Naruto, Vol. 40 – Manga Review

Naruto 40 Cover

Review by: Edward Zacharias

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

The power of Uchiha revealed!

I think I have to retract what I said about Sasuke Uchiha in past reviews when Animanga Nation was a print publication. I had called the guy a whiny, unlikable emo kid whose one-track mind frustrated even the likes of Naruto but things have definitely changed in this second chapter. Sasuke has become something else despite the fact that his goals haven’t changed. In Volume 40, Sasuke has officially become one of my favorite new characters in this series.

Sasuke and his newly formed cell had decided to track down Itachi Uchiha by locating members of the Akatsuki and it was two members of this group that found Sasuke instead. Facing off against Deidara and Tobi on his own, Sasuke put up an impressive fight until Deidara decided to unleash his most extraordinary C4 explosive ever … a giant balloon-sized version of himself. The problem isn’t in the bursting of said balloon but the millions of fragments that scatter. You see, upon impact the fragments shred the insides of anything it touches and it touches Sasuke who is eaten alive … or so it seems.

The truth is that Sasuke has not only obtained true power but he has also become smarter in ways that Deidara could not have anticipated. Sasuke’s counterattack is swift and it gives the Akatsuki no choice but to truly unleash his ultimate weapon as a last resort and that weapon is himself. I won’t go into detail what happens but this is definitely Deidara last stand. The impact of these final moments is so massive that it leaves a giant crater in its wake. It startles Naruto and the others who had split up in search of either Sasuke or Itachi Uchiha. On top of that, Sasuke’s presence suddenly disappears.

The Akatsuki also sense the passing of their comrades Deidara and Tobi and news of Sasuke’s death reaches Itachi as well. For a split second, it seems that Itachi was affected by hearing that Sasuke died in the battle but reveals to his close companion that his little brother is alive and kicking … a fact that is proven when Sasuke’s companions locate the injured Sasuke. It seems that Sasuke has pulled out his trump card in the battle as well in his use of one of Orochimaru’s biggest allies. Meanwhile, Kakashi-sensei also believes Sasuke is alive and the team continues the search.

With the help of Kiba, whose tracking abilities and keen nose have improved over the years, comes close to finding Sasuke but it is Sasuke’s companion Karin who throws the team off as Sasuke presses on to locate his brother who is nearby. Interestingly enough, it is Naruto who finds Itachi and – even though the older Uchiha had no plans to attack Naruto but rather speak to him – Naruto’s impulsive nature only makes the brother leave to finally face his younger brother. That’s right, Sasuke has finally caught up with Itachi and the family reunion isn’t pretty. Then again, this moment that we have been waiting for is but just the beginning.

Back in Konoha, Lord Jiraiya makes a startling report to the Lady Hokage who the Pervy Sage convinces to leave her office for some drinks. We knew of their long history together but we come to learn even more about them in the final chapters of the Volume. It is clear to Jiraiya that he must infiltrate the enemy village for more Intel and it is even more clear that Lady Tsunade is worried about Jiraiya. Their conversation even reveals something about Naruto that hardly has come up often in the early half of the series.

In the final chapter, Jiraiya does infiltrate the enemy’s home base and finds out a few shocking details about the Akatsuki leader named Pain. Unfortunately, the enemy also catches wind of Jiraiya’s presence and mobilize to find him as the Pervy Sage tries to get information from a few flunkies. Oh, but there’s more when the real leader of the group reveals himself. It’s definitely an unexpected surprise.

Volume 40 of Naruto is as intense as it is action-packed as Sasuke comes so much closer to realizing his dream of slaying his brother Itachi. The moment he – and we – have been waiting for since Volume 1 is finally here. On top of that, we learn more about Naruto via his mentor Jiraiya who sets off on a dangerous mission that worries even the Hokage. This series just keeps getting better to the point that we can’t help but love it just a little more with each volume.

 

MANGA REVIEW BREAKDOWN

STORY: A+
Sasuke’s battle with Deidara becomes even more intense when the Akatsuki pulls off one of his biggest and most lethal attacks that leads everyone around them to believe that Sasuke is dead. With a deadly member of the Akatsuki gone, the group finds Sasuke alive and Naruto finds Itachi only for the older Uchiha to finally go up against his younger sibling. Meanwhile, Jiraiya enters the lion’s den solo as the village becomes aware of his presence.

ART: A
Sasuke’s battle with Deidara is, by far, one of the most impressive visual moments in this entire series and one of the most exciting moments that makes each panel worth savoring.

OVERALL: A+
Naruto, Volume 40, is nothing short of impressive as Sasuke Uchiha proves himself worthy of battling against his older brother. With all that has happened in the last three volumes, this one has finally reached a critical point where nothing will ever be the same again and where things are seriously going to get even more exciting in the next few volumes.

Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo, The Complete Series – DVD Review

CountMonteCristo

Review by: Edward Zacharias
Publisher: FUNimation Entertainment
MSRP: $69.98 US
Running Time: 600 minutes
Genre: Sci-fi
Rating: TV MA
Release Date: Available Now

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Revenge has another name and it is Gankutsuou.

As an admirer of fine classical literature as well as all art, Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo – The Complete Series is an anime that has caught my full attention seeing as it is an imaginative retelling of Alexandre Dumas’ story of a man who lost everything and risks it all to get his revenge. What I wasn’t expecting, however, is that this sci-fi quasi-supernatural version of The Count of Monte Cristo is so good you will not help but fall for this 24-episode series.

The story doesn’t begin from the start but, rather, introduces us to Albert de Morcerf who, along with his best friend named Franz d’Epinay, have come to another planet during its annual carnival. Albert is a young aristocrat whose father who not only runs the military forces in all of France but is also one of many nobles in Paris. It is one evening at the opera that Albert spots a mysterious and alluring fellow with blue skin and striking features who loses his watch. Determined to give the pocket watch back to the mystery noble in black, Albert comes to meet this man who introduces himself as the Count of Monte Cristo.

And so begins the captivating friendship between Albert and the Count who comes to treat the young man with kindness and courtesy. Despite his friend’s warning to keep away from the Count (I mean, who trusts a man in a cape, right?), Albert continues to want to hang out with a man who shows them he is indeed powerful enough to stop an execution. When Albert is kidnapped by a band of criminals looking for a ransom, Franz turns to the Count who rescues the young man. Grateful that the Count had saved him, Albert quickly agrees to be the Count’s introduction to Parisian life. He even introduces him to his parents, Mercedes and Fernand de Morcerf.

Oh, but it becomes painfully clear that the Count has a strange connection with both of Albert’s parents which he does not reveal … at least, not right away. The Count wishes to do business not only with Fernand but also his friends such as the Chief Prosecutor and the banking genius, Baron Danglars. The Count even lends the three men his full support. His insistence in moving into the lives of these men upsets the Count’s young and beautiful friend named Haidee. The Count is up to something and the only one who doesn’t realize it is Albert who blindly seeks the Count’s guidance and friendship.

Speaking of friends, the series dives into Albert’s life, loves and friends in Paris. We meet his friends, like Maximilien who is deeply in love with Franz’ arranged fiancée. We also meet Albert’s journalist friend, a snotty aristocrat who spends his nights “entertaining” the wives of the noble families and a friend who loves racing cars. Then there’s Eugenie, the only daughter of Baron Danglars who is arranged to marry Albert. While Albert’s feeling for Eugenie are mixed up (she also happens to be a childhood friend to him and Franz), it isn’t until later that he realizes something about his relationship with her.

Meanwhile, the Count springs his traps on all three men, slyly slipping into their lives by way of seduction. He, for example, turns his attention to the love-starved wife of the Chief Prosecutor and teaches her about the many poisons her garden’s plants produce. He then fills the pockets of Baron Danglars with stocks and trades that makes the man filthy rich … you just know that sometime down the line the Count will pull the carpet right from under him. He even makes it clear that he will support Fernand de Morcerf during his presidential campaign. Slowly he builds each man up only to begin his plan to tear away at them. Revenge, to the Count, is a dish best served with side of complete despair.

Oh, but Franz begins to suspect that the Count is looking for payback. On top of that, he also come to believe that the man might not be human at all either … which is not such a farfetched idea seeing the man has fangs and Franz saw the man’s forehead glow. Why did the Count’s men call him Gankutsuou? Investigating with his journalist friend, they come to discover that the Count might just be connected with a man named Edmond Dantes who was thought dead after having been imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. When an invitation to a funeral for a man named Dantes shows up, all three men realize that maybe the man hadn’t died in space.

As Albert and most of his friend’s lives fall apart as the Count of Monte Cristo exacts his revenge on each of the three people that wrong Edmond Dantes, we learn the truth about Dantes. Blood is shed as the Count executes the final phase of his plan but it is Albert who hasn’t given up on the man as the series reaches its shocking finale as we find out who or what is Gankutsuou. There are a lot of twists and turns along the way but the story never really loses its sense of mystery even if you already know the classic material well. What makes Gankutsuou so darn addictive to watch is how director Mahiro Maeda set up the story and the unusual art design makes this a visual treat as well.

Simply an irresistible gem that’s as charming as the Count himself, The Complete Series of Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo is like a rare piece of art that must be shared with others that appreciate good art. It’s story is as heartbreaking as Dumas has intended and there’s an even deeper emotional layer that makes this retelling a sincerely human and touching story that’s bigger than life itself. I seriously can’t recommend this enough to anyone who ever wanted a new take on an excellent classic.

 

DVD REVIEW BREAKDOWN

MOVIE/EPISODES: A+
While keeping all the elements straight out of Alexandre Dumas’ story, the series follows Albert as he slowly uncovers the secrets of the mysterious yet charming Count of Monte Cristo. As the Count’s plot for revenge is being played out against those who wronged him in the past, Albert must not only deal with the things going around him and his friends whose lives will intersect with the Count’s quest for revenge.

VIDEO QUALITY: A+
With a stylishly unique art style that suits this series, The Count of Monte Cristo is visually pleasing from start to finish. The visual effects alone and the sci-fi imagery mixed in with the interesting take on Dumas’ vision of France will keep your eyes glued to your screen.

AUDIO QUALITY: A
The voice acting cast for both the original Japanese and the English dub work wonderfully no matter what option you pick to watch this series. It’s rare to find stellar performances for both, although I did enjoy the English dub better. There’s a great soundtrack by Jean-Jacques Burnel that includes a great opening and closing theme songs and the amazing score.

EXTRAS: D
There are no production art extras (which would have been great) and no audio commentary track to be found. Just about the only thing you’ll find on here a few trailers in the fourth and final disc and that’s about it.

OVERALL: A+
For those with an enthusiastic appreciation of the classics or fine art, Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo – The Complete Series is a series that is required viewing. It’s a beautiful tale that’s just as complex, emotional and epic as the original story but at the same time it doesn’t fail to fascinate on another level that reminds us that anime is capable of taking us by surprise in the best possible way.

Strawberry 100%, Vol. 9 – Manga Review

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Review by: Ai Kano

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

When once we were lovers would love strike again?

Most hot-blooded boys Junpei’s age would consider themselves lucky to be surrounded by not just one attractive girl but four of them who think highly of him. In the case of Junpei Manaka, however, despite how desirable these four girls are they are more than a handful for an inexperienced and confused boy who makes Strawberry 100% such a joy to read. Even in it’s ninth volume, the story still remains fresh enough to keep us wanting more.

In the final chapter of Volume 8, Junpei went to plea with Yui Minamito’s strict father to have Yui stay with him in order to continue going to Omi High back where he lives. Unfortunately, her father was outraged when he found out the Yui was sleeping in his room (since he knows full well that Yui has a habit of undressing in her sleep) and won’t allow it so Yui storms out with Junpei following her.

Well, in the opening chapter of Volume 10, Yui and Junpei – having boarded a train – decide to stay in a hotel in another town so they would try to convince her father again. After spending an awkward evening with the girl who is clearly no longer a child, Junpei finds out that Yui considers him more than just a good friend. She trusts him and, in the end, both Yui’s parents could see that Junpei is a noble kid who is willing to go at great lengths to help a friend. Of course, what happens to Junpei during their conversation that same night helped as well.

Back home and glad the Yui was able to come back to the city, Junpei finds himself playing along with his boss’ plan to see Tsukasa in a bathing suit. He invited the two of them to go swimming at his son’s place only Junpei feels a bit conflicted about the whole thing. On the one hand, he’d love to see Tsukasa in a bikini but on the other hand the boy can’t swim! In a fun twist, Tsukasa does find out and teaches Junpei the basics. Things are certainly looking good for those two … or so it seems just for a little while.

After a few thugs bump into Junpei while heading home to do homework he neglected while having fun all summer, Junpei meets a tall and strapping young handsome man who helps Junpei pick up change he dropped. He’s an impressive young man who Junpei thinks smells like sweets. It isn’t until Tsukasa invites Junpei to her house to sample a cake recipe that he realizes that the baker’s grandson where she works (and talks about often) is actually the tall guy that helped him pick up his change as has come over her house. He imagines that a man like Higure could easily sweep any girl off her feet and has probably won Tsukasa over. Sneaking a peek, Junpei sees what he thinks is a romantic embrace and in a rare fit of jealousy the boy goes running out of Tsukasa’s house only to be cheered up by Aya.

In fact, Aya manages to lift his spirits again when – after hearing Satsuki flirt shamelessly with Junpei – imitates Satsuki’s outrageous line just when Junpei entered the room. Embarrassment aside, they suddenly realize that the school festival is coming up soon and that they’ll have to hurry up and come up with a way to promote their movie. With Hiroshi still editing the movie, there’s really very little time left.

Eventually, Tsukasa does offer an explanation of what happened during the evening that Junpei caught her embracing the handsome young pastry chef and, without spoiling what is said, it gives Junpei an uneasy feeling that they might finally be growing apart. Yet a big part of Junpei doesn’t want to give up on Tsukasa and asks her to keep September 16, Tsukasa’s birthday, open for him. She accepts his invitation for a date but more offers keep coming in with Satsuki offering to take him to a concert on the day before Tsukasa’s birthday and Aya inviting him to a barbeque at her place to read her manuscript on the same day.

It is Hiroshi that comes up with a plan that would have each girl in the same place at once so the three dates wouldn’t be a disaster for Junpei. Under the guise of filming promotional footage for their movie, the three girls dress up in sexy outfits only to find the little studio going up in flames. Junpei stays with Tsukasa as the others escape and he spends the whole late night with her after the eventful evening. In fact, they even visit their old school and relive a good memory.

In the end, the Tsukasa-Junpei relationship is beginning to become more complex as old feeling and new ones mix together to make for one interesting volume. A lot happens in Volume 9 in a volume that’s ripe with the familiar humor we have come to love from this series as well as something meaningful and real when it comes to a relationship that definitely has us interested.

 

MANGA REVIEW BREAKDOWN

STORY: A
With the situation with Yui finally resolved, Junpei finds himself concentrating on his renewed feeling for Tsukasa that has been developing since the last two volumes. Not only does he spend a day learning to swim with her but he is invited to her place to try a cake only to find himself worried that Tsukasa might love another guy. Then he makes the mistake of setting up a date with Aya, Tsukasa and Satsuki all on the same day.

ART: A+
Once again, the abundance of fan service might seem like the main attraction but it just doesn’t hide the fact that the overall art is simply stunning. The art is good enough to make the comical and emotional moments really stand out.

OVERALL: A
While falling back on its more comical and gimmicky storytelling, there’s also a deeper and emotional tone that makes this a truly endearing volume in a series that is more than just the flashing of panties. Ok, there’s a lot of flashing of panties but it doesn’t really hide the fact that Junpei’s story is a deep and involving one about youth and love.

Naruto, Uncut Box Set 15 – DVD Review

NarutoUncut15

Review by: Brenda Gregson

Publisher: VIZ Media
MSRP: $49.98 US
Running Time: 350 minutes
Genre: Action
Rating: T+ (Older Teen)
Release Date: Available Now

Everyone gets a little lost on the way to becoming Hokage.

Naruto filler episodes are like the prizes in a Cracker Jack box … you either get a really good prize or you get one that hardly felt worthy of being put into the box in the first place. In the last two box sets, we were able to find a few things to like about a particular story arc but, overall, these episodes just aren’t as compelling as, say, Bleach filler episodes. Naruto, Uncut Box Set 15, isn’t the strongest season but there are a few moments worth savoring for die-hard fans of the series.

The box set begins with Episode 192 where the lovely Ino is asked to take on a mission for a Princess that asked for her in particular. You see, Ino bears a striking resemblance to the Princess and a double is required for a mission that requires Ino to take the place of the Princess for a meeting. As it turns out, the Princess does look like Ino … if Ino gained a few pounds and the meeting is one of courtship with what she describes as a dashing young Prince. Unfortunately for Ino, Naruto comes along to help but the Prince – who isn’t so slender either and has an Elvis obsession – doesn’t make things easier for the picky Ino.

In another episode, Rock Lee has started his own dojo in order to fight against new challengers who will give him a chance to test his fighting skills. Lee is still recovering from the surgery that had officially taken him off his team’s roster but it is clear that Bushy Brow has been keeping himself busy by training. While Naruto steps into the dojo out of curiosity, he doesn’t intend on fighting Lee so when he mentions the dojo to Guy-sensei the man jumps at the chance to give Lee what he wants. Putting on a cheap disguise, Guy intends on challenging Lee but when he is called away on a quick mission by the Hokage a mysterious stranger who is an expert in disguises shows up looking like the disguised version of Guy and ends up facing Lee.

I should note that this is by far one of the funniest episodes in the set. In fact, an episode connected to this one is another highlight and mainly it’s because of the intentionally cheesy and thoroughly hilarious Guy-sensei. Guy becomes the target of an assailant who comes to the Hidden Leaf Village posing as a student willing to learn from Guy. It also offers us an even deeper look into Guy and Rock Lee’s relationship that comes as close to a father-son relationship that becomes even more meaningful in this two-episode story arc when the assailant tricks the two into fighting each another.

Once again, Naruto is teamed up with Hinata and Kiba (with the always adorable Akamaru) to look into the disappearance of a few nobles near a road said to be haunted by a ghost. The team discovers a palace that isn’t on the map and soon finds out that something is not quite right about the creepy place. Looking into the history of the palace, Hinata discovers a number of startling things about the owner and the reason why the place is attempting to swallow them whole.

Then there’s the story arc that takes five episodes to cover and is actually quite interesting as the Hidden Leaf Village finds itself in danger when a mystery man runs off with the valuable blueprints of the village only to be cornered by Black Ops and then commits suicide by way of paper bombs. The Lady Hokage’s intelligence reports that the culprit might have been an old man who settled into the village as a construction worker sent to aid Konoha in the reconstruction and who has befriended Naruto. Naruto himself doesn’t believe the old man capable of such a thing but the Hokage has Shikamaru look into the matter anyway.

As it turns out, though, the Black Ops manages to gain some insight via Naruto’s memories when they take him in for questioning. On top of that, Shikamaru discovers that the old man might have been a covert operative from some other village sent to learn the Leaf Village’s weak spots. Instead, imagine their surprise when the stolen blueprints rain down on them from above. There’s another twist to the story when Neji and Hinata see that the entire village is wired to explode. The best scene in this story arc has Naruto running to fetch Hinata only to call at her in the most awkward manner.

“Hinata! You’re the one I want!” Naruto shouts and makes Hinata blush with thought that Naruto had finally found out she has a crush on him.

I won’t spoil the ending of that story arc and instead dive right into the other story arc that involves Kurenai-sensei and a girl that Naruto meets while training alone. We meet Yakumo, a girl Naruto finds painting the village until she begins to paint dark clouds an lightning striking the Hokage’s office. When the clouds do go dark and lightning does strike the Hokage’s office, Naruto suspects it is because the girl painted it. When Kurenai-sensei finds out about it, she calmly goes to the Hokage and resigns … an act that upsets and worries the members of Squad 8. Wanting to help, Naruto attempts to discover why Kurenai would abandon Shino, Hinata and Kiba only to find out that it might have something to do with Yakumo and something that occurred in the past with the Third Hokage.

As I said earlier, the episodes aren’t great but there’s a few moments that do make it worth watching if you’re a Naruto fan. There are episodes that really don’t add much such as the Ino episode and the Top 5 Ninja Battles! is only worth it for the surprise at the end. Sure, Naruto’s two battles with Sasuke do deserve to be on the list and the other three battles are memorable but they’re hardly the best ninja battles in the series.

Naruto, Uncut Box Set 15, isn’t a bad investment if you’re a loyal Naruto viewer but if you’re expecting quality episodes you are in for a disappointment. At the same time, there are some irresistible moments worth viewing in the set that will make this worth it for the more dedicated Naruto fan rather than the casual viewer. The Uncut Box Set 16 of Naruto will certainly be the one fans will be waiting for so we will definitely wait for that one instead.

 

DVD REVIEW BREAKDOWN

MOVIE/EPISODES: C-
Naruto aids Ino on a mission to help a Princess win over a Prince she has never seen and in another story arc Rock Lee and Guy-sensei’s bond is unbreakable. There’s even a haunting story that has Naruto, Hinata and Kiba working together. The better story arcs in this season has the Leaf Village in terrible danger from a bomber and in another one story Kurenai-sensei calls it quits.

VIDEO QUALITY: A
The episodes look great on DVD and in its uncut format this is certainly the way to watch the Naruto series. Once again, VIZ Media manages to do justice to the original presentation.

AUDIO QUALITY: A
As far as Naruto is concerned, I love the Japanese voices but the English dub still does a good job of keeping up with the tone of the original Japanese. The music still works quite wonderfully throughout the series as it always has and the two opening theme songs, “Re:member” and “Yura Yura” are just awesome.

EXTRAS: B-
Future animators will get a kick out of the From Sketch to Screen: Storyboard Comparison for Episode 193 and there’s also the return of Production Art. There’s a preview for Volume 16 as well as a number of trailers for other VIZ Media DVDs as well as manga covers.

OVERALL: C-
The Uncut Box Set 15 isn’t entirely bad as far as filler episodes go but there’s very little here that makes the grade or will remain as memorable as a few filler episodes from past seasons. That said, Naruto fans will want to check it out either way for the few good moments this season does manage to squeeze into the box set.

Rosario + Vampire, Vol. 7 – Manga Review

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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: Available Now

Here comes a dramatic turn of events in Yokai Academy.

While a lot of good things happened to Tsukune Aono since he become a member of the student body at Yokai Academy (such as being the object of affection of four cute girls), a lot more bad things have happened over the course of his stay in a school filled with monsters. While the first few volumes of Rosario + Vampire have been light on violence and heavy on fan service, the past few volumes have been heading in a startlingly bloody and exhilarating new direction.

In Volume 7, Tsukune is recovering from his last encounter that had cost him his life and, on top of that, was nearly pummeled to death by Moka’s “other half” if it wasn’t for the witch named Ruby and her mysterious exorcist companion. Unexpectedly enough, so soon after coming out of that mess, Moka is attacked by a Monstrel posing as a nurse with the ability to control her victims by injecting them with a syringe made out of her own fingers. Before Moka could do any damage, she is stopped by Kurumu who has finally had enough of Moka being the reason Tsukune keeps getting hurt. In fact, she is starting to reveal that there is more to her feeling for Tsukune than just playful rivalry with Moka.

Like they have done with other monstrous opponents, Tsukune and Moka put a stop to the Monstrel nurse who has caused a lot of damage to the infirmary and has injured a few students just to get to Tsukune. It’s crystal clear that the Monstrels want revenge and want to see Tsukune dead. Without spoiling what happens at the end of this particular chapter, let’s just say that Tsukune’s words finally changes everything about the whole Tsukune-Moka relationship enough that it upsets Kurumu. As I mentioned above, it’s starting to seem that Tsukune means more to the sexy succubus than first expected.

In the following chapter, however, we find out just how much Tsukune means to Kurumu when she encounters another Monstrel who offers a tempting proposal. If Moka was to be suddenly out of the picture then she would have him all to herself. She manages to confront Moka and said confrontation is surprisingly dramatic and intense. In the end, Kurumu’s words are more to protect her rival in love that has become her friend. As strange as it is a true friendship was formed as the two battled side-by-side against the Monstrel and his Cyclops companions.

The third chapter in this volume introduces the result of the blood Moka infused with Tsukune in order to save his life. Although the exorcist had placed a Spirit Lock on him that is similar to Moka’s Rosario, he feels the insatiable thirst that vampires feel and no amount of water can quench it. He nearly even bites Moka … an act that his new attacker (a centipede, of all things) can relate with and breaks Moka’s heart. The Monsterels are right, it is her presence in Tsukune’s life that is tearing him apart but the person who sent the Centipede isn’t who you might think.

In the final chapter, a graffiti artist has tagged some menacing words along with some fake Yokai Times editions that Tsukune’s Newspaper Club was not involved with in the beginning. Tsukune is naturally blamed for the vandalism and the fake school newspapers that have some anti-school messages and as he is taken to see the headmaster our boy makes a rather interesting discovery about who is in charge of the school. In an effort to bring order to the school, Tsukune is made an example and is kicked out of Yokai Academy … or se we are lead to believe after Tsukune faces the vandal.

There is certainly a lot of blood in the series lately and more so now that Tsukune has vampire abilities and uses it well in this one despite the Spirit Lock. More importantly, though, the relationships between the characters has changed especially when it comes to Moka and Tsukune. We know Tsukune likes Moka but it isn’t until this volume’s last chapter that we find Moka is willing to give up everything for Tsukune. It is in this final chapter that Tsukune gains a new role in the school as well.

Volume 7 of Vampire + Rosario is a very meaty volume with a lot to sink your teeth into and, make no mistake, the outcome of this volume will change the course of the series. A lot has changed in Tsukune as the Monstrel threat continues to leave him badly injured and on the brink of losing what little humanity he has left in himself. This is, by far, one of the more darker and intense volumes in the series and – by the looks of it – will only get more interesting in the upcoming volumes.

 

MANGA REVIEW BREAKDOWN

STORY: B+
Moka’s attack on Tsukune feels like the work of an outside influence and when the culprit does show her face it becomes clear to Tsukune that the Monstrels will not leave him alone. In fact, he and others are attacked by three different monsters sent to destroy Tsukune. In the middle of all of this, our boy finally makes it clear that he wants the relationship between him and Moka to change … but first he must clear himself from expulsion from Yokai Academy.

ART: A-
Ikeda-sensei has turned up the bloody violence in his series as the blood flies often in this volume alone but he cheerfully continues displaying the light fan service to keep the manga from being too morbid. This definitely works.

OVERALL: B+
Things have gotten a bit darker and a little more dramatic in Rosario + Vampire and even more so in Volume 7 of this series. After having flirted with the relationship between Moka and Tsukune, their feelings for each another finally shines through in one of the more gripping volumes this series has produced. Things are definitely going to change for these characters.

Claymore, Chapter 6 – DVD Review

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Review by: Sophie Stevens

Publisher: FUNimation Entertainment
MSRP: $29.98 US
Running Time: 95 minutes
Genre: Action/Fantasy
Rating: TV MA
Release Date: Available Now 

Clare on the razor’s edge.

What began as a story about an emotionless member of an organization filled with sword-wielding warrior women searching for a monster that killed the only woman that cared for her like a mother has turned into a deep love story and a newly awakened emotion that has this sister of the sword finally realizing that there are things really worth fighting for in this world. Clare has come a long way since the first episode of this series as the final chapter closes on the saga that is Claymore.

In Chapter 5, having joined by an impressive army of fellow Claymores in the village of Pieta, Clare finds herself struggling to survive the onslaught of savagely powerful Awakened Beings that are unlike anything either one of these Claymores have faced before. To top it all off, the legendary Silver-eyed Lion King, more appropriately known as Rigaldo, has dropped into the fight to slaughter the remaining Claymores only to find a challenge in Clare.

As Chapter 6 opens, Clare attempts to keep up with Rigaldo’s mighty blows and eerie swiftness. For an Awakened Being as big and lion-like as Rigaldo, the monster can certainly move and it becomes clear to Clare that in order to defeat the beast she must call upon the Yoma power within her. As her injured friends watch from afar, they witness Clare Awakening just a little right before their eyes … yet it still isn’t enough.

“I need more,” Clare says to herself as she manages to keep up with Rigaldo. “More strength and more speed!”

When she does, it becomes clear to the other sisters that Clare has pushed herself closer to the point of no return. Somewhere in the nearby forest, the frail young girl named Priscilla and her ward stop worrying about Raki’s wellbeing and concentrate on the raw Yoma power that is flowing as Clare comes to Awaken parts of her body to continue fighting her dangerous foe. Priscilla freaks out to the point that she runs off to the very source of the power flow.

Meanwhile, Raki finally reaches Pieta only to find the streets littered with dead or badly injured Claymores and the damage their battle had caused the village. He is recognized by Clare’s friends such as Jean and Deneve but when Raki sees Clare in her nearly Awakened form it frightens him to the point that the kid isn’t able to move. When Clare does push herself once again, it is only then that the battle does finally end.

Unfortunately, even with the enemy no longer a threat, Clare cannot hold back the power that threatens to turn her into an Awakened Being. Afraid of turning on her own friends, she begs Helen to end her life before its too late and she finally changes. Unable to revert back, Clare begins her slow transformation but she senses something nearby that is far too familiar to ignore. As Clare takes off to find this person, a badly injured Jean sets off with Raki to help save Clare as do the last remaining three Claymores. What they find is Clare battling against the Awakened Being that had beheaded Teresa so long ago. We also come to discover a secret about Clare in these final moments during one of the more intense battles in this series.

I won’t go into the details about the outcome of the fight or what is discovered during this fight but it is surprising. It’s also endearing to see Clare, even in her monstrous nearly-Awakened state that she recognizes Raki who pours his heart out to her in the end during a crucial moment in the battle. What I will say is that Claymore as a whole has managed to remain just as intense as these last episodes of this chapter and that’s saying a lot right there.

The final four episodes that make up Chapter 6 of Claymore is nothing short of brilliant and highly energetic just like the source material. The two massive battles will not easily be shaken from your memory as Clare not only comes to the end of her journey but also discovers something about her that’s more important than the mission or the organization and that is humanity. Now this is a great ending.

 

DVD REVIEW BREAKDOWN

MOVIE/EPISODES: A
In the village of Pieta, the other Claymores fall at the feet of Rigaldo so it is up to Clare to go up against the powerful Awakened Being. As she calls upon more power and pushing herself to her very limits, Clare finds herself in a dangerous situation she may recover from and even more so when the person she was looking for finally shows up.

VIDEO QUALITY: A
This final chapter features even more stunning visual effects such as the scene where Clare and Priscilla display their full power that literally lights up the night sky. The series has always been visually pleasing and filled with unforgettable visceral moments throughout.

AUDIO QUALITY: A+
The strength of the original Japanese as well as the English dub has always been the emotional impact of each performance as far as the Claymores are concerned. Personally, I think Raki sounded better in Japanese but then again I can’t imagine anyone else doing the voice in English than Todd Haberkorn. There’s good music in this series (and better opening and closing theme songs) but sometimes it’s the silence of a key scene that makes it more memorable.

EXTRAS: B+
There’s an audio commentary track for Episode 26 with Brina Palencia and Stephanie Young that’s fun to listen to and there’s the original Japanese TV commercials on the DVD as well. Aside from the collection of trailers and the textless songs, the 24-page book with art and production notes is the real treat.

OVERALL: A
Chapter 6 of Claymore reaches its climax as Clare battles the Silver-Eyed Lion King and she isn’t able to contain the Awakening power that begins to eat away at her soul. In these final moments of the series, a lot is revealed to us and thus makes this a chapter that will not fail to shock and surprise.

COMPLETE SERIES GRADE: A
True to the source material, the anime version of Claymore is dark, bloody and downright haunting. It’s one of those stories that feels epic in scope thanks to its bigger-than-life characters and story that goes beyond a typical revenge story. Beautifully directed and featuring amazing animation, Claymore is one of those anime series that is truly unique and amazing.

Darker Than Black, Vol. 6 – DVD Review

DarkerThanBlack6

Review by: Faith McAdams

Publisher: FUNimation Entertainment
MSRP: $29.98 US
Running Time: 100 minutes
Genre: Sci-Fi/Action
Rating: TV MA
Release Date: Available Now 

Twinkle, Twinkle, Sparkle, Sparkle … The End Is Here

Cradling a pretty girl whose life is slipping away, the young man with the dark hair watches the stars – the real stars – fall from the skies like fading fireworks. The sadness in her eyes says a lot as the young man struggles to fight back tears … an act of humanity that is never seen in a Contractor. The end is here, even the old Stargazer knows it, as Volume 6 closes the final chapter in the sci-fi action series Darker Than Black.

The most important part of Hei’s past is finally revealed as the last three episodes of this four episode volume (Episode 26 is an OVA episode) brings the world of the Contractors and the Syndicate comes crashing down in a confrontation that has been coming since a Contractor named Amber has shaken things up in the last volume. As a result, MI6 Agent November 11 was killed and Kirihara and her department are nowhere close to catching Amber of even the Black Reaper.

As Hei dwells on the past, the rumor that midnight would reveal the real stars has people excited. Even private eye Gai Kurosawa is given an assignment to gather people’s memories about the real stars before the Gates appeared. Hei is so preoccupied that he catches the attention of Kirihara who ends up having dinner with him as well as spending an evening together. It’s no romantic meeting, mind you, but the unusual meeting of two people who live in two different worlds. Had the two had other occupations, they would have actually been close friends.

But the calm evening turns into a nightmare when the Syndicate cuts the Contractors loose to protect itself from Amber and her group. As a result, Hei finds his friends Mao, Huang and Yin attempting to escape. It seems that the Syndicate and Public Security believes that Amber is about to reenact the events that lead to the sudden disappearance of the Gate in South America … an event that Hei was involved in during a bloody conflict.

Help comes in the most unusual form of Wei, the same Contractor that Hei faced off against who now happens to work for Amber. They make an escape but it is when they part ways that we get a feeling that we won’t see these characters together again. I won’t spoil things by telling you what happens but know that Yin, the unemotional doll, embraces Huang and Mao, as they help Hei and Wei infiltrate Pandora to keep the events of South America to repeat itself in Japan. As Kirihara finds out inside Pandora, the result of a repeat of South America could wipe out millions of Japanese civilians. The strange Doctor that was kidnapped back in Episode 21 thinks that the only way to stop the event is by destroying Hell’s Gate itself.

Meanwhile, Hei and Yin are the only ones able to breach Pandora after a final battle with Wei. While Contractors are battling the military that was sent by the order of Nishijima, the man the Syndicate put in charge of the operation, Hei discovers Amber has made it as well and finally tells him what happened to his sister. The finale is a bit disorienting but the fate of Japan and the Gate falls on Hei. It’s certainly not a bad way to end a sci-fi show like this one.

The DVD also includes Episode 26, an OVA episode that was not shown in Japan and fits right into the later episodes as a sort of side story revolving around Mayu Otsuka of the Foreign Affairs Department’s Astronomical division who writes strange romance stories on her website. She happens to meet the Black Reaper and falls in love with him. Then there’s the Kirihara in the Cherry Blossom festival who just can’t figure out that Saitou has a crush on her. It’s a cute and downright funny episode.

Volume 6 of Darker Than Black is a fantastic finale to a series that has a lot to offer sci-fi anime fans or anyone looking for a mature and action-packed series. With some well-drawn characters and interesting plotlines, Darker Than Black definitely doesn’t bore and it certainly doesn’t disappoint. If you’ve been dying to check out a series worth putting away your old Ghost in the Shell DVDs, this is the one.

 

DVD REVIEW BREAKDOWN

MOVIE/EPISODES: A
In the final three episodes of the series, the Black Reaper reexamines his past and the fate of his sister Pai is finally revealed as he and the other Contractors fate near Hell’s Gate. As allies begin to fall all around them, it is Hei, Yin and Kirihara who make a last stand. The last episode is an OVA not seen in Japan and it’s downright cute and funny.

VIDEO QUALITY: A
Visually speaking, Darker Than Black has produced some great animation with excellent action scenes and visual effects. While the backgrounds have been overused a lot throughout, you can’t ignore the fact that they do look good.

AUDIO QUALITY: A
The voice acting has always been excellent in this series if the English dub is your thing and the original Japanese isn’t bad either … although Kirihara sounds a lot more likeable in English. Still, we tip our hat to Yoko Kanno for her excellent score and the great opening and closing songs.

EXTRAS: C+
There’s an audio commentary track for the OVA episode that’s not informative but it is really fun to listen to either way. There are Production Art goodies packed in here as well as well as textless songs and trailers. We would have loved another extra seeing as this is the final volume. Thankfully, the inclusion of the OVA episode makes up for the lack of extras.

OVERALL: A
As the series comes to its climactic finale, Volume 6 of Darker Than Black will literally have you on the edge of your seat as Hei and the others fight their way to Pandora to not only meet their fate at the Gate but also save millions from dying. This is certainly a fitting end to a series that has made Black our favorite color indeed.

COMPLETE SERIES GRADE: A+
Not since Ghost in the Shell have we been this drawn to a sci-fi series and Darker Than Black manages to up the ante with solid action scenes, wonderfully written stories and characters you will care about as the series progresses to its interesting and action-packed finale. This is truly an unforgettable series you should really check out.