Mushi-Shi The Movie – DVD Review

Mushi-Shi The Movie

Review by: Brenda Gregson

Publisher: FUNimation Entertainment
MSRP: $24.98 US
Running Time: 131 minutes
Genre: Live Action
Rating: TV 14
Release Date: Available Now

Mushi Master, heal thyself.

Like everyone in this office, I’m both apprehensive and excited by the prospect of a live-action movie based on a favorite manga or anime series. I was absolutely thrilled by the Death Note movies and I thought Honey and Clover made an excellent romantic-comedy so I had high expectations about Mushi-Shi The Movie. The good news is that the live-action feature is directed by acclaimed director Katsuhiro Otomo (of Steamboy and Akira fame) and yes the movie is absolutely stunning.

Taking place in turn-of-the-century Japan, the movie opens with a little boy and his mother traveling to a nearby town to sell their wares. Unfortunately, due to the excessive rainstorm that hit the area, a landslide brings the road they walk crashing down as the boy’s mother is buried by the mud. As the boy attempts to find his mother’s remains, he is discovered by a female Mushi-Shi or Mushi Master … a sort of healer/exorcist of glistening worm-like creatures called Mushi that inflict illness on those it touches.

Fast forward several years later where a different white-haired Mushi-Shi named Ginko (played superbly by Joe Odajiri) seeks refuge from a snow storm that blocks his path to his destination. He finds a local inn where several other travels have decided to stay the night only to find that some of the people of the village have been afflicted by an unusual ailment that caused them to be deaf in one ear. When Ginko cures them, the lady of the inn asks him to look into one other unusual case. It seems his granddaughter, Maho, was also afflicted but, in her case, she doesn’t hear anything but thousands of voice and she has grown horns out of her forehead.

Looking into the little girl’s rare case, Ginko discovers an interesting fact about the child’s mother as well as the voices the little girl hears. When he pieces together the puzzle pieces that is the mysterious case, he confronts Maho who helps Ginko solve the problem. He also comes to an alarming discovery that a great number of Mushi have been flocking in great number and the ones that attacked the little girl are different than the ones he is use to eliminating. Somehow, the strange new Mushi seems familiar to him.

We also find out what happens to the boy (whose name is Yoki) who finds himself living with the female Mushi-Shi named Nui. While Yoki clearly wants to stay with Nui, the Mushi Master does not want to be near her or the place where she lives. You see, Nui is worried that the pond near her home is filled with the strange Mushi Ginko discovered. The Mushi-Shi calls it Tokoyami and it lives within the pond with the eyeless white fish the woman calls Ginko. She even tries to leave Yoki in another village but the boy races by Nui’s side only to suffer a regrettable fate.

Finally able to go to a Mushi-Shi gathering place, Ginko finds out that he has been summoned by an old friend in need. Said friend is a young woman named Tanyo (the wonderful Yu Aoi) who has a special gift of writing stories down on parchment … with her mind. Ginko meets a man named Karo, who is attempting to catch a strange rainbow and seal it in his massive jug, who travels with him. When they arrive, Ginko finds that Tanyo’s Mushi infection is way too unusual and it can only mean Tokoyami might be involved. With what looks like ink threatening to consume her.

Locked in her library, Ginko comes across one scroll with very familiar content. Revealing more would spoil the story’s shocking ending but I will say that Ginko’s battle against the Tokoyami leaves the young Mushi Master nearly catatonic as Ginko must face his past and the repressed memory of his childhood.

Director Katsuhiro Otomo tells the story beautifully and he definitely knows how to tug at the heart strings in the most moving parts of the movie that leads to the ending. More importantly, he manages to get great performances out of Joe Odajiri and Yu Aoi. The visuals are grainy but it works beautifully to pull off the visual effects when the Mushi appear. Watching the movie with a crowd that never picked up a manga or know what anime is really enjoyed the movie as it stands. Those in the office who love the original source material loved it even more.

Mushi-Shi The Movie is a wonderfully moving and artistically brilliant version of a story that feels as epic as an old folkloric tale from Japan. Reinvented as a live-action feature, the movie tries to remain as close to the source material as well as the anime but does it in its own style that makes this movie a visceral and extraordinary experience. This is the movie Mushi-Shi fans will certainly love and one that non-anime viewers will fondly appreciate.

DVD REVIEW BREAKDOWN

MOVIE/EPISODES: A
Ginko is a Mushi Master with a mysterious past who comes to the aid of a good friend who is in dire need of his services when she is struck by a horrifying affliction caused by a Mushi of great power. We also learn the story of an orphaned boy who comes to live with a female Mushi-Shi who might just be connected to Ginko.

VIDEO QUALITY: A
The grainy visual style of the film is intentional and, surprisingly enough, it works. Meanwhile, the visual effects look amazing in some parts and simply Ok in others. You just have to love the backdrops and cinematography in the film.

AUDIO QUALITY: A
The original score by Kuniaki Haishima is absolutely breathtaking to say the least and the sound effects are just as effective as the visual effects in this film.

EXTRAS: C+
The Mushi-Shi Premieres footage is short but it’s good to see the warm reception the Director and the movie’s cast received in Italy during the Venice International Film Festival. There are a few deleted and extended scenes, including an ending I felt was a tad better than the ending selected for the movie. The disc also includes the movie’s original trailer as well as other FUNimation trailers.

OVERALL: A
True to the anime version, Mushi-Shi The Movie is a beautifully directed and wonderfully acted live-action movie that might not be as brilliant as the anime but still manages to convey the emotional power. Katsuhiro Otomo does recreate some of the best moments and does them well thanks to a stellar cast and a brilliant visual style. If you loved the manga or the anime, Mushi-Shi The Movie is a Must See.

Sand Chronicles, Vol. 6 – Manga Review

SandChronicles06

Review by: Kiki Van De Kamp

Publisher: VIZ Media
Author: Hinako Ashihara
Genre: Graphic Novel (Shojo Beat Manga)
MSRP: $8.99 US
Rating: T+ (Older Teen)
Release Date: Available Now

Two is now officially the loneliest number.

It’s hard to escape the ghost of your one true love and most especially if it happens to be your first one true love like in the case of Ann and Daigo. Both have emotionally connected in ways that made their relationship something altogether difference than just a coming-of-age romance. They found comfort in each another but, like everything in life, nothing lasts forever as we can see in Volume 6 of Sand Chronicles.

Having called it quits with Daigo, Ann has spent the many months away from him with Fuji who continues to live in Tokyo. In the opening chapter of Volume 6, Ann has finally decided to start dating Fuji and taking comfort with the young man who genuinely loves him. Comically enough, Ann never really tells Fuji that she decided to date him but rather he hears it from Ann’s friend, Asada, who spoils Ann’s moment to tell him in her own way.

When Ann’s friends suggest a study trip to the beach, it’s Asada that sees this as a chance for both Ann and Fuji to hook up. While the others have a blast out in the beach resort town and Fuji helps Ann with her studies, the opportunity for Fuji and Ann to be alone comes thanks to Asada who leaves a day early with the rest of the group. Ann tells herself that Fuji is right for her but she’s not that convinced. Then she tosses out the hourglass that Daigo gave her and decides to give into Fuji’s love.

Oh but that darn ghost of the first true love comes back to haunt her on that very beach and Fuji realizes that he just can’t compete with Daigo or even come close to replacing him. He does the most sensible thing he can think of and that is walk away. He takes the opportunity to come back home to Shimane only to find out that his sister Shika has come to the decision to travel to Canada and study abroad. Still riddled with guilt over trying to steal Daigo away from Ann, she also can’t get over the fact that her life has been a lie and that she is the result of an adulterous affair.

Meanwhile, a friend from Shimane comes to Tokyo and visits Ann. She has always admitted having a massive crush on Fuji so when she hears that Ann is dating him the girl drops the news that Daigo is also dating somebody. In fact, she tells him that the girl Daigo is dating is none other than Ayumu Narasaki – the girl that nearly got her killed a long while back during summer camp. You can imagine that Ann does not take this news well.

The truth is that while all his friends think he is in a relationship with Ayumu, Daigo doesn’t see her in the same romantic light. Even when he hears that Fuji is dating Ann, all he could really think about is Ann. At one point, he does encounter Fuji in Shimane and the two talk but Daigo’s expression says it all even though he tells his rival that he is good for Ann.

When Fuji returns to Tokyo, he tells Ann that he is Ok with being second best but Ann sees right through the lie. They continue to see each another but Fuji makes no romantic gesture towards Ann and thus makes her feel all the more lonelier. Then it’s Ann’s father that drops a major bomb on her. I will not spoil the surprise but it involves Kaede, her father’s Doctor friend. In the same chapter, Kaede also reveals something meaningful about Ann’s mother. We catch a glimpse of how Kaede met Ann’s mother. It’s definitely one of the more moving chapters of this volume.

One of the more dramatic volumes to come along since the first volume, Sand Chronicles, Volume 6, is so juicy that you can’t help but savor every page. Watching the ups and downs of the relationships in this series is actually a joy and even more so in this volume as broken hearts break just a little more and Ann begins to feel even more lonely than before.

MANGA REVIEW BREAKDOWN

STORY: A
After much hesitation and dancing around it, Ann has finally decided to start dating Fuji. While the blooming romance started out rather well, Ann just can’t shake the ghost that is Daigo that continues to haunt her. Meanwhile, news that Daigo is dating a girl she knows hurts her and Ann’s father drops one hell of a bomb.

ART: A+
I simply adore Hinako Ashihara’s art ever since I picked up this manga and continue to love it even in the series’ sixth installment.

OVERALL: A
The drama is so thick in this one that you can cut it with a knife but Volume 6 of Sand Chronicles knows how to do drama so right that you’re sucked into its intricate and thoroughly enjoyable story. As Ann and Daigo move on with their lives, their hearts tell them that they just can’t get over the love they share. Once again, Ashihara definitely has us impatiently awaiting the next volume.

Kaze no Stigma, Volume 2: Fire – DVD Review

Kaze no Stigma Vol2

Review by: Clive Owen

Publisher: FUNimation Entertainment
MSRP: $59.98 US
Running Time: 288 minutes
Genre: Action
Rating: TV 14
Release Date: Available Now

The Stigma of the Wind is blowing in a better direction.

I really wanted to like the first volume of Kaze no Stigma but there were a lot of things that simply didn’t work to set this series apart from other shows similar to this. That said, there were things about the series I did like including many of the battles and Ayano Kannagi who managed to outshine the supposedly cool male Contractor named Kazuma Yagami. Kaze no Stigma, Volume 2, is a slightly better volume that is actually quite entertaining despite the fact that this series doesn’t do anything new.

After coming to terms with his anger towards the Kannagi clan, Kazuma finds himself working under the payroll of the Kannagi. Yes, he still hates his own father with a passion that is felt in this volume as well but he has come to actually enjoy playfully annoying his (distant?) cousin, Ayano. In the opening episode of Volume 2, it even becomes clear that Ayano’s own father is interesting in seeing his own daughter and Kazuma hooking up. He even sends them on an “assignment” to the amusement park in search of Youma only for the assignment to turn out to be something of a date.

Ayano actually does have a major crush on Kazuma but never really reveals her feeling to him. In fact, she even denies it to all her friends despite the fact that it is so obvious. Still, while the Ayano/Kazuma romance was slightly annoying in Volume 1 it’s actually a lot more bearable thanks to a new rival that is introduced when Ayano and Kazuma go on an unofficial date in an expensive restaurant. The rival, an American girl named Catherine McDonald, is attractive and – surprise – busty. She also happens to be a fire magic user with the power to summon a spirit beast she called Metatron.

Catherine’s arrival is not coincidental. She has come to prove that the McDonald clan is better than the Kannagi clan and the only way she can prove it is by defeating Ayano in battle. They fight it out in the restaurant but when they withdraw, Catherine is trained in combat by Kazuma himself … to Ayano’s surprise. Meanwhile, Catherine becomes smitten by Kazuma and thus creating a fun rivalry between the two girls for Kazuma’s affections.

Also unlike the first volume we learn more about Kazuma so he’s not as one-dimensional as the first 12 episodes of the series. Here, he does let his guard down a little and relishes in pissing off Ayano every chance he gets. Unfortunately, he doesn’t evolve enough to set him apart from other characters like him and his fight with his father has become something of a joke. In a hot springs episode (cliché number 10 for this series), Kazuma discovers his father is also at the hot springs and the two end up brawling like kids.

The series even adds fan service to the series as if the producers thought that the first part of the series lacked something to keep the boys from tuning out. From the very first episode in Volume 2 to battles where Ayano’s cute outfit or dress is torn the tatters, the fan service feels tacked on rather than add any real sexiness to it. It doesn’t get too outrageous, mind you, but the panty flashes start becoming less appealing and more unintentionally comical .

Volume 2 really takes off somewhere around Episode 17 as a perverted student in Ayano’s school is humiliated and turns to a website that offers powers to anyone who wants it. Before they know it, people with special abilities begin to pop up all over the city starting battles in hopes of “leveling up” as if all of this was some kind of role-playing game. Ayano and Kazuma look into the matter and really begin to worry when Ayano’s friend, Nanase, is targeted by the perverted geek who now how special powers.

With Detective Tachibana leading the investigation, she asks Kazuma, Ayano and even Catherine to help her crack the case. Instead, what they find is a sick game being played a mysterious figure with an assistant named Lapis who reminds Kazuma of somebody special that he lost named Tsui Ling. Can this girl really be the girl he lost before he became a Contractor? The answer transforms the cool and collected Kazuma into a madman who is willing to threaten his own little brother to get to the man behind this threat and the place called Pandemonium where all the super powered players are looking to go for more power.

There’s a final battle but it is hardly a massive one with a disappointing outcome. What does work, is Ayano’s confrontation with an out of control Kazuma. The two fought before but this time around Ayano and Kazuma are serious as fire and wind collide. This is definitely one of the better moments of this series and it definitely will make you like Ayano even more considering the fact that she entered the fight without having come up with a plan … a fact that frightens Ren, Kazuma’s little brother.

While still something of an average anime series that shows us nothing new, Volume 2 of Kaze no Stigma is a tad more exciting and certainly a little more appealing than the first volume. With the exception of Ayano, many of the characters that seemed so stale are getting more interesting but with a story that just doesn’t try to be different this one still has a long way to go.

DVD REVIEW BREAKDOWN

MOVIE/EPISODES: C+
Feeling more comfortable working for the Kannagi clan, Kazuma finds himself working side-by-side with Ayano stopping Youma until they come across an American girl looking to settle which clan is better. Later, a dangerous game is played that threatens those closest to Ayano and turns Kazuma into a dark force that will stop at nothing to get revenge.

VIDEO QUALITY: B-
The animation, much like the episodes, are the seen-that-before-hundreds-of-times kind but it does the job nicely enough. There’s a large dose of fan service in this Volume but it feels out of place.

AUDIO QUALITY: A
Unlike the first volume, the dialogue in these twelve episodes are a tad better and the English dub makes it work better than the original Japanese voice work. The score is excellent and you just have to love Saori Kiuji opening theme song.

EXTRAS: C
Part 4 through 6 of Ayano’s House Call: All-You-Can-Eat Cakes is back with Ayumi, Shizuka and Yuka in Osaka but this time they spend the promotional special sitting at a table eating cake and talking about their voice acting experiences. There’s the inclusion of trailers and the clean opening and closing songs and nothing else.

OVERALL: C+
Volume 2 of Kaze no Stigma shows us just how average this series is but this one is a slight improvement over the first volume. The characters feel a tad more fleshed out this time around and the dialogue is better but the story still feels like we’ve seen this kind of anime one too many times. Still, there are some fun moments in this series if you give it a chance.

Naruto, Vol. 42 – Manga Review

Naruto 42 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

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The secrets of Pain and brotherhood are revealed!

Groundbreaking, colossal and unforgettable are words that come to mind after you finally put down Volume 42 of Naruto. Not since Naruto’s return to Konoha in Volume 28 has a volume joined the ranks of past memorable moments of recently such as the death of Orochimaru by Sasuke’s hand or the demise of Master Asuma by the Akutsaki. Yet in Volume 42 of Naruto, there are two monumental moments that make this particular volume the one that earns the series its “World’s Most Popular Manga” title.

Having infiltrated the enemy stronghold and faced off against the more powerful members of the Akatsuki, Lord Jiraiya did not fall back nor did he want to because somewhere among those robed men are the children he once mentored. Even when the enemy tore his arm off and send the Master Shinobi reeling back from their blow, Jiraiya stayed to discover the secret of Pain and the Akatsuki. As all the faces begin to seem familiar to him, he comes to the realization that he has – at one point in his life – come across each of the present Akatsuki.

Not wanting to run with the little information he has obtained, he sends Ma Toad out of the battlefield and makes her remember a message he wants transmitted back to the Hidden Leaf Village. He just doesn’t know the true identity of Pain until the unthinkable happens during the battle. Suddenly, a flood of memories begins to resurface as Jiraiya begins to despair and remember the failures in his life that include not being able to help his own mentor, stop his close friend turning to the dark side or saving his best pupil. Speaking of said pupil, an interesting revelation is made in one of his memories that concerns Naruto. It becomes apparent to Jiraiya that he didn’t fail in one aspect of his life.

I won’t go into what happens at the end of this chapter but I will say that Jiraiya does come to identify Pain and he transmits this information to Pa during one of the most darkest moments of the chapter. Really, this is by far one of the defining moments in this series and one that will simply not fail to make you read it all over again. Meanwhile, Naruto and the others come across an Akatsuki enemy who challenges them. It’s really a distraction to keep the inevitable meeting between Sasuke and Itachi Uchiha right on schedule.

That’s right, Sasuke finally catches up to his older brother, Itachi. Sasuke is not merciful and doesn’t even show a flicker of emotion towards his brother. Their fight is so intense and jaw-droopingly enthralling that it definitely stands as one of the greatest fights in the series. It becomes clear to Itachi that Sasuke’s skills have come a long way and he even sees right through Itachi’s Genjutsu. Just when Itachi thinks he has his brother by the throat, Sasuke manages to upstage him.

It seems Sasuke was prepared for his showdown with his brother but what he wasn’t prepared for was the answer to his question of why his brother killed off their parents and the rest of the Uchiha clan. At last, we get a straight answer out of Itachi and what he reveals is startling. You see, Itachi is after something only the Uchiha clan possesses as well as the legend behind that something. While that is some shocking news, the most astonishing fact comes in the form of another revelation concerning their clan.

Their battle doesn’t stop there as the two brothers finally drop their gloves and attacks at full force with the power of the Uchiha. Even an Akatsuki onlooker is taken aback by the sheer force of their power and just as things get really good the chapter ends.

As I said, Naruto, Volume 42, is a volume that will be very difficult to shake from your mind. A lot is revealed in this volume and a lot happens that will help shape the future events in a series that simply doesn’t stop to amaze us with the powerful storytelling that continues to make the Naruto series one of the best shonen manga around. Drop what you’re doing and pick up a copy of this volume immediately.

MANGA REVIEW BREAKDOWN

STORY: A+
As Jiraiya decides to take a stand against his Akatsuki opponents, the Pervy Sage finally learns the dark secret about Pain and we learn something about Naruto from his mentor’s memories. After one of the most unbelievable chapters in Naruto history, the moment we’ve been waiting for his here as Sasuke confronts his brother Itachi to learn a dark secret about the Uchiha clan.

ART: A
Once again, more is said with one detailed panel than a whole dialogue balloon and this is clearly evident in this particular volume. The cover has my vote for Best Naruto Cover Ever.

OVERALL: A+
It isn’t a surprise that the Naruto series just keeps getting better and better with every volume but Volume 42 of Naruto goes well beyond just another great volume. This is the volume that will not only change the face of the series but also be engraved in your mind. This is the one we’ll be talking about for years to come.

Big Windup!, Part 2 – DVD Review

BigWindup! Part2

Review by: Clive Owen

Publisher: FUNimation Entertainment
MSRP: $59.98 US
Running Time: 315 minutes
Genre: Sports
Rating: TV 14
Release Date: Available Now

There’s no crying in baseball.

As a sports fan and devoted baseball enthusiast, Big Windup! joins the ranks of some of my favorite sports anime series whether its basketball or football. The first part of the series introduces us to the freshman baseball team and a most unusual yet talented young pitcher who brings hope to the nine players that find themselves out of spring training and in the tournament that might just make legends out of them. Big Windup!, Part 2 is here and the tournament has finally begun but be prepared for one of the most slow paced game of baseball we’ve seen yet.

It might have been fate or the luck of the draw that the Nishiura Nine find themselves starting off the Summer National School Baseball Tournament by going up against the defending champions of last year’s tournament … Tosei High. In the opening episode of Part 2, Episode 14, the game begins and Nishiura immediately becomes intimidated by Tosei’s lineup that includes a good pitcher and a captain with a good head on his shoulders.

Tosei’s pitcher manages to impress the delightfully spineless Mihashi as he watches the young seasoned pitcher strike out Tajima. Oh, but Nishiura is in no way backing out of this game and even more so that in the stands the male cheering squad has brought as many Nishiura High students they can find to cheer their team on with much enthusiasm. Many of the players mothers are also cheering their sons on as a group and Mihashi’s attractive cousin is there to root for him.

As I mentioned above, the second half of the series moves at a very slow pace and this is mostly because the series spends the eleven out of thirteen episodes getting into the mindset of each player as well as going through every little detail about a play. For the casual ball fan, the excessive attention to every detail might be exhausting but those who know that game well will find the details to be quite interesting. Very few shows about baseball lets you know what a catcher is thinking when he sizes up a batter or how said batter is trying to determine what type of pitch will be thrown.

Thankfully, the episodes zero in on Mihashi who is slowly developing confidence in the catcher, his teammates and himself. Of course, there are various moments that shatter that confidence and turns him into quivering coward and the thought of letting down his teammates has him almost feverish to the point that Abe, the catcher, keeps checking on him. Meanwhile, the other players are stunned when Mihashi comes up at bat and manages to hit a grounder. Also, thanks to his awkward fumbling ways, Mihashi manages to help a teammate get to home base and thus earn the first score of the game.

In the fourth inning, Nishiura just isn’t able to get their best hitters to make a dent in Tosei’s defense and it isn’t until Mihashi performs another miracle when he’s up at bat that his teammates finds themselves playing in the same level as the more experienced opposing team. The other team suddenly sees players like Tajima, Abe and Hanai as major threats. Many of them can’t even make heads or tails of Mihashi’s pitching style.

While the majority of the episodes get into the cerebral aspects of the game, there are many exciting moments in the game between Nishiura and Tosei. When Tosei wins the lead in one of the innings, Nishiura really hustles to keep up until the final moments when our team manages to tie and then jump ahead thanks to Mihashi’s pitching. The final moments of the game are most definitely the more exciting and the better part of this second part of the series.

With the outcome of the game surprising just about everyone, the final two episodes finds the Nishiura Nine gets some rest and allowing their star pitcher to recover from the game. While Abe still picks on the poor guy, he certainly proved a lot during the game. In the final episode, we find Haruna – who was Abe’s Junior High pitcher – trying to talk a teammate out of quitting the team and baseball. He even talked Abe out of not giving up on the game.

In the end, Part 2 of Big Windup! seems to move at a glacial pace that might not sit well with fans of the first part but when it comes down to it this is still one of the most entertaining sports anime series to come along. The characters are so well developed that we gladly follow the Nishiura Nine as they begin to show signs of promise. I still can’t recommend this one enough to sports fans and anime lovers alike.

DVD REVIEW BREAKDOWN

MOVIE/EPISODES: B
It’s the first game in the tournament and Nishiura High is up against returning champions, Tosei High who has an impressive starting lineup. Yes, the bulk of the 13 episodes are dedicated to a single game but there are exciting moments scattered throughout and we get a deeper view into the characters strengths and weaknesses.

VIDEO QUALITY: A
The animation is some of the best and the action flows perfectly so the baseball action looks good in motion. I still get a kick out of Mihashi’s frightened bird-like expressions.

AUDIO QUALITY: A
The voice work is still top notch although there are noticeable inconsistencies in the pronunciations of names and Japanese words for the amazing English dub cast. I definitely enjoyed the original Japanese voices a little better in this series and the music is still sweeping and wonderfully cinematic.

EXTRAS: D
Short on extras, the only thing you’ll find in the second disc are the textless opening and closing songs and a number of trailers. We definitely would have loved an audio commentary track for one or two of the episodes.

OVERALL: B
Things slow down considerably in Part 2 of Big Windup! and with most of the episodes in this set dedicated to one game there is still much to like about this second part. Sure, it becomes frustrating when a series dissects just about every detail of a sport but Big Windup! keeps sports and anime fans cheering either way.

Samurai Champloo, The Complete Collection – DVD Review

SamuraiChamplooCS Box Set

Review by: Edward Zacharias

Publisher: FUNimation Entertainment
MSRP: $69.98 US
Running Time: 650 minutes
Genre: Action
Rating: 16 Up
Release Date: Available Now

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The art of the ultra cool samurai.

A young, clumsy and cute tea house waitress has always felt that her life was missing something but dared not chase that something down on her own until the fateful day she met two very talented swordsmen who start their relationship with her by trying to kill each another. Samurai Champloo isn’t your average Edo period samurai action anime and that’s what thousands of anime fans love about a series that is wildly entertaining and way too cool.

The Complete Collection features all 26 episodes of the series in seven DVDs and if you missed the series individually and waited for a complete set like this then you will not be disappointed. Among the exciting hip-hop fused sword battles and bloody violence, there’s a sincerely poignant tale of friendship and honor that makes the trio so much damn fun to watch from start to finish. You see, as much as we love the action, it is the characters that light up the screen.

The story introduces us to the two talented swordsmen I mentioned earlier about to get executed by a local magistrate the two had angered in the wake of their destructive battle that lead to said magistrate’s son getting killed in a tea house blaze. One a rude, crude and dangerous vagabond swordsman named Mugen who would kill for a few coins or even something as simple as dumplings. The other is a quiet, polite and neatly dressed Ronin named Jin who follows the path of the samurai. To the young tea house waitress named Fuu – who manages to escape the fire – these two are the perfect candidates to help her look for a samurai who “smells of sunflowers.” That is, of course, if Jin and Mugen don’t kill each another in the process.

With that one and simply vague description, the three set on a length journey to find this samurai for reasons Fuu doesn’t go into until the very end. With no money in their pockets, the three take on odd assignments when offered such as the time Mugen works for the Yakuza for a few extra coins or when Fuu decides to pose for an artist who one day inspires Vincent Van Gogh’s sunflower paintings. They even participate in an eating contest where they meet a very unusual man who hires them on as their guide.

With each stop, Fuu learns that the man she was looking for has passed through at some point. She’s about the only one who seems concentrated on the task at hand seeing as her two swordsmen keep getting into trouble that requires them to kill a number of men. It’s downright hilarious watching Fuu try to either fix their mistakes or try to get them out of a jam. In one episode, Mugen and Jin are conned by a beautiful woman and – in another episode – Mugen convinces Jin to pawn his eye glasses with the promise he’s get them back by winning at gambling.

The trio also end up giving a helping hand in stopping crooks and, at one point, draws out a killer who slays swordsmen. Jin even helps a woman who is sold into a brothel to work out a debt owed to the brothel owners by the woman’s husband. We also get to learn more about the two men she keeps as company. In one episode, we learn a secret about Jin and why samurai who know him want to see Jin dead for a crime he may or may have not committed. In another episode, we find out a lot about Mugen’s past from those criminal scum that knows him best.

While never really trying to accurate capture the era realistically, we do learn many little interesting lessons in Japanese history such as how homosexuality is viewed or the fact that graffiti actually originated in the Edo period. There’s even the first real look at baseball in Japan. What the series does best is push the violence in a stylized way that it is never gross or gruesome. It also handles the humor perfectly throughout the series.

I won’t go into how their journey ends or whether or not Jin and Mugen finally decide to fight each another at journey’s end. What I will say is that by the final episode you really don’t want this series to end. We wish we could continue to follow them but all good things come to an end and the series ends on a good note. The brilliantly directed series and amazing animation play a big part in the storytelling seeing as it – like its characters – have their own unique style. I mean, even the music isn’t your typical soundtrack.

Samurai Champloo, The Complete Collection, is exactly what you deserve if you consider yourself an anime fan with an eye towards ultra cool action. It’s a slick, stylish and satisfyingly amazing series that should be on the very top of anyone’s Must Own list. Very few anime series makes samurais seem so amazingly cool and fun to watch like the ones in this series and trust me when I say that you will have a blast watching this series.

DVD REVIEW BREAKDOWN

MOVIE/EPISODES: A+
Inspired by the sight of two very skilled swordsmen, a young girl named Fuu asks the cool and collected Jin and the crude yet talented Mugen to help her find a samurai who “smells of sunflowers.” On their journey together, the trio gets into a number of adventures and facing the demons of their past.

VIDEO QUALITY: A
The animation is simple fluid and gorgeous enough that you can see what Quentin Tarantino saw in it when he used Kazuto Nakazawa for Kill Bill, Vol. 1. The transitions between scenes are handled uniquely and the action sequences are stellar.

AUDIO QUALITY: A
The English dub is wonderfully effective and somehow makes more sense but you’ll find that the original Japanese voice work is just as good. The soundtrack is one of the real highlights of the series with remarkable music and great closing tracks such as the Minmi closing songs.

EXTRAS: C-
The collection could have offered more extras but there’s conceptual art and a Bumper Gallery feature. The opening promo video of “battlecry” is simply awesome.

OVERALL: A+
A hip-hop-infused samurai action series that is straight up cool in just about every way, The Complete Collection of Samurai Champloo should be on any anime fan’s wish list. With a strong cast of characters and plenty of blood splattering swordplay, this stylishly unique series has enough amazing episodes to keep action junkies satisfied.

Honey and Clover, Vol. 7 – Manga Review

HoneyCloverVol7

Review by: Sophie Stevens

Publisher: VIZ Media
Author: Chica Umino
Genre: Graphic Novel (Shojo Beat Manga)
MSRP: $8.99 US
Rating: T+ (Older Teen)
Release Date: Available Now

At journey’s end, the only truth is that love will guide you home.

Pedaling across the open fields and through villages and towns unknown, Yuta Takemoto continues to bike his way onwards to a destination that is not clear to him. All he knows is that he doesn’t know who he is and what he wants out of life and that maybe somewhere out there lies the answer. In Honey and Clover, Volume 7, Takemoto reaches the end of his journey and makes a discovery.

As you can imagine, Takemoto’s delivery bicycle is falling apart and when it does he finds himself worn out and takes a nap not far from a temple. When he wakes up, he is surrounded by a motley crew of workers who have come to restore the temple. They not only invite him to eat with him but also come to work with them long enough for him to buy a new bicycle so he could continue the journey. Takemoto agrees and takes on the task of cleaning their clothes, cooking their meals and performing small chores in restoring the temple. Of course, there’s one young fellow he immediately despises Takemoto for obvious reasons.

As Takemoto impresses the crew with his efficiency, Yamada manages to make an impression on somebody the young girl never thought she would get to meet. You see, hanging out in the offices where Mayama use to work is Rika-san … the very woman that Mayama is in love with and thus the reason he pushes Yamada aside. As Yamada stammers and tries to find something to say to the older woman, it is Rika-san who begins the conversation and inquires about Yamada’s beautiful pottery work. As the young girl attempts to avoid Rika, it is the older woman who comes looking for Yamada to hire her on for a project. Yamada’s answer surprises even Mayama.

As the complexities of the love triangle take a most dramatic and hilarious turn (one that leaves Morita in the hospital), Hagu gets an offer to teach grade school children art. She accepts reluctantly and, seeing as she’s physically not much bigger than the kids in her classroom, she actually makes a good teacher. One of her students in particular wants more instruction to win an art prize and when Hagu discovers why she begins to weep (which makes her student weep) and finally shares a moment with him that inspires the youth. It’s clear that Hagu has found a place as a teacher.

Takemoto, on the other hand, thinks he found his place among the temple restorers and ends up realizing that he’s still just as clueless as to who his is and what life has in store for him. He discovers that one of the workers was on the same journey of self-discovery as well until he found the same workers. Offering him his old bike and maps, the crew sends Takemoto back on the road. It isn’t until the young man reach land’s end that he comes to understand that there is a place where he belongs and it is back him where his friends are and where she is waiting.

Needless to say, Takemoto’s return is monumental. He makes it his priority to see Hagu first and she is genuinely glad to see him … as are the others who see the change in the young man. While Takemoto says he didn’t really find himself, the reality is that he has found something even more valuable. What it is becomes apparent when he sees Hagu again to make his confession to her.

It’s good to see the gang together again as it was since Volume 1 and yes it’s a real hoot watching the five of them go about their wildly fun antics of the past. Even more so, it’s great to see more bonus chapters and in this volume we are introduced to Ninzaburo, a beloved mascot who managed to steal the hearts of even the coldest and meanest ruffians. You just have to read this bonus chapter, Honey and Clover fans.

Volume 7 of Honey and Clover, like past volumes, speaks from the heart and this time it is Takemoto who takes center stage. The fractured love triangle that is Mayama, Yamada and Rika-san comes to a fascinating collision as the three come together and yes we are dying to see what happens next with Volume 8. Once again, Chica Umino takes this story to a different and genuinely pleasing new heights.

MANGA REVIEW BREAKDOWN

STORY: A+
On his continued journey to find himself, Takemoto is discovered by a group of temple restorers who offers him a job that Takemoto takes on with much enthusiasm. Meanwhile, Yamada comes face-to-face with the woman who has stolen Mayama’s heart for so long. When Takemoto finally does come back home to the others, he makes a confession to Hagu who has taken up teaching art to grade school children.

ART: A
Ok, now Chica Umino is just playing with us because just when we thought she has made the perfect Honey and Clover cover she goes and outdoes herself again. Volume 7 has a truly gorgeous cover and once again her art is one of the highlights of this manga.

OVERALL: A+
There are certain moments in every manga series that fans are waiting and hoping would happen and in Volume 7 of Honey and Clover that moment is here when Takemoto finally comes home. His journey of self-discovery has led him down many interesting paths but the lessons he takes with him make this volume deep stuff, indeed.