VIZ MEDIA ANNOUNCES NEW DVD RELEASES FOR MARCH 2010

San Francisco, CA, JANUARY 28, 2010 – VIZ Media, LLC (VIZ Media), one of the entertainment industry’s most innovative and comprehensive publishing, animation and licensing companies, has announced their list of DVD titles scheduled for release in March 2010. This includes the final box set release of HONEY AND CLOVER, the next installments of the POKÉMON ELEMENTS series, as well as the latest episodic releases of the popular BLEACH and NARUTO SHIPPUDEN series. Also releasing is the live action feature film – HISASHI TENMYOUYA: SAMURAI NOUVEAU from VIZ Pictures. VIZ Media DVD titles are distributed (in English) in the U.S and Mexico by Warner Home Video and in Canada by Allegro.

HONEY AND CLOVER Box Set 3 · Rated ‘T+’ for Older Teens · MSRP: $59.90 US/ $85.99 CAN · Available March 16

Yuta returns from his journey of self-discovery only to find everyone around him deep in their own struggles to shape their futures. Ayumi finds herself increasingly included in projects involving Takumi and Rika, and the strain is breaking her. Far away in America, Shinobu and his brother’s endless quest for money finally helps them achieve their ultimate goal, while back home Hagumi must face the devastating consequences of an accident that could change her life forever. Can the pursuit of happiness and the pursuit of art ever be one and the same?

Contains Season 2, Episodes 1-12.

For more information on HONEY AND CLOVER, please visit www.honeyandclover.viz.com.

SHONEN JUMP releases include:

BLEACH Volume 26 · Rated ‘T’ for Teens · MSRP: $24.92 US / $35.99 CAN · Available March 23

The Bount leader Jin Kariya has obtained the Jokai Crest and is absorbing its immense power. While Ichigo and the others rest and prepare for their next battle, the Soul Reapers are warned by Rantao that there are many Crests within the Seireitei, and all may explode if Kariya’s Crest is released. Head Captain Yamamoto mobilizes all Soul Reapers to find and seal the remaining Crests. Then, atop Sokyoku Hill, Ichigo faces Kariya in their final clash! Contains episodes 105 – 109.

For more information on BLEACH, please visit www.BLEACH.viz.com.

NARUTO SHIPPUDEN Volume 7 · Rated ‘T+’ for Older Teens · MSRP: $24.92 US / $35.99 CAN · Available March 9

In their battle with Sasori, Granny Chiyo and Sakura must make life-or-death choices to bring the puppet master down. Outside the Akatsuki hideout, Team Guy have fought the copies of themselves to the point of exhaustion, but Rock Lee’s plan sets fire to their fighting spirits. Meanwhile, Naruto and Kakashi have caught up to Deidara, and Kakashi prepares to unleash his newest jutsu–the Mangekyo Sharingan! Contains episodes 27 – 30.

For more information on NARUTO and NARUTO SHIPPUDEN, please visit www.NARUTO.com

New POKÉMON Releases Include:

POKÉMON ELEMENTS, Volume 9: Ghost · Rated ‘A’ for All Ages · MSRP: $9.98 US/ $14.99 CAN · Available March 23

POKÉMON ELEMENTS, Volume 10: Rock · Rated ‘A’ for All Ages · MSRP: $9.98 US / $14.99 CAN · Available March 23

Following the POKÉMON All Star series set, the POKÉMON: ELEMENTS collection consists of the most important episodes commemorating the different types of Pokémon characters. Each disc showcases a Pokémon type with three all-time favorite episodes.

From VIZ Pictures (Live Action Feature Films):

HISASHI TENMYOUYA: SAMURAI NOUVEAU, NEW PEOPLE Artist Series Volume 4 · MSRP: $24.92 US / $35.99 CAN · Available March 9

A graphic designer turned contemporary artist, Hisashi Tenmyouya brings his own style of NEO-Traditional Japanese Painting to the art world. Tenmyouya reveals his soul through melding of modern urban subjects with traditional methods of painting.

For more information on VIZ Pictures, please visit www.viz-pictures.com.

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 the popular monthly manga anthology SHONEN JUMP magazine, 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.

MAN AND MACHINE IN THE FIGHT AGAINST THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE IN SCI-FI ACTION MANGA BIOMEGA

San Francisco, CA, JANUARY 26, 2010 – VIZ Media, LLC (VIZ Media), one of the entertainment industry’s most innovative and comprehensive publishing, animation and licensing companies, will debut the on February 2nd. The new series, rated ‘M’ for Mature Audiences, will be published under the VIZ Signature imprint and will carry a MSRP of $12.99 U.S. / $16.99 CAN.

Zoichi Kanoe plunges into the depths of 9JO, a sprawling island city in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, in search of Eon Green, a girl with the power to transmute the N5S virus. The deadly contagion is spreading across the world, turning humans into disfigured, zombie-like “drones.” But he’s not the only one looking for her. Agents of the Public Health Service’s Compulsory Execution Unit are also in hot pursuit, with sinister designs of their own. Zoichi and his trans-human allies have no time to waste; the countdown to the apocalypse has begun!

“Tsutomu Nihei created BIOMEGA with a jaw-dropping, intensely powerful art style that reflects his background in modern architecture,” says Leyla Aker, Editorial Manager, VIZ Media. “The main characters—the “enhanced” human Zoichi and Fuyu, the AI in his rocket of a motorcycle—navigate this apocalyptic landscape in a story that offers pure speed, action, and suspense. Both manga and American comics fans won’t want to miss this exciting debut!”

Tsutomu Nihei debuted with the acclaimed manga short story BLAME!, which was nominated for North America’s Harvey Award and won the Shiki Award in Japan. The artist also created NOiSE, a manga prequel to BLAME!. His visually striking Wolverine tie-in SNIKT! was published by Marvel Comics along with a commission by Bungie Studios for the HALO graphic novel.

For more information on this title, or others from VIZ Media, please visit www.viz.com.

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 the popular monthly manga anthology SHONEN JUMP magazine, 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 website at www.VIZ.com.

One Piece, Season Two-Third Voyage – DVD Review

Review by: Eduardo Zacarias

Publisher: FUNimation Entertainment
MSRP: $49.98 US
Running Time: 320 minutes
Genre: Action
Rating: TV 14
Release Date: Available Now

The legend of the talking blue-nosed reindeer.

While the best is yet to come, ever since they picked up Princess Vivi the Straw Hat pirates have been getting into some engaging adventures as Season Two got off on an interest start. While the first and second voyage hooked us, the Third Voyage of Season Two of One Piece slows the pace down somewhat but that doesn’t mean you won’t be hooked by the episodes in this set as the series introduces an interesting new member of the Straw Hats.

Having left the island known as Little Garden and defeated a few agents of Baroque Works, the Straw Hats set sail for Alabasta only to realize that Nami’s fever is getting worst. With the ship’s navigator’s life in danger, the crew must put their journey to Alabasta on hold to find medical care for Nami. As it turns out, there’s an island nearby that is said to be stuck in an endless winter. As they could see, the waters near this island are certainly getting cold as they are attacked by a pirate crew with a captain named Wapol who has the ability to eat anything and everything.

The confrontation doesn’t take too long; however, as Luffy flings Wapol off the ship as the rival pirates rush off to save their captain who can’t swim. With that unpleasantness behind them, the crew reaches the nameless winter island only to receive a very unfriendly welcome by the locals of the island. They are greeted by a man named Dolton who acts as the main village’s chief of security. While Vivi manages to convince the villagers to let them into the village, they find out that there are no doctors around with the exception of a witch.

As it turns out, the witch is actually a doctor named Kureha who cures what ails you but at a steep price that is considerably unreasonable. The doctor also travels with her blue-nosed reindeer she calls Chopper but the real secret here is that Chopper can actually talk and transform into a walking man-beast thanks to the fact that the critter ate a devil fruit called Human-Human Fruit that gives him all the properties of a human male. Oh, but we’ll get to Chopper in just a minute.

With Luffy and Sanji running into the forest with a very delicate Nami to reach the castle where the witch currently lives, Usopp and Vivi find out more about the island and why there aren’t any other doctors around. The island has had quite a turbulent history thanks to the old King’s problematic heir and Dolton himself had played a role in the island’s anguish until he finally came to his senses and defied the new king of the island. Unfortunately for them, the heir finally does come home and it just so happens that the royal just so happens to be Captain Wapol … the very fiend that Luffy tossed out of his ship before they arrived to the island the king calls Drum Island.

Meanwhile, Luffy attempts to reach the castle only find themselves going up against vicious killer bunnies as well as Wapol himself. With Nami in bad shape and Sanji becoming injured in the battle, it is up to Luffy to reach the highest peak to get to the witch. We’ve seen a very determined Luffy before but there’s something about him carrying both Nami and Sanji that is very endearing that you can’t help but love the loveable goof even more after this. He even impressed Dr. Kureha who tends to their wounds and, later, joins Luffy and Sanji on the battlefield along with Chopper who shows them all three of his forms … including the ability to turn into a tall, hulking, humanoid size.

While the battle against Wapol is a good one, the real attraction of the Third Voyage is really Chopper’s back-story and how he came to be Dr. Kureha’s assistant/companion. Given the name Tony Tony Chopper by the only man on the island that didn’t consider him a freak, Chopper found himself living with a doctor named Hiriluk whose only wish is to make the cherry blossoms bloom again on the island. Unfortunately, Wapol put an end to the good doctor’s dream. As a result, Chopper has trained to become a doctor as well and with the aid of Hiriluk’s friend, Kureha, he does become a decent physician.

Having been shoot at and chased by everyone on the island, Chopper holds no grudge against the humans and while he sees himself as an abomination, it is Luffy who sees the great potential in him to the point that he hounds the cute reindeer endlessly until he does decide to join the Straw Hats who welcome him warmly as they continue on their way to Alabasta where Captain Smoker and a few agents of Baroque Works are also headed.

While not the most thrilling part of Season Two, One Piece’s Third Voyage is actually a reminder that the series can also be downright touching as well as deeply compelling. Sure, we love the action the show constantly throws at us but we also love the fact that this series takes its time introducing its characters enough that you won’t help but continue cheering them on. Welcome aboard, Chopper, you are a great new addition to the crew.

DVD REVIEW BREAKDOWN

MOVIE/EPISODES: B+
With Nami’s condition becoming life threatening, Luffy and his crew manage to locate an island of eternal winter. The bad news is that there aren’t any doctors with the exception of a witch and her reindeer who not only talks but is a doctor as well. Unfortunately, there’s a tyrant who will stop at nothing to reclaim the island.

VIDEO QUALITY: A
The animation is still wonderfully and consistently original and Chopper is just one of the more interesting (and admittedly) and cutest character to come along in this series.

AUDIO QUALITY: A
I definitely agree with Brina Palencia who, on the audio commentary, said that the Japanese voice actor who voices Chopper is absolutely amazing. It’s true but I think Palencia does a great job too and yes all the female staff here think she makes Chopper sound even more cute. The soundtrack is still great and the new closing theme song is simply Ok.

EXTRAS: C
Marathon Play is still a great feature that should be implemented on other long running series like One Piece and the audio commentary for Episode 90 (with Brina Palencia and Sonny Strait adding colorful background on their characters) is still awesome.

OVERALL: B+
While not as exciting as the second season’s Second Voyage, this Third Voyage is a deeply involving and occasionally emotional introduction to the Straw Hats newest shipmate. As Luffy and his crew fight to save Nami on an unknown island, the crew meets an unusual new ally with an interesting past that makes this portion of Season Two really worthwhile.

Venus Capriccio, Vol. 1 – Manga Review

Review by: Brenda Gregson

Publisher: CMX Manga
Author: Mai Nishikata
Genre: Graphic Novel (Shoujo)
MSRP: $9.99 US
Rating: T (Teen)
Release Date: Now available

Music can bring people together.

We’ve seen it all before in other manga, haven’t we? That gorgeous almost feminine guy who steals the heart of a diamond-in-the-rough girl or that tough guy who happens to fall for a really cute and dainty girl. These stories have been done to death but there is still talented manga-ka who take the concept and make it their own and this is exactly what Mai Nishikata does with Volume 1 of Venus Capriccio.

Venus Capriccio tells the story of a tomboy named Takami Habara who grew up with four older and very rowdy brothers and, as a result, is boyishly rough. She even shows up to a date wearing jeans, an athletic top and a ball cap … a fact that makes the guy who asked her out to dump her on the spot. It doesn’t take too long before she turns to her childhood friend – Akira Sasaki – for comfort. At 14-years old, three years older than Takami, Akira is a piano prodigy. On top of that he’s an absolutely gorgeous half-Japanese-half-Caucasian who seems far more wise despite his age.

He also seems to be interested in Takami in the romantic sense but, alas, Takami seems to think of him more like a little “sister” than anything else. Poor Akira, she doesn’t even acknowledge his gender, although the Akira is gorgeous in that softly feminine way seeing as Nishikata-sensei draws him with delicately to the point that we can see why Takami confused him for a girl when she met him so long ago. Yet girly frame aside, Akira – after he asked Takami to wear a dress and see him play at a club – literally sweeps her off her feet and announces that Takami is his fiancée just to get people to see how beautiful she is but instead it just freaks out the girl.

In another chapter, there’s a cute girl named Sayuki who has a major crush on Akira and wishes to play a duet that Akira and Takami’s piano teacher would like them to play at her wedding. Seeing Takami as a rival, however, Sayuki confronts the taller girl and asks her how she feels about Akira. The truth is, Sayuki has fallen for Akira ever since she caught sight of him playing the piano at the school. She is determined to win his heart but it becomes clear that Akira indeed is in love with Takami.

Meanwhile, in the next chapter, Takami’s school is holding its annual school festival and Takami witnesses Mori (the same guy that dumped her in the first chapter) dump a cute girl because she’s just not cute enough to help him win the Prince and Princess Contest. Surprisingly, the girl Mori dumped asks Takami to help her show Mori that she’s able to win the contest. The catch is that it is Takami is to play the role of the Prince. On the day of the festival, though, Mori manages to convince the same girl he dumped to become her Princess simply because he couldn’t find a replacement in time. As a result, Takami enters the contest with Akira playing the Princess role.

After the events of the Prince and Princess Contest, Akira rightfully becomes popular in Takami’s school. Soon, Akira has even more female admirers, many of which find it unfair that he spends way too much time with Takami … a girl who isn’t even his girlfriend. Things get ugly when two fans try to sneak behind Akira and clip a lock of his hair … an act that angers Takami.

In the final chapter, Akira and Takami double date with Takami’s best friend and her boyfriend at an amusement park. Takami comes to realize that Akira has never been to an amusement park before and tries to make the visit memorable but things just keep getting in the way. She also comes to realize a few things about her friend as she also comes to find that Akira was more interested in spending the day with her.

Volume 1 of Venus Capriccio is actually an entertaining shoujo manga that might feel familiar but thanks to its characters and fun story it does stand out among similar titles. I’m a sucker for shoujo with a rough tomboy character who is too stubborn to realize that love is staring her straight in the face and Mai Nishikata handles it fabulously. It’s a fun story that’s worth a glance.

MANGA REVIEW BREAKDOWN

STORY: B
Takami Habara and Akira Sasaki have been childhood friends since they were both students at Aoyama Piano School and while the tomboyish Takami has always seen the beautiful and talented Akira as a little sister (despite the fact Akira is a boy), the half-Japanese piano prodigy has fallen in love with the rough girl.

ART: B-
Nishikata-sensei’s art isn’t particularly original but it is still quite lovely … especially when she’s drawing Akira who is definitely the most visually striking character in this series.

OVERALL: B
A fun shoujo manga with interesting characters and even more interesting possibilities, the first volume of Venus Capriccio is actually a very promising series with a lot of heart. The playful storytelling style and the cute characters trying to make sense of their changing relationship towards each another makes this a fun read. That’s not bad for Nishikata-sensei’s first series.

Evangelion 1.01: You Are (Not) Alone – DVD Review

Review by: Clive Owen

Publisher: FUNimation Entertainment
MSRP: $29.98 US
Running Time: 98 minutes
Genre: Action
Rating: PG-13
Release Date: January 19, 2010

Now this is the right way to rebuild a classic.

For those who had the opportunity to see it on the big screen in very select movie theaters around the United States, Evangelion 1.01: You Are (Not) Alone was quite a thrill for Neon Genesis Evangelion fans. As a dedicated and loyal fan of the series, I was lucky enough to attend the first show with a large number of fans and anime enthusiasts. For those of you who missed it, don’t worry because FUNimation brings us You Are (Not) Alone on DVD and yes, Evangelion fans, you will not be disappointed.

Billed as a “rebuild,” Evangelion 1.01 is, essentially, the first six episodes of the Neon Genesis Evangelion TV series repackaged with better animation that retains its hand-drawn feel and mixed with digitally enhanced CG effects that don’t take away from the animation itself. The original story is there and so are the characters so if you were looking for something completely new you are in for a disappointment. Then again, considering the fact that the original is a bona fide anime classic, you won’t be complaining very much.

The story takes place in the not-to-distant future where the city has been nearly decimated by invaders called Angels that are here to wipe out humanity as we know it. Luckily, the United Nations has formed a government agency called NERV to combat the threat using experimental mechs that must be piloted by the right individual called Evangeline (or Eva) units. On the day an Angel attacks, a young High school student named Shinji Ikari is saved by a beautiful older woman named Misato Katsuragi who knows Shinji’s father.

As fate would have it, Shinji’s father just so happens to be in charge of the Eva units and wants his son to pilot the unit known as Eva Unit-01. In fact, he insists that Shinji is the only person who can pilot the giant robot despite the fact that the boy doesn’t know the first thing about piloting something as unusual as Eva Unit-01. Yet when his father threatens to replace him with a young, beautiful and very injured girl, Shinji puts aside his fear and insecurity and jumps into the strange water-filled cockpit and faces off against the attacking Angel. With Misato guiding him via communicator, Shinji not only defeats the Angel but also unlocks its hidden power that makes the unit seem like it has come to life.

So begins Shinji’s career as the Eva Unit-01’s pilot but despite the fact that he’s able to operate his robotic mech he’s still a scared boy who suddenly feels like he has no choice but to live out the role his father planned for him. Living with Misato doesn’t make things easier and, to top it all off, he is bullied in school and his father still doesn’t seem to want to warm up to him. While he questions himself, Shinji sees that the beautiful young girl who happens to be in her class is the same injured girl that his father wanted to pilot the Eva Unit-01. She is Rei Ayanami who Shinji’s father is overprotective of since he brought her into the project.

The truth is that the fate of the world rests in Shinji and Rei’s shoulders and while one of them seems to accept this fact the other just doesn’t have the motivation or the courage to face the massive enemy threat. While classmates begin to understand the stress of being the country, hell, the world’s savior, his real source of inspiration comes from Rei as they go up against a powerful Angel together in an exciting final battle.

The movie essentially takes some of the more exciting parts of the series and, as a result, feels downright exciting down to the very end. As this is the first movie in what is to be told in two parts (Evangelion 2.0: You Can (Not) Advance being the upcoming sequel ), the film does have that sense of things are definitely going to get a lot better in the upcoming chapters.

In the end, Evangelion 1.01: You Are (Not) Alone does feel like an epic in the making and it’s the perfect introduction to anyone who missed out on Neon Genesis Evangelion or those who always wanted to revisit it in a new way. For my money, the movie works and thus fans of the classic will certainly not be disappointed, although those looking for a whole new experience will not find what they’re looking for in this one. Still, this is a good movie you will not want to miss.

DVD REVIEW BREAKDOWN

MOVIE/EPISODES: B+
A young boy named Shinji Ikari becomes the unlikely pilot of an experimental mech called the Eva Unit-01 for a U.N. sanctioned organization called NERV in a distant future version of Japan. Going up against dangerous invaders looking to wipe out the human race, Shinji must come to terms with the fact the he was born to pilot Unit 01.

VIDEO QUALITY: A-
The animation has definitely been improved and the backgrounds and action will not fail to knock your socks off just as it did on the big screen. Even the CG effects work well in this series.

AUDIO QUALITY: B+
The English dub is actually handled well but you will be watching this one in its original Japanese format. The original score by Sagisu Shiro is back and that’s Ok because it’s an amazing score.

EXTRAS: D
Sadly, the extras on the DVD are just a few trailers and includes a brief leaflet with some background on the theatrical release. There’s a cool little preview of the sequel, Evangelion 2.0: You Can (Not) Advance at the end of the credits, though.

OVERALL: B+
Evangelion 1.01: You Are (Not) Alone is a stylish, exciting and acceptable “rebuild” of Neon Genesis Evangelion’s first few episodes crammed into one awesome movie. While a part of me wishes that the story was changed just enough to be an interesting new take on the classic, another part of me is relieved that they didn’t mess with what worked the first time around. One thing is for sure, you will definitely be looking forward to the sequel.

Naoki Urasawa’s Monster, Box Set 1 – DVD Review

Review by: Eduardo Zacarias

Publisher: VIZ Media
MSRP: $59.90 US
Running Time: 330 minutes
Genre: Suspense/Mystery
Rating: M (Mature)
Release Date: Available Now

Smart, complex and utterly brilliant … just what you can ask in a suspense/mystery.

All Doctor Kenzo Tenma wanted out of life is to save lives as a surgeon and – as a result – he was considered a young genius in the field of medicine. Unfortunately, fate is not a kind mistress and the events that unfold in this story leads the Doctor to a dark and startling truth about the monster he helped save. Welcome to the DVD Box Set 1 of Naoki Urasawa’s Monster … an extraordinary anime suspense tale by one of the talented mind of Naoki Urasawa.

This first box set covers the first 15 episodes of the anime version of Urasawa’s powerful manga and faithfully recreates the intricate story. Taking place in Dusseldorf – circa 1986 – just three years before the fall of the wall in Berlin in a Germany that still feels the painful sting of the aftermath of World War II, Dr. Tenma is living a good life working in a prestigious hospital. He might be a Japanese transplant but he’s a brilliant surgeon who also happens to be dating the beautiful daughter of hospital’s director.

Still, despite being treated well by the Director and his daughter, Eva Heinemann, Tenma feels he is simply being used by the Director who only cares about making his hospital famous. When a Turkish farmer’s wife confronts Tenma for having – under the orders of the Director – treated a famous opera singer instead of her husband who arrived to the hospital first, Tenma feels that the hospital doesn’t care about helping the little people.

So when an opportunity arrives to aid a child who was shot in the head and disobey the Director’s orders of tending to the city’s major who had a stroke, Tenma chooses to aid the child. Yes, he commits professional suicide but he felt the child’s life comes first. What he doesn’t realize, though, is that something is not right about the child. You see, the boy was found shot near the bodies of his foster parents and standing before the boy is his twin sister who is in a state of shock. Her only words to Tenma are “kill.”

Having been taken off the twins’ case, being overlooked as Chief of Surgery and being dumped by his fiancé, Tenma’s life is in ruin until – mysterious – the two doctors that replaced him and the hospital Director are found dead. On top of that, the boy he saved – know as Johan – and his sister go missing. Nine years pass and Tenma’s career is doing a lot better but Germany is being terrorized by a serial killer murdering elderly couples. It isn’t until Tenma follows a strange patient to an abandoned building that he comes face-to-face with the young serial killer who recognizes the Doctor. It’s Johan who kills the man right in front of Tenma and walks away.

Several miles away, a young university student named Nina is receiving anonymous e-mails from a person she thinks might be a secret admirer. She’s a lovely young woman who vaguely remembers her past until one day, waiting for a person she thinks is her admirer, she catches a glimpse of a young man that fills her with dread. Meanwhile, back in Dusseldorf, a hardboiled cop named Inspector Lunge suspects Tenma of having murdered his rivals and the hospital Director. Worst yet, he’s being implicated in the murder of the patient Johan had killed right in front of him.

So, on the run, Tenma decides to look for Johan on his own and stop the monster’s killing spree as well as find out the mystery behind his lost twin sister. When he does find the girl he had known as Anna and is now called Nina, people begin to die again. Seeing no other way of stopping the violence but to kill him, both Tenma and Nina go their separate way to find Johan.

The closer Tenma gets to finding Johan, though, the more pieces of the puzzle begin to reveal themselves including the discovery of an orphanage with a very dark and disturbing secret that is connected to Johan. While Tenma saves an orphan and continues the journey with the boy, Anna/Nina is searching for John posing as a prostitute in order to meet the city’s notorious gangster nicknamed “the Baby.” Meanwhile, Inspector Lunge is pushed by Tenma’s miserably and lonely ex, Eva, to find and arrest Tenma … the man she feels ruined her life.

Monster is certainly not your average suspense tale since it spins a very intricate web of political and historical conspiracies set in a background and time period that makes the story so credible. Secondly, the characters are fleshed out to the point that you won’t help but be drawn into their lives whether the episode takes a closer look into Inspector Lunge’s personal life or the self-destructive life of Eva Heinmann. Thankfully, the series never goes too dark, such as the episode where Tenma trains to use a gun with a mercenary and the little girl he watches over.

Naoki Urasawa’s Monster, Box Set 1, is wonderfully crafted and intense anime series that pushes the genre forward in a way that makes it just too damn hard to want to stop watching. If you read the source material you already know how brilliant the story is but thanks to director Masayuki Kojima you can expect the anime series to be just as compelling and rightfully disturbing.

DVD REVIEW BREAKDOWN

MOVIE/EPISODES: A+
Doctor Kenzo Tenma is a brilliant physician who makes a judgment call that saved the life of a boy who turns out to be a killer of monstrous proportions. In order to redeem himself, Tenma begins his own investigation while being pursued by the police as a suspect. Who is Johan and what turned him into a vicious serial killer and what is his twin sister’s dark secret?

VIDEO QUALITY: A
The series looks great on DVD and this is great news considering the fact that the animation manages to capture the look of Urasawa-sensei’s original art.

AUDIO QUALITY: A+
Both the original Japanese voices and the English dub talent make the brilliant dialogue work beautifully. On top of that, Kuniaki Haishima’s score is simply spectacular … and often appropriately creepy.

EXTRAS: D
There are trailers for Naoki Urasawa’s manga titles as well as the trailer for Monster but the best extra comes in the form of Digital Guide of the Official Monster File with background info on characters, locales and historical facts about Germany.

OVERALL: A+
A groundbreaking, complex and intelligent suspense story, the DVD Box Set 1 of Naoki Urasawa’s Monster will not fail to hook you from the very start. It weaves an intricate web of mysteries that slowly unravels to reveal a shocking picture worthy of the genre. If this is the first part we certainly can’t wait for Box Set 2.

One Piece, Vol. 22 – Manga Review

Review by: Edward Zacharias

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

Alabasta makes its final stand!

It’s story arcs like the Battle for Alabasta that has made One Piece fans realize that, after 22 volumes, this series has yet to have had a dull moment. We have followed the Straw Hat pirates through a number of interesting adventures but nothing comes to this epic-sized story arc that just seemed to be getting better and better with each volume. As the story is coming close to its finale, Volume 22 of One Piece pushes the action envelope as the Straw Hats face the man who caused Alabasta to self-destruct.

Having fought her way to the palace while her Straw Hat companions faced off against the dangerous agents of Baroque Works, Princess Vivi finally reaches her father – King Cobra – who is in the clutches of the man who started the conflict in the first place … Sir Crocodile. The confrontation, of course, is ugly but it becomes clear that Crocodile doesn’t only want the dangerous weapon known as the Pluton but he also wishes to rule over a new desert version of Alabasta.

On top of that, Crocodile makes another announcement that shocks everyone present … there’s going to be an explosion that will kill everyone in the palace square in just a few minutes and with rebels and palace soldiers fighting below the death toll will be massive. As the remaining palace guards fight Crocodile and then Chaka launches his own attack, the dastardly Crocodile makes short work of them. As Koza, the leader of the rebels finds out Crocodile’s plan, he attempts to stop the fighting only to be shot down and thus sparking more violence between the two factions.

Meanwhile, each Straw Hat, having gone up against an agent, comes out victoriously yet not without sustaining injuries. Zolo is the last to come out of his battle and joins Nami who managed to take down Ms. Doublefinger with Usopp’s party favor-like weapon. With Tony and Usopp attempting to rejoin Princess Vivi, it is none other than Monkey D. Luffy who reaches the palace just in time to save the Princess. Having escaped death more than once, Luffy faces off against Crocodile with a secret up his sleeve that finally makes this an even fight.

Luckily, Princess Vivi is joined by the remaining Straw Hats but with no idea of where the explosive or cannon will destroy the square it will be a close one indeed. Then again, with the rebels and those loyal to the King continue to fight; it’s not going to be easy. To make matters even more complicated, Ms. All Sunday forces King Cobra to take her to where the Pluton might be hidden. Leading her to a catacomb, the text written on the walls reveals very little.

Unfortunately for Ms. All Sunday, though, Crocodile has come to the end of his partnership with the woman he really knows as Nico Robin. According to the Marines, Nico Robin has been wanted since she was a child until she was taken in by Baroque Works. None of this matters to Crocodile, though, who goes up against the woman. What Crocodile wasn’t expecting was Luffy to come back for one last round with yet another trick up his sleeve.

Speaking of the Marines, they show up again with Tashigi leading the troops and – in a most unusual moment – sides with the Straw Hats in order to save Alabasta. It finally occurs to Princess Vivi where the explosive might be hidden but just as they reach there they encounter two dangerous Baroque Works agents. Meanwhile, Crocodile pulls out a deadly weapon of his own as he fights Luffy in one final showdown. Things are definitely going to get really interesting.

As Alabasta has mere seconds before the square is destroyed and Luffy makes his stand against Crocodile, Volume 22 of One Piece becomes even more exciting as the story arc is coming to its intense finale. If you haven’t picked up a One Piece volume for a long time then you are missing out on a rewarding and action-filled series.

MANGA REVIEW BREAKDOWN

STORY: A
Despite the fact that Princess Vivi has finally reached the palace and has even convinced the leader of the rebels to stop fighting, Crocodile is about unleash a bigger threat on Alubarna that could add to the body count. Meanwhile, the Straw Hats race to help the Princess as Monkey D. Luffy makes it out of the desert to challenge Crocodile.

ART: A+
The art has gotten a lot more elaborate in this series and that’s a very good thing as this volume gives us plenty to like visually.

OVERALL: A
The clock is ticking – literally – as Princess Vivi and the Straw Hats clash with the remaining Baroque Works agents and soldiers in Volume 22 of One Piece. The end of this exciting and action-packed story arc is coming to it’s stunning conclusion as we can see from this volume that’s simply way too much fun that you won’t be able to put it down.