, a client asks Richard to locate his childhood sweetheart but the evening ends with a murder. The victim happens to be the client’s son who is a burn victim with a troubled past. It’s a complex case and returning High school detective Harley Hartwell also shows up with his father who happens to be investigating as well.

The following episodes finds Richard, Rachael and Conan solving a number of random crimes such as the time they witness a bank robbery that ends with murder and a “Rear Window” inspired episode that has a hospitalized Richard witnessing a murder outside his window and ends up being the prime suspect. The Junior Detective League is also back in action with Conan and his young friends help solve the case of a murdered homeless man as well as the kidnapping of a famous brother-sister music act. The kids even help Conan find a little girl who was kidnapped by bank robbers attempting to blackmail a man into killing one of their associate’s that was caught by the authorities after he was injured during the getaway.

Even a holiday getaway becomes an excuse to solve a murder when Rachael, her friend Serena and Conan head to the snow for a skiing trip only to find that the pair’s old elementary school teacher is being hunted by a murderer. In another trip, Richard takes the pair to see some cranes only to find that the habitat’s owner is being harassed by his two kids that he is leaving out of the will. When the man is found dead with an arrow through him the prime suspect isn’t who he seems. In another case, a horror novelist that writes Dracula-inspired novels is found dead with a stake through the heart like one of his books. Interestingly enough, in this case, Richard’s deductions are nearly accurate enough to impress even Conan. Maybe Richard isn’t a complete loss as a detective after all.

Then again, Richard’s deductions are way off when a client hires him to foil a hit the client had ordered on himself when he misinterpreted a cancer diagnosis. The assassin in question is the famous Fox who rarely fails and had performed a hit recently that resulted in the accidental death of a little girl aboard a bus. To lure the Fox out, they all head for the mountains on a hiking trip with a group of people that all seem suspicious from the very start. In another case, Richard becomes the unwitting alibi for a woman that actually likes him romantically. When the woman’s roommate ends up dead, there’s doubt that it was a suicide.

Speaking of suicide, there are cases in this season such as the case where an actress that played the Snow Priestess in a movie is found dead from an apparent suicide during a ski trip. In another case, the daughter of a master potter is found with a noose around her neck. Did she kill herself or is this murder? The best episode, however, is Episode 99 where it suddenly dawns on Rachael that Conan and Jimmy might actually be the same person. How else could she explain how a child can know so much about poisons and the law?

One of the many great things about Case Closed is how elaborate most of the murder cases are and this season is no exception despite a few obvious cases that are definitely open and shut affairs. Then again, these less intricate cases do mix things up. In the end, Season Four of Case Closed is absolute proof that mysteries this good would be a true crime to miss.

 

DVD REVIEW BREAKDOWN

MOVIE/EPISODES: B+
Richard, Rachael and Conan see to a number of cases that include kidnappings, a dangerous assassin and presumed suicides. At one point, Rachael has her doubts of who Conan really is and – on a rare episode – is involved in a case with his mother that isn’t solved by the super sleuth.

VIDEO QUALITY: B
Once again, the episodes look good on DVD and I could only imagine what they would have looked like in the Blu-ray format.

AUDIO QUALITY: B+
The English dub voice acting is just as good as the original Japanese voices. While the opening theme song isn’t my personal favorite, the closing theme song is actually nice.

EXTRAS: C-
Trailers and cleaning opening and closing songs can be found here but the real extra – if you can call it that – is a brief character description of Harley Hartwell and a short look at two of Conan’s gadgets.

OVERALL: B+
Season Four of Case Closed brings us more complex cases that are right up Conan’s alley but this season remains to be the one that one truth doesn’t prevail for the diminutive sleuth. In fact, other characters make rather interesting observation in this one that makes the fourth season one of the more interesting. Fans of Case Closed will definitely like this one.

Utawarerumono, The Complete Collection – DVD Review

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Review by: Brenda Gregson
Publisher: FUNimation Entertainment
MSRP: DVD: $69.98
Running Time: 650 minutes
Genre: Fantasy
Rating: TV 14
Release Date: Available Now

Long live the masked Emperor!

Like many countries, Japan has a rich history of kingdoms long gone and of Empires that have passed on to the pages of history. Some stories of history even take on mythical feel as if they only existed in fantasy and make-believe. Utawarerumono: The Complete Collection is a fantasy story that has a historical feel to it and thus makes it a thoroughly epic and entertaining series.

Waking up in a home that is unfamiliar to him and staring at the face of a kindly young girl with furry ears and a long bushy tail, a young man who can’t remember who he is or what he’s doing there can see that the young girl had bandaged his wounds. The girl, name Eruruu, only tells him that she and her grandmother (who is the village’s healer) had found him wounded out in the woods. On top of that, the young man with no name is wearing a mask that seems to be stuck on his face somehow.

Given the name Hakouro, the young masked man begins his new life living among these people and staying with Eruruu, her young sister Aruruu and Grandmother who sees the goodness in the stranger. Hakouro lives among the people, aiding them in their harvesting and – when the “Goddess of the Forest” (that just so happens to be a powerful white tiger) attacks – he helps slay it. Just as Grandmother had forseen, Hakouro shows his kindness by caring for the people and even accepts young Aruruu when she reveals that she is hiding the Goddess’ baby cub. He even forgives the brash young man named Oboro who insults him when Hakouro becomes close to the young man’s ailing sister.

Yet not all is peaceful in this land since a cruel and violent government comprised of power hungry Emperors and Kings that wish to dominate the land with an iron fist. One such Emperor wishes to seize the small village and even uses a former village dweller named Nuwangi to bully the people of the village. Of course, Hakouro does stand up for them and even after a tragedy that sees the demise of Grandmother Tuskuru); it is the masked man who leads the villagers in a battle to defend themselves. And so begins Hakouro’s new position as Village Chief as he leads villagers in a revolt to overthrow the Emperor of the land.

With the Emperor gone, it is Hakouro that becomes the new Emperor of the land. As a result, winged people send an ambassador that just so happens to be a Priestess named Urutori who has come with her younger sister Camus to see what kind of ruler Hakouro is and what his plans are for the people. Hakouro is joined by the previous Emperor’s Samurai General named Benawi and his top lieutenant. He even takes into his army an escaped female prisoner who slaughtered her captors as if they were nothing.

Along the way, Hakouro learns what it’s like to be the Emperor of various territories. Luckily for him, Hakouro is loved and respected by the people even though blood continues to be shed thanks to the Emperor of another land. This Emperor Niwe leads his armies to destroy Hakouro and manages to do a lot of damage as well as slaughter close friends from the village that took Hakouro in as their own. In the battle against Niwe, Hakouro learns a little more about who he really is and what had happened to him. It is thanks to Eruruu that he looks past his questionable past and focus on the future as a ruler that means well for his people.

Of course, the land is plagued by unrest whether it is another race’s quest to free themselves from slavery to a young sovereign who befriends Hakouro and then threatens the land and the good kingdoms with giant mech-like armor units. Pulling the strings from the shadows is a winged person whose intentions become known when Hakouro finally discovers the shocking, very surprising and somewhat confusing truth about himself. What is the beast that lies dormant within him and what does it have to do with the mask he wears? All of this is answered in the final chapters and let me tell you that it will shock you in the end.

The truth is that Utawarerumono is an epic tale that feels like an Arthurian story of enormous proportions and that’s a great thing. The animation itself, though, is a bit inconsistent especially when things suddenly turns bloodier (where was the blood in the earlier episodes?) and the animation more fluid by Episode 14. Even the CGI effects feel a bit out of place at times. The light moments are actually fun, though, and while the series doesn’t give depth to the characters they are hardly forgettable.

In the end, what we have in Utawarerumono: The Complete Collection is a richly told fantasy story that has nearly everything you can ask for in an anime series of this type. While it’s far from perfect, there’s no denying how deep and fascinating this story of the rise of a noble kingdom is and how much you will enjoy watching the events unfold. Sure, we cannot pronounce the name but who cares since this story is fascinating? This series is one fantasy anime fans should not dismiss.

 

DVD REVIEW BREAKDOWN

MOVIE/EPISODES: B+
A mysterious man wearing a mask that he can’t remove and with no memory of who he his is wakes up in a village he defends against a cruel government. Quickly rising from stranger to leader, this man named Hakouro sees the people through battles to preserve the peace of the land. In the course of his leadership, Hakouro learns a dark secret about himself that’s a tad confusing but utterly fascinating.

VIDEO QUALITY: B-
The animation isn’t bad at all, although it is slightly inconsistent with the earlier episodes. Still, the video quality is excellent and the series overall looks great on DVD.

AUDIO QUALITY: B+
There’s a solid voice acting cast here whether you like the original Japanese voices or the English dub. The Japanese voices are my preference thanks to a Hakouro that sounds more commanding. The original score if sweeping and epic and the opening song, “Muso-Ka” by Suara is awesome.

EXTRAS: D
The third and fourth disc in the set only includes trailers and the clean opening and closing songs.

OVERALL: B+
Utawarerumono is a beautifully told fantasy tale that feels as epic as any historical feature film and it definitely is one of those rare anime series that shouldn’t be ignored. Yes, the characters can seem a tad one-dimensional at times but what the series doesn’t do with characterization it does with the actual epic storytelling.

VIZ MEDIA ANNOUNCES DIVERSE COLLECTION OF NEW DVD RELEASES FOR MAY AND JUNE 2009

 

Viz Media Logo

San Francisco, CA, March 18, 2009 – VIZ Media, LLC (VIZ Media), one of the entertainment industry’s most innovative and comprehensive publishing, animation and licensing companies, has announced an array of new DVD titles scheduled for release throughout May and June 2009. These include the latest episodic releases of popular BLEACH and NARUTO series, as well as the eagerly awaited new DEATH NOTE RE-LIGHT, the animation that revisits the DEATH NOTE series through the eyes of Ryuk. Younger viewers will delight in the new Pokémon DIAMOND AND PEARL: BATTLE DIMENSION Box Set, while older fans can also look forward to a new live action DVD release of HAPPILY EVER AFTER from VIZ Pictures. VIZ Media DVD titles are distributed (in English) in U.S and Mexico by Warner Home Video and in Canada by Allegro.

 

New BLEACH Releases Include:

 

BLEACH Volume 16 · Rated ‘T’ for Teens ·

MSRP: $24.92 US / $35.99 CAN · Available May 12

Returning to the world of the living after their adventures in the Soul Society, Ichigo and his friends resume their regular lives at home and school. But strange disappearances continue to occur, and no culprit is in sight. Something strange has followed them home and it will put their faith and trust in each other to the ultimate test.

 

BLEACH Volume 17 · Rated ‘T’ for Teens ·

MSRP: $24.92 US / $35.99 CAN · Available June 16

A powerful new enemy has appeared in Karakura Town. Known as Bounts, these menacing creatures suck the souls from humans. Rukia, Yoruichi and Soi Fon are sent from the Soul Society to investigate, and Urahara further enlists the help of three mod souls to assist Ichigo and friends in preventing these deadly attacks.

 

 

New DEATH NOTE Releases Include:

 

DEATH NOTE RE-LIGHT Volume 1 · Rated ‘T+’ for Older Teens ·

MSRP: $24.92 US / $35.99 CAN · Available June 16

This animation goes back to where it all began and revisits this critically acclaimed psychological crime thriller from a whole new perspective – through the eyes of Ryuk, the shinigami death god and the one who started it all! Light and L have battled to the bitter end over the Death Note – but what does the story look like from Ryuk’s point of view? When rogue shinigami Ryuk deliberately drops his Death Note in the human world out of boredom, he has no idea how far the human who picks it up will take his newfound power. With the Death Note in hand, brilliant high school student Light Yagami vows to rid the world of evil, and when criminals begin dropping dead one by one, genius detective L steps in to track down this elusive killer known only as Kira. An epic battle of wits pitting one brilliant mind against another unfolds – with the future of humanity at stake! Ryuk’s not bored anymore!

 

New NARUTO Releases Include:

 

NARUTO UNCUT SPECIAL EDITION DVD BOX SET Volume 14 · Rated ‘T+’ for Older Teens · MSRP: $69.97 US / $99.99 CAN · Available May 26

The ninjas of the Hidden Leaf Village are summoned on an important mission to the Land of Stars, where a meteorite with incredible powers has been stolen. Naruto and his cohorts begin to suspect it was an inside job when they learn that the ninja that stole the star used a special ninjutsu technique known only to the Star Village. Then, Choji, Hinata and Naruto set out for the Land of Greens to protect a group of merchants, one of whom turns out to be a princess! When Hinata is threatened by an evil ninja to reveal the princess’s whereabouts or Naruto will be hurt, will she choose to save a princess or the boy she loves? The Special Edition Box Set features 14 episodes on 3 discs and also includes a collectible Neji mininja figure.

 

NARUTO UNCUT DVD Box Set Volume 14 Standard Edition· Rated ‘T+’ for Older Teens · MSRP: $49.95 US / $71.99 CAN · Available May 26

DVD-only collection featuring 14 episodes from the hit series on 3 discs; collectible figure is not included.

 

New POKÉMON Releases Include:

 

POKÉMON: DIAMOND AND PEARL BATTLE DIMENSION BOX SET 1 · Rated ‘A’ for All Ages · MSRP: $24.92 US / $35.99 CAN · Available June 23

Ash, Dawn, and Brock continue their journey through the Sinnoh region, with Ash working on his next two Gym badges and Dawn striving to break her recent string of Pokémon Contest defeats. Some new Pokémon also have joined the team – including Ash’s Chimchar, previously trained by Paul. Our heroes will also be attending Professor Rowan’s Pokémon Summer Academy and meeting a lot of new friends! But will they learn enough to deal with the devious threats posed by Pokémon Hunter J and Team Galactic? Find out in this special 2-disc box set.

 

 

 

POKÉMON: DIAMOND AND PEARL BATTLE DIMENSION Volumes 1-2 Standard Edition · Rated ‘A’ for All Ages ·

MSRP: $14.98 each US / $21.99 CAN Each · Available June 23

The episodes of Pokémon: DIAMOND & PEARL BATTLE DIMENSION split into two standard single disc editions.

 

New VIZ Pictures Releases Include:

 

HAPPILY EVER AFTER · MSRP: $24.92 US / $35.99 CAN ·

Available May 12

Happily Ever After is based on a best-selling manga series by Yoshiie Gouda and was a hit upon its theatrical release in Japan. This bittersweet romantic comedy combines visually striking cinematography with a heartwarming story about the nature of love and friendship presented by a cast of Japan’s top acting talents. Housewife Yukie Morita works hard to make ends meet while her husband Isao hangs around all day gambling away their savings and getting into trouble. Isao’s uncontrollable temper often results in the dinner table being overturned and their evening meal on the floor. Everyone advises Yukie to leave Isao, but their unconditional love keeps them together through happiness and hard times.

 

About VIZ Media, LLC

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. Contact 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

SPUNKY NINJA RIDES DIGITAL CONVERGENCE WAVE WHEN THE LATEST EPISODE OF NARUTO SHIPPUDEN STREAMS ON OFFICIAL U.S. NARUTO WEBSITE

 

narshipp00

Fans Are Invited To View The Simulcast At NARUTO.com On March 26th And Watch The Newest NARUTO Shippuden Episode For FREE!

 

San Francisco, CA, MARCH 19, 2009

– VIZ Media, LLC (VIZ Media), one of the entertainment industry’s most innovative and comprehensive publishing, animation and licensing companies, continues to generate tremendous interest in its animated NARUTO series and the property’s latest story arc – NARUTO Shippuden – with a special announcement that the newest Shippuden installment, Episode 101 (English subtitled), will stream for free in the U.S. on March 26th on the company’s official NARUTO web site,

 

 

 

 

www.naruto.com

, the same day the episode is scheduled to air in Japan. This episode of NARUTO Shippuden can be viewed in Canada on March 26th on http://www.Joost.com.

 

 

 

 

www.Naruto.com

.

 

 

About VIZ Media, LLC

 

About VIZ Media, LLC

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. Contact 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.

Rosario +Vampire, Vol. 5 – Manga Review

rosariovampire5

Review by: Clive Owen

Publisher: VIZ Media
Author: Akihisa Ikeda
Genre: Graphic Novel (Shonen Jump Advanced)
MSRP: $7.99 US
Rating: T+ (Older Teen)
Release Date: Now available

We wish we had stalkers this cute.

Anyone who has been following Rosario + Vampire closely will know that the series has taken a large leap into a slightly darker territory without skimping on the fan service or monsters getting a thrashing by one of the cutest vampire vixens in manga today. It seems that lately, those monsters that got trashed are now making a return and thus adding on to a line of monsters that want nothing more than to dish out some payback. Rosario + Vampire, Volume 5, feels like familiar territory yet still headed in a most appealing direction.

Unlike past volumes in the series, Volume 5 picks up directly after the events of Volume 4 when Tsukune and his friends finally face off against the “Witch of the Knoll” that their new friend, a young witch named Ruby, has followed since she was a child. The Lady finds it disheartening that her young protégé has turned against her to side with the humans. Her plans to kill all the humans goes well beyond the need to protect the knoll as we found out in the previous volume but in this one we get a better understanding of the relationship between Ruby and the witch that took her under her wing.

Displaying her true power, the Lady manages to scare the humans in the city not far from the knoll with her impressive show of power. It’s clear that only Moka in her vampire form can defeat the witch and as the battle gets ugly it is Moka that finds a way to stop her. In the end the battle not only turns out to be one of the bloodiest fights but the outcome is actually tragic. As I mentioned earlier, Rosario + Vampire is definitely a tad more darker than usual and this volume certainly proves it. I won’t go into details of what happened but the story arc does have a positive outcome.

Moving on, though, it’s a new semester in Yokai Academy and even with all that has happened to him, it is starting to seem that Tsukune has grown accustomed to being in a school filled with monsters. For one thing, he’s a big part of the Newspaper Club that turns out some popular editions. As they pass out their latest edition, a cute girl walks up to Tsukune to check him out. Later, in class, Ms. Nekonome announces that it’s time to elect a new Class President. The same girl that came up to Tsukune raises her hand and nominates Tsukune as his classmates cheer on the very reluctant Tsukune. A position like that will get him noticed and that is something Tsukune doesn’t want.

Unfortunately, Moka doesn’t see it that way and it makes Tsukune upset enough that he decides to take a walk with the new girl who introduces herself as Mizore Shirayuki … Tsukune’s biggest fan. Hanging on to his arm, she shows him a scrapbook of all his articles with her own commentary that makes it obvious that she in crazy in love with him. She is so sure that he’s her soul mate that Mizore plans to eliminate the only obstacle in her path … Moka. As it turns out, Mizore just so happens to be an Abominable Snowgirl but what she doesn’t count on is Moka’s true vampire nature.

In the following chapter of the volume, we learn a little more about Mizore. Having been defeated by Moka, Mizore is discovered crying by a group of boys. The following morning, the same boys are discovered by the gym teacher encased in ice and in critical condition. All fingers point at Mizore being the culprit and Tuskune and Moka find out that Mizore has had a history of not only stalking objects of her affection but encasing them in ice when they wouldn’t reciprocate.

Not wanting to see her get expelled, Tsukune and Moka attempt to try to talk to her when Tsukune finds himself confronting her on his own. I’d be ruining the surprise that unravels during this confrontation but I’ll say that not everything is what it seems.

In the final chapter, it’s great to see that Mizore isn’t quickly brushed aside but rather remains a constant presence as Tsukune’s stalker. Saizo Komiya, the werewolf that showed up in Volume 1, makes a return and is still holding a grudge against Tsukune and Moka. He not only plans to kill Tsukune but this time he plans to do it with the aid of a gang of monstrels (half-breed monsters). In a bloody battle in the school grounds, Tsukune – suffering from his last vampire transformation earlier – unleashes the power of the vampire again. Moka senses that this time the transformation feels differently. What exactly is happening to Tsukune?

Oh, things are definitely going to get even more interesting in the next volumes of the series if things remain to go on this course. Rosario + Vampire, Volume 5, reaches a somewhat familiar feel to the early volumes yet it’s still surprisingly dark despite the fun moments and fan service. This is definitely turning out to be one of those Must-Read manga series.

 

MANGA REVIEW BREAKDOWN

STORY: B+
With the intense battle in the witch’s knoll coming to a surprisingly tragic conclusion, the new semester brings new problems for Tsukune. Aside from having to deal with a cute stalker who adores his journalism, Tsukune encounters familiar foes as well as new ones that want him dead.

ART: B+
Ikeda’s art is really starting to shine in these recent volumes of the series and you’ll find more blood mixed in with a healthy dose of fan service. All the girls in the office think that Tsukune makes one seriously sexy vampire. The two boys in this office wish our stalkers looked like Mizore.

OVERALL: B+
It looks like Tsukune’s harem is growing in this volume and that’s not a bad thing but the real highlight of Volume 5 of Rosario + Vampire is the continued presence of danger that is pushing the story forward to a surprisingly riveting new heights. This is definitely the type of manga that just keeps getting better with each volume.

Shin Chan, Season 2 Part 1 – DVD Review

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Review by: Faith McAdams
Publisher: FUNimation Entertainment
MSRP: DVD: $39.98
Running Time: 300 minutes
Genre: Comedy
Rating: TV MA
Release Date: Available Now

animanganation-ec-award1

Party, Party, Join us, Join us!

When it comes to animated comedies, I have a continued disagreement with my closest friends that throw around the names of shows like Family Guy, American Dad, South Park or – a true classic – The Simpsons. Yet the minute I mention Shin Chan, we’re all in agreement that it is, without a doubt, a truly unique and outright hilarious show that happily crosses the line other comedies fear to cross. Yeah, I said it once and I’ll say it again … Shin Chan makes the overly hyped Family Guy feel like a lame joke you laugh at only once.

Shin Chan, Season 2 Part 1, starts off its 13 episode collection with a nod to Star War’s original trilogy along with opening scrolling letters that let viewers know that Star Wars was met with some slight confusion in Japan so this episode – the warning goes – will seem way out there. The episode manages to cram bits and pieces of all three films with Shin as the Luke Skywalker role and his mother, Mitzi, in the Princess Leia role with a surprising twist at the end. With jokes about clones and the cantina turned into a gay bar, this episode is definitely a highlight.

Like previous episodes, each of the episodes has bite-sized stories that don’t often revolve around Shin and sometimes some of them don’t even have a point. For example, one story finds a drunken Hiro coming home to make a number of awful dishes using potato chips, soy sauce and rice pudding or the one where he saves an attractive woman from a pervert on a train. In other episodes, Shin and his school friends come to strange conclusions and thus spread false rumors about their teacher such as the time they think she’s pregnant and another where they spread the word that she has AIDS. Our favorite nerd next door even makes a return in this season’s Part 1 as he attempts to pass an entrance exam.

In another story, Shin is, once again, forced to play an embarrassing game his classmate Penny blackmails him to play. Penny is also the star of another story (one of my favorites) where she falls for Ai’s adult bodyguard (known only as Mr. K) and makes Shin deliver love notes and flowers to him. To make matters worst, Mr. K thinks the letters and flowers come from Shin instead. In another, she practices her skills for applying makeup on the boys (who then poke fun at the “Sex in the City” girls).

This season’s set also makes includes a series-within-a-series five-part look at a typical Action Bastard episode. I can definitely see why this is Shin’s favorite show seeing as it is a fun but also a funny take on old Japanese superhero shows including a hero with a cheesy alter ego, an ageless Japanese schoolgirl and zany villains that include a Hitler clone. In another episode, Shin and his mother change bodies when they collide. At last, Shin gets to see how difficult it is to be in his mother’s shoes, especially when he’s forced to breastfeed his own baby sister.

Half the fun of the series is that the jokes move from underlying sexual to blatantly sexual within seconds. Shin Chan doesn’t dance around the potty humor but rather it flat out pushes it in your face and damn if it isn’t funny as hell. Shin makes it clear that all he thinks about is boobs – especially those belonging to any hotties like his major crush – and his bulbous rear end that he proudly displays. He’s the type of kid that savors the fact that he has to go to the toilet very often. Shin is the kid a teacher has to sedate in order to keep him from being unruly and who marries his dog, Whitey, to a female pooch that wanders into his yard. In a look into his future as a High school student, we can see that he’s way too stubborn to change as well.

I have to say that broadcast version of Shin Chan over the Adult Swim lineup in the Cartoon Network channel is good but the jokes and language on these DVDs lets loose so even if you seen the episode before you’ll find some new lines. This is definitely the way to see Shin Chan and while we wish there were more extras here, the two-disc set is presented nicely enough.

Season 2 Part 1 of Shin Chan deserves a place among your collection if you’re looking for a great animated comedy series that is not afraid of going too far. With some truly witty and off-color jokes that poke fun of Japanese and American culture, Shin Chan is a laugh-out-loud funny show that raises the bar for animated comedy shows. If you haven’t tuned in to the show on cable, the series is best enjoyed on DVD so do pick this one up.

 

DVD REVIEW BREAKDOWN

MOVIE/EPISODES: A+
Whether it’s lampooning the original Star Wars trilogy or giving us a peek into what life would be like for Shin in High school, Season 2’s first part delivers more hysterically funny and memorable moments that are even funnier than the broadcast presentation.

VIDEO QUALITY: B-
The animation is as crude as some of the jokes but they work nicely for this series and gives it its own sense of identity.

AUDIO QUALITY: A+
The cast of Shin Chan really does a magnificent job bringing all these characters to life as well as keep the jokes rolling with perfect timing. Once again, Laura Bailey really shines and the closing theme song is the type of song that gets stuck in your head … like forever.

EXTRAS: C
There’s only one audio commentary track in this Season 2 set and you’ll find a few trailers included as well. Still, the best extras come in the form of the absolutely funny “From the Bowels of the Booth” feature with outtakes and bloopers. Karaoke fans will enjoy the closing song sing-along and karaoke version as well.

OVERALL: A+
Season 2 of Shin Chan keeps up with the momentum that began with the first season sets and that’s saying a lot right there but, for my money, Shin Chan still outshines a lot of animated comedies on network television. If it’s hysterically over-the-top lewd and witty humor you’re looking for then I know a little boy who isn’t afraid of shaking things up. Trust me, you will definitely want to pick this one up right away.

STRAIN, The Complete Series – DVD Review

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Review by: Sophie Stevens
Publisher: FUNimation Entertainment
MSRP: $59.98
Running Time: 312 minutes
Genre: Sci-fi / Action
Rating: TV MA
Release Date: Available Now

Oh brother, where art thou?

Leave it to war to tear loving young sisters away from their beloved big brothers and even more so when the young sister in question is alone in the world. However, young sisters like Sara Werec aren’t content with simply waiting for big brother Ralph to come home but rather she enrolls in a military academy to one day join her brother in the frontlines. STR.A.IN.: The Complete Series is an action sci-fi anime that might be far from perfect but it does tell an engaging yet tragic story with a lot to like.

You see, Sara adores her older brother, Ralph Werec, who has joined the military to become a pilot the sleek and sexy mech-like Strain. Of course, not just anyone can pilot a Strain (or STR.A.IN. which stands for Strategic Armored Infantry), you have to become a Reasoner, which is to say that is you wish to be a pilot you must first pair up with an artificial interface known as a Mimic. Pilots that lose their Mimics in battle can no longer pilot a Strain so you need to go to a training school to learn these things. This is exactly what Sara does in order to one day be by her brother’s side again.

Happily giving it her all in the Basion training center and enjoying the company of her close friends, Sara finds life as a cadet rather enjoyable. To top it all off, her brother is well praised in the training facility to the point that Ralph Werec has become the example all cadets must be like if they wish to become great Reasoners … especially in a time of war. You see, there’s a territorial war going down in the Clanial Region of the solar system between the Union (the friendly human side) and the Deague (the more sinister side). While the war has been waged in the frontlines of space, the Deague suddenly find it more suitable to attack cities and it does so with the training facility as a primary target.

During the attack, Sara and her friends hop into their Strains to defend the academy and its students but a lone Strain find itself destroying everything in its path including Sara’s friends. When the enemy Strain attacks Sara, she has no choice but to abandon ship and lose her Mimic. Running to kill the man responsible for killing her friends, she sees the lone pilot in the academy’s hanger taking what looks like a little girl for a chamber. To Sara’s horror, the lone pilot is none other than her own brother, Ralph! How can this be? Why has the hero of the academy become the one that is helping destroy it?

So begins Sara’s quest to find out why her brother had turned his back on the Union to fight for the enemy. She hopes aboard another training academy that just so happens to be onboard a ship that will get her closer to the frontlines. She even changes her name to Sara Cruz to train to use a Gambee, a tactical armor that isn’t as cool as a Strain but then again Sara did lose her Mimic in her confrontation with her brother. As the new girl onboard, however, Sara makes it clear that she doesn’t want anything to do with her fellow cadets. She becomes withdrawn, anti-social and thus even becomes the target of bullying from the other girls aboard the ship such as this one girl, Isabella.

She does meet one girl who doesn’t talk down to her, though, and that is Lotti Gelh from the Spatial Armor Division. Lotti makes an effort to befriend Sara mainly because she sees something Sara that reminds her a lot of herself. Sara does spend her days and nights training in hopes that she could become just as skilled as her brother. When the Deague send TUMORS (mechanized attack robots that attach themselves to hard surfaces and explodes without a moments notice), Sara shows that she’s more than capable of handling herself in an actual battle instead of a practice simulation. Even more interesting, Sara discovers a discarded doll that somehow calls to her and seems familiar in a way. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that the doll she names Emily also happens to be the name of the little girl Ralph Werec took from the old Union academy.

Strangely enough, the doll acts as a Mimic that allows her to use an experimental Strain created by the two young Academy geniuses Melchi and Carmichael. She joins the Spatial Armor Division as a part of their team but still doesn’t become a team player even though her new teammates try to get close to her and even defend her. During an encounter with her brother, Lottie discovers Sara’s real name. Even though she is treated as a possible traitor, Sara’s teammates and the Academy heads consider her the only person talented enough to take down Ralph. In the end, Sara and Ralph clash in a brutal yet heartbreaking battle that’s actually quite epic.

If anything, STRAIN is filled with plenty of surprises, mainly the fact that certain characters you come to know as key players actually die. Yes, the drama is so thick you can cut it with a knife (such as the moment Sara discovers Ralph’s reasons for betraying the Union) but – thankfully – it also knows how to be fun (such as the female cadet that has a monster crush on Sara and is willing to do anything to win her over). The series also handles the action well enough, adding a healthy dose of CG to go along with the animation.

STRAIN, The Complete Series does a great job of telling a deeply moving story with a decent sci-fi action twist but it just doesn’t make quite the impact is should have made considering the solid storytelling. In fact, there are times when STRAIN feels a tad on the generic side. Looking past these things, though, you will find that this series is still good enough to offer sci-fi fans a great reason to check this one out.

 

DVD REVIEW BREAKDOWN

MOVIE/EPISODES: B-
Sara Werec loves her brother and wishes to be like him so she pushes herself to join the Strategic Armored Infantry unit only to find that her brother has crossed over to the side of the enemy. As she attempts to unravel the mystery behind her brother’s traitorous turn, she becomes an important member of her squad and the only one that could bring her brother down.

VIDEO QUALITY: A
All 13 episodes look sharp and crisp on DVD but I bet this one would have looked amazing on Blu-ray. The animation is solid with characters that aren’t too original but you just have to love the CG Strains and visual effects that make battles look awesome.

AUDIO QUALITY: A
The English dub has a number of talented voice actors onboard including Cherami Leigh and they do a great job that is certainly just as good as the Japanese voice talent. The original score by Ryo Sakai is excellent throughout the series and the opening and closing songs are simply just decent.

EXTRAS: C-
There’s a single audio commentary track for an episode in the first disc and the second disc contains two different art galleries (one for the ship art and the other contains character art). The rest is simply the usual extras such as textless songs and a few trailers.

OVERALL: B-
STRAIN is a deep and involving story that plays up the action nicely enough but also says a lot about war and the lives it affects on both sides of a conflict. Sure, it’s not as brilliant as other anime series much like this one but this one’s strength lies in its ability to tell really good story sci-fi fans will truly welcome.