Honey and Clover, Vol. 9 – Manga Review

Review by: Sophie Stevens

Publisher: VIZ Media
Author: Chica Umino
Genre: Graphic Novel (Shojo Beat Manga)
MSRP: $9.99 US
Rating: T+ (Older Teen)
Release Date: Now available

The true inner strength of Hagumi Hanamoto.

At this point Chica Umino ceases to surprise me because, with each volume of Honey and Clover, I know I can come to expect yet another volume that reminds me why I continue to adore this shoujo manga. With the series heading towards its tenth volume, Honey and Clover seemingly never runs out of events that change the way you look at life and love and all the things in-between. The same can be said about Volume 10 as we witness the surprising strength of one of its smallest characters.

First, though, the series introduces us to two very polar opposite little boys who are always wide-eyed with wonder at the fascinating inventions their mad genius of a father creates in his laboratory. These boys are Shinobu and Kaoru Morita, the sons of Tsukasa Morita. Tsukasa is the type of man that would drop what he’s doing to head home to eat his beautiful wife’s curry or have potential new employees compete for the job game show-style. He’s the type of man who would invent tiny robots and other amazing inventions and name them after his children.

Working for Tsukasa Morita is nothing short of craziness and just about the only employee with his feet firmly placed on reality is actually his cousin named Tatsuo. In a business with many competitors and rivals, Morita is doing good by his family and employees. Yet one day, Tatsuo – partly for reasons that involve money and another mainly because he is jealous of the man – sells all the major shares of their company to their rivals at Floyd Electric. The result, as you can imagine, is catastrophic.

Yet Morita is the type of man who is noble enough to teach his kids not to hate their Uncle Tatsuo and carry the burden of hatred with them. Unfortunately, Kaoru isn’t able to put the hatred of his Uncle’s betrayal behind and for a reason that’s nearly similar to Tatsuo’s reasons for betraying Tsukasa. These two share a common sentiment and understanding but that doesn’t mean he’s willing to forgive and forget the man who sold his father out to the greedy company owner of Floyd Electric.

Several years later, Kaoru dragged Shinobu into obtaining enough money and resources to carry out the ultimate revenge against the owner of Floyd Electric. While lacking Shinobu’s artistic genius, Kaoru is something of a master in planning and executing vengeance and he not only destroys the company and regains the old patents the Morita brothers’ father created but they also completely ruin the company owner as well.

Meanwhile, Mayama receives a fax from Rika-san who needs the younger man in Florencia, Spain seeing as the top architect over there is all over her like a Spanish bullfighter’s outfit. As he rushes to be by her side, Hagumi and Takemoto talk about the future. It seems that Takemoto – after his long journey of self-discovery – has figured out what he wants to do with his life. Hagu, on the other hand, says she does but a part of her really isn’t so sure.

Then, on that same windy day, Hagumi Hanamoto’s life takes a most unexpected turn when she is badly injured on her way to the studio. As her friends quickly learn about her injury, it is Takemoto and Yamada that stays by her side as they discover a most startling fact about Hagu’s injuries and what it could mean to her future as an artist. With the injury threatening her art, we witness Hagumi at her worst and at her most stunningly strongest. We also witness the return of another who rushes to be by her side as well.

Volume 9 of Honey and Clover looks into the past of Shinobu and his brother while quietly and surprisingly reveals to us a dark moment for Hagumi and yes it is all handled just as beautifully as past volumes in this series. This is a very revealing volume in the series that shows us great weakness as well as great strength and you can bet that it will keep you glued to your copy from beginning to end.

MANGA REVIEW BREAKDOWN

STORY: A+
A rarely seen look into the past of Shinobu Morita and his brother as we witness the creative genius that is their father fall victim to a great betrayal by the hands of none other than a trusted family member. As Mayama rushes to Rika-san’s side in Spain, Hagumi – who is tortured by thoughts of her future – is badly injured in an accident.

ART: A
There’s not a lot I can say that already has been said about Chica Umino’s original art but I should say that I continue to fall in love with the covers and the comical sight gags tossed throughout each volume.

OVERALL: A+
A tragic accident and the fascinating look into the past of the Morita brothers makes Volume 9 of Honey and Clover yet another reason why we think Chica Umino is absolutely brilliant. While a bit on the somber side, the series never strays far from its poetic, funny and enchanting moments that fill the pages of this still extraordinary shoujo manga.

Review copy provided by VIZ Media

Case Closed Movie 5: Countdown to Heaven – DVD Review

Review by: Sophie Stevens

Publisher: FUNimation Entertainment
MSRP: $19.98 US
Running Time: 100 minutes
Genre: Action
Rating: TV PG
Release Date: Available Now

Bruce Willis would be proud.

Like so many Case Closed fans out there, the Case Closed movies seemed more like extended versions of a Case Closed episode and that’s really not such a bad thing considering the fact that many of the movies were actually good enough to capture the essence of the series. Countdown to Heaven is the fifth movie for the Case Closed series and while the mystery isn’t very convincing this is one of the more action-packed and thrilling cases that Conan has been involved with since his first introduction.

On his way to a fun weekend getaway with his young friends from the Junior Detective League as well as the brilliant and kindly Doctor Agasa, Conan Edogawa thinks this is just going to be a restful day of camping and even a chance to see Japan’s tallest twin skyscrapers up close. Like always, it’s never just a quiet day for Conan as his friend George finds their friend Vi Graythorn sneaking out late at night to make a phone call. At the same time, the two men responsible for killing Vi’s sister and for turning Jimmy Kudo into Conan Edogawa by way of an experimental drug are receiving the message. Are Gin and Vodka in league with Vi?

The threat of Gin and Vodka aside, Conan and his friends meet up with Richard Moore, his daughter Rachel and Rachel’s friend Serena outside the twin towers. It seems that Richard was invited to the gala opening of the skyscrapers that house business offices as well as a luxurious hotel by the building’s owner, a heiress named Madison who was Richard’s High school classmate.

Richard and the others aren’t Madison’s only guests seeing that there’s an elderly artist who became famous for his painting of Mount Fuji and then there’s the somewhat vulgar West Tama City councilman as well as a video game programmer. All seems to be going well until the city councilman is found stabbed to death inside his hotel room. The only clue is a sake cup left at the scene of the crime. This seems like yet another case for Conan and his young friends. Strangely enough, Richard and Rachel Moore sits the investigation out as Conan drags his friends to talk to all the usual suspects. Watching Mitch and George interrogate the artist about his whereabouts during the crime is amusing and so unlike any Case Closed episode.

When the video game programmer is found dead and another sake cup is found it is clear that this has become a serial killer case with the killer trying to send a message. Meanwhile, Gin and Vodka think that Vi is still walking around as her older self (both don’t know she took the same drug that shrunk Jimmy to a kid-size) and will be at the gala opening of the twin buildings.

During the festivities, though, the killer strikes again this time taking care of Madison herself. On top of that, Gin and Vodka set off explosions that set the twin towers ablaze. Suddenly, the movie becomes less of a murder/mystery and more of a nod to ‘70s disaster movie “Towering Inferno.” With explosions going off in different areas of the building and so many guests that include women and children, Inspector Meguire makes it top priority to get everyone out of there.

Unfortunately, the kids of the Junior Detective League stick around in hopes to solve the murders before Conan does and Rachel runs out to find Conan thinking the boy is in danger when Gin mistakes Rachel’s friend Serena for Sherry/Vi. Seeing as the bridge that links both skyscrapers together is blown away, Rachel – holding on to Conan – channels Bruce Willis’ character in “Die Hard” and performs the same stunt to save them both. This scene is definitely one of the coolest and surprisingly tender moments in the movie that it practically steals the show.

Oh, and Conan manages to solve the mystery and reveal the killer’s identity but by this time you really don’t care because A, cooler things are happening at the same time and B, the mystery was never that absorbing in the first place. How can you care about the identity of the killer when Conan and his friends decide to make their escape in a most spectacular and exciting way?

Weak mystery plot aside, there are some really fun moments in this series that centers on the Junior Detective League … particularly Amy and Mitch who make endearing confessions to none other than Rachel. It’s moments like that that should have been a bigger part of the TV series.

In the end, Countdown to Heaven is one of the most exciting Case Closed movie’s to come along since Captured in Her Eyes. Mind you, the mystery and the reasons why the killer did what he did are not handled in true Case Closed fashion and that might not sit well with fans but when there’s action this good we can almost forgive the movie its faults. Trust me, Case Closed followers, Countdown to Heaven is a real blast.

DVD REVIEW BREAKDOWN

MOVIE/EPISODES: B-
A camping trip and a visit to Japan’s tallest twin skyscrapers turns into a battle for survival as two old foes of Jimmy/Conan and Vi Graythorn set the buildings ablaze during its gala opening. Meanwhile, there’s are a number of murderers linked to a heiress who happens to own the skyscrapers and Conan and the Junior Detective League is on the case.

VIDEO QUALITY: B+
The movie looks just as good as the series’ episodes so don’t expect anything visually new in the movie … although the explosions do stand out perfectly.

AUDIO QUALITY: B+
The voice acting in the series has always been good throughout and that goes especially for the English dub voices that do improve on the dialogue. The Japanese voices are excellent as well and you just have to love the original score as well as the ending theme song “Always.”

EXTRAS: D
The only extras here are trailers so don’t expect audio commentary or a spotlight on Conan’s gadgets or character profiles like those that the series provides on the box sets.

OVERALL: B-
While lacking a real mystery worthy of Conan’s skills, Countdown to Heaven isn’t without its exciting and surprisingly action-packed moments that make this an interesting departure for Case Closed fans. With nods to two classic movies and no real resolution at the end, it isn’t the best Case Closed movie but that doesn’t mean you won’t have fun watching this one.

Review copy provided by FUNimation Entertainment

Ristorante Paradiso – Manga Review

Review by: Ai Kano

Publisher: VIZ Media
Author: Natsume Ono
Genre: Graphic Novel (VIZ Signature)
MSRP: $12.99 US
Rating: T+ (Older Teen)
Release Date: Available Now

Consider this a tasty morsel for shoujo fans with a more distinguished palate.

As a connoisseur of fine shoujo manga and a devourer of many a decent title that doesn’t take itself too seriously, I know that being a different kind of shoujo manga might not appeal to those who rather stick with the usual. Smelling something different and rather enticing, I took a nibble from Ristorante Paradiso and found myself enjoying its unique and mature flavor to the point of wanting seconds.

You see, Ristorante Paradiso strays from the usual attractive young heroine who falls for the handsome young guy shtick and tells a story about maturity, ageless love and a friendship that is formed late in the life of one woman. This is the story of a young girl named Nicoletta who has come to Rome in search of her mother named Olga who had abandoned her so long ago to marry a man who said he didn’t want children in his life. Nicoletta’s plan was to confront her mother’s husband and tell her what type of woman Olga is and how she sent a baby to live with her grandparents.

Oh, but life is filled with surprises and Nicoletta finally catches up to Olga who is married to the owner of a very popular restaurant called Casetta dell‘Orso. Stepping foot into the quaint and comfortable little restaurant, she notices that the staff is composed of handsome and utterly charming older men wearing glasses. One man in particular catches her eye seeing as he’s sophisticated, genteel and surprisingly attractive in a way that confuses the young girl. He is Claudio and his charismatic and appealing nature impress the young girl and, as Nicoletta sees, also appeals to the mostly female clientele that visit’s the restaurant daily.

When Nicoletta finally meets up with Olga, the older woman pleads with her daughter not to say anything to her husband, Lorenzo. Nicoletta agrees, for now, and she is introduced as the daughter of a friend. Lorenzo actually turns out to be a nice enough man who encourages Olga to find a place in Rome for Nicoletta to stay and Olga does so despite worrying about her daughter finally telling him the truth.

In the meantime, Nicoletta finds herself intrigued by Claudio, who is the restaurant’s capo cameriere, and asks about him only to find out that he wears a wedding ring. According to the rest of the charming staff like Furio, Vito, Luciano and Theo, Claudio wears the ring to ward off the female clients who want to do more than just flirt with him. Nicoletta sees this as a sign that he’s single and free to rope in as she does one evening … until Olga drops by and catches them together. It’s “hands off” Claudio for Nicoletta but the younger girl doesn’t see a reason not to pursue a relationship with him.

The truth is that Claudio’s ring wasn’t just for show because he wore it when he was actually married to a woman who is not only a regular at the restaurant but also a very close friend to Olga. Nicoletta is tortured by the fact that Claudio might still have feeling for his ex-wife despite the fact that she has moved on with her life. Seeing as Nicoletta blackmails her mother to give her a job in the restaurant as a cooking apprentice, she gets a chance to watch over Claudio.

The other staff begins to notice that Nicoletta is very interested in Claudio and watches amused as she even confronts Claudio’s ex at one point. As the young girl grows closer to the older man, she also discovers that there’s more to Lorenzo and the strange-and-silent staff member named Gigi. In her dealings with the restaurant, Nicoletta begins to understand her mother’s reasons for choosing love instead of her and in this understanding a friendship is formed. Claudio also comes to realize something about himself in the process as he finally talking to his ex-wife.

This is certainly a more slow-paced and slightly more serious shoujo manga but that doesn’t mean it isn’t amusing in its own way or even cute. The art isn’t very inviting, though, but at least it doesn’t look like every other shoujo manga you picked up.

Ristorante Paradiso is a shoujo manga of a different flavor and, if you give it a chance, will appease the appetites of those who are looking for something a little on the mature side. It’s slow pace might seem like a turn off but that is greatly overshadowed by a wonderfully crafted story with a cast of characters that are delightfully engaging. You can bet that we will certainly look forward to Natsume Ono’s follow-up to this story with the upcoming Gente.

MANGA REVIEW BREAKDOWN

STORY: A-
Nicoletta has come to Rome to expose her mother for what she is and instead finds herself getting to know the woman that give birth to her as well as the popular restaurant that belongs to Nicoletta’s stepfather. Fascinated by the older and attractive staff of men that work there, Nicoletta not only finds work in the restaurant but also love.

ART: B-
The artwork is greatly original and, oddly enough, works well for a story with a European feel but it might not be everyone’s cup of expresso. I mean, at times Nicoletta looks like a guy.

OVERALL: A-
A sophisticated European art house-like appeal makes Ristorante Paradiso a tantalizing treat that makes this a different and mature kind of shoujo manga. A one-shot story with a charming cast and an even more charming story might be just what you need if you’re looking for something different from the usual menu.

Review copy provided by VIZ Media.

One Piece, Season Two Fourth Voyage – DVD Review

Review by: Faith McAdams

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

Welcome to Alabasta … the most dangerous kingdom in the Grand Line.

The Straw Hats have certainly seen their fair share of unusual friends and foes and have gotten themselves into many a fascinating adventure. Yet it isn’t until they picked up a most curious young girl who – having been a member of Baroque Works – actually turned out to be a Princess on a mission to locate the leader of the organization determined to overthrow her father that this series has gotten really engaging. In the Fourth Voyage of Season Two of One Piece, the pirates make it to Alabasta where the real trouble is about to begin.

Having finally navigated their way out of Drum Island and recruited a very cute critter and helpful crew physician by the name of Tony Tony Chopper, the Straw Hat pirates are getting closer to Princess Vivi’s home kingdom of Alabasta. Before they get there, though, they cross paths with a very unusual and flamboyant character that calls himself Mr. 2 Bon Clay who has the Devil Fruit power to turn into anyone he comes across. His oddball antics are an immediate hit with the Straw Hats but what they don’t realize is that this crazy male ballerina is a member of Baroque Works. The funny part is that he doesn’t know who they are either.

Oh, but that’s a matter for another episode, though, because after they say their farewells the crew finally reaches Alabasta’s port city of Nanohana. All seems peaceful there seeing as the early reports say that the rebels and royal army have already started fighting but the city appears to be calm … that is until they all see that there are a few Baroque Works ships in the same port as well.

Leave it to Luffy to get lost as well as he strays so far from Nanohana that he finds himself in the desert. Tony gets lost too only to meet a funny camel and see the inside of the rebel camp where the leader, a man named Koza, is preparing to arm his troops. In the meantime, Luffy manages to learn a thing or two about Alabasta such as the fact that it hasn’t rained in three long years. When he finds his way into Nanohana, though, Luffy makes another discovery … somebody is looking for him and Captain Smoker and the Navy is in Alabasta as well.

As it turns out, the man looking for Luffy also happens to be a pirate working for White Beard and he also happens to be connected to Luffy seeing as the rubbery pirate recognizes him right away. He is “Fire Fist” Ace and while I won’t reveal his identity but it is clear that these two are clearly birds of the same feather … so to speak. Still, Ace is a more calm and collected individual while Luffy acts on pure impulse (a fact that gets him in trouble often). Together with Ace, the Straw Hats attempt to journey to the town of Yuba to calm the rebels.

Of course, the Alabasta desert is filled with many hazards, one of which is that there are terrible sandstorms and the wildlife is also abnormally large. We’re talking huge scorpions, giant lizards and even desert pirates such as a lively crew led by the likeable Captain Barbarosa. They meet a group of thugs pretending to be rebels that Princess Vivi asks the Straw Hats to test to see if they’re willing to protect the town they’ve been swindling.

We learn a little more about Vivi in this Fourth Voyage as well such as the friendships she made growing up as a member of the royal family. She befriends a little girl who grew up to be a pirate and later befriends a boy who fights to protect Vivi. This boy is later sent to a section in the desert to help create the town of Yuba with his father. The identity of the boy I certainly won’t reveal but their reunion will be very interesting when she finally catches up to him.

As the crew makes it to the kingdom of Alabasta on a mission to save it, the Fourth Voyage of this second – and most electrifying – season begins what is going to be a truly epic story. We’re already sold on the great episodes that lead them to Alabasta but this series just keeps getting a lot more exciting as the Straw Hats find themselves on a mission to help one of their own stop a threat that wishes to violently take a kingdom on the verge of exploding.

DVD REVIEW BREAKDOWN

MOVIE/EPISODES: A-
Finally reaching Alabasta, the Straw Hats find the port town rather peaceful until they realize that the rebellion against the King is underway and is led by the man Alabasta sees as a hero … Sir Crocodile. On their journey, Luffy meets up with a familiar face as well as old enemies as the Straw Hats are determined to help Vivi.

VIDEO QUALITY: A
This series has always looked good and it still does as the series strays from off the ship and into an interesting continent. Alabasta might be a desert kingdom but it looks really good in the anime version as it does in the manga.

AUDIO QUALITY: A
The voice cast is once again amazing thanks to some very talented actors for both sides whether you love the original Japanese or the English dub voices. Personally, the opening and closing songs don’t do it for me but at least they’re catchy.

EXTRAS: C
There’s audio commentary for one episode and it’s not too shabby to listen to and the option to watch the opening and closing animation without credits rolling. Marathon Play wasn’t just made for the Dragon Ball series so glad to see it for One Piece.

OVERALL: A-
The Fourth Voyage of this second season brings the Straw Hats in new territory as they aid Vivi try to reclaim Alabasta from a foe that is determined to see it in ruins. This is but the beginning of what is going to be an exciting and epic story arc that is already off to a very good start. We cannot wait for the next DVD set.

Review copy provided by FUNimation Entertainment

One Piece, Vol. 23 – Manga Review

Review by: Eduardo Zacarias

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

This is the rise of a Princess in times of war and peace.

There certainly isn’t a shortage of amazing characters in Eiichiro Oda’s One Piece manga and aside from the main cast that has shown us their true nature it is Princess Vivi that I have come to admire the most about One Piece’s many colorful characters. Like Luffy, she has a spirit that is hard to break and a strong determination to do what is right that she is willing to put her life on the line and that’s exactly what she does in Volume 23 of One Piece as the battle for Alabasta comes to a riveting finale.

Fighting not only an impressive lineup of Baroque Works agents and a ticking clock, the Straw Hats and Princess Vivi have done the impossible and reached the King Cobra’s palace in an effort to put an end to the fighting. With Luffy confronting Sir Crocodile, the rest of the Straw Hats attempt to stop yet another tragedy … a bomb that is set to explode over the palace square where rebels and the royal army are fighting. Unfortunately for them, two Baroque Works agents (Ms. Father’s Day and Mr. 7) guarding the cannon set to launch the bomb into the square.

Injured and tired, the remaining Straw Hats are trying to reach the clock tower where both agents and the bomb are located but with little time remaining the only way to reach them – as Nami sees it – is to launch the Princess and Tony Tony Chopper into the air. It’s an insane plan but knowing the Straw Hats it’s the insane plans that usual works. Launching the talking reindeer and Princess up into the air, Nami yells for Sanji to kick them even higher and Zoro to fling them towards the clock.

What they weren’t counting on was the two Baroque Works agents where are known for their sniper skills but with the aid of Zoro and Tony, the Princess is able to escape being shot and reach the cannon in time to fling the agents out of the way and cut the fuse. To her horror, Vivi realizes even if the bomb isn’t shot out of the cannon it is still set to detonate anyway. What happens next is tragic and heroic and you’ll really have to see it for yourself but in the end the bomb is taken care of without destruction to the square.

As rain suddenly begins to fall on all of Alabasta, it is clear that the war is over and when the King shows himself again the rebels and royal army finally stop fighting. You see, Luffy – poisoned and badly injured – has managed to show Crocodile what he is made of and defeats him. He also saved the King from being buried alive and collapses from the fight. In fact, all the members of the Straw Hat simply drop from exhaustion.

Meanwhile, the Navy begins arresting the defeated members of Baroque Works and place Crocodile under arrest. As some Navy officers realize that the Straw Hats are all knocked out and easy capture, it is Sergeant Tashigi who gives a most surprising order. She returns to Captain Smoker thinking her decision would have very negative consequences but Smoker understands her decision and stands by it even before “Black Cage” Hina, the Navy Captain of this particular region who is determined to carry out her orders to capture the Straw Hats.

As the pirate heroes recover from their injuries and feast on the best food that Alabasta has to offer, the crew decides to sneak out of Alabasta to escape capture. Vivi is offered a place among them again but she begins to think about Alabasta and all the work that must be done to rectify all the damage done. Luffy and many of the others don’t want to leave her behind but it is clear that the people of Alabasta need her now as their Princess. The problem is pushing through the Navy blockade that is handled by Captain Hina but help comes in the form of a most unusual source … Mr. 2 Bon Clay! What he does for Luffy and the others is nothing short of surprising and touching.

Volume 23 of One Piece is a fitting end to one of the more epic story arcs as the final fate of Alabasta is decided in the last rush to save the kingdom. Not only was the quest to save Alabasta an exciting moment for One Piece fans but even its conclusion is memorable. It’s still no wonder we continue to follow our favorite pirates and will continue to do so as they set sail again.

MANGA REVIEW BREAKDOWN

STORY: A
With mere seconds before the Baroque Works bomb will demolish the square with both sides fighting below, the Straw Hats and Princess Vivi make a final push to stop hundreds from being killed. In a chamber below, Luffy is fighting against Sir Crocodile to the death in a final battle. The outcome of the battle ends the long war and a Princess takes her place among her people.

ART: A+
The art in the series has continuously been amazing and the same can be said about this volume so expect Oda-sensei’s art to wow you again.

OVERALL: A
The fate of Alabasta is decided in a final push to save a kingdom that was chaotically thrown into a great war as the Straw Hats and a very determined Princess end the war in Volume 23. One Piece has always been a series filled with surprises but this story arc and its conclusion have been a true highlight of this series that just doesn’t fail to amuse or impress.

Review copy provided by VIZ Media

Claymore, The Complete Series – Blu-ray Review

Review by: Eduardo Zacarias

Publisher: FUNimation Entertainment
MSRP: $69.98 US
Running Time: 625 minutes
Genre: Action/Fantasy
Rating: TV MA
Release Date: Available Now

Sisterhood of the traveling blade.

Having been a huge fan of the manga series by Norihiro Yagi, the anime version of Claymore was a dream come true and an artistic achievement that was loyal to the manga. It’s a story that is as heartbreakingly touching as it is viciously bloody and riveting enough that it was no surprise that The Complete Series of Claymore finds itself released on Blu-ray. You better believe that the Silver Eyed Witches never looked this good, Claymore fans.

Packaged with all the extras found on the original individually released DVDs plus a nifty 48-page booklet, the Blu-ray set brings us the entire series for those who like their anime in high-def. Featuring all 26 episodes on 3 discs, the series is an exciting fantasy story that takes place in a world where monsters called Yoma roam and the only ones capable of fighting them are statuesque women warriors known as Claymores that are half monsters themselves.

The story revolves around one particular Claymore by the name of Clare who travels to a village rumored to contain a dangerous Yoma is said to be terrorizing the people. Unfortunately, Yoma have the nasty habit of “infecting” humans they attack and what is once a human is now a disfigured creature that only thinks about feasting on flesh and blood. In this particular case, the victim is the brother of a boy named Raki who is intrigued by Clare when he first meets her and is grateful to her when Clare slays the creature that was once his brother.

With nowhere else to go after he is shunned by his village, Raki finds himself joining Clare on her mission as a Claymore. What he discovers about this beautiful tall blonde is that she has an agenda of her own that is tied to her mysterious past. You see, Clare – much like Raki – was once a human child whose fate is tied to a Claymore that decided to take Clare with her on her missions. During one mission with other fellow Claymores, though, Teresa is struck down by a Claymore named Priscilla who has pushed her Claymore abilities to the breaking point that turns them into a full-fledged Yoma. Determined to find Priscilla, the young girl becomes a Claymore in hopes that her path would cross with the one that killed her mentor/mother-figure.

Clare and Raki go on a long journey that has them both getting involved in a number of Claymore battles against Yoma. While Raki himself doesn’t participate in the battles, his presence changes Clare in ways she never thought was possible. Claymores are emotionless, follow a strict code they rarely break and are known as Silver Eyed Witches by humans that both fear and respect them. Yet here is Clare who becomes protect a human who comes to have feeling for her.

Joining a number of Claymores on missions, we come to learn more about these sisters of the blade including the fact that they are marked with a number linked to their skill level and Clare is considered low ranked and thus not as strong as the others. Yet during their battles with Yoma-hybrids called Awakened Beings like Priscilla), Clare is able to show the others that she is more than capable of keeping up with them in battle.

Clare’s newfound friendship with a few Claymores has Clare joining them in a massive battles against Awakened Being that seem to be coming out of the woodwork. As various other Claymores find themselves in one spot to fight a hidden foe who seems to be pulling the strings of the powerful Awakened Being, Clare comes closer to her quest as she finally confronts Priscilla.

Claymore is a dark and gritty story with plenty of action and blood but there’s more to the series than just tall, pretty girls swinging swords. This is the story of girl who learns about the things that really matter such as loyalty and love are what makes even a half-Yoma hybrid all the more human. The Complete Series set deserves to be among your collection and even more so on Blu-ray.

DVD REVIEW BREAKDOWN

MOVIE/EPISODES: A+
In a world where humans live in fear of the horrible plague known as the Yoma, a group of warrior women known as Claymores are the protectors of the innocent. One of them, Clare, is on a mission to find a Claymore that has crossed to the Yoma side with the aid of a human boy named Raki. It’s a long journey and the Claymore joins her sisters of the blade against other enemies as she grows closer to the one she has been hunting.

VIDEO QUALITY: A
From the stunning art direction to the fluid animation that makes each battle truly a visual feast, Claymore always looked good from start to finish. I have to say that the series looks really good on Blu-ray but at the same time it isn’t as crisp as the DVD version. This isn’t a complaint, mind you, because it still looks really good in HD.

AUDIO QUALITY: A
The voice acting in the series has always been quite a highlight whether it’s the original Japanese voices (amazing) or the English dub (utterly impressive). Even more, there’s a rich score that is simply unforgettable and opening and closing theme songs that made me a fan of Nightmare.

EXTRAS: A+
Now this is what we like to see in our Complete series box sets because the Claymore box set has more than enough extras to make Claymore fans smile. There six episode commentary tracks on each of the discs and they’re all fun to listen to while watching the episodes. Then there’s the Japanese staff commentary with each of the series’ creators from art design to a brief interview with the director. Add some cast audition footage plus the original Japanese commercial and 48-page booklet and we have ourselves some juicy extras.

OVERALL: A+
Claymore is certainly a series worthy of being transferred to a Blu-ray format and this makes it a set you really shouldn’t be without. If you’re a fan of the manga then you already know what to expect from this series that is unapologetically bloody, filled with plenty of action and a deep emotional core that makes this a story with a lot of heart.

Review copy provided by FUNimation Entertainment

Black Lagoon, Vol. 8 – Manga Review

Review by: Eduardo Zacarias

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

The blood, bullets and heartbreak tango.

One thing that could be said about Rei Hiroe we can all agree on and that is when he writes a new story arc he sticks to it to the very end no matter how many chapters or volumes it takes to tell said story. The Roberta story arc is one of those lengthy ones but, like some amusement park attractions, this is a thrill ride we really don’t mind lasting a little longer. The story doesn’t end in Volume 8 of Black Lagoon but it certainly is getting a lot better.

As Rock and Revy help Garcia Lovelace and his overprotective young maid, Fabiola, reach Roberta who is on a warpath, Mister Chang finds himself in a position as Roanapur’s protector. He has no doubt that the ex-militant member of FARC (a major Colombian terrorist cell) and now loving housemaid to the Lovelace boy is about to make the city explode in a sea of violence that could destroy the underworld’s business but also place them in danger thanks to the fact that one of the major players happens to be a U.S. covert operative group hidden in the city. If you’ve been following the series this long you already know that the United States has an insider and it’s none other than a very familiar gun-toting nun who feels that American lives in danger could spell disaster for Roanapur.

Meanwhile, the young master discovers a painful secret about his beloved Roberta that complicates the matter even further. It’s clear that the aid of Revy and Rock just isn’t enough seeing as the Colombians are dead set on stopping Roberta as well so Revy calls Shenhua and hires here and the Goth girl Sawyer and pretty boy Lotton. Unfortunately, now with skilled killers on their side, the Colombians – joined by hired guns from the FARC itself – manage to reach Roberta first.

What occurs next is one of the more bloodier and most impressive action sequences the series has seen in quite some time. With Rock waiting in the car, the others fight their way to a hotel where Roberta – slinging a Barrett M82A1 anti-material rifle – is quite literally shooting holes through her enemies. The Americans have no choice but to pull back and try to spring a trap for her in another position.

It’s clear from when she was first introduced that Roberta is highly skilled at what she does but thanks to her condition and her need to avenge her dead master that she has become even more vicious. As Revy and the others try to reach her, it is Garcia who manages to find Roberta as he watches in horror as she slaughters a group of FARC soldiers then attempts to seduce the leader of the FARC troops who she knows well. As Garcia listens with a broken heart, Roberta springs her own trap only to find herself face-to-face with the young master … a scene that is both tender, sad and horrifying all at the same time.

In the meantime, the firefight continues and the Americans finally catch up to Roberta but with the boy in the way they make Garcia Lovelace a top priority to protect from the madness and bloodshed all around them. Things are about to get brutal and even more that Balalaika is on the case. The situation is just getting more frantic and complex and how this will end is anybody’s guess.

On a side note, it turns out that Mister Chang and Balalaika had a most interesting past that we hope will be explained further later on at some point in the series. We get a brief glimpse of one encounter but the real mystery is Mister Chang who finds Rock’s insistence on doing the right thing just a cheap excuse to make what he thinks is yet another Roanapur scumbag try to find some justice in what he does. Could it be that Rock’s intentions to help Garcia Lovelace not as noble as he makes it seem?

As Roanapur turns into a battlefield and in danger of being the target of a very ugly international incident between powerful factions that include the United States, Volume 8 of Black Lagoon is an exciting and over-the-top violent action junkie’s treat. The story arc is getting too long but who cares when things are just this interesting that you just can’t wait to see how this blood affair will end. Thank you Hiroe-sensei, you have given Black Lagoon fans another addictive volume.

MANGA REVIEW BREAKDOWN

STORY: A
The search for Roberta continues as Rock and Revy request the help of three very unlikely sources to help them track down the maid hell-bent on killing those responsible for her master’s death. Meanwhile, Roanapur’s underworld prepares for the worst as two very powerful opposing forces clash with Roberta as the others finally catch up to her.

ART: A+
This is by far one of the more bloodier and gruesome volume’s in this series and also one filled with great fight sequences. Roberta might be psychotic but she looks damn good in action.

OVERALL: A
Roanapur explodes in a massive wave of violence that turns the dangerous city into a battleground between various factions as Rock and the others try to reach Roberta in Volume 8 of Black Lagoon. It’s a long story arc but that’s not to say that this story overstayed its welcome because it’s been a wildly entertaining ride and it’s not over yet.

Review copy provided by VIZ Media